Skip navigation (Press enter)

Why franchising is probably not coming to Siege

Change could be coming but it’s probably not involving franchised leagues.

On the 24th of June, Ubisoft informed players and fans that both the North American and European Challenger Leagues may not offer spots in the NA League and EU League this year. While that’s not a concrete announcement of anything, it does signal that plans for the future of Rainbow Six are being discussed -- plans that could drastically change the way the esport is run in the western world.

There are many possibilities of what could be happening, the most commonly suggested of which is the move to a franchised-based league system in NA and EU. Let’s break down what that means and how likely it is to be happening.

What is franchising?

Currently, R6 Esports runs its leagues in a format similar to that of most football (soccer) leagues around the world. Teams have a spot in a select league and autonomy over their own players, but if they perform poorly, they can be relegated down to a second-tier league and must fight their way back up. 

In most American sports, as well as a number of esports such as League of Legends, Call of Duty, Overwatch, and DOTA, the team instead owns a spot in the league and cannot be relegated. No matter how badly the Cleveland Browns play in the NFL, for example, they’ll still be in the NFL.

While the “licensing system” we have currently helps improve competitiveness and forces teams to “improve or die”, the argument for the franchise system is sustainability and longevity. An organization such as TSM having a guaranteed spot in a franchised NA League would theoretically make them more willing to invest in the team and players as there’s no risk of them suddenly being dumped into the Challenger League. It also gives the organizations more power, as qualifying for the NAL by brute force will no longer be an option, instead, potential players need to court potential organizations to get picked up.

For league and tournament organizers, meanwhile, franchising offers a guarantee that these big-name organizations will be around for the long-term, making them more willing to invest in the tournament. With Call of Duty League franchise spots reportedly going for $25 million each, you can safely assume that neither party is going to willingly bail on the project.

Clues for R6 franchising

One feature of franchising is that there is no promotion or relegation, hence why Ubisoft’s announcement on Friday implies to many that this is what’s being planned. 

Additionally, particularly in North America, franchising wouldn’t be too different from the current system as the expansion of the league has meant organizations such as XSET, beastcoast, Astralis, Mirage, and the Soniqs all came into the NA League off the back of the organization’s investment, rather than Challenger League success. Parabellum’s 2021 victory, however, is obviously a major exception to this. 

Franchising would also theoretically stop the biggest existential threat to R6 esports by getting organizations in the two most expensive leagues invested for the long term. This has been a major concern with player numbers and viewers dropping and seven organizations leaving abruptly in the two leagues since they were initially announced at the beginning of 2020 -- Evil Geniuses, Luminosity Gaming, Tempo Storm, eUnited, Tempra Esports, TrainHard eSport, and Team Vitality.

With Ubisoft’s regional esports’ offices consolidating into one worldwide department based in Paris, France, earlier this year, it could have allowed Ubisoft to make a big change such as this. The consolidation was made specifically to “establish a clear direction for all our regional activities” and franchising is a specific direction many esports leagues are moving towards.

Furthermore, the timing makes sense. Prior to the foundation of the post-Pro League tournaments in 2020, organizations reportedly met in August of 2019 to discuss the upcoming changes. It’s possible this August will see a similar meeting in Berlin.

Three organization representatives in a meeting with Ubisoft in 2019.

The biggest obstacles to franchising

So the big question is, who is going to buy in?

Siege is not in a great place right now. While there is no doubt that the esport will continue for years to come, viewership and player numbers are both falling… so why would 20 organizations jump at the chance to lock themselves in for the long haul?

At the moment, the barrier to entry for the NAL or EUL is basically just being able to pay the wages of an org-less team, which has led to organizations such as TrainHard leaving the EUL just three months after joining the league after reportedly not paying players and staff.

The current Wolves Esports roster, meanwhile, took three months to find an organization to their liking after Team Vitality dropped them. This was despite finishing 9-12th in the world at the recent Sweden Major.

If the EUL couldn’t quickly attract good organizations before, there is the question of whether the league would find 10 high-quality and trustworthy organizations willing to commit for the long term. Ubisoft must have a very attractive pitch for the future of the esport for it to work and in a post-COVID world, with an eye on the expensive NA League, that future probably can’t involve additional organizational costs such as a buy-in.

VALORANT

Extenuating this issue is VALORANT. This year Riot announced a no buy-in franchising system which has netted over 150 applicants. This makes now one of the worst possible times to announce any plans for a Rainbow Six franchise league.

