The LCS Players Association says League of Legends pro players have voted "overwhelmingly" in favor of a walkout to protest recent rule changes that resulted in the elimination of seven teams from the North American Challengers League.
The 16-team NACL was announced in 2022 as a new developmental league for the LCS, the top-tier League of Legends professional league in North America. It was to be made up of 10 former Academy teams operated by LCS teams and six amateur "Provisional Teams." But earlier this year the LCS teams asked Riot to eliminate the NACL roster requirement, and in May it did, saying it made the change "to support the continued, long-term success of the teams and the professional esports ecosystem in North America."
Predictably, most of the LCS teams immediately cut their NACL rosters, a move that the LCSPA said put "as many as 70 players, coaches, and managers" out of work less than a month before the start of the 2023 NACL Summer Split. The Players Association also said that Riot had committed to not making any changes to the NACL as recently as one week prior to the announcement.
"Throughout regular meetings between Riot and the PA, both parties acknowledged the NACL would not be viable today without Riot requiring LCS partner organizations to have an NACL roster," the Players Association said in response to the decision. It also called for a player vote on a possible walkout to protest the decision.
Riot subsequently issued a more in-depth breakdown of its NACL plan, which included the promise of revenue sharing and a $100,000 prize pool. The league itself has also been scaled down: Instead of 16 teams competing there will be only 10, and of those, only three will be backed by LCS teams: FlyQuest, Team Liquid, and Evil Geniuses. Three of the teams in the updated NACL (Cincinnati Fear, Wildcard, and AOE Gold) are "semi-pro," while two others (Maryville University and Supernova) came up through the NACL Spring Promotion Tournament. The remaining two slots are filled by Disguised, the struggling esports org run by streamer Disguised Toast, and Team Fish Taco, "an esports organization that’s always ready for Taco Tuesday."
The update did not satisfy the LCSPA, however: The vote went ahead on May 28 and the call for a walkout was "overwhelmingly passed" by players.
"This is not a decision LCS players have come to lightly," the Players Association said in a statement. "Countless discussions and debates were had between all LCS players in the week leading to this historic vote. One thing is clear from those conversations—our players want to play and compete above all else. Joining hands to put competition aside is a testament to the significance and urgency of the issues at hand."
pic.twitter.com/9doOfQK2wLMay 29, 2023
This does not mean a walkout is going to happen, and in fact the Players Association said it hopes Riot will avert the strike "by joining us in the coming days to have open and transparent discussions." But it's a clear signal to Riot that, should the situation not change, players are prepared to shut down play in one of the biggest and most popular esports leagues on the planet. And there's not a lot of time left to reach an agreement: The LCS Summer Split is set to begin on June 1.