Aug 23 2016 - 9:29 pm

Riot makes billions from LoL, but its president blames team owners for not investing more into the scene

Comments made by Riot Games co-founder and president Marc Merrill show that the company behind League of Legends is apparently out of touch with its own esports scene
Samuel Lingle
Dot Esports

Comments made by Riot Games co-founder and president Marc Merrill show that the company behind League of Legends is apparently out of touch with its own esports scene.

Merrill posted a comment on Reddit that chastised Team SoloMid owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh for laying blame on Riot for the volatility of the esports scene the company has developed. Like much of Merrill’s meddling on social media (see: SpectateFaker) the message came off as tone deaf, petty, and out of touch, and showed that the way Riot is approaching its esports development may be based on flawed premises.

Merrill later edited his original comment for clarification, softening the tone. But we have the unedited copy saved for posterity.


Merrill takes a shot at Dinh, saying he should pay his players more if he wants more stable, longer careers for those players. Yet Dinh is consistently one of the highest paying owners in the LCS, one who invests extra money and effort into developing his team and franchise. He even offered perks like health care before most other teams.

Merrill also implies that Team SoloMid makes its money from League of Legends and instead of investing it back into the game, uses it to fund teams in other esports at a losing proposition. But according to Dinh, the situation is the opposite: While he invested more in League, other orgs invested in Counter-Strike which makes more money for players through stickers in a single year than Riot Games paid in stipends and icon sales since the inception of the LCS. One of the founders of former LCS team Enemy eSports, Robert “Chachi” Stemmler, said that his team makes more money from skins sales in Smite every month than they did the entirety of the LCS split for icon sales, which amounted to a one-time $3,125 payment.

Dinh outlined his stance in a well-written response on Twitter, deconstructing Merrill’s arguments. Former LCS team owner Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, who was ousted by Riot Games due to an alleged deal to give banned former owner Chris Badawi a stake in ownership, posted a video response of his own detailing what he feels was wrong about Merrill’s statement from an ownership perspective.

“Nobody is making millions of dollars from the LCS right now," Mykles said. "It is very expensive to run an LCS team and there are not enough forms of revenue in League of Legends to really make it worthwhile.”

He then challenged Merrill directly.

"Why aren’t you, Marc Merrill, giving the players more money? You have not given the teams the revenue streams to be able to pay the players more, okay?"

The crux of the issue is this: For League of Legends to further develop as an esport, it needs to generate revenue from its massive popularity. The promise of revenue growth attracts investment. It encourages teams to invest in infrastructure. It encourages teams to invest in talent. Yet Riot is directly impeding the growth of that revenue.

Merrill seems to think that teams are the ones who are driving revenue growth and that they must re-invest that money into the scene for it to continue growing. But the team owners have a different perspective: Not only do they make more money from investments in other esports, Riot Games is directly impeding growth of revenue in League of Legends.

It only makes sense for Dinh to diversify in an industry where Riot has direct control over his company’s ability to make money. There’s no telling when Riot might take an action that ruins his bottom line. One franchise, Renegades, was forced out of the league entirely this year, after all.

“It used to be true that we made money from LoL eSports, but that was before LCS and the economic situation is getting progressively worse,” Dinh wrote in his statement. “Most LCS teams lose money because stipends are stagnant, sponsorships for LCS team operations are shrinking and the cost of player salaries, content production, support staff and housing costs are spiraling up.”

If Merrill and Riot Games want Team SoloMid to invest more into League of Legends, then Riot needs to create systems to support the stability required to encourage more investment in its scene. In fact, that was exactly one point Dinh made in his original interview, yet Merrill is trying to shift the blame.

It’s incredible to even chastise teams about where they put their money when much of the money coming into the League of Legends scene was earned in other esports. EnVyUs bought into the LCS this year and invested in talent and infrastructure, and its money came from Call of Duty. Schalke did the same thing with its soccer money in Europe. Surely Merrill did not complain when Shaquille O’Neal’s basketball money helped attract the biggest name Korean import yet to North America—but that makes his opening statement seem even more petty and self-serving.

