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Franchise system’s impact on the first round of LCK

LCK more competitive, but roster flexibility needs to be improved

LCK standings as of Sunday (Riot Games)
LCK standings as of Sunday (Riot Games)

The first round of the League of Legends Champions Korea Spring Split season came to an end Friday, with the 10 teams all having faced each other, making apparent the advantages and disadvantages of the franchise system.

The current standings after the first pairings of the second round are as follows.

1. DWG Kia (9-1) 2. Gen.G (7-3) 3. DRX (7-3) 4. Hanwha Life Esports (6-4) 5. T1 (5-5) 6. KT Rolster (5-5) 7. Afreeca Freecs (3-7) 8. Nongshim RedForce (3-7) 9. Fredit Brion (3-7) 10. Liiv Sandbox (2-8).

With the eyes of the LoL esports community on the LCK after DWG Kia brought back the world championship trophy and as the franchise system has been implemented, the first round of the LCK showed that the league is as competitive as ever, and fear of a lack of motivation due to the removal of relegation matches was unnecessary.

To begin with, the entire LCK was shocked when first-place DWG Kia dropped its only game against then last-place team Fredit Brion.

Before the franchise system, many last-place teams went winless or won only one game during the entire split, boring fans and casters. Upsets rarely happened between teams at the bottom of standings and top teams. However, the first round showed that every team has what it takes to beat the top-tier teams.

Also, by increasing the number of teams heading to the playoffs to six, even the last-place team has a shot at making a comeback in the second round to reach the playoffs. Only three wins currently separate the last place team from the sixth. As a result, each game counts more than ever.

Another benefit of the franchise system shown so far is that many new talents entered the LCK to much success. Franchise teams prefer to build up young players to represent the team rather than relying heavily on veteran players. Although fans feared the sudden rush of teams consisting of rookies would not be able to perform in their first split because of lack of macro play, DRX, which consists of four rookies and Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon who debuted last year, was able to sit at third place with solid macro play. The high mechanical skill level that the young players brought to the LCK scene raised the quality of the league.

However, the first round also demonstrated that the franchise system still needs many improvements, with one glaring problem being the relative inflexibility of the roster in unforeseen situations.

In the first round, Kim “Lava” Tae-hoon, the mid laner for Fredit Brion, was unable to play in the match due to health reasons. Roster regulations did not allow the mid laner in Fredit Brion’s second division to play for Lava, making the two jungle position players in the first division take turns playing mid against Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. In a sport like baseball, that would be like a utility infielder pitching instead of bringing up a starter from the minor leagues. The result was a devastating 0-2 loss for Fredit Brion, just as it was enjoying momentum from a victory against KT Rolster.

At the root of the problem is that unless you are a wealthy team like T1 or Gen.G that can manage multiple players in the first division, teams cannot have substitutes for multiple positions as they need to have a full five-man roster team for the second division Challengers League. The franchise system also dictates that players registered for the LCK have a minimum salary of 60 million won ($54,000), posing a financial burden to teams.

On the other hand, if roster changes are overly flexible, it could cause confusion for both fans and teams.

Under the new franchise system, roster changes can only be made three times -- before the split start, after the first round of the LCK and before the start of playoffs -- by calling up players from the second-division Challengers League, by demoting players down from the LCK or by adding a new player.

After the first round, Kang “Blank” Sun-gu and Lee “Bonnie” Gwang-su of KT Rolster were sent to the second division while Kim “Gideon” Min-sung and Oh “Noah” Hyeon-taek were called up. The Afreeca Freecs also called up support Kim “MapSSi” Do-yeong. In addition, six new players were registered for the second round. One other change is that Kim “OnFleek” Jang-gyeom of Liiv Sandbox, who was banned from playing in the first round for making a racist comment against Chinese, can be reinstated in the second round.

The Spring Split is a time for teams to try out new tactics and rosters in preparation for the Summer Split, which has greater impact on going to the LoL World Championships in the fall. Many coaches have said that poor results and constant changes in the starting lineup are all part of the process of preparing the best squad for the summer. The Spring Split is also a chance for Riot Games to see what adjustments need to be made in the franchise system.

The second round of the LCK will begin Thursday to Sunday and end March 28, with playoffs starting from March 31.

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)
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