Last week Riot Games listed the contract end dates for all players signed to teams in the LCS on their profile pages on lolesports.com. On release, Riot Games Esports Manager Nick Allen stated that "teams need to know if players are approachable free agents or if they're contracted and off limits."
"Because of our rules against tampering/poaching, teams need to be able to know who is available for pickup independent of communication directly to the player," Allen further stated to onGamers.
Most contract dates end just after the Season 4 World Championship is set to take place, from September 19th until October 19th.
The announcement comes after Team SoloMid mid-laner, Søren 'Bjergsen' Bjerg was fined $2,000 for player poaching in January. Bjerg was said to have approached Lemondogs without consulting the team’s manager, offering a player a significant sum of money to leave his team/contract and to join Ninjas in Pyjamas. Alfonso 'mithy' Aguirre Rodriguez, Erlend 'Nukeduck' Våtevik Holm, and Morten 'Zorozero' Rosenquist were involved in the arrangements, eventually resulting in leaving the organization and going to NiP.
In early January, SK Gaming Owner Alexander T. Müller slammed Alliance's management over the signing of Patrick 'Nyph' Funke. Müller felt Alliance's approach of Funke, whose contract ended on December 31st with SK Gaming, was unacceptable, going as far to say as it was "one of the most disrespectful moves [he had] have ever witnessed" in 14 years of esports.
"It is part of the free agency we will have in 2014 and it is a step in the right direction", Müller told onGamers, in favor of the new contract rules. "All the drama we saw in 2013 that did not really help is avoidable this way for sure. Now you clearly know when to talk to a player and when not to. This is as much clarity as you can possibly get."
XDG Owner Marshall Alexander is also in favor of the new rules.
"Without a place that shows when contracts end and other pertinent details it is too easy for a player to be alerted by an interested party", said Alexander. "If they are considering a trade by the LCS rules, anyone interested in a player has to go to the management of that player's team and not to the player. Any other communication from an outside team to a player about contracts, availability, etc. is considered a form of poaching."
Team Dignitas owner Michael O'Dell, who expressed his displeasure over the move after the initial announcement, offered additional insight on Live On Three. O'Dell says he has concerns over such a move for a 2015 season that has yet to be announced by Riot, even if it's seen as a foregone conclusion by the League of Legends developer. O'Dell has also seen highs and lows of the now defunct Championship Gaming Series under DirecTV, which shut down at the end of the second season after an initial investment of tens of millions of dollars to begin the league.
"Nobody has given me a good reason why it’s actually important for contract expiry dates for players to be released", O'Dell said. "As far as I’ve been told by Riot and what their plan is over the years going forward, it's going to be great. But I was in CGS, and CGS was going fine until it died overnight. So I’m not stupid, like why would you sign players for a couple of years when you don’t even know the league is gonna be going in a couple of years if you don’t have a contract saying that the league is actually happening in two years. Which, again to defend Riot, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be happening which is great. But why would you sign players when you don’t know it’s actually gonna happen that’s just speculation, which is stupid in business."
"What [Riot] does is fantastic! It’s the best thing that in my opinion has ever happened to competitive eSports, what they do. But this particular thing, I don’t like."
O'Dell also believes that while esports and competitive gaming has made many large strides in recent years, there's still not enough dollars going around to support the free agent market the right way.
"I don’t want people to know what my contracts with my players involve in any way, and when we get later down the line, when there’s millions of millions of dollars coming into teams where I don’t even have to care about this stuff, I’m not gonna moan", he said. "But right now we’re still in our infancy. So when it comes to October, October the 20th my players are all free agents, so from October the 20th till the next season, they play for no-one unless they get signed or unless I sign them. So there is the potential that they have no income apart from streaming. Although that’s a contentious issue, based on some contracts that we have until whenever they get signed."
"So Slasher you said that players having…that this is good for players, they can renegotiate - but there’s a pot of money in eSports alright? And unless you know what you’ve got, you can’t give it out. So players demanding whatever they want to demand is fine. But if it doesn’t exist, they can’t have it. It’s that simple."
Among the 16 NA and EU LCS teams that have had their players contract end dates listed, only three of them have signed their players to longer than a one-year contract - Cloud 9, TSM, and Fnatic. Cloud 9 Owner Jack Etienne says he's confident in his team and would rather have them think about the game rather than their contracts. Nearly every other team in the LCS has gone through a roster change within the last year.
"My team and I agreed to doing a contract through October 2015 so we didn't have to think about it for a good long while", said Etienne. "We want to focus on winning and not have to worry about who will be on Cloud 9 at all in 2014. I don't want the players being worried about if we got into Worlds either. I'm quite sure I'll renegotiate with them well before its up, but probabaly not until the end of the year."
"I think this will cause some bidding wars which might be good for players, but that can bite both ways. Personally, if I like a player I'll never let the contract come close to expiring."
Fnatic's Chief Gaming Officer and former Counter-Strike Champion Patrik 'cArn' Sättermon has that same confidence behind his European squad.
"We strongly believe we have a very solid lineup that has the potential to perform consistently over an extended period of time, hence why our decision to offer them a lucrative two-years contract", said Sättermon. "Fnatic, compared to many of our competitors, has been fortunate to work with players that have represented us since the inception of our LoL team, and that is something we value very highly."
While Riot is mum on any official announcement regarding a 2015 LCS, Riot's Allen says as much in his comment on the matter.
"We don't have any plans to stop the LCS".