And that, in some ways, is the point; of course his statement is self-serving. All parties here—teams, players, Riot Games—are all looking out for their own interests. But when Merrill tries to shift the onus for building the scene to the players, it comes off as out of touch and ridiculous. That’s no better shown than by his now-deleted initial question to Dinh: Why not invest some of those millions he made in League of Legends back into the scene?

Good question, Merrill. Riot reportedly made $1.6 billion in revenue in 2015. Why not invest some of that money has made back into the professional scene? League of Legends is the biggest esport on the planet, yet it’s combined prize pool for all six of its world championships is smaller than the prize won by Dota 2’s best team at The International last month. Prizing for the world championship has barely increased since 2012. Neither has the team stipend, which Merrill is so quick to state shows Riot’s commitment to developing the scene. That $12,500 per player per split (as of 2015) combined won’t even cover a single player on Dinh’s roster, much less pay for the team house, coaching staff, food, health insurance, and other expenses he’s covering for the players.

Right now, investors are excited about the opportunity League of Legends represents. But unless Riot helps develop more ways for teams to generate revenue, they won’t be for long. The increased investment this year is a testament to the size of League esports, but it’s predicated on the potential for future returns, and those returns will only happen if Riot helps realize them. Those investors won’t stay in a highly competitive League market when there are now other alternatives in esports, like Counter-Strike or potentially Overwatch.

The biggest revenue stream in pro sports is broadcast rights (whether through selling ads or the rights themselves), and after six years, Riot still has not monetized its broadcast. That’s Riot's prerogative, of course, and it surely has valid reasons to maintain control over a production centered around its product. But for the sport to grow, Riot needs to activate that revenue stream and share the wealth the teams and players. That’s one of the biggest obstacles hindering the continued growth of the League of Legends scene, and it’s not perpetrated by Dinh or his fellow team owners, but by Riot Games itself.

The best return on investment for an established brand like Team SoloMid right now is buying into other esports like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and attracting an even bigger and more diverse fanbase. That's especially true when companies like Valve provide tools to monetize team success through the sale of in-game items. Riot is hindering them from further capitalizing on the massive fanbase they have in League, and until that changes, we’re only going to see more antagonism between parties like Dinh and Riot Games.

We may soon see a “nuclear war” between owners and Riot Games, Yahoo esports journalist Travis Gafford said on Twitter yesterday. He's right. As unrest among owners who believe more measures are needed to ensure a stable platform for growth in League of Legends esports, whether that’s through franchising or something else, and Riot Games, we’re heading closer and closer to a world where the owners might strike. If that ever happens, it’s statements like the ones made by Merrill yesterday that will have the playing public landing on the side of ownership and not the titanic company that created the game they love to watch and play.

Jan 14 2017 - 8:43 pm

ESPN survey reveals League of Legends pro pay, opinions on female players

The anonymous answers are quite revealing.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Riot Games

An anonymous LCS player survey has revealed just how much the average League of Legends pro gets paid—and what some of them think about the prospect of playing with a woman.

The ESPN Confidential article surveyed 33 anonymous European and North American League of Legends professionals, asking their opinions on everything from team houses, drugs and injuries.

According to the survey, North American players are significantly better paid than their counterparts. Of the players surveyed those in North America had an average base salary of $105,385, compared to just €76,137 ($80,816) in Europe.

Due to the anonymous nature of the survey, however, it's hard to extrapolate much from the averages themselves.

What does give us more insight however is the selected comments from the pros directly however—particularly their comments on playing with women.

While most pros, 73 percent, would have no issue with a female player joining their team, comments from two of the 27 percent have angered the community.

"If a female was to join my team," says the first, "she would have to prove she was worth it more than a guy [in the same role]."

Though this comment is shocking to hear as someone's definitive opinion, it does reflect what many believe is the reality for aspiring female pros in the current esports culture, where female players are held to higher standards than their male counterparts.

The second highlighted comment claims that they would have concerns over the likelihood of their male team mates being attracted to a female player.

Elsewhere in the survey, 27 percent of players claim to know of players taking drugs to perform better in competition, while 24 percent say they have suffered an injury as a result of gaming.

