Riot Games recently announced that it would set up team franchises in South Korea, and esports organization Gen.G said it is putting its hat in the ring with an application to get one of the franchises. The franchises are expected to be expensive, but it isn’t clear how much yet. The League of Legends Championship Korea (LCK) has announced plans to franchise for the 2021 competitive season.
It’s the last of the four major global regions of League of Legends to move to franchising over a system of promotion and relegation. South Korea is known as the most enthusiastic country for esports. Gen.G is focused on the LCK as the next best bet in esports as one of the last franchises, said Gen.G CEO Chris Park.
“We are thinking about how to structure our entity with strategic partners,” Park said. “Franchising in esports is relatively new. League of Legends has done this in China, Europe, and North America. Korea is the the latest.”
Activision Blizzard had already franchised the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League. In those cases, teams paid for the franchise rights, and the league owners will share league proceeds with the times. The investors and teams paid tens of millions of dollars for those rights, and Park believes interest will be very strong in the LCK franchises as well.
“We think League of Legends will be the most viewed sport in the world,” Park said. “[South] Korea is just a really interesting opportunity, as it is the birthplace of esports in the world. It is the strongest national player base in the world.”
He said that League of Legends has the potential to bridge the Asian and Western markets to become the most-watched sport of any kind in the world in 2020, particularly with a void in traditional sports.
“You’ll see more and more avenues for American fans and European fans to follow Gen.G in this league even though most of us don’t have a chance to regularly travel to Seoul in person,” Park said.
Gen.G’s team has been a dominant force in LCK since 2017 winning the World Championship in 2017 and currently ranked No. 1 heading into the spring playoffs. The LCK team has been a centerpiece of its business: continuing to set new records for viewership across China and Western markets as well as gaining the attention of major brands globally, including Logitech and Han Sung Motors (the official Mercedes-Benz distributor of Korea).
While the pandemic has stalled many businesses and mainstream sports, esports has been able to pivot to digital.
“Our hearts go out to everyone who has been personally or professionally dealing with the effects of the pandemic,” Park said. “Increasingly, in the U.S., it’s becoming clear this is a moment for esports. We have the No. 1 major sport in the world that has the flexibility to continue to compete and play. In-person events are challenged. But we see increased interest in streaming content for our teams.”
Park said that the need is clear to innovate on how to bring esports back as physical events when we are able to gather again.
“My hope for the industry for the future is that this will still be a sport that brings out the best of online and in-person events,” he said. “When the world does return to normal and we are able to re-congregate in those venues, I think we can incorporate a lot of those digital insights. But in the long run, I don’t think it has to be either-or.”
Gen.G has more than 40 employees and more than a hundred if you count the athletes and coaches.