Riot Games has announced several key changes to the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) as part of its new franchise model for 2021.
The LCK 2021 season will commence on January 13th with a revamped LCK Challengers League (LCK CL), higher salaries and prize pools, new sponsors, and significant changes to the overall competitive format, according to a release.
A step up for up-and-comers
This season marks a new era for the LCK Challengers League, which will follow the same six-seed bracket playoff format as the regular LCK. These up-and-coming players will also gain broader access to the competitive ecosystem, as LCK and LCK CL teams will have the ability to exchange rosters.
Call-ups and send-downs will be possible three times during the split — at the beginning of the first and second rounds, whilst also before the playoffs. Riot Games says that it hopes the exchanges will “further widen the scope of each team’s strategic operation.”
The new amateur LCK Academy Series will continue into 2021 and be ‘operated regularly’, per a release.
Sponsors and income opportunities
LCK 2021 will increase the prize pool money from 300 million KRW (~£202,400) to 400 million KRW (~£270,000). The first place prize has also doubled from 100 million KRW (~£67,500) to 200 million KRW (~£135,000), with 100 million KRW now going to the runner-up team.
Secretlab, HP Omen, Woori Bank, McDonald’s, and Logitech have all signed on as official sponsors of LCK beginning in 2021. Terms and length of these agreements have not been disclosed.
There will also be changes to the league’s minimum salary. The lowest salary among first-team players and coaches tripled from 20 million KRW (~£13,500) to 60 million KRW (~£40,500), according to the LCK Contract Database. Beginning in 2021, coaches will be guaranteed at least 40 million KRW (~£27,000). This is expected to greatly increase job stability in the industry.
Road to the playoffs
Starting in 2021, the first through sixth-place teams from the regular season will enter a six-seed bracket-style tournament to determine the split champions. All matches in this playoff tournament will be a best-of-five.
Rather than top-ranked teams heading straight to the finals as they had done in the past, these teams must win two matches to win. This, LCK explains, opens opportunities to more teams to advance to the finals and accumulate experience, which is expected to boost their competitiveness in international competitions. The league is also hoping this expanded playoff format will allow viewers to enjoy more high-stakes LCK matches.
The LCK regular season will consist of two, best-of-three matches per day. The first round will have matches spanning five days of the week (Wednesday-Sunday), and the second round will be held four days a week (Thursday-Sunday).
Aiden Lee, the Secretary-General of LCK, commented: “There have been many opinions among the fans, teams and the league, that the playoff format needs to be changed in order to increase the competitiveness of the LCK on the international stage.
“We listened to the opinions of 10 teams, and the majority hoped to keep the regular season as it is and expand the playoff system. We will show effort along with the teams in building a foundation for a sustainable ecosystem and to develop into a qualitatively competitive league.”
Esports Insider says: The newly rebranded LCK is pushing to establish a healthy esports ecosystem in Korea, and these changes are a good start. Raising the minimum salary and prize money, as well as adopting a long-term partner (i.e. franchise) format will offer stability and competitiveness in the region.