LCS Commissioner Chris Greeley on the State of the League and the Road Ahead

In Monday’s “State of the League address,” League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Commissioner Chris Greeley spoke with reporters about the current state of the league and then sat down with The Esports Observer to discuss how the Academy League has not lived up to its potential, how COVID-19 has changed LCS broadcasts, and criticisms surrounding Riot funding the league’s players’ association.

First Time on ESPN, “We had to make some changes in our COVID-19 world.”

This past season marked the first time in LCS history that the league’s playoffs and finals were broadcast on ESPN 2 and the ESPN App. The LCS went into the Spring season, having renovated and upgraded the playing arena, with hopes of creating a better viewing experience for fans in attendance and watching at home. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to find new ways to stay connected to its fans which saw the invention of the “virtual tailgate” where fans saw myriad content and the re-introduction of the three-day match schedule.

Greeley announced that during the current split, games will be played on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday instead of Monday, Saturday, and Sunday as was the case last split. 

“We’re doing that in an effort to do a couple of things,” Greeley said.  “One, we want to set the stage for the weekend, set the narrative off right, and kick it off with a fun and party-like vibe.”

Academy League and Developmental Systems, “Certainly on our radar of things to fix.”

The LCS set out to develop ways in which to foster a path-to-pro for aspiring League of Legends players. However, after some review, Greeley candidly admitted that the Academy may not have lived up to its intended purpose.

“The Academy was conceived of as a developmental league which I don’t think has served that purpose very well for us,” he said. “I think at the end of the day it can feel more like an extended bench of the LCS than a true developmental league. I think step one for us is to address the need for a more developmental system in North America.”

One of the problems with the Academy and its league is that some organizations appeared to use the rosters there as depth for its LCS team instead of signing up-and-coming players to develop. Players on these teams are allowed to move from the Academy teams to LCS teams from week to week, with some restrictions.

Last season the LCS partnered with FACEIT to facilitate Scouting Grounds, a combine type event where select players were invited to the Riot campus in Los Angeles to compete against each other in order to get picked up by various teams. This and the Academy doesn’t seem to be enough, according to Greeley.

“I think I would agree with the criticisms that I’ve heard from fans that the Academy league is not meeting its intended goal and it’s certainly on our radar of things to fix,” he said.

Riot Players’ Association, “I think it’s been a rough road to some extent.”

In May 2017, along with the announcement of the new franchise model the league would be moving to, Riot detailed the formation of the North America LCS Players Association (NALCSPA) which would be initially funded by Riot Games. This announcement was met with skepticism as the association would be funded by Riot itself including paying Hal Biagas, a former assistant general counsel for the National Basketball Players Association, to run the organization on behalf of the players.

This setup would mean that players’ grievances would be arbitrated between Biagas and the league who were both being paid for by Riot.

Greeley said it’s been a rough road due to some false expectations fans may have had about the association itself.

“I think there are expectations from fans that the players’ association is going to work the same way the NBA players association does and it doesn’t,” Greeley explained. “This entity is not a labor union under federal law, it’s a trade association we continue to fund through one time payments that we make to them every year.”

And even though the association is funded by Riot, Greeley makes it clear that there are only a few things coming back to Riot that are necessary.

“The big thing for us when we started the players’ association a few years ago was we wanted the entity to be as independent as it could be when it is being funded by us. So there is no mandatory reporting to us. There is nothing we can require them to do. The only thing they owe us, besides the fact that they’re elected an executive director is that they can’t steal money and run away to Barbados.”

Greeley does believe in the merit of the system even if the public doesn’t see it yet.

“I think that the players’ association gets a bum rap because they’re not out looking for publicity around the things that they are doing,” he said. “We spent a lot of time talking to Hal [Biagas] and Darshawn [Upadhyaya], the association president with weekly calls. They’re able to make requests, ask questions, and make demands in which to have really productive conversations.”

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