League of Legends esports sure had its share of excitement in 2016. Whether it was an unexpected result on the Rift or the never-ending drama outside of it, there was no shortage of storylines. With the year coming to an end, Slingshot has ranked the biggest stories in League of Legends esports and separated them into two categories: Game/tournament moments and broad scale storylines. Take a look at the in-tournament moments, and then proceed to the big-picture items below:
10. Doublelift announces a hiatus
One of the most recognizable North American pros, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng announced his hiatus shortly after this year’s world championship. He said he was very underwhelmed by his performance at worlds, despite Team SoloMid going on a tear in the summer split and placing second in the spring. The news is even more interesting when one considers the fact that Doublelift has been involved with professional League since 2011, and has been part of every regular season since the LCS became established. He has since said he will eventually return to professional play because he didn’t want to end his career with his performance at worlds, and fans are curious if the break will do him any good.
9. The reverse exodus
2014 will forever be remembered as the year of the Korean Exodus, when a large number of top talent left Korea to go to China and other regions. But two years later, Korean teams still dominate League, and the reverse has happened. A slew of players, including Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan and Heo “Pawn” Won-seok, have returned to their home region. A couple of the pros confessed that it was more the need to win a championship rather than a change of heart that fueled their move, and Deft, Mata, and Pawn have since all joined KT Rolster alongside former ROX Tigers top laner Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho and veteran jungler Go “Score” Dong-bin to create a “super team” in Korea. With a number of fans calling the new KT a “worlds contender,” attention is on these Korean pros to see how they improve after their time in China and how they measure up to the best in the world.
8. Crowdfunding of the 2016 world championship prize pool
League has been mired in controversy regarding its worlds prize pool, as the size and scale of the event have grown, but the prize pool hadn’t. But that changed this year, and fan contributions helped more than double the original prize pool to over $5 million.
7. High-profile investors reach the LCS
The League Championship Series saw an unprecedented amount of big-name investors, including Shaquille O’Neil (NRG), the Philadelphia 76ers (Dignitas) and Golden State Warriors (Team Liquid). Whether or not these investments are considered successful, the clear message is that esports is making a large impression on many influential figures who are more than capable of putting their money where their mouth is.
6. The ROX Tigers disband
The ROX Tigers were a fan favorite both in and outside Korea. With a talented roster capable of giving the top teams in the world a run for their money, the players also seemed inherently likable, which only increased their popularity. Despite that, the team had problems finding a sponsorship, and its status was tenuous. During this year’s world championships, a report revealed the ROX Tigers planned to disband, and though initially denied, they announced last month the players would all go separate ways. For many fans, it was a heart-breaking halt to what they wanted to be a fairy tale (and championship) ending.
5. Riot Games bans Team Impulse
Team Impulse boasted an impressive roster in 2015 that included former world champion Jeong “Impact” Eon-young. Although it didn’t qualify for worlds, TiP was one of the stronger teams in North America. That changed this year, as TiP had one of the worst teams in the spring LCS split, and the organization was openly looking to sell its spot. Riot Games then banned TiP’s owners and forced them to sell for a variety of rule violations, including failing to pay players on time. The slot was eventually bought and turned into Phoenix1.
4. Poaching allegations against Echo Fox
The Esports Observer reported last month that Riot told teams owners that it would ensure the right of Echo Fox to poach players from any other team as part of an alleged turf war between Riot and the remaining North American LCS owners. The news was followed by a report from The Score that Echo Fox tried to poach Adrian “Adrian” Ma after Phoenix1 signed him. Riot released a clarification of sorts on Dec. 16, stating poaching can only occur if a team member contacts a player whose contract is listed in Riot’s Global Contract Database. Since Adrian’s documentation was still not finalized by Riot despite Phoenix1’s public announcement, Echo Fox’s act of contacting Adrian wasn’t technically poaching, according to Riot. Riot’s explanation seemed odd, and it didn’t do much to quell fan unrest about the situation.
3. The saga between LCS owners and Riot
Following an interview with TSM’s owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, in which he voiced some concerns over Riot’s patch cycle and difficulties it creates, the co-founder of Riot Games Marc Merrill responded in the Reddit post of the interview in what became an instant meme. The comment came across as very condescending and out of touch, and it became a catalyst for a months-long back and forth between the owners and Riot about the LCS structure. Last month, a letter from the team owners revealed some of their concerns regarding the continuation of a relegation system, as well as financial stability through revenue sharing of digital items. The owners reportedly (as listed in No. 4) held off on signing the 2017 LCS agreement until reportedly being threatened by Riot, so it’s safe 2017 should be a fun year.
2. Renegades banned
Riot shook the League esports world May 8 by levying a ban against the owners of Renegades and Team Dragon Knights. Among the alleged infractions was knowingly violating a previous competitive ban against Renegades co-owner Chris Badawi, misrepresenting their relationship with TDK, and compromising player well-being. Renegades and TDK were forced to sell their respective LCS and Challenger Series slots, and Badawi was permanently banned from owning a team in a Riot-sanctioned league. His co-owner, Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles, was given a year ban from owning a team. This ruling would be the center of a debate regarding Riot’s arbitration because there was no third-party input, and Mykles staunchly spoke out against the ruling as having no basis.
1. Riot Games strikes a deal with the MLB for streaming rights in future.
Riot struck a deal with BAMTech and Major League Baseball Advanced Media regarding the commercialization of League of Legends esports. The deal is set to net $50 million per year for Riot Games during the partnership, which is signed through 2023. Although no immediate changes are planned for the viewers in 2017, there are some premium experiences in the works, as well as any other material effects of the deal to arrive in 2018. This marks the largest monetization of esports with the aim of garnering more sponsorships and mainstream interest, and to see such a large scale agreement materialize is impressive to say the least.