- The top professional League of Legends competition in South Korea is inviting teams to apply for a new partnership model, launching in the 2021 season.
- Promotion and relegation will be removed, teams will share in league revenue, and players will be paid a minimum of ₩60M KRW ($48.8K USD) annually.
- Unlike the North American and European leagues, which asked teams for $10M-$13M, the entry fee for the Korean league has not been publicly disclosed.
The League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) is following suit of other professional circuits by inviting teams to apply for a long-term partnership model. The long held relegation-promotion system will be removed, with an academy league set up. Partner teams will share in league revenue, and players will be guaranteed a minimum annual salary of ₩60M KRW ($48.8K USD).
The league, which currently plays out of the LOL Park studio in Seoul, will invite prospective team owners to initially submit letters of intent by May 8, with full applications—including business plans, team management plans, financials, and other required documents—by June 19. Applicants will be judged on criteria such as fanbase expansion, player recruitment and training, and financial capital. The final teams will be announced in late September.
This is the fifth league to introduce such a system, following North America, Europe, Turkey, and Brazil (the latter also to transition in 2021). It is similar to the model of North American franchised sports, only team brands are not unique to the league, and there are no territorial rights. Conversely, the Chinese League of Legends Pro League (LPL) allows new teams to bid for expansion slots each year, and compete from their own venues across the country.
The European league asked its ten long-term partners to pay €8M ($9.2M) – €10.5M ($12M) over a period of time, while the North American league asked for $8-$13M, with the higher costs required by competition newcomers. The LCK did not disclose entry fees in its announcement.
LCK teams have won five League of Legends World Championships, more than any other region. Historically, teams have largely been owned and operated by Korean conglomerates (known as chaebols) including Korea Telecom, Samsung, and Hanwha Life, and its focus on the internal market has made international fan bases and sponsors less of a priority, compared to the LPL, which has commercial partnerships with Nike and Mercedes-Benz.
Among the current LCK teams, those likely to be accepted for 2021 include three time World champions T1, a joint venture between Comcast Spectacor and SK Telecom; and 2017 World champions Gen.G Esports, a global esports organization that raised $46M in 2019 with backers including Will Smith, Keisuke Honda, and Dennis Wong.
The LCK, like all League of Legends professional competition, is currently playing online remote games only in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
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