Korea’s top Esports League faces challenges in China amid broadcast suspension

Despite recent victories at the Asian Games and World Championship, Korea’s League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) faces mounting challenges, including a suspension of official Chinese-language broadcasts by Huya, a Tencent-backed streaming platform.

Korea’s premier esports league, League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK), is facing a challenging start to 2024, marked by a suspension of official Chinese-language broadcasts by Huya, a prominent video game streaming platform backed by Tencent. This setback comes despite the league’s recent triumphs at the Asian Games and the World Championship.

In 2023, South Korea’s esports industry celebrated notable achievements, particularly in Riot Games’ League of Legends (LoL), a globally acclaimed esports title. LCK secured two gold medals, including one for LoL, at the Asian Games held in Hangzhou, China. T1, the LCK team supported by SK Telecom, emerged victorious in the LoL World Championship, defeating China’s Weibo Gaming in November.

However, as the LCK commenced its spring season in 2024, Huya abruptly halted the official Chinese-language broadcasts, marking the first time such broadcasts have been suspended in mainland China since 2018. Riot Games Korea attributed the suspension to the absence of a broadcast rights holder in the country, providing no further explanation.

Industry insiders speculate that the broadcasting halt is linked to a controversy involving Generation Gaming (GenZ), a prominent esports club in Korea. In December, GenZ faced backlash in China after referring to Taiwan as a country in a Facebook post. The subsequent apology, which initially affirmed commitment to China’s sovereignty and later retracted to a neutral stance, fueled criticism from both Chinese and Korean fans.

Ke “957” Changyu, a professional gamer-turned-commentator for LPL, China’s LoL pro league, stated that the broadcasting suspension was connected to recent issues with GenZ. An anonymous source in China’s esports industry confirmed to The Korea Times that GenZ was a significant reason for the suspension. Neither Riot Games nor Huya responded to requests for comments on the broadcasting issue.

The suspension comes as a surprise to Chinese esports fans, leading to disappointment and the need to find alternative channels for accessing LCK content. The move raises concerns about the impact on LCK’s profitability, particularly through the loss of licensing fee revenue. Financial sustainability is already a pressing issue for LCK, as evidenced by a joint statement from affiliated teams expressing concerns about the league’s business value stagnation over the past three years.

In addition to the challenges faced by LCK, Riot Games globally announced plans to eliminate 11% of its workforce, approximately 530 jobs, to focus on core titles and trim less profitable businesses. The impact on Riot Games Korea remains unclear, but these developments underscore the evolving dynamics and financial struggles within the esports industry.