Riot’s Continental Secret Weapon: the League of Legends European Regional Leagues in 2020

This is an updated version of our 2019 guide to the Riot Games’ European Minor Leagues.

As is the norm in traditional sports, League of Legends has always maintained a two-tier competitive system. This used to follow the relegation/promotion standard of European soccer, with teams rising and falling from the top league to the Challenger Series. When game publisher Riot Games started introducing its franchise-style structure in North America, it also transitioned to an Academy League—similar to the NBA G League or Minor League Baseball. 

European League of Legends has a unique approach to talent development. Riot Games and a collection of third-party companies have built a multi-country network of European Regional Leagues (ERLs), all with their own mid-season tournaments, and one continental competition at the top: the European Masters

Teams that successfully joined the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) each field secondary rosters in the ERLs. Not only does this let them train talent, but also further their relationships with national esports markets, and in the long term, elevate the minor leagues from semi-professional side-shows to bonafide professional competitions.

How Have the ERLs Changed from Last Year?

Regional leagues have been a part of European League of Legends almost as long as the game’s esports scene itself. Compared to North America, the European continent has an extremely diverse audience—the European Union alone contains 24 official languages, and nearly every country has at least one esports production and events company serving their local market.

From the beginning of 2019, Riot Games partnered with esports companies in 13 regional areas. The best performing teams from these regions could qualify for a bi-annual tournament known as the “European Masters,” run in partnership with ESL, which is now one of the most reliable ways for LEC teams to scout talent for the following seasons. 

Although this structure has largely remained the same moving into 2020, there are a few alterations:

  • The “Premier Tour,” a roadshow-style tournament series for the DACH (German, Austrian, Swiss) market has evolved into the “Prime League,” a multi-tier competition with an invite-only professional division. 
  • Organization of the UK League Championship (UKLC) has passed from LVP to DreamHack, and the league Grand Finals will be played from the DreamHack studio in Stockholm.
  • The five national leagues in the Nordic region have been discontinued. Instead, the Spring and Summer Nordic Championships will each host four qualifying events.
  • The Benelux region (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) is now run by 4Entertainment, which has split up the previous competition into a separate Belgian and Dutch league. Luxembourg players and teams may apply to compete in either competition.
  • The Baltic Esports League, run by Lithuanian company GameOn in partnership with Challengermode, rebranded to the Baltic Esports Masters.

There were 63 players competing in the LEC Summer Split, and 28 of these played in an ERL in the previous 12 months. In 2020, several rookies playing in the LEC Spring split came from ERLs, including four from the DACH (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) region, three from Spain, and one from France. 

These players moved from ERL teams which are not LEC partners. To protect these organizations from losing their new star talent in the future, Riot Games introduced a set of anti-poaching rules similar to those in the LEC and LCS:

  • Players are required to register in the Global Contract Database, just as LEC players would do.
  • All players are required to be under contract with the organizations registered with their respective ERL. These contracts will be limited to a maximum of two years. 
  • Riot is also requiring additional requirements for players contracts, primarily aimed at player protection. Contracts must be vetted by the respective ERL.
  • These protections are only available, currently, to players in the UK, Spanish, French, and DACH leagues.


The European Leagues, Explained

Riot Games ERLs / League of Legends European minor system, is outlined below:

Riot Games runs 13 global professional League of Legends circuits, and while their competitive structures differ in several ways, all of them run two seasonal splits a year: Spring and Summer. The 13 ERLs are largely the same: they all follow the two-split system, and all have different competitive structures. 

While the ERLs have traditionally used a relegation-promotion system, in the last year several have switched to invite-only systems, such as the DACH Prime League, and France’s LFL. Certain regions also run several national sub-competitions across multiple countries (e.g. the Nordic Championship features qualifying teams across five countries in the Nordic region).

While some LEC teams run academy squads under their own brand (e.g. Fnatic Rising, MAD Lions Madrid), others work in partnership with local esports team organizations (e.g. G2 Arctic, AGO Rogue). Since these partnerships are time-limited and subject to review, team names and operational staff can change from season to season. 

Last but not least, there are standardized rules across all ERLs. While these can be read in their entirety here, one section we would highlight is the residency requirements. In all leagues, teams must have a minimum of three “locally-trained representatives,” (LTRs) and three “EU residents,” in their starting line-up. The classification for an LTR is quite in-depth, with one requirement being that the player must have lived in the area of their ERL for 36 of the last 60 months.

Why the ERLs Matter for Esports as an Industry

As can be seen in the graphic, none of the ERLs are operated by Riot Games alone. Dota 2, a rival multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) title, features just one competition run by its publisher Valve (The International), while the rest are all handled by third-party companies. Riot Games, in contrast, manages and runs the professional League of Legends system in virtually every region, including North America and South Korea. 

Europe is a unique compromise; Riot takes care of the LEC at the top, and either regulates the ERLs or works directly with its partners. In fact, companies such as Germany’s Freaks 4U Gaming and Poland’s Polsat also manage localized broadcasts of the LEC. The system is a stark contrast to the fractured landscape of games such as Dota 2 and Counter-Strike, and could be considered a template for a more unified esports future.

Elevating the regional leagues to a professional status offers more stability for teams, players, and other professionals. In order to achieve this, Riot and its partners need to generate enough value for local audiences and sponsors. Inviting LEC organizations to partake is one method, but another is to build unique activations around the local audience. For example, retail/coffee brand Tchibo is a national partner for Riot Games Europe, creating sponsorship value not only for the LEC (which is hosted in Berlin) but for the German market as a whole.

There is no indication right now that Riot Games will increase the number of LEC teams, or reintroduce a system that would allow, say, a European Masters champion to qualify as a future long-term partner. Nevertheless, this system at least gives hopeful stars a chance to experience play on the big stage, and for those beginning a career a clear path to professionalism.

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