League of Legends NACL Situation Explained

Shadman Sabik Zaim
By Shadman Sabik Zaim
15 Min Read
Image Credit: Riot Games

The North American Challengers League (NACL) of League of Legends has undergone a lot of changes, as the situation is fully explained in this article.

The North American Challengers League (NACL) has been the academy system for the LCS in League of Legends. As one of the major regions, the LCS has a lot of value for Riot. However, the league has been a lot of problems so far in 2023.

This all turned to a crossroads where the LCS team organizations all pushed for a vote on having teams in the NACL. Unsurprisingly, all teams vote to remove the mandate to have an NACL team. This is a gut punch to the NA Esports fans as teams started dropping their NACL teams after the announcements came through.

Since then, a lot has happened, and there is a lot to go through. So keeping the intro short, let’s jump into everything that has happened with the NACL in chronological order as far as it was reported by various people across social media.

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The Vote and Instant Aftermatch of NACL

As mentioned, it was reported as the LCS teams were pushing for a vote on the NACL team mandate. On May 6, 2023, it was reported that all ten teams voted against having an NACL team. This was a complete shock to everyone involved around the NA Esports ecosystem and such. Everything was doom and gloom from that point for a while.

Social Media was littered with sadness as it seemed NACL was pretty much done at that point. With the vote also came some speculation that the import rule would be dropped, and that caused even more panic. Riot responded about the vote and other matters a few days later, on May 12, 2023.

Riot’s Response

In their relatively short article, Riot affirmed their commitment to NACL and more. While it started in a somber tone as they agreed to remove the requirement to have an NACL team for financial flexibility, Riot still wants to keep the NACL going from Summer 2023 and onwards.

Their post outlined some changes coming to NACL, like promotion and relegation for that league (not the LCS), using the Chicago server to make it geographically more accessible, and lowering potential costs and potential revenue sharing.

Also, Riot aims to have cross-region tournaments in the Americas as early as 2024. This would include Brazil, North America, and Latin America, at least one with a huge player base. Lastly, Riot refuted the import rule change as it will not happen and is not in the works.

It seemed that NACL changes were on the horizon, but things started to get a little worse from that point. The LCS Players Association also released a statement on the matter.

The LCSPA Response

There is a lot in it, and everyone should give it a read to understand what the LCSPA’s stance is. In short, they called Riot’s decision to remove the mandate “short-sighted” and “clearly a mistake”. Many people were losing their jobs overnight as this decision came suddenly and not long before NACL was supposed to start.

Their statement also called out the organizations for mismanagement of finances and much more about the NA talent pipeline. Many potential pros like Copy and Tenacity retired to do other things during the aftermath, and the writing was on the wall. Players also came in support of the statement as it was all doom and gloom.

They also shared their own plans for NACL in 2024 and want to work with Riot on the issue. The whole statement seemed like Riot was dropping the ball, according to the LCSPA. Things were not looking great as the overall news sent everything spiraling out of control, starting with several LCS teams dropping out of NACL.

LCS Teams Dropping Out of NACL

After the vote, NACL was delayed due to issues, and rightfully so. However, after the Riot announcement dropped, multiple LCS teams started dropping their NACL team. Teams had a weekend to decide on keeping a team, and most of them decided not to.

TSM was one of the first teams to pull out as the dominoes started to fall. In totality, 7 LCS teams dropped out of NACL while three remained. The ones to remain were Team Liquid, FlyQuest, and Evil Geniuses.

This just made the situation worse as now fans had turned on many of the organizations if they haven’t already at this point. Things were not great from that point, as everyone was in limbo about what was happening with the NACL. The LCSPA pretty much rebuked the dropping of these teams and started doing their part to combat the issue.

LCSPA’s Response To Teams Dropping Out Of NACL

The LCSPA started by dropping some crucial information, their demands, and a potential strike.

Riot Paid Organizations For The Year

As per the LCSPA, Riot gave each team 3 million this year to operate both the LCS and NACL. Yet, the teams still claimed financial problems, went on with the vote, and Riot agreed to let them have it. Mismanagement of funds was pretty much clear as day if it wasn’t already with all the salaries and signings we knew of.

The LCSPA Potential Strike

After dropping the information above, a few days later, on May 23, 2023, the LCSPA made one important announcement, and critical information got reported.

The first was a report calling for a vote from the LCS Players. The report mentioned the LCSPA saying Riot lied to them, the ecosystem being threatened, players losing their jobs, and a lot more. They reaffirmed the 3 million dollars that Riot gave each team and teams failing their end of the bargain.

After this, the list of demands for the LCSPA dropped.

LCSPA Demands

Along with the strike report, LCSPA dropped their demands from Riot. Here are all of them.