Jan 16 2017 - 8:53 pm

2017 NA LCS Preseason Rankings

The LCS is back this weekend! We ranked each NA team heading into week one.
Xing Li
Dot Esports
Photo via Riot Games

Season 6 in the North American League Championships Series was something special. Play reached a new level as two teams basically ran the table in both spring and summer. And for the first time, a North American team made the final at a major Riot-sponsored international tournament.

After a hectic offseason, we are almost ready to dive back into LCS play. Before we start, Dot Esports took a look at the NA LCS landscape and ranked the teams for the Spring Split. Ranking teams at the start of the year is extremely difficult because of roster changes and a new meta, but that won’t stop us from trying.

With a couple strong teams choosing to keep their rosters together and a few potential contenders adding exciting foreign stars, Season 7 could be the best yet.

1) TSM

We start where Season 6 ended: with TSM on top. For most of last summer, nobody could touch them as they out-laned, out-jungled, and out-macro’d everyone. Nobody could match Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg in the mid lane, which unlocked the whole map for Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen to roam.

The big question for this team is who replaces Doublelift as a late game shot caller. We think it should be Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Having an experienced lane partner in Jason “WildTurtle” Tran will also help him navigate the duo lane. But he will have to do better controlling vision and winning contested objectives. They’ll need stronger initiations that layer the abilities of all five members.

Deliver on that and TSM fans may be able to forget all of their 2016 disappointments.

Best case: Semifinals at Worlds

Worst Case: Semifinals in the NA LCS playoffs

2) Cloud9

After making it to the bracket stage at Worlds, there’s reason to believe that Cloud9 will be even stronger this year. Remember, the team initially struggled to integrate Jung “Impact“ Eon-yeong at the beginning of the Summer Split. Those memories were put to rest by Impact’s flashy “top die” plays at Worlds.

The real question is whether new jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia can give the team better initiations and map control. William “Meteos” Hartman played a valuable role but didn’t have the mechanics to dictate games. Shot calling will be crucial now that Contractz doesn’t have Hai Lam, shot caller extraordinaire, next to him. Someone on this team will have to become its voice. We’re not sure who.

Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu has a lot of work to do to make sure his team executes on their strategy and communicates effectively. He made great progress with the team last Summer, but can it continue?

Best Case: Contractz is the solution and they make someone nervous in the bracket stage at Worlds

Worst Case: Meteos is brought back in and they have to scrap their way into the LCS playoffs

3) Team Dignitas

There’s a lot of risk putting Dignitas this high. But the team has put a lot of thought into how to build this roster. It’s clear that they want to play around the solo lanes, where Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang "Keane" Lae-Young will benefit from Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun’s pressure. Meanwhile, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck was quietly one of the better AD carries last summer.

How this team communicates with two new Korean players will dictate their place in the standings. The jungle especially requires special synergy with the team. Dignitas has said all the right things about playing together and identifying communication as a major early issue. Knowing those things is one thing; executing is another.

Ssumday and Chaser have a shot at being the best top/jungle duo in NA. But the team could take more than one split to jell.

Best Case: They make the LCS finals in their first year together and compete for a Worlds spot

Worst Case: Communication is an issue all year, they can only win hour-long slog fests, and they fall to the relegation zone

4) CLG

We’re now getting to teams with major question marks on the roster. For Counter Logic Gaming, it’s mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun. We wrote about HuHi in our “Players to Watch” piece. Mid lane’s priority could increase in a jungle-focused meta. And the rest of the team is ill-suited to make up for HuHi’s shortcomings.

It’s been a while since Darshan Upadhyaha has served as a consistent carry. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes is probably their most consistent damage dealer, but playing around the AD carry is risky with regards to meta changes. Coach Tony “Zikz” Gray’s team is always well prepared and has some of the best early-level strategies in the game. But they desperately need some mid-lane pressure to start exploring next-level strategies.

Best Case: HuHi figures it out, they play multiple winning lanes, and split people to death

Worst Case: HuHi is the same, the competition has leveled up, and they miss the playoffs

5) Team Liquid

There is a risk that we’re ranking Liquid too low. Stars like Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin can be terrifying. New coach Matt Lim is highly regarded for his work on Team Liquid Academy last year. They should have better communication with Reignover calling the shots. What’s not to love?

