Can Esports Franchising Yield Good Long-Term Results?


by in General | Dec, 27th 2019

Franchising is a crucial part of numerous sports but is mostly based in the USA. NBA, NHL, NFL, all these leagues feature franchises and don’t have the traditional promotion and relegation system that became the standard all over Europe.

Now, the franchising switch is starting to make waves in the esports industry too. We’ve already seen some of the most popular esports leagues make the switch to a franchised system, and from the looks of things, they’ve been quite successful thus far.

Due to their success, it’s no wonder we see more talks about franchising in esports. It’s a never-ending topic at this point, and it’s only a matter of time before even the most prominent esports titles jump onto the franchising bandwagon.

But, is franchising in esports a good thing? Can it further improve the growth of esports?

Well, before we can answer such complex questions, we must fully understand the concept behind esports franchising.

What Is Esports Franchising?

In essence, esports franchising is somewhat similar to franchising in conventional physical sports. The most significant difference between the current and franchised leagues lies in the team drafting and system openness.

If the league/esports title is open, esports organizations and teams have more flexibility in terms of the qualification processes. The best teams are often invited to lucrative events, while others have to qualify whether via online or offline qualifications. Furthermore, specialized leagues keep track of teams’ performances with good displays often meaning direct invitations to the next event in the series.

None of this is present in a franchised system. Once teams become franchises, they become the direct partners of the league with a guaranteed spot in the competition for a specific time. Organizations buy spots in the initial round, for typically pretty large sums of money.

As hinted above, there’s no promotion/relegation here – no matter how poor a team performs, they’ll still be in the league the next year.

Pros & Cons of Esports Franchising

As you can see, we’re talking about two completely different league systems, each with its own set of pros and cons. If we want to understand franchising in esports better, the quickest way to do so would be to asses the essential pros and cons.

So, let’s take a look!

Pros

There’s one major pro I’d like to address here, and that’s stability. Franchising in esports is there to take care of one thing – long-term stability. It’s as simple as that. The open esports league systems featuring promotion and relegation were way too chaotic for gentle taste buds of rich investors.

One bad split could end an up-and-coming team’s career. Such a chaotic environment is way too risky for investors, meaning esports titles that are still not franchised lose out on a ton of VC money.

All esports leagues that decided to flip the switch saw an increase in investment. Brands love the fact their partners are also the permanent league partners meaning they can’t just get relegated or walk away from the competition.

Basically, a franchised system brings in more money for everyone in the esports chain. It ups the revenues of everyone involved, from esports organizations, franchises/teams, players, staff, and event organizers.

Think of it as a long-term thing. At the risk of losing a short number of viewers right off the bat (you can learn why below), and endangering the level of competitiveness, game publishers and event organizers can buy more time to promote their content and ride the growing esports wave.

Cons

The biggest con of franchising in esports is the closed-off environment, which limits the fluctuation of teams and players. Even though that same closed-off environment brings extra stability and value to the league, it could plague the level of competitiveness and eat the league from the inside.

Another con is the process of funneling young talents. In an open system, promotion/relegation systems, in-form rosters and individuals pop up on the radar quite often. It leads to offers from bigger teams that play at higher levels.

In a closed-off franchised system, all top players play in a single league and get little to no exposure to the “outsiders.” This means teams and leagues would have to invest additional funds in Academy Levels, which brings forth a ton of further controversies.

Lastly, there would be no more Cinderella stories, massive upsets on significant events we all love to experience. There are no “unknown” teams who’ve made it to a major final in franchised leagues.

Franchised systems feature permanent league spots with no fear of relegation, meaning smaller, unknown teams have no way of reaching the top flight without dashing out millions of bucks for a permanent spot.

Best Examples of Franchising in Esports

Riot Games and Activision Blizzard already added franchising systems to their top-level competitions and experienced a fair share of success.

NA and EU LoL leagues are franchised, which considerably upped the game’s long-term stability and kept the viewership numbers from dropping down. League of Legends esports is soon to reach its first double-digit birthday. It’s still the most-watched esports title on the planet. It could be due to the fact the most of its popular leagues are franchised.

The franchised Overwatch League is flourishing, too. It’s still limping behind the most excellent esports titles out there. However, it’s building a healthy fanbase. Thanks to franchising in esports, it seems to futureproof.

However, there are bad examples of franchising, too. The upcoming Call of Duty World League is set to feature a franchised system, but I reckon you already know that.

Baffled with controversy since the official announcement, reportedly pricing permanent spots at $25 million, and featuring a buggy mess, the inaugural CWL season doesn’t seem that promising. Perhaps it will be the best example of what not to do when it comes to esports franchising.

Esports Titles Still Aren’t Franchised

Even though some of the biggest esports titles out there feature franchised leagues, another bunch is sticking with the old ways, featuring the good old promotion/relegation system based on European sports (mainly soccer).

The biggest esports with unfranchised leagues are Apex Legends, Fortnite, Rocket League and Valve’s fantastic duo, Dota 2 and CS:GO. However, Rocket League will probably make the franchising switch relatively soon, just like Apex Legends and FIFA.

Valve will be left all alone at that point, swimming in their crowd-funded prize money and hoping for the best.

The Wrap Up

As is the case with everything else in the world, esports franchising has its ups and downs. It adds an extra layer of long-term stability not just to the league but to everyone involved in the given esports title. It also endangers its organizational structure and the level of competitiveness. Not to mention it could anger the viewers, which then results in the departure of long-term investors.

If done correctly, esports titles like Dota 2 and Rocket League could greatly benefit from franchising their top-flight competitions. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for CS:GO.

Valve’s golden egg is still the most popular FPS in the esports sphere, but franchising doesn’t make any sense considering its complex, competitive structure. CS:GO is one of those games that would benefit from keeping their competitive sphere intact.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out for the inaugural CWL season. At the moment, things aren’t looking too good. I’m afraid it could be the biggest flop in terms of esports franchising. There’s still a month to go before the league’s start, and I expect massive changes.

Another esports franchising implementation I can’t wait to see is Rocket League. There have been numerous talks about Rocket League transitioning to a franchised system, but we still don’t know much more than that.

Anyways, I’m sure you realize just how complex the whole franchising in esports deal is. Remember, we’ve touched only the surface level stuff in this piece. The problematics go much deeper than that and we’re bound to tackle it further.

What do you guys think, is franchising the future of esports?

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