Significant barriers remain if Busan wants an LCK franchise
Busan city government is in preliminary discussions with multiple League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) franchises to explore the possibility of bringing a professional esports team to the city.
The city has not yet brought the idea to Riot Games Korea, which oversees the league, saying that all discussions are still in the "preliminary" stage.
Busan IT Industry Promotion Agency, which handles most of the fieldwork for the city's esports-related operations, including the management of the GC Busan brand and the promotion of the Busan Esports Arena (Brena), also said that none of the talks so far have moved past ideation.
The idea of bringing an esports franchise to Busan isn't entirely new. The city has traditionally been eager to host all kinds of gaming and esports-related events, as evidenced by Gwangalli Beach's historical legacy as an outdoors esports venue since 2004, and the city's continued hosting of G-STAR — Korea's largest gaming convention — since 2009.
Last week, Kim Tae-hoon, a member of the Busan City Council, delivered a speech urging the city to ramp up its efforts to "host a professional esports organization". An association of PC bang owners in the Busan area has also been petitioning the city with similar demands as well.
Not having discussed with Riot Games a potential franchise relocation may seriously hinder Busan's plan later on, however.
In a July 1st interview with DailyEsports, LCK Secretary General Lee Jung-hoon said that the league was currently opposed to hosting regular-season matches at any of Korea's new regional esports arenas, as "a lot of capital went into building LoL Park" and Riot was not keen on letting their own venue go to waste so soon.
Lee was more open to the idea of playing a number of postseason matches outside of Seoul — an established tradition of sorts in Korean esports — but still noted that logistics would be a concern and all teams would have to agree to the additional travel for that to take place.
Even if the league were to allow one franchise to relocate to Busan and claim the newly built Brena as its home venue, it may be difficult for the other nine teams — who would presumably still have no home venue of their own — to travel to Busan and back once every split primarily for a competitor's benefit.
If everything goes to plan, getting to Brena takes roughly three hours from Gangnam, where many franchises are currently located. Considering how crammed the training schedules of most LCK teams are during the regular season, it would not be surprising if some strongly opposed the idea of occasionally taking on more than six additional hours of travel.
Geolocated franchising in esports has often been discussed but rarely put into practice. Ongoing overseas examples include the Overwatch League (OWL), the Call of Duty League (CDL) and the League of Legends Pro League (LPL). Out of the three, only the LPL, China's domestic League of Legends circuit, has been a clear success.
Korean esports has played with the idea of a region-based esports circuits for nearly two decades, although no domestic league of significance incorporating the model has ever been launched. Questions of logistics, local legislative cooperation and profitability have always been an issue.
According to a 2020 interview with retired StarCraft: Brood War player Cha "ClouD" Jae-uk, the city of Daegu had worked on launching a Daegu-based StarCraft team as early as the mid-2000s, but the plan never came to fruition.
In 2007, Seoul became Korea's first region to host a legitimate esports franchise by backing Seoul Jinhwa, which would primarily compete in the global Championship Gaming Series (CGS). Unfortunately, CGS went down in 2008 and Seoul Jinhwa disappeared shortly afterwards.
GC Busan, best known for their success in OGN Overwatch APEX, might be held up as a recent example, but they are actually not an esports organization in the typical sense — GC Busan is only an umbrella brand that the city uses when sponsoring amateur squads, most of which are owned and operated by external companies.
LCK would most likely benefit from encouraging some franchises to relocate away from Seoul. The league's domestic viewership has been stagnating as of late and a drastic change of scenery that could bring the esport to entirely new audiences, including older local residents with a sense of regional pride, could provide a much-needed boost.
BY JEON YOUNG-JAE [email@example.com]