Riot Games’ League of Legends competitive matches in the English language are soon likely to be streamed exclusively on a single platform, the developers have confirmed.
Broadcast deals, which see platforms and networks buy the rights to show select programs and events, are the main source of revenue in many sports but this has not translated to esports just yet. However, prospective deals like this from Riot may change that.
After speculation around potential details surfaced a few weeks ago the company has now confirmed it to reporter Adam Stern, saying: “We are evaluating a number of options for our various rights packages.”
Travis Gafford has reported that a potential deal would include all of League of Legends esports in the English language, not just Western events like the North American LCS and European LEC.
The 2020 World Championship was the most-viewed League of Legends event to date.
While a monetary value has not been reported at this time, which makes sense considering it appears a deal is far from being done, it’s worth noting another notable media rights sale by Riot. In August 2020, they signed a three-year deal worth a reported $113m with Bilibili just for the Chinese rights to the World Championship, Mid-Season Invitational, and All-Star Event.
While it’s a risk to make events less accessible in terms of where they’re available to be watched, securing a high-value long-term streaming deal would provide a level of stability often not found in esports to date.
The likely candidates
YouTube have had a landmark year when it comes to streaming, having signed an exclusive streaming deal with Activision Blizzard for multiple years. The partnership includes the rights to the likes of Call of Duty League, Overwatch League, and Hearthstone esports. They’ve also been spending big to exclusively sign streamers such as 100 Thieves’ Valkyrae and CouRage, Muselk, and PewDiePie.
Twitch, on the other hand, are effectively the unofficial home to esports — with almost every Western broadcast ensuring they’re found on the platform.
Losing League of Legends esports in the English language would be a huge blow, with the recent World Championship boasting 139m hours watched with a peak viewership of almost 3.9m people. It’s not farfetched to think that they’d want to retain such a draw, especially considering the LEC and LCS are included.
There are other platforms that could snatch the streaming rights. The likes of Facebook, Trovo, and DLive are all vying to obtain a bigger share of the gaming and esports audience and acquiring the rights to broadcast the biggest title in esports would definitely make for plenty of headlines.
Mark ‘Boq’ Wilson, an esports commentator, has spoken out against tournament organizer G-Loot due to alleged late payments.
Over July 3-5, G-Loot operated the Trovo Challenge — a $10,000 event for Riot Games’ new shooter Valorant — on behalf of the live streaming platform. For the North American arm of the competition, Boq was hired to cast alongside Leigh ‘Deman’ Smith, Alex ‘Vansilli’ Nguyen, and David ‘SIMO’ Rabinovitch.
Weeks after the event wrapped up, complaints were posted on Twitter regarding G-Loot’s tardiness in paying for the work fulfilled. Dexerto learned that the casters agreed on a Net 60 payment term, meaning they should be paid within 60 days of fulfilling their duties.
G-Loot don’t appear to be short of cash, having raised an investment what they describe as “one of the largest esports fundraisers globally” of $56m in October 2020. While this is indeed after the event, in which it’s possible they didn’t have a lot of money prior to securing the investment, they’re now looking to grow their player base and optimize their service. Players and casters are still allegedly going unpaid despite said agreements, however.
G-Loot were responsible for the competitive operations of the event.
Vansilli publicly revealed that he invoiced the tournament organizer on July 9 and was clearly disgruntled on October 1 when sharing that he was yet to be paid. They stated that he may have to wait until October 23 to receive payment, which is weeks after the agreed term.
Vansilli confirmed to Dexerto at the beginning of November that the payment had finally been sent, but that’s still not the case for Boq.
As of November 25, he has been waiting for 143 days to be paid. He spoke with Dexerto about his experience with G-Loot, the struggles of trying to get the money that’s owed to him, and the typical circumstances casters have to operate within to get hired for events.
The Payment Challenge
“My experience with G-Loot has almost been no experience,” Boq told Dexerto. “They’ve been quiet, unresponsive, and unwilling to work with us to get things resolved. Everything has been on their timetable, not ours. They were very sporadic with responses, an email would come once every 20 or so days and they’d point out an issue then we’d hear from them again 20 days later.
“It’s clear that they don’t really value talent; forcing us to jump through hoops and giving us crazy dates, far in advance, that related to funding rounds and giving us the run around in general. I am still actively pursuing payment. I’ve given them everything that I was told was needed and they said payment was going to be sent.”
One of the major problems across many esports titles, from the top tier of competition down to amateur events, is the loose use of contracts for broadcast talent. Agreements are made through platforms like Twitter and Discord, with talent being reluctant to request for arrangements to be made official for fear of seeming ‘difficult to work with’ and potentially losing out on future opportunities.
“Like many situations, I did not receive a contract,” he said. “It’s pretty common that I don’t get a contract for an event and if I do, I’m actually blown away by the preparedness of the talent manager. I’ve signed contracts after an event has concluded and had to wait on contracts to send invoices before. It’s definitely common that I don’t get a contract, it’s all verbal or a Twitter DM. Once the flight is booked for a LAN event at least there’s a guarantee, but online there are no guarantees.”
Reminder that its been 141 days since @trovolive Challenge ended and @GlobalLoot still hasn't paid me for casting.
There’s an emerging topic among freelancers in esports regarding the application of late fees to invoices, theoretically deterring tournament organizers from either paying late or not at all by charging them extra for any delay. As of now, there are often no repercussions for such actions and that again is due to the leverage these companies possess according to Boq.
“It’s hard for talent to enforce late fees because the concern is that they just won’t use you again in the future, they’ll be frustrated because you’ve enforced a rule,” he said. “We don’t have as much leverage or power as them. There are a million casters out there who all want to work and get these gigs so it doesn’t matter how large your brand is, ultimately you can easily damage your name beyond repair. The smaller your name is, the easier that is to do.
“Tournament organizers have this tremendous power over some of the smaller names in broadcasting because they don’t have the leverage to get the payment that they’re due. This happens constantly when you look at Tier 2 or 3 scenes and in collegiate and high school when tournament organizers pay late, or at all, and the only option that these people have is to go public.
On why he has chosen to speak out against G-Loot, and why a better system with increased accountability for all parties needs to be put in place, the caster explained that this is more than wanting money — it makes esports a worse place and damages the industry as a whole.
Boq is best known for casting shooters such as Counter-Strike and, more recently, Valorant.
“It destroys the ecosystem that’s in place,” said Boq. “It’s important that we don’t allow tournament organizers that practice those behaviors to continue to survive because the ones that don’t are competing against them and sometimes losing. I hate to see companies that raise millions of dollars because I know they can crush a lot of the competition, some who actually do pay their talent but perhaps don’t have the same budget so they can’t increase their exposure with better hires.”
While other broadcast talent may now have been paid for their work on the event, that is not the case for Boq. Who knows if there are others out there across titles and tournament organizers that don’t feel as if they can speak up and still get hired going forward?