  • Instituting a VALORANT Style Promotion and Relegation for the LCS and NACL.
  • $300k for each NACL as a revenue pool that Riot will provide.
  • LCS Organizations partnering with affiliates for cost-sharing.
  • Riot guarantees minimum contracts for the five players that win the LCS Summer Split Finals each year.
  • Instituting a 3/5 roster continuity rule to provide players to keep their slot for the upcoming NACL season if everyone chooses to play together if the roster is released.

The demands on the outside are great for getting fan engagement, but some of them are not realistic.

My Thoughts On The Demands

Based on what I saw of the demands, I feel the first two are fairly unrealistic. For sure, point number 1 will not happen. Organizations have invested too much money to buy a franchising spot for Riot to go back, buy back all the slots, and do promotion and relegation again. Now, if it was just within the NACL, then this could work, but the LCS promotion and relegation cannot happen now.

Point number 2 is too much money for operations. This number will have to be lowered to make it work for both sides’ points of view. To the LCSPA’s credit, this number was probably made higher on purpose for negotiation reasons, and it is definitely worth applauding. This one is definitely doable as long as the number fits both parties.

Point 3 should have been done already at this point; no questions asked. Just a surprise as to why it was not done. As for Points 4 and 5, they are pretty reasonable and can be worked into it.

Barring the first two points, the rest of them are reasonable enough to discuss with Riot and work something out, but this is a good step by the LCSPA. Following this came the full announcement of NACL changing for Summer 2023.

NACL For Summer 2023

Riot posted on May 24 about the new NACL for Summer 2023. In totality, there will be 10 teams in NACL, 3 returning organizations, 3 semi-pro teams, two teams that made their way through the NACL Spring Promotion Tournament, and two new teams. All the teams are as follows.

  • FlyQuest Challengers (FLYC)
  • Team Liquid Honda Challengers (TLC)
  • Evil Geniuses Challengers (EGC)
  • Cincinnati Fear (FEAR)
  • Wildcard (WC)
  • AOE Gold (AOE)
  • Maryville University (MU)
  • Supernova (SN)
  • Disguised (DSG)
  • Team Fish Taco (TACO)

These teams will be competing for a $100k prize pool for six weeks, with the Finals happening on the LCS Arena. There will be promotion and relegation as the bottom two teams of the NACL and the top 4 teams of the NACL Qualifiers will battle it out.

As mentioned earlier, the biggest changes were revenue sharing, using the Chicago server, etc. NACL is set to start from June 10 until August 9. Later in August will be the NACL Promotion Tournament.

Now that you guys have been brought up to speed on a basic outline of the developments, thus, let’s move on to why this happened.

Why This Happened

There are plenty of reasons why NACL is in this state, and these are the biggest ones.

1. Mismanagement of Funds by LCS Orgs

This is clear as day as LCS organizations continue to make bad decisions after bad decisions. They clearly threw money at the problem with all the investor money the teams got and squandered it all. The teams have a lot of responsibility they have to take without properly evaluating the esports ecosystem.

2. Importing Players and Inflated Salaries

This is already a well-known problem for the LCS as they constantly import players for huge salaries instead of promoting them from the NACL itself. Also, current players have huge salaries, which is a huge problem in itself.

Both effects cause so much financial strain that LCS teams this year got rid of their rosters to start anew. All the money dropped into the league went to waste because the organizations did not use the money in the right places.

3. Buyout Problems

This was mentioned as recently as shortly before this article went live, as Azael on TheDive podcast mentioned how much players were contract jailed with significant buyout prices. Another example of the organizations completely stunting local growth by keeping hold of good players and their chances to come up.

What’s Next

The next crucial turning point is the vote on Sunday, May 28. This vote could change the situation immensely if players decide to walk out and cause a strike. However, there could be other ripple effects that could happen.

Riot still has a lot of work to do, as does the LCSPA. There should be a meeting of the minds in the offseason to decide the steps going forward.

In my opinion, Riot should institute some of the asks the LCSPA made along with things along the line, such as having a free buyout market for NACL players and eliminating contract jailing of these prospects. It is baffling that this happens at a Challenger or Amateur level.

There is a lot to be done, and hopefully, we will know more, especially in the offseason. The fact that the ERLs, LCKCL, and LDL work so well and the NACL doesn’t point to a fundamental flaw in the system, and all parties should look to rectify rather than run away from the problem.

The vote later today should change everything, and we will learn more soon.

By Shadman Sabik Zaim Deputy Editor
Shadman is a Deputy Editor of League of Legends and other Riot IPs (excluding VALORANT) at GameRiv. He is a computer science and engineering graduate who got into games pretty early. Also, he takes pride in trying multiple types of games and got into League of Legends pretty early. Games, Board Games, Writing, Music, and Sports are his passions and hobbies.