A collective representing an overwhelming majority of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) players will stand down from their commitments to the Summer Split launch on June 1, going against Riot Games’ decision to pull the plug on a mandatory requirement for teams to field a roster in the second division of North American League.
Their decision to essentially unionize against the developer has left the wider League community stunned, and while the LCS Players Association (LCSPA) remains firm on its stance against participating in the LCS Summer Split, Riot is yet to budge either—throwing the upcoming season into turmoil.
But just what is the LCS walkout, and what ramifications could this have for NA League?
What is the LCS walkout?
The LCS walkout is an orchestrated movement led by the LCS Players Association. The walkout was staged by the LCSPA following Riot’s May 7 decision to scrap mandatory participation for LCS organizations in the North American Challenger League (NACL)—the ‘second tier’ of NA League.
The LCSPA is an official body established shortly before LCS franchising in 2017 by Riot Games, whose key purpose is to represent the interests of professional, semi-pro, and amateur NA League players, providing resources, counsel, support, and more.
The LCSPA was not contacted by Riot ahead of the decision, and following seven of the franchised organizations dropping their academy teams immediately following the lifting of the rule, decided to call a vote to step away from appearing in this week’s split launch.
As part of the walkout, which was voted upon and passed by a majority of the LCS playing group, the LCSPA outlined five key measures to be met before players would consider a return to competition, including a promotion-relegation system similar to that of sister esport VALORANT, a revenue pool allocated for each NACL team, guaranteed LCS minimum contracts, and more.
While the LCSPA and Riot were previously at odds over the contentious decision to play out the 2020 Spring Split despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time such drastic action has been taken by the LCSPA, or any player-led association, in the esports’ history.
The five demands from LCSPA
LCSPA made its demands clear from the beginning. The organization wants the LCS to improve the North American competitive ecosystem in a way that would benefit up-and-coming players and individuals already competing in the league. These demands were released on May 23 before the walkout vote had been passed. They are as follows:
- Institute “VALORANT Style” promotion and relegation between the LCS and NACL
- Riot commit to a revenue pool for player salaries of $300,000 per NACL team per year
- Allow LCS orgs to partner with affiliates for cost-sharing
- Riot guarantees LCS minimum contracts for the following year for the five players who win the LCS summer finals each year
- Institute a 3/5 roster continuity rule to provide players on released NACL rosters first priority in maintaining their slots in the upcoming NACL season if a majority continue to compete together
If these demands were met, they would guarantee a new window of access for NACL teams to actually prove their worth and qualify for the LCS. In VCT Challengers 2023—VALORANT’s global esports competition—the best teams fight for a spot in Ascension, a tournament that will have spots in VCT Americas 2024 and 2025 on the line.
Additionally, other demands would secure financial stability for a few players already participating in the LCS. NACL players would also have a much better chance of maintaining their NACL slots if the 3/5 rule would be implemented, which is common in other esports.
Since the demands were released, the LCSPA announced on May 30 it’s planning to “begin discussions that result in meaningful collaborative action.” More updates regarding the demands and whether they have been met or not are expected to follow in the coming days.
What does the walkout mean for NA League?
In a nutshell, the walkout represents the biggest ever divide between the three core pieces of the League ecosystem: The playing group, their franchised organizations, and developer and publisher Riot itself.
“The LCSPA sincerely hopes Riot will avert this walkout by joining us in the coming days to have open and transparent discussions so that we can forge collaborative solutions to ensure the best futures for the LCS and the NACL,” the LCSPA’s official statement read following its landmark vote to walk out.
The LCSPA was no doubt expecting Riot to come to the table to discuss the terms and conditions as outlined by the association. However, with news the publisher has approached organizations to reaffirm the contractual agreement to field a roster, as well as the lifting of restrictions over who can play in the LCS, it seems Riot has no intention of budging either.
Ultimately, the LCSPA wants Riot to ensure those who aspire to join the LCS—or professional League, for that matter—have their voices heard ahead of time when it comes to decisions affecting the future of the region, and that NA academy players receive proper support and compensation for their time invested in building a League career.
So, who blinks first?
Timeline: How the LCS players’ strike has unfolded
Here’s how it’s all unfolded over the last three weeks:
- May 7 — All ten LCS owners unanimously agree to make participation in the NACL optional.
- May 7 — Riot agrees to this request on the basis of greater financial flexibility.
- May 12 — Riot makes sweeping changes to the region’s path-to-pro, new cross-region competitions, and provides a firm stance on the current LCS import rule. Among these changes is confirmation LCS teams will no longer have to field NACL rosters from the 2023 Summer Split onward.
- May 12 to 18 — 100 Thieves, Cloud9, Dignitas, Golden Guardians, Immortals, NRG, and TSM, drop their NACL rosters throughout the next week.
- May 19 — FlyQuest, Evil Geniuses, and Team Liquid retain NACL rosters.
- May 19 — LCS Player Association highlights more than 70 jobs may be lost as a result of this decision by Riot and the LCS teams.
- May 23 — LCSPA begins preparations for massive vote involving all 50 of the league’s players on a walkout to protest against the changes.
- May 23 — LCSPA outlines request list ahead of walkout vote.
- May 28 — Vote is “overwhelmingly” passed.
- May 29 — Reports emerge that LCS teams still obliged to field rosters so begin preparing to find replacements. Riot temporarily changes League signing rules to allow unranked emergency signings for orgs.
- May 29 — LCSPA moves to mitigate any “scab” signings.
- May 30 — Collegiate teams stand in solidarity with the LCSPA and players and knock back calls to fill LCS player slots.
- May 30 — Riot issued a statement regarding the walkout, responding to the LCSPA’s demands and pushing the LCS start date back two weeks.
- May 30 — New 2023 LCS Summer Split start date tentatively set for June 15.
- May 30 — Publicly, Riot says any further LCS delays may see NA league canceled and any qualification spots for the 2023 League World Championship in Korea in October stripped and given to other leagues.
- May 30 — Behind the scenes, Riot threatens any LCS orgs that cannot bring League stars back to play with heavy fines and potential loss of NA franchise slots.
- May 30 — LCPSA confirms it will sit down with Riot for daily meetings from today to discuss the future of the NACL and the LCS.
Will the 2023 LCS Summer Split be canceled?
As of 6:45pm CT May 30, the LCS Summer Split has been delayed by two weeks, with the new expected start date set for Thursday, June 15.
“While last week we immediately put in place contingency plans to begin the LCS season on Thursday, we ultimately decided that it would not hold true to our values that Riot’s esports offers our players and fans a showcase for the best competitive League of Legends,” said Global Head of League Esports Naz Aletaha.
However, with question marks over the current crop of LCS players and their participation, as well as the contractual requirement for LCS orgs to field a roster for the split’s launch, it is unclear at this time who will suit up for each team ahead of the season opener.
“Joining hands to put competition aside is a testament to the significance and urgency of the issues,” reiterated the LCSPA. “We stand at this impasse because actions were taken by Riot without prior communication or discussion.”
All 10 LCS orgs will be expected to field a roster for the Summer Split opener.