Esports relegations have been completely removed in today’s era of League of Legends domestic circuits and the fans have speculated that this has had a massive effect on competitiveness in each region. As the tournament scene grows with new viewers joining the community, is it time for Riot Games to bring back the relegation system in order to re-ignite the competitive spirit between lower-placed teams, especially in the major regions? Or is Riot Games biased for not letting more prominent orgs compete for their spot despite bad performances?
What is Esports Relegations?
Esports relegations refers to the cycling between teams in terms of placement between development leagues and domestic leagues. The domestic leagues refer to the official Riot Games region (LCS, LEC, LPL, LCK, VCS, etc.) while the development leagues are unaffiliated esports organizations that compete in minor leagues or promotional series. The top-placed teams in the development league will challenge the bottom-placed teams in the domestic leagues for their spot.
Nowadays, the only way for unaffiliated organizations to acquire a spot in the domestic league is to wait for a slot to open up, which is usually done by the affiliated leagues selling their spot to the highest bidder. Relegations have been removed in all major regions since the re-franchising of the EU LCS in 2019 into the LEC. Many esports organizations have sold and bought slots since then around the different major regions.
Does Removing Relegations Have a Negative Effect?
The removal of esports relegations has had a massive effect on the competitiveness of the league structure. Development leagues are no longer as competitive since they had no chance to get promoted into the main tournament while bottom-placed teams in the main tournament no longer have to fear facing relegations and can continue on a downward trend of losing without any repercussions if they are on a heavy losing streak and determine that they no longer have a chance of making playoffs.
The removal of relegations allow for esports orgs to spend entire splits or even seasons with mediocre teams by not investing heavily on highly-competitive rosters. Organizations usually do this if their main goal is simply to maintain presence in the league rather than compete for a top spot. While the prize pool is a great incentive for players, the organizations themselves don’t need to place at the top of the rankings since their main source of income comes from partnerships and sales.
Why Won’t Riot Games Reinstate Relegations?
It’s more profitable to offer esports slots rather than having teams to compete for it. Unlike in the earlier years of League of Legends esports, it’s much easier to sell a slot for tens of millions of dollars since there are many well-established organizations lining up to buy their own slot. In addition, existing organizations have the means to pay for their yearly fees to Riot Games since they have more resources due to popularity among sponsors.
For example, TSM FTX may not be performing well in the LCS right now but if the region were to relegate them, they’d lose one of the biggest contributors to the league not just in monetary gain but also in popularity and fanbase. It would simply be a huge mistake to get rid of a lot of regions even when they’re underperforming for a split or two. It’s a difficult decision but ultimate players need to understand that the esports scene is a business before everything else.
Best Alternatives to Esports Relegations
Instead of esports relegations, Riot Games has many different approaches that are already present in today’s time. Having to cycle between teams and giving them the chance for exposure is a good thing overall, but only if the company is willing to do so. Many regional tournaments intentionally do not allow some of these methods for reasons we have yet to understand even from a business standpoint and it may be good for the fans to suggest these methods to the company.
1. Raising the Number of Slots
The best way to give teams more exposure and help grow the tournament scene without relegating teams is to raise the number slots in a region. Most major regions have 10 team slots, but the regions with a smaller number of participating teams often have the weakest competition. In the LPL, the region has 17 teams and of those at least 11 teams are very close in terms of competitiveness and relevance in popularity in their country.
Regions like the LCS has a limit of `10 slots with the playoffs being open to the top 8. This is extremely bad since a lot of underperforming teams are rewarded by being given a playoffs spot even though their winrate is absolutely horrible. In the modern esports scene, we believe that each major region should have at least 12 slots and mandating that all regions play on a best-of-three format in their regular seasons.
2. Introduction of Secondary Leagues
The introduction of secondary leagues outside of Academy Leagues can be a real help. This system is mostly popular in Europe with the LFL (France), LVP (Spain), NLC (UK, Ireland, and Nordics) and others. This system has given popularity to many teams and players such as Karmine Corp, where Rekkles has been competing in 2022.
Teams can introduce the same system and allowing big organizations to secure their spot as a competitor and make a name for themselves while allowing viewers to have other places to watch professional play, especially in their local areas. While smaller countries with lower populations such as South Korea may not have the need for secondary leagues, regions with a larger area such as North America or China can make use of these system in addition to their academy and development leagues.
Will Riot Games Ever Bring Back Relegations?
Riot Games has not announced any plans to return the relegation system in League of Legends and, to be frank, there is a very low chance for them to reintroduce it since it’s not profitable for them to do so.