The North American League of Legends team Team Impulse (TiP) is putting itself up for sale following an unsuccessful 2015 season. Impulse has already qualified for the 2016 League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), however, so whoever buys the team will also acquire their spot in the tournament.
First reported by GameSpot, Team Impulse's decision to sell off its brand, LCS spot, and current roster was confirmed for Kotaku by a representative from the organisation, who wrote in an email: "We want to shift the ownership from the team to a local investor ideally." Rumours of Team Impulse's sale have been popping up online since the beginning of this past summer, before the team officially qualified for the upcoming 2016 LCS season. Team Impulse's representative refuted these rumours, saying, "We have made this decision [to sell the team] in the last 10 days."
A quick explanation for those unfamiliar: the League of Legends Championship Series is not the same thing as the World Championship, which is the international competitive event that we've been covering a lot this month. Rather, the LCS is one of several regional competitive series' that determine which local teams make it into Worlds each year. North America (basically just the US) and Europe are the two main regions that put on their own localised version of the LCS each year.
Team Impulse's performance in the 2015 was middling, though they'd started to play better in the second part of the season that takes place over the summer every year. Despite their forward momentum, they ended up placing fourth in the LCS summer split playoffs and losing to rival US team Cloud9 in their regional Worlds qualifier match. Still, they'd managed to secure themselves a spot in the 2016 LCS, which is an impressive achievement in its own right. Only ten teams make it into the LCS each year to compete for the three available spots in the World Championships.
Given how competitive making it into the LCS — let alone actually playing in it — can be, you might be wondering why this practice of buying and selling spots in the tournament series is considered legitimate in the first place. It is a curious aspect of League's burgeoning eSports ecosystem. The main way that Riot regulates against any potential fraud right now is by requiring that any team that made it into the LCS must have at least three of the five original team members who first qualified for the series — but only if they come up from a challenger series team. The LCS rule book also stipulates that any changes in a team's ownership "may only occur between Splits, meaning after the may only occur between Splits, meaning after the most recent Playoffs and Promotion Matches but before the start of the following Split."
Riot only added these stipulations to its LCS rulebook after the question of whether or not the team that actually qualified for the tournament series was still the same team playing in that same tournament series first became an issue in January 2014. The problem then was that Lemondogs, the top European LCS team that year, had gutted its entire five-player roster and replaced them with relative newcomers after qualifying for the upcoming LCS season. Riot decided to disqualify them from the LCS as a result of their dramatic personnel changes, saying that they'd failed to provide the company with a valid roster after the massive restructuring. The company also inserted an extra clause in section 3.1 of the LCS rulebook to say: "No Team Member on a team who played in either LCS region and/or any aspect of the Challenger Series (including play-in) may purchase or otherwise attempt to own/control an LCS team without a complete Split having taken place since their last point of participation in the LCS or Challenger Series." This was meant to prevent a team (or team owner) who'd just lost in the most recent split to just buy their way back into the next one.
All of these specifications aside, the Team Impulse that plays in the 2016 LCS can be a totally different organisation that the team that exists today — entirely new owners, entirely new players. All that really has to stay the same is the team name and brand. How does the competitive integrity of LCS remain when these types of changes can take place? Well, bear in mind that Riot only allows these types of changes to take place between splits. And whatever ends up happening to a team roster or ownership-wise, they still need to actually, ya know, compete in the next split to win anything from it.
Team Impulse's representative wouldn't tell me anything about their "new roster" other than to confirm that it is indeed new. They haven't decided who to sell the team and its LCS spot to yet.
"We have over 50 people that reached out to us so far," Team Impulse's spokesperson told me over email. "We are currently performing due diligence and having some conversations. We hope to announce a successful strategic transaction soon."
Photograph via Team Impulse.