The players association for the North American LCS, which is supposed to represent and protect players and their rights, has been revitalized in a major way.
The organization, which is run by and for players, provides counsel, programs, and support for professional players who compete in the top flight of North American competition on Riot Games’ League of Legends.
Now, after receiving plenty of criticism over the past couple of years, it has been rebirthed with complete financial independence from the game’s developers and an all-new leadership team.
Former Evil Geniuses chief operating officer Phillip Aram has been appointed as the executive director by the association’s members, with Cloud9 Academy player Darshan Upadhyaya serving as president and both Team Liquid player Jo ‘CoreJJ’ Yong-in and Dignitas Academy member Samson ‘Lourlo’ Jackson being named vice presidents.
The board of directors for the LCS PA includes Pipeline CEO and former LoL pro Stephen Ellis, Theorycraft founder Lauren Gaba Flanagan, esports attorney Ryan Fairchild, Rise Above The Disorder CEO Jason Docton, and New Level Recruiting vice president Brian Tran.
Dexerto spoke with Aram to better understand the reincarnated association’s intentions, how it will improve upon what came before it, and how the leading members were chosen.
It takes a lot of resources to run a successful, resourceful association that can appropriately represent its members. Prior to this iteration of the LCS PA, Riot Games were funding the initiative and this called into question the amount of power it had because, ultimately, the developers had the leverage.
Taking into consideration a tweet from the initiative in January which revealed that they’d pay their new executive director as much as $120k per year, and the fact that Riot withdrew financial support in October 2020, one of the main questions now is how the organization is being funded.
“The LCSPA is now fully independent of Riot,” said Aram, the association’s new leader. “The players, led by Darshan, have rebooted the PA and control all decision making and future funding to ensure it truly reflects and represents their interests.”
How have they secured the funding for the association, especially considering the shaky reputation it has amassed to date considering the potential conflict of interest with Riot’s financial interest and perceived lack of effectiveness to date? Well, according to Aram, the money has still been derived from the developers, but it’s not how it may seem.
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“This new PA is the first in esports to be both independent of its developer and financially solvent for multiple years at inception,” he claimed. “This is possible because Darshan conserved a previous funding round from Riot before their role as funders ended and designed a multi-year budget with those funds.
“That budget is a no-strings-attached runway allowing myself and the board to come in and focus right out of the gate on doing the best work we can for all players regardless of if it generates revenue directly for the PA’s own sustainability.”
It’s also worth asking about the experience of the non-players who are now involved in the initiative in relation to associations and unions. These types of organizations can play a pivotal role in ensuring the welfare and proper remuneration of their members, utilizing the leverage created by all of the players being on the same side.
“We were all hired by the players,” said Aram. “I interviewed with Darshan over many weeks and eventually also interviewed with future members of the board to ensure we would all work well together. Our experiences are wide-ranging.
“I worked in progressive politics doing organizing prior to my time in esports and that is core to my mission here of better organizing and activating our members: Stephen helped to guide one of the earliest player-led organizations that was a forerunner of the LCSPA; Lauren’s work at CAA as well as with traditional sports labor unions have made her a talent advocate; Brian worked previously at both Riot and Blizzard building successful teams within them the same way he helped pull this group together; Ryan has been a player-side lawyer in the space working at the individual level to affect change for players for many years.”
For now, the jury is out as to whether this all-new, financially independent players association can truly take form in a way that can create real impact in a league that’s poised for changing following discussions around importing and international success.