League of Legends Champions Korea has determined its 10 preferred partners for franchising ahead of the 2021 season, all of which are currently participants in the league except one, Riot Games Korea announced on Aug. 28.
The league has chosen nine of 10 current LCK teams, other than APE Esports, the parent of SeolHaeOne Prince, who is the first of five alternates should the league not come to contract terms with its 10 choices. If the league moves forward and completes team participation agreements with the 10 prospective franchise partners, Korean challenger team hyFresh Blade will replace SeolHaeOne Prince in the LCK.
"Riot Games Korea has spent the last two months to review 21 applicants and have finalized selecting our preferred organizations for the 2021 LCK," a Riot Korea spokesperson told ESPN. "In our second phase of the evaluation process, we reviewed the organizations' owners, business plans, and team management plans, with 6 external experts as part of our panels. As a result, APE Sports has not been selected as one of the preferred organizations but is the first on the waitlist."
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Besides hyFresh Blade, the 10 preferred partners include T1, Gen.G, Hanwha Life Esports, DAMWON Gaming, DRX, KT Rolster, Sandbox Gaming, Team Dynamics and Afreeca Freecs. Franchises for the existing LCK will cost 10 billion KRW ($8.34 million), according to the Korea Herald.
In late August, APE announced a partnership with the Pittsburgh Knights, an American organization who received investment from the Pittsburgh Steelers and rapper Wiz Khalifa. The Knights had separately inquired about applying to the LCK independently, but then partnered with APE and SeolHaeOne Prince, given that company's standing in South Korea. The Knights said in a press release that if they procured a LCK franchising spot that the Knights would make an additional investment into a joint entity between them and APE.
"Our partnership was contingent on [SeolHaeOne Prince] being accepted," Pittsburgh Knights co-founder James O'Connor told ESPN. "It was publicized that they did not make the top 10 and are on reserve pending those deals being completed. So it's a wait and see type of situation as we explore the next steps and alternatives. We think highly of the region and Riot Korea.
The other four alternates for the league include Element Mystic, Jin Air Greenwings, Awesome Spear and OZ Gaming.
The use of alternates in the franchising process has only ever occurred in the League European Championship. Riot Games European esports executives initially chose Spanish organization Movistar Riders and North, the esports organization owned by Danish soccer team FC Copenhagen, as a part of their 10 teams. After those two failed to come to terms with Riot, the LEC instead chose alternates Excel Esports and Splyce, who are now known as MAD Lions.
Unlike the LEC and League Championship Series, the LCK received a low number of applicants. For the LCS, more than 100 organizations applied, league sources said. For the LCK, only 21 applied, even though several others signed non-disclosure agreements and forms in order to obtain additional information about the league, such as franchise cost and future league plans.
Among the Western organizations that inquired were NRG Esports and FaZe Clan. However, neither submitted a full application, sources said. Both were privy to private conversations with Riot Korea and in the end, decided not to move forward. Korean organizations ESC Shane and RunAway did apply, but neither made the preferred or alternate lists.