Unexpected uLoL scholarship prize pool change sparks frustration among colleges, response from Riot

Some collegiate players aren't happy with the 2017 uLoL Campus Series prize pool (Riot Games)
Some collegiate players aren’t happy with the 2017 uLoL Campus Series prize pool (Riot Games)

Riot Games has shifted the scholarship prize pool for their uLoL Campus Series, and some collegiate League of Legends players aren’t happy.

When Riot announced the 2017 season of uLoL back in September 2016, a new bracket stage had been added with its own set of scholarship prize pools. Teams competing in the tournament would be placed into groups that seeded directly into a bracket stage. An $8,000 scholarship will be awarded to each player from the four teams that win each regional bracket $4,000 per player for second, $2,000 for third and fourth, and $1,000 for fifth through eighth.

The top teams from each region will then move on to a postseason playoff to determine the best collegiate League of Legends team in the nation.

No one voiced much concern over this tweak when it was revealed last year, but it seems that most collegiate players assumed that the regional prizes would be in addition to the national championship prizes that were present in 2016. Last year, $30,000 was awarded to each player from the University of British Columbia team, and $15,000 went to each player from runner-up Robert Morris University.

This year, however, the playoffs will not carry their own separate prize pool.

Yahoo Esports has learned from anonymous sources that the lack of playoff prize pool was not formally explained to the teams participating in the group stages. While the regional scholarship prize pool was in both the original announcement and the tournament rulebook in September, it was never publically announced that the championship prizes would be removed.

Upon learning the information, collegiate players and coaches took to Twitter to voice their concerns about the changes.

Student players from the University of California at Irvine and the University of British Columbia have been most vocal about the changes, likely due to the fact that the two schools have some of the strongest college League of Legends teams in the country and would have a decent chance to take home the national championship prize.

Speaking to Yahoo Esports, former LCS player and current UCI student James “Lattman” Lattman had strong words.

“It’s crushing to watch Riot make such big plans to change the landscape of their collegiate scene without informing any of the driving forces (schools) that are bringing money and competition into the scene. I’ve seen similar examples in the past where Riot took too long to announce anticipated changes to their leagues for organizations to properly gauge the scene they’re attempting to break into, and the results are tragic for the individuals involved.

“All of these individuals’ efforts are undermined when Riot makes plans to change their competitive scene to such a degree with absolutely no notice whatsoever to those who are making major investments in their time and money to compete. These individuals’ only real mistake was not knowing someone in Riot Games who was high enough up to know what Riot’s competitive plans are that year. It truly hurts to see that after years of running multiple competitive scenes, after years of players and individuals committing to a scene that can drastically change with a moment’s notice, Riot still continues to follow the same patterns.”

UCI manager Matt Akhavan echoed the sentiment.

“Our players were surprised and disappointed by the changes, especially since previous iterations of the league featured a large scholarship,” he said.

Some schools with teams less likely to win the national championship may be more pleased with the changes. Yahoo Esports has reached out to some of those schools, but at time of writing has yet to receive a response.

Yahoo Esports spoke to Michael Sherman and Bob Holtzman of Riot Games’ uLoL team to discuss their response to the criticism. According to Sherman, the decision to remove the prizes from the championship playoff was one that Riot has had in place for a while now.

“We haven’t changed anything,” he told us. “Everything is the same as it was when we launched [the 2017 College Series announcement] back in September. We admittedly never called out that there wasn’t $15,000 and $30,000-tier in the Championship anymore. In the rulebook, for as long as it’s been out there, it’s always stated just the regional scholarship pool. That was all out there, we just didn’t bring attention to the fact that it ends there.”

He does admit fault on their end in the way things were messages to teams.

“We have had that decision for a little while and we didn’t voice it,” he said. “We should have been talking about it earlier. We’re working to correct that in real time.”

Holtzman also addressed criticism that the change could affect players who made the decision to play collegiate LoL in pursuit of the big prize from the national tournament.

“I think it’s totally up to the players to come to their own conclusions. I think for Michael and I, there was probably an opportunity to better explain this to players. That’s where we feel like we have to be working on that as we speak.”

“There are more scholarship opportunities than there have been in the past,” Sherman explained. “There are more teams offering scholarships than in previous years across the entire college ecosystem. We did introduce manager and coach scholarships this year, as well. There’s more coming into that space than there was previously, just in different forms.”

In response to concerns that players would be less interested to play through the postseason without any additional scholarship incentive, Sherman believes that pride should be enough.

“We’re trying to build an opportunity for people to represent their schools, bring back pride,” he said. “That’s kind of always been our stance, and you can see that in the college championships in the past. They’ve always been about who is the best in North America. We hope that what we’re doing is still giving people that drive to still want to be the best and that these things don’t really affect that.”

At least one university agrees, though they’re still not entirely thrilled with the change.

“It feels strange since uLoL is new and they’re trying to promote collegiate esports yet they’re limiting the prize pool significantly,” University of California at San Diego League Director Timothy Bian told Yahoo Esports. “This is especially the case since a lot more teams are playing this year with much better support structure and preparation. Overall we’re happy to participate in a tournament of this structure, however, the prizing nerf is somewhat discouraging.”

The 2017 uLoL season kicked off on January 17.

Follow Taylor Cocke on Twitter @taylorcocke.