The 150-organization figure likely means that almost every company that would be interested in a possible R6 franchise spot is already thinking about making a long-term commitment to a much bigger game. This means that when Ubisoft would approach an organization about plans, the vast majority of them would likely already have earmarked money for VALORANT, even if only a few of them actually win a spot. It makes it much less likely teams would want to commit to both games at the same time, especially if Ubisoft wants any sort of buy-in when VALORANT isn’t asking for one.

Obviously, the successful VALORANT teams will be known well before the 2023 Rainbow Six Circuit starts, but it's safe to assume planning for 2023 has already begun.

Without a buy-in, how does this help?

So if we assume any R6 franchise league would not involve a buy-in issues still remain.

The whole basis of a franchised league is that every partner is fully invested, which then gives them each confidence to invest further. The issue is, for some of the biggest organizations in Siege, making it a franchise league would make no difference. 

G2 or DarkZero, for example, were never realistically going to be relegated and already provide some of the best buyouts, wages, and facilities in their leagues. With no buy-in, none of these organizations has any extra incentive to increase investment or not to leave. In fact, being in a franchised league has just limited their options change regions and probably made buying players from opposing teams more expensive. Franchising the league would just make things worse for them.

For smaller rosters such as Parabellum, franchising would theoretically be a lifeline and a guarantee. Not only would they avoid the risk of relegation, but they can also theoretically sell their franchise spot down the line to another organization, making it a valuable asset for the company.

This is also less of a boon than it initially seems, as Parabellum could sell their NA League license today if they wished to like how cowana sold to Heroic in Europe. It being a franchise spot would raise the price, but is also likely to decrease the number of interested buyers, especially if Ubisoft further enforces wage minimums seen in most other franchise systems.

As for relegations, Heroic and XSET have already shown how the current licensing system means that if an organization wants to be involved, it can be. A once-yearly threat of relegation likely isn’t worth excessive additional costs, especially as each team having a Vegas-based team house means whoever's relegated is still the best positioned to pick up a promoted team.

More fundamentally, we already have 10 teams in North America with team houses; what kind of additional investment would Ubisoft expect to come from a franchised league in which the organizations already are all-in?

So ultimately, the mere fact that it's a franchised league doesn’t help the teams compared to the current system. Ubisoft would need to give more to sell the system.

So what about Ubisoft’s POV?

Back at SI 2020, Wei Yue, Ubisoft’s current Esports Director, stated clearly that “our active vision for Rainbow Six Esports is to have an open ecosystem moving forward”. While the world halted just a few weeks after he said this and all of the plans he announced in the minutes preceding this was thrown into disarray, this aim is probably more true than ever. 

Why? Because a closed ecosystem wouldn’t even help Ubisoft.

To get organizations on board with this move, they need to show that the change is worth it. They need to find new ways for organizations to earn money and actually improve the scene. They need to show that they are worth committing to and that R6 has a long and fruitful future. 

Riot can pitch this well for VALORANT. For Ubisoft to do the same requires a lot of promised investment on their end, which potentially solves the problem in itself.

Franchising will only work if there’s a lot of promised investment behind it… but if Ubisoft announces a load of promising investment initiatives then there’s no need for franchising anyway and Wei Yue’s vision can continue on.

This is because organizations currently don’t leave due to the threat of relegation. Out of the seven listed previously, only eUnited were in a relegation position, while both Tempra and Vitality left while in the top four in Europe. These organizations left due to financial issues or lack of faith in the ecosystem hence tying them down to long commitments will just make those issues worse.

So in summary…

While fans see franchising as a threat to the future of tier-two Siege, it should also be seen as a threat to the esport itself. The fact of the matter is, we do not have 100 Thieves at our door trying to invest, instead we have Team Vitality ending six years of investment just after securing their second-best ever PC result. The prospect of being chained to this ecosystem will likely not go down well.

In fact, even without a buy-in fee, franchising would be very messy for Ubisoft as they would compete with VALORANT even more directly, would likely lead to an exodus of organizations who don’t believe in the game’s longevity, and it wouldn’t solve any underlying issues behind why teams are leaving, and viewers aren’t watching.

What Siege needs is a clear vision for the future of the game and a lot of money to make it all come true. The new consolidated office should help with the vision, it just comes down to whether Ubisoft believes in the game’s longevity themselves.