In downtown Los Angeles, two men, whose passion for League of Legends and esports is immeasurable, got together at a Korean BBQ restaurant. One of the two was an esports writer, while the other was a person who has been a part of this scene for as long as people can remember.
Locodoco was one of the very first players to play professionally in the LoL scene - along with Madlife and CloudTemplar. He's now retired, however, and has been working as a coach ever since.
As our pork ribs came close to being fully cooked, we started our conversation. For over an hour, we spoke honestly about what was on our minds. Everyone opens up at the sight of delicious KBBQ.
The changes to NA/EU LCS, the upcoming World Championship, and the difference between NA and KR; we had discussions on various topics. The conversation was quite one-sided, as Locodoco had more to say than I did, and his knowledge of esports surprised me yet again. I was eager to hurry and share his opinions and views with our readers.
Due to the nature of how this interview took place, and how the range of topics was fairly wide; the interview was separated into 3 parts to increase the readability and overall reading experience.
① The change to NA/EU LCS
Riot Games announced the removal of 'relegation' from their NA LCS starting next year. The franchising system was planned to be set in place due to the rise of teams and organizations having financial hardships. For their newly planned league, Riot will evaluate and partner up with teams who will be able to participate, share revenue with them, reboot the Challenger Series, and create a Players' Association. There could and will be more than ten teams participating in the NA LCS, and regional franchising is also highly expected by most people.
The winds of change aren't only blowing in NA, as EU LCS, a league where a lot of teams suffered financially, is also rumored to see change. According to ESPN, on the Summer of next year, EU LCS will be split into four regions. Each of these separated leagues will be held in cities throughout the continent, such as Paris and Barcelona, and is expected to hold about six teams each with the relegation system removed.
What will happen to Gold Coin United?
Nothing is for certain as of now... NA Franchising will happen next season, and I saw this as an opportunity. I was planning to join hands with other sports teams that are bound to come join the scene. But looking at things now, I think it'll be a bit more difficult. I'm still hoping, but the chances will be slim.
If you end up joining the NA LCS, will you bring Madlife and Fly along?
Like I've mentioned, nothing is certain. But I do want to bring them.
Earnings from esports teams are fairly small, right?
There are barely any teams here in the NA LCS that actually make profit. And recently, the salary of players has gone up substantially. If one team starts raising player salary, every other team needs to do that as well - in order to compete and hire. This has been going on for about two years now, and player salary is - at the moment - pretty ridiculous. Next year, when franchising happens, I predict that big name players' annual salaries will hit around one million dollars.
Will the new franchising system help esports organizations financially?
It's a brand new ecosystem. Organizations will be able to make money in many new and different ways, and they will be able to produce and develop talents over a long period of time. In the long run, it'll be great; but in the beginning, it won't really benefit anyone too much.
What's important is how it will turn out two to three years later. In order for the franchising system to really take off, it'll need two things. First of all, through the regional franchising, hardcore fans and their attachments to certain teams need to develop. Secondly, players need to be developed into popular superstars. Only then will franchising be successful, and allow teams to produce content after content.
In its very first year, there will be more bad than good. If more than twelve teams are to participate in the league, the teams that already have a small fanbase will end up suffering even more - as it will split among the many new teams. TSM, C9, and CLG will most likely continue to have the biggest fanbase.
Quality of games will go down as well, as most likely, over 200 players will be participating in the league... and most of them won't be competent enough. Of course, as the players gain more experience, the quality will eventually go up; but the first year will be rough.
People who think that franchising will immediately bring positive change are foolish. I'm fairly certain that next year, some people will even claim that "the franchising system was a big failure." But if you know the history of NBA and NFL, you'll know that the franchising system needs time for everyone to truly benefit from it.
Some fans are worried about the removal of relegations.
Challenger teams will not be able to join the league. It could've been a problem if it was a couple of years ago, but at the moment, the gap between CS teams and LCS teams is fairly large. So I don't think it'll be too problematic.
There are a lot of discussions about EU LCS, and its teams' financial problems. Recently, through ESPN, we heard that the league will be reformatted and split into four regional leagues.
I think the new system will fit very well. For an esports team to make money, it's quite simple: teams are basically selling the attention and interest that they get from fans to other companies. So in one word, it's advertisement.
In NA, from California and all the way to New York, everyone shares the same language and similar culture. As a matter of fact, even Canada is - in many ways - similar to the US. So the same advertisement you make in California can be effectively used in Canada with no real problems.
Europe is, however, different. For example, Fnatic has fans from France, Germany, Sweden, and more... so targeting all those audiences with the same advertisement would be quite difficult. And in addition, just looking at esports alone, NA fans seem to have more purchasing power over the ones in EU.
If Vitality decides to play for France, companies that want to advertise to the French audience will sponsor the team. That's not all. Through the regional franchising, the competition between teams will grow fierce - increasing the quality of games. Eventually, the fans' attachments to their favorite teams will grow... leading them to purchase more products from them.
So in my opinion, the change would be for the better.
In order for these things - that you said - to happen, I think we'll need to ask a certain question. Can League of Legends really have the potential to appeal to a large demographic for a long period of time? Soccer(Football) has been loved by people from all over the world for over a hundred years. Can League do that?
I personally think so... but the question is about the majority.
In terms of esports, Riot takes care of League of Legends really well. For example, there was a patch where lane swaps were a common thing. Although it was a tactical chance for teams, in my opinion, it was a huge problem.
Regular players in Solo Queue almost never lane swaps. So the lane swapping meta in the pro scene was completely unrelatable to 99% of players. This gave fans a hard time when trying to follow the games. Having fans being able to relate to a game is crucial... as having them feel left out could make them feel that the game they are watching is different from the game that they are actually playing. Riot Games implemented a patch to completely remove lane swaps, and that gave me assurance that Riot knows the fundamentals of competitive sports and that they know what they're doing.
And there is nothing better than esports for advertisements that target people who are in their 20s. The viewer majority of MLB are people who are in their 50s, NFL 40s, and NBA 30s. But most people, who are in their 20s, are watching esports.
In the current generation, people will go out of their way to avoid ads. So advertisement companies that target people who are in their 20s have had a very hard time. So similar to traditional sports, things such as engraving a company logo to an esports player's uniform could make ads unavoidable.
Using a famous player - a "star" - will enhance this to even greater lengths. NBA saw development through their star players, and even the NFL revolves around their quarterbacks. And just like in the NBA, a League of Legends team has 5 starting players... and so, each individual will gain a lot of attention from fans. Also, having a "star" player will make it easier for teams to gain fans' attention through social media. I really think more superstars need to emerge in the LoL scene.
A certain system is very prominent in the Korean show business. In Korea, there are around ten people in each k-pop group. So basically, the company is telling you, "We have it all. Just pick someone that you like."
League of Legends is walking a similar path. There are a lot of champions, right? Everyone has their favorites according to their preferences - although I think Korean players especially take a liking to Teemo or Master Yi (Laughs). That's why I think some people who aren't too devoted to League still like the game.
Visually, League is a very easy-to-follow game. It's also very colorful and diverse, making the game easy to get into. It was designed for general gamers.
I heard that you took interest in the esports ecosystem, but I think it's beyond a simple interest.
Spending and devoting my time to these things is probably why I'm still fairly relevant in the LoL esports scene. Ha-Woon(Maknoon) is multiple times better than me at League, but all he does now is stream! (Laughs) Ha-Woon, once I become successful, I'll support you.