TSM Departs the LCS, What it Means for NA League of Legends
Rumors had been circulating about TSM potentially selling their LCS franchise spot for a while now. On September 20, 2023, the official announcement was made that TSM has sold the spot to Shopify Rebellion. The LCS is no stranger to orgs coming and going, even in its franchised form. For those who have been watching the LCS for years however, few departures if any could be more saddening.
The Rise of TSM
TSM, originally known as Team Solo Mid, was created after the Dinh brothers, Andy and Dan, created a blog called SoloMid.net that hosted League of Legends guides. The first TSM roster was made up of players from the SoloMid community. TSM’s fan base grew and grew alongside League of Legends. When Andy “Reginald” Dinh left the LoL team to manage TSM as a business full time, TSM would truly begin to grow into the esports titan we know today.
Lovable and amazing players such as Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, Marcus “Dyrus” Hill, and Jason “WildTurtle” Tran were fan favorites, helping the team gain even more supporters through their streams and video content. In addition to the personalities, TSM became a name associated with dominance. They won three of the first five LCS titles and always attended Worlds and international competitions.
TSM began expanding into other esports beginning in 2014. Some of these teams were short lived, such as the Danish CS:GO squad that ended up becoming Astralis. Others have been mainstays of the TSM name, bringing even more glory and prestige to the org. Their Apex Legends and Rainbow Six: Siege teams have been championship caliber. Individual signings like fighting gamer William “Leffen” Hjelte and chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura have also won titles in their games under the TSM banner.
Even with TSM expanding far and wide, both in esports and content creators, the League of Legends team was always home for OG TSM fans. No matter where Worlds or MSI was held, there would no doubt be TSM chants coming from the crowd (even if they weren’t in attendance). Few names are more recognizable in the entire gaming ecosystem due to the groundwork set by the League division.
Times are Changing
Eventually, the structure of the LCS began to change. Teams saw the success of players like Bjergsen and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and started to reach for imported players more. Additionally, 2018 was the first season of the fully franchised LCS. Long gone were the days of keeping a roster together for years. If TSM wanted to keep their legacy of winning going, they’d need to fork out to get the big hitters.
TSM tried to keep up with this new LCS with new signings year after year. The previous G2 Esports botlane was imported from Europe in 2018. A mechanical top lane prodigy from Turkish league came in for the next year and a half. They even reached out for the most popular NA player of all time, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng to return for the Summer 2020 Split. Here, they managed to win their first and only LCS title in the franchise era.
Doublelift and Bjergsen both departed the TSM roster following a disappointing Worlds, leaving TSM to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Infamously, they signed Taiwanese support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh to an insane $6 million dollar contract in 2021. After lackluster play and a third and fourth place finish that year, TSM blew it up again.
By this point, the TSM that fans had known was long gone. Additionally, the COVID-19 years that locked everyone inside had passed and engagement for esports was trending downwards. TSM spent the 2022 and 2023 seasons trying out unproven players for the first time ever while signing a couple of old vets to try and lead them. The result was TSM’s worst performances in LCS history, firmly establishing the LoL team as a shell of its former self.
The Decision to Leave
While the TSM League of Legends team’s lack of success is certainly part of what has caused their departure today, it’s far from the biggest reason. TSM has continued to expand with new projects in esports and content creation in the meantime, and still pays for championship caliber talent in other divisions. Even with the FTX scandal directly affecting their expected income for years, TSM is still thriving as an organization.
TSM management has gone on record in the past saying that they are one of the few esports organizations that manages to stay profitable. And with many popular orgs drastically pulling out of projects at light speed in this “esports winter,” that statement seems more true than false at this point. At the end of the day, TSM is a business. If there is not profit to be had, then there’s no point to being there.
The LCS’s Viability
LCS is largely seen as a dying brand right now. Viewership, interest in the league and it’s players, and support for the organizations is all down. There are many reasons why the LCS is bleeding right now, more than can be briefly explained here. Basically, TSM saw this all and has decided to cut their losses and run. Their LCS spot sold to Shopify Rebellion for just $10 million dollars. For comparison, the spot purchased by Evil Geniuses from Echo Fox in 2020 sold for $33 million.
This comes as a massive blow to the LCS. TSM was the most popular org with the biggest fan base. Viewer numbers that are already projected to keep falling will suffer even more without TSM fans to account for. When franchising first began, if you asked which organizations would definitely stay in LCS barring a total collapse, anyone would have told you TSM and Cloud9. Now that TSM has abandoned ship, the question must be asked of every other org in the boat.
TSM’s Story Continues…
While LCS’s future is uncertain, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for TSM League of Legends fans. Rumors say that TSM is looking to purchase a spot in the Chinese LPL. The LPL is one of the two most competitive regions in the LoL ecosystem. They’ve won Worlds and MSI titles and consistently field some of the most exciting rosters in the world.
TSM’s management knows that League of Legends runs in their fans blood. It’s hard to imagine them making the decision to can the LCS spot if they didn’t already have their next move at the ready. The LPL is expanding. With TSM’s history of prestige, financial stability, and massive fan base behind them, it would be a no-brainer to give them a spot. It’s a match made in heaven; TSM gets to plant their new League division in a top region with actual World Championship aspirations, and the LPL gets the eyes of the biggest western esports fan base.
…Does the LCS?
If you are the LCS, this is a code red. Your biggest brand just essentially said that you aren’t worth it anymore. It’s not like the LCS has been standing by doing nothing for the past few years either. They’ve tried changing the format, changing the broadcast, and even changing the weekly schedule to split matches up. Yet somehow, every one of these changes has backfired.
Just to be clear, the LCS isn’t completely dying any time soon. Sponsors are still interested, and many orgs still trust the league enough to field their teams under. But it’s no secret that engagement in the league is in decline. If the LCS wants to avoid the worst case of needing to downsize operations, they’ll need to find a way to increase the interest of both viewers and sponsors.
2024 will be a pivotal year for the LCS, as how they handle the TSM departure and the declining viewership will likely be a tell for how many orgs decide to follow TSM out.