For years, competitive games have done their best to emulate professional sports, whether it’s players wearing Nike jerseys, celebrity investors, or ambitious plans for home and away games. . But Chris Greeley, commissioner of the League of Legends Championship Series – the top professional league in North American gaming – believes that esports has gone beyond the imitation of existing sports.

“We had this idea early on that because esports is a sport, and we wanted to be taken seriously, we should look like a sport,” he said. The edge. “The LCS was like the NBA on TNT. It was great for validation and for investors and sponsors to watch and say, “Hey, that sounds like a sport, so that’s an easy translation.” But we survived that.

So, from 2021 the league is bringing big changes, both in terms of appearance and structure. “We feel like we’re finally free to be ourselves,” Greeley says.

The most obvious change is visual. The league has a new logo – it’s a crystal made up of the letters LCS – and a refreshed graphic design for broadcasts. While the previous logo was a shield that wouldn’t have looked out of place in college football, the new one clearly represents a video game. It follows similar redesigns for the other top League competitions around the world, notably in Europe, China and Korea.

(Greeley says the logo has received a mixed reaction from fans so far – which was expected. “People hate change. We’ve seen it pretty much every brand change in esports” , he said, adding “You don’t want [a logo that] it looks like it came from a can of soup. It has to resonate. “)

The idea behind the refresh, he says, is to give the LCS its own distinct voice in an increasingly crowded field. “It’s not just about a new color or a new logo, but it’s really about how we’re going to follow through with our broadcast and our content,” he says. “You’re not going to log in this week and see a finished product. We’re going to iterate over the next two years, but I think it’s a really good start.

To go along with this, the LCS is also introducing major format changes, with a greater focus on tournaments, including one to kick off the year which begins on January 15. Previously, the competition closely resembled something like the NFL, with a slate of regular season games culminating in the playoffs; the top teams then moved on to international competitions. The goal is to strike a balance between the thrill of knockout tournaments and the familiarity of regular season play. “Tournaments are exciting,” says Greeley. “The problem is that if everything is a tournament, if everything is supposed to be exciting, then nothing feels exciting.”

Despite the problems caused by the pandemic, the LCS – along with many other esports leagues – saw phenomenal growth in viewership last year. But the league has struggled competitively. At the annual League of Legends World Championship, North American teams were far behind the competition and posed little threat to big clubs in Europe, China and Korea. Much of the blame has been placed on the region’s development scene. Instead of encouraging promising local players, many LCS teams relied on aging or imported stars.

The league hopes to change that with a revamped amateur system, aiming to open things up, so that each LCS team’s development squads – known as varsity squads – can play in different tournaments against other teams. amateurs and scholars. This will culminate in a year-end tournament called LCS Proving Grounds.

According to Greeley, these changes were in the works ahead of Worlds – but feedback was always welcome. “The criticism around NA needing to make changes to develop players, that was actually satisfying to hear, because I knew it was coming,” he says of the amateur changes. “We hadn’t announced it, it was almost final at the time, but we were just figuring out how we were going to roll it out. When you develop a solution, and everyone stands up and says ‘ We need a solution”, and that it’s done and ready to be shown, it’s actually a very good feeling.

2021 will also see the league continue to operate remotely. Typically, LCS matches are played in a Los Angeles studio with fans in attendance. That obviously hasn’t been possible during the pandemic, but Greeley says that could slowly change throughout the year. The first step is to get the broadcast team into the building, and the hope is that by the time the playoffs roll around, the players can be there too. Viewers, meanwhile, will likely have to stick to watching on Twitch and YouTube.

“We’re not rushing to get the fans back into the arena,” Greeley said.