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labor Labor Movement Expands to Esports and Begins With ‘League of Legends’

The labor movement has expanded into esports, starting with the League of Legends Championship Series Players Association (LCSPA).

The labor movement has expanded into esports, starting with the League of Legends Championship Series Players Association (LCSPA). Things are heating up as the LCSPA is heading for a walkout in the face of Riot’s rule changes and refusal to heed any of the association’s five demands. The potential for a walkout is quite historical, as the world of esports as a whole hasn’t seen much unionization. This may be because of the newness of esports, as large-scale video game competitions only started gaining traction between the 1970s and 1990s. For example, LCSPA is the oldest player’s association in the realm of esports, and it was only founded six years ago.

However, esports players are starting to get bolder when it comes to protecting their rights, especially with the threats of a walkout. It is something that may be necessary for them to receive the same kind of protection that other sports players do. From the MLB to the NBA to the NHL, professional players have been partaking in strikes for decades to secure protections for their rights and talents. These strikes usually last months or however long it takes for the players’ association to reach a satisfactory agreement with its league. With how things are looking, the very first lockout in esports may be approaching.

The labor movement in esports begins with the LCSPA

The necessity for unionization arose in May of 2023, when Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends and organizer of esports leagues, announced it was dropping its requirement for LCS teams to also fund a team for the tier-two North American Challengers League (NACL). The LCSPA quickly slammed the decision, pointing out that “as many as 70 players, coaches, and managers” would be unemployed overnight. Additionally, they alleged that Riot Games gave them no notice of this decision which will greatly impact the NACL. Many LCS teams responded to Riot Games’ decision by quickly dropping their NACL rosters.

Meanwhile, the LCSPA alleges that these teams aren’t dropping their NACL rosters because they can’t afford them. The association wrote, “The average annual salary cost of an entire NACL roster represents less than 17% of an average LCS organization’s League-based salary costs in a year.” The only reason these LCS teams are dropping their NACL rosters is seemingly just so that they can spend their money elsewhere. Even if the NACL is tier-two, it is estimated that about half of LCS players started in the NACL before moving on to the top tier. The LCSPA even outlined several proposals that would cut the costs of funding NACL rosters further, in hopes of keeping it alive.

In the face of this policy change, the LCSPA voted overwhelmingly in favor of a walkout. The walkout included outlining five demands for better conditions for all of its players. The major demands the association asked for included a VALORANT style promotion system between the LCS and NACL, LCS contracts for NACL Summer Final winners, changes to slot ownership policies, and a revenue pool for NACL teams. If the demands are met, the walkout will be averted. However, Riot Sports released a statement adamantly denying all five requests and threatening to cancel the entire summer season if an agreement isn’t reached. For now, it has postponed the season by two weeks to make time for negotiations.

The LCSPA has asked for daily meetings with Riot Games to reach an agreement, acknowledging that the cancellation of the season means its players won’t qualify for the 2023 World Championships. It is a dicey situation: the LCSPA doesn’t want its players to miss the World Championships, but it also may not have another chance to secure them better working conditions. The LCSPA is also at a disadvantage because Riot Games has much less to lose if they cancel the summer season since they have other leagues worldwide to fall back on. It remains to be seen what the outcome of the LCSPA’s and Riot Games’ negotiations will be, but the situation highlights the necessity for unionization and protection of esports players.

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(featured image: Netflix)

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Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.