The general trend of League of Legends seems to point towards franchising. ​The Tencent League of Legends Pro League (LPL) became franchised in 2017 as the first major competitive region to step away from the previous promotion-relegation system. In 2018, the North American League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) followed suit, with ten teams permanently establishing themselves as the North American franchises. In 2019, the EU LCS re-branded itself as the newly-franchised League of Legends European Championship (LEC) while the LPL ​further expanded to 16 teams. 



In this environment, it's not inconceivable that the teams in Korea might be tempted to see the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) go down a similar route. It is no secret that the Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA) have had disputes with Riot Games over control over the region's most popular esport, and one of the major appeals of franchising is the greater security and negotiating power it affords the teams. 


For massive backers like SK Telecom, KT, Jin Air, and BBQ Chicken, many of whom operate their League of Legends teams as part of marketing for their parent organization, the guarantee that their investments would remain in the LCK is no doubt enticing.


The 2019 LCK spring split is a reminder that for all the financial benefits and investment securities afforded by franchising, esports is at its heart a competitive sport, and competition is exciting when there are stakes for both winners and losers. 


As week five comes to a close for the LCK and the first round robin is completed, the current standings prove true the narrative that had been woven at the start of the split. In 2019, Korea is a story of the young guns overtaking the old blood. 

First place Griffin made their breakout debut in 2018 Summer, in which a team of complete rookies were one map away from completing the royal road and winning the entire league and going to the World Championship. Second place SANDBOX Gaming made a similarly explosive introduction, falling only to Griffin and a surprise loss by Afreeca Freecs. Hanwha Life Esports don't yet seem capable of challenging those above it but at fourth, they have thus far crushed all beneath them. DAMWON Gaming were hyped as a potential powerhouse, and although they have yet to deliver on that initial praise, they have more than earned their spot in the league. 


Meanwhile, the LCK mainstays are all shadows of their former selves. Kingzone DragonX were atop the world this time last year, and now fight to retain relevance in the spotlight. The Afreeca Freecs hold on with an upset over Sandbox but their grip is by their fingernails. KT Rolster and Gen.G miserably wallow in eighth and ninth place respectively, and the Jin Air Green Wings have reached an all-time low with a winless season so far at tenth. Only SK Telecom T1 remains as the Ozymandian king looking across the crumbling glory of the past, the last defender of the old gods, and even they are sorely outclassed by Griffin. 

This is a type of excitement and despair that cannot be attained in a franchise system. In the LCS, LEC and LPL, it is a tale of new chapters in old books. In the LCK, for now and hopefully forever, the withered novels of the past crumple on the ground as new epics are weaved in the skies. 


Images courtesy of Griffin and SK Telecom T1