Jess Colwill, December 27, 2016

The Biggest League of Legends Stories of 2016

League of Legends is the biggest esport there is, bar none. It tops all the charts when it comes to hours watched, averaging almost 20 million hours a week, which is almost more than any other two esports combined.

2016 saw the sport grow even furtherhow much bigger can it get?and the World Championship in October hit some pretty impressive milestones as SK Telecom T1 beat Samsung Galaxy in a surprisingly close 3-2 best-of-five victory. On the Rift, 2016 was definitely the year of SKT, as Faker and co won a domestic title, IEM, MSI, and the World Championship, with their greatest competition coming from other Korean teams, as China and the West struggled to keep up.

Growth was really LoL’s theme for 2016, thenits biggest stories all a result of the game expanding to almost unwieldy levels.

The Dynamic Queue Debacle

At the start of 2016, Riot made its customary annual changes to League of Legends, one of which was to introduce a new more visually appealing champion select process and a new "dynamic queue" to replace solo and duo ranked queues. While the new champ select was pretty swish, the reaction to dynamic queue quickly grew from scepticism to confusion to outright hostility, drawing condemnation from players across the entire game ecosystem.

Warden Sivir and Nautilus looking cool.

Relations between League players and Riot aren't always great, as anyone who has ever spent five seconds on the subreddit can attest, but dynamic queue took things to another level - and Riot ultimately relented and agreed to make things right. "In 2016, we made a big mistake. We took away Solo/Duo Queue, and some of our most loyal players felt betrayed," the company admitted ahead of the 2017 season update. "This year, we're looking to make things right by trying something radical —giving you what you’ve been asking for all along. For the hyper-competitive lone wolf (and one trusted compadre), Solo/Duo Queue is back. For those who want a competitive group experience, we're morphing DQ into the Flex Queue. Play in both to get extra rewards."

League fans felt better after that, and the promise of replays and a sandbox mode - two things Riot had previously denied would ever be added to the game - completed an unlikely turnaround that saw player sentiment in kind of a positive place again by year's end. Expect fighting to resume again within minutes.

LCS Teams in Open Revolt

It began when Team SoloMid owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, during an interview about an unrelated issue, mentioned the pay structure in place for the LoL Championship Series. For context, players receive a salary of at least $12,500 from Riot, but the job is patchy and unreliable, making it difficult to earn a living playing LoL alone.

While Reginald was reluctant to say any more about it at the time, the interview was seen by Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill, who apparently took it quite personally. The co-founder of Riot took to Reddit to fire back, suggesting perhaps if Reginald was “so concerned about the financial health of his players, maybe he should spend some more of the millions he has made/makes from League of Legends on paying them instead of investing in other esports where he is losing money."

Hours later, the inflammatory post was edited beyond recognition, presumably by Riot’s PR managers. It went back and forth for a while before the North American teams eventually banded together to write a strongly-worded letter to the folks at Riot about the need for change and sustainability.

While it was never satisfactorily proven, there were then rumors floating around that Riot was trying to coerce the revolting NA teams into signing an unfavorable agreement through threats and suggestions they would turn a blind eye to illegal poaching of players.

Eventually, whether the rumors were true or it was all smoke and mirrors from the beginning, Riot announced some substantial changes to the LCS moving forward.

Changes to EU and NA LCS

North America and Europe both got their own set of format changes. While there’s some crossover, there are differences between the regions as well.

Of great importance to the ongoing salary struggles, the prize pool for both regions was increased to $200,000 and €200,000 respectively. Each LCS team is also guaranteed at least $50,000 of product revenue per split.

What Riot gives with one hand they take with the other, introducing strict rules in North America about “promotion farming”the practice of entering a sister team into the Challenger Series in order to sell it on for profit when the roster achieves promotion to the LCS. While a secondary stream of revenue was almost a necessity previously, Riot is hoping that the new increased prize pools and product revenue will be enough to keep teams in the black without farming.

League of Legends Championship Series

Both regions recognized the value of the input from a head coach, and have implemented the same contract requirements and poaching protection for coaches that is in place for players.

The issue of relegation has been a hot topic for many months, and the new changes did their best to make everyone happy in that regard. Riot opted not to lose relegation entirely but to change which teams enter the Promotion Tournament from the bottom three to just 9th and 10th.

The EU LCS decided a change in drafting format was in order, and have chosen to switch to what’s known as a “snake draft.” Teams are separated into two groups with each team choosing a team from the other group that they want to play. It’s a little bit complicated, but it will all make sense once the new system hits play.

North America also introduced neutral, third-party, expedited arbitration for the contest of suspensions and fines as well as the idea of an “inactive roster.” The inactive roster allows the import of players from overseas or with suspensions to be slotted into a team but marked as “inactive.” This facilitates overseas players in getting work visas as well as granting poaching protection until they’re able to participate.

MLB BAMTech Deal

Also pointing toward the huge growth of League of Legends this year, Riot has signed a deal with Major League Baseball’s BAMTech.

BAMTech will create an app for streaming LoL games for both PC and mobile devices. The deal is set to run from now until the 2023 season, guaranteeing Riot a minimum of $50 million a year.

Riot assured LoL fans that the service would be a free one, making its revenue through ads rather than paywalls. They did hint at the possibility of a premium service further down the line, but maintained that the “current experience we have today will continue to be free.”

Jess Colwill

Jess is a writer and dog-lover from the eastern coast of Australia, who loves playing games (particularly anything by BioWare), listening to metal, baking, and fostering rescue dogs while they wait for new homes. You can find her on Twitter at @notsocryptic.