League of Legends: We need to talk about 100 Thieves and franchising

League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

With another 0-2 week, 100 Thieves is picking up their LCS Summer Split right where they left off.

100 Thieves, the proverbial darlings of franchising, are still struggling to get their footing after a tenth-place finish in the last split and a bevy of roster changes going into this split. With Clutch Gaming rebranding as Dignitas next split, and rumors of internal disputes within Echo Fox (and the potential that Rick Fox will be stepping away from League of Legends) the best of the traditional sports franchise teams seems to be Golden Guardians, who hold that spot by default, as Clutch and 100T took 9th and 10th place respectively.

But it wasn’t always this way. Rewinding to spring of 2018, the script was almost completely flipped: 100T finished first in the regular season, then made a run into the finals (where they were decidedly 3-0ed by TL). For their part, Clutch took down TSM to kick them out of a finals appearance for the first time ever. And GGS? Well, someone had to keep that 10th place bench warm…

So the first week of the new split has passed, and it is far too early to call anything. Just last split GGS went 0-4, then rolled into the semi-finals of playoffs. The same could happen for 100T. But if a powerful turnaround doesn’t happen, I worry about the team.

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To anyone who has read anything I’ve written (on the off chance one of the three of you is reading this), you’ll know how I feel about franchising and the changes it made to North American League of Legends. And while it’s easy to take potshots at an ever-evolving professional league, constantly claiming past renditions were better from my front-porch rocking chair, I do think we’re seeing some serious franchise-related issues with the esport.

When franchising was first announced, I was cautiously pessimistic. To me, it seemed that the merging of esports and traditional sports culture could be a rocky one, with no real winners.

On one hand, the esports dynasties (TSM, C9, Liquid) would use their experience and head-start in the scene to crush – and subsequently demotivate – the new squads. Organizations would see that they were losing money, then slowly defund their teams until they had no fighting chance at the trophy.

On the other hand, traditional sports teams might be able to invest into all-star rosters, toppling the regular paradigm of the scene and upsetting fans who had watched their favorite teams for years, and more or less “buying” the North American League of Legends title. It seemed like there was no third path.

Until 100 Thieves showed up.

This team immediately drew on seasoned players and a solid coaching staff, demonstrating a level of nuance and understanding in the gaming world which probably came (in part) from Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag. Having a former pro gamer as their owner also helped the team’s cred, and their modest success and solid play left room for strong dynasty teams, while showing off the potential of the traditional sports franchises.

With other franchise teams flailing around the league – picking up unpromising rookies and washed-up semi-talent, the Thieves seemed like the last redemptive hope for the new system. After all, just imagine if we were stuck with five or six Clutch teams (with no relegations for a much-needed blood transfusion).

Vladimir. League of Legends.
League of Legends. Photo courtesy of Riot Games. /

Anyway, the point that I am trying to make is a simple one: North American League of Legends changed with teams like 100 Thieves, Clutch Gaming and Echo Fox in mind. The entire structure of the LCS fundamentally warped around these teams, due to the fear that wealthy investors would lose tons of money if their team was relegated. That’s understandable, and it works, so long as these teams maintain a moderate level of success.

However, when these teams continue to fail in the highest echelons of competitive play, despite having the game rigged to be as forgiving as possible, it makes me a little irked. Imagine that you have a new friend with a gluten allergy. You invite him over, making sure to order only gluten-free food and drinks, really going out of your way to accommodate this guy. Then he shows up, hangs around for an hour, then leaves again. Now you’re alone in your house with a bunch of stuff specifically designed for someone who is no longer here.

That’s where teams like 100T could leave us, if they continue to flounder. Clutch is already doing it. Echo Fox might be next, and I imagine that 100T will be close behind without a massive shot in the arm.

And who knows what’ll happen after that. Maybe we’ll get Immortals back in League of Legends. Maybe in a year or two, all the traditional sports franchise teams will be gone, and then we’ll go back to having a relegation tournament, and it’ll be like this all never happened.

It just seems like a waste.

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I’d love to hear all of your thoughts about franchising, and whether there are any major positives you think I’ve overlooked. Go ahead and comment below!