Like CLG, it goes back to the mid lane. It’s not clear who will start, but it will either be a Challenger player who’s never put it all together on the LCS stage (Grayson “Goldenglue” Gillmer) or someone who hasn’t even seen the stage in years (Austin “LiNK” Shin).

This is a roster that has the talent to win it all if a few breaks go their way.

Best Case: Things click between Reignover and Piglet and they break the fourth-place curse on the way to Worlds

Worst Case: They never find a solution to the mid lane and we get version two of the Donezo Manifesto (or Break Point, part two)

6) Immortals

We’re now getting to teams where the win condition is not immediately obvious. For Immortals, it starts with the jungler they basically traded Reignover for: Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. He can be a win condition in himself.

But there are more question marks than certainties. Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong hasn’t really been at Flame Horizon level (+100 CS over his lane opponent) for some time. The bot lane is a mystery. Finally, there’s the potential that Dardoch self-destructs.

Best case: Flame and Dardoch click, Cody Sun stays alive, and they compete for a playoff spot. Dardoch keeps an even keel and their steady improvement gives fans something to hope for

Worst case: Dardoch blows up, everyone blows up

7) Phoenix1

This was one of the hardest rosters to rank.

P1 was ascending in the latter half of the Summer Split. Then they signed Ryu Sang-wook and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon. Unlike other teams adding Koreans, P1 should have a better time integrating these two. Ryu has played in Europe since 2014. And AD carry is an easy position to integrate communication-wise, as long as there’s good synergy with the support.

Whether Arrow and Adrian can develop synergy is the primary question. Adrian was able to do some great things for the carries on Immortals in 2016. But his champion pool was also called into question and his duo lane was not usually a strength.

Best Case: Inori and Ryu stand out with flashy plays, Arrow is the second best ADC behind Piglet, and the team makes it to the LCS semifinals

Worst Case: Arrow and Adrian never jell, they get beat in the macro and late game, and head to the promotion tournament

8) Echo Fox

Echo Fox has two star solo laners: Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok and Henrik “Froggen” Hansen. Beyond them, the roster is a complete mystery. Not that players like Yuri "Keith" Jew are unknown—we just don’t know what their true talent level is. It’s not clear how many players on this team are really LCS-level.

Then there’s the question of shot calling. It’s anyone’s guess how this team coordinates. You can’t turn every game into a farm fest (though Froggen would surely prefer that). At some point, someone needs to go in with Looper and start fights.

Best Case: The make a surprising run at the playoffs behind unstoppable play from Looper and Froggen. Who needs a jungler?

Worst Case: Froggen sets another CS record, but Echo Fox can’t survive the promotion tournament

9) Team EnVyUs

This team started out strong in their first LCS split last summer. Behind stellar play from top laner Shin "Seraph" Wu-Yeong, they went 5-1 in series before other teams started figuring them out.

The team will need to regain their footing in 2017 and play more patiently around Seraph. New jungler Nam “lira” Tae-yoo may help, but his addition results in a strange situation with three Koreans in the solo lanes and jungle and two native English speakers in the duo lane. Can they figure out how they want to play and stick with it?

Best Case: They don’t get relegated. The duo lane follows the Koreans around and Seraph and Ninja put their carry pants on

Worst Case: None of that happens, they make too many mistakes, and there’s not enough talent on the roster for Seraph to carry

10) Fly Quest

It may seem obvious to stick the new team at the bottom. But this decision was not made easily. The reason? Hai.

We don’t know how teams like P1, Echo Fox, or even Dignitas will communicate. Not so for Fly Quest, who should continue relying on Hai’s impeccable shot calling. There’s a lot of value to a team being on the same page and knowing what to do as a unit. Just ask TSM about their experience with that last spring.

The problem is, it’s unclear what Hai is working with. Stomping on Challenger squads is completely different to facing LCS competition each week in best-of-three settings. Teams are going to identify Fly Quest’s weaknesses quickly and pounce repeatedly. It’s just hard to find winning matchups anywhere on this roster.

Best Case: Hai’s shot calling allows the team to grind out late-game victories off of superior macro play. They go .500 in the regular season and get a game in the playoffs

Worst Case: It becomes apparent that they just don’t have LCS-level stuff anymore. They go back to the Challenger Series where they romp

All photos via Riot Games