On October 27th, 2020, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen signed a $4.2 million dollar, 3-year deal to extend his time on Team Liquid. With the retirement of Team SoloMid’s Bjergsen, TL Jensen has taken over the position as best midlaner in NA. TL Jensen’s contract reflects the exponential increase in high value player contracts that occurs every offseason.
Before this record-shattering contract, Cloud9 paid Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme a $1 million dollar buyout from Clutch Gaming. A year prior, Team Liquid signed former world champion Impact a deal that was allegedly around the million-dollar range. Outliers exist, but the average player contract is cited at being around $400,000. The average player salary eclipses what pro-players made even three years ago, but higher-end salaries have surpassed even the Worlds prize pool.
A History of Pay Raises in the LCS
How the LCS got to this state is a story of deep-pocketed organizations investing in perceived high-value talent and importing players. The 2016 Immortals roster is often credited as being the initial inflators of the North American scene. Bringing over the multiregional superstars, Huni and Reignover, Immortals crafted one of the most expensive rosters to date. Although they failed to qualify for Worlds, the roster changed the landscape of League of Legends esports forever.
As organizations expanded, teams followed the path set by Immortals going into the franchised era. Team Liquid, with their notoriously big-spending owner, Steve Arhancet, took over as the primary driver of increasing player salaries. With the alleged signing of Origen Gaming’s Alphari, Team Liquid has made a habit of signing multiple multi-million dollar contracts every offseason.
The Sponsors and The Effects
The importing of talent is certainly a partial explanation for the increase. Though North America may not be particularly attractive competition-wise, the resources that organizations have accrued have become invaluable. LCS 2020’s ensemble of sponsors included Honda, State Farm, Samsung, Bud Lite and many more. Riot branched out as their upcoming mobile version of League of Legends, Wild Rift, was showcased in Apple’s iPhone 12 announcement. The incoming sponsors of the league, Riot Games, and individual teams have all worked in legitimizing League of Legends and the esports scene.
One fear is that the influx of new money has abstracted League of Legend from its roots. The days of relegations are fleeting, as franchising has spread across the LCS, LEC, and now the LCK. The barrier to entry has gotten higher, though this has led to the development of collegiate teams and smaller leagues. Fewer teams have the resources to enter and stay in professional leagues. However, the salaries of players reflect the immense growth League of Legends esports has experienced. The signings of Alphari and Jensen have set the tone for the 2021 season.
Make sure to check out our article on G2’s Level 1 cheese strats that led them to victory against Damwon Gaming in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2020.
For information on TSM Bjergsen’s retirement, his transition to head coach, and reactions from the community, read our article here.