The League of Legends scene hasn’t seen so much Korean talent enter free agency as it has during the 2016 off season. Almost making the 2014 “exodus” look small in comparison, entire teams have parted ways with their rosters, and not just from teams that have been relegated.
Top-tier Korean organizations such as the ROX Tigers have not been exempt of this trend and joined longtime League Champions Korea team CJ Entus, the Afreeca Freecs, and Longzhu Gaming in roster upheaval. The sheer number of Korean free agents has been staggering, and it might represent a worrying trend for Korean esports.
The main cause of concern is the retention rate of Korean talent. As foreign regions tempt Korean pros with more money, it has set higher compensation expectations. In a report from Inven’s Kim Hong-jae, sources from three separate teams lamented the salary run up.
“It has become more difficult to retain players as the interest of large companies and sports clubs from not only China but also North America and Europe have shown an interest in esports,” according to Inven. “It’s of course natural for players to go to teams that offer better compensation, but a dangerous trend has started where even players that have been doing worse both in tournament and personally have been demanding ridiculous amounts for pay, arguing that their worth must go up relatively to the players in high demand. The team does respect the player’s right to offer what they personally think their worth is, but it’s become difficult to deal with those players who come to the table with the attitude of ‘take it or leave it.'”
A separate insider also shared this view point, going as far to say that the market is becoming controlled by the players in a concerning manner.
“Professionals have their worth calculated based on how they do, but in the current free agent market, it doesn’t matter what kind of career a certain player had made or how they have performed. For instance, if Player A receives a yearly pay in the hundreds of millions of Won, then some players argue that because they play just as well as Player A, or because they place higher in rankings, they control the market by demanding a yearly pay that rivals that of player A.”
The last source actually shared a situation they encountered with a certain player as an example of just how deep this issue has permeated into the LCK.
“We had a situation where a player who played close to maybe 10 games during the LCK last season contacted us and asked for a yearly pay of 200 to 300 million won (about $171,000 to $267,000), which is seven to eight times larger than their current pay. Beyond the question of how much money a team has, when we looked at the player’s skill, potential, and other factors, it was a ludicrous amount that defied common sense. We’re in a difficult position because many players are approaching us with this same mentality.”
Rampant speculation surrounded how much money SK Telecom T1 has spent in order to retain the majority of its world championship roster, with little more evidence beyond it being an “unprecedented amount.” It is worth mentioning, though, that SKT has the backing of one of the largest telecom companies in South Korea, and many teams do not share the same deep pockets as SKT.