Citing sources, ESPN’s Jacob Wolf has recently reported that ROX Tigers, one of the four teams to still play for the Championship title at League of Legends Worlds, is likely to disband after the World Championship is over. Well, according to an official statement on TwitLonger by ROX representatives. That’s not happening.
The Jacob Wolf article referenced ROX’s financial difficulties after their name sponsor, KOO, went out of business last year, which almost made the Tigers disband. Despite financial troubles, the team, now named ROX Tigers, kept competing in LCK, qualified for Worlds and made it into the Semifinal, where they will meet their nemesis SK Telecom T1 in a match for their life.
To be honest, it was not a longshot to expect ROX to disband after Worlds. After all, the team looks to be headed for great success to crown the awesome season they’ve had. When Samsung won Worlds, Chinese orgs came and offered the newly minted World Champions a lot of money if they came to play in China. It’s likely that this is going to happen to ROX Tigers as well. Their most notable members, Yoon “Peanut” Wang-ho and especially Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho will have richer orgs start circling immediately once the player’s contracts with ROX expire.
ROX Tigers, however, expressed their intention to try and keep the team together. They revealed that their “current sponsors include the Chinese internet streaming service company HUYA and YY.com”, the team management is also in talks to get sponsorships from other sources. It was pointed out that reports of ROX disbanding after Worlds hurts the team’s chances to make the deals they need to improve their financial situation. This is certainly true. The current ROX roster is known as one of the most… fun-loving teams in Korea. The players seem to genuinely like playing together, and they are genuinely likeable. That makes for some great marketing potential. If they manage to win Worlds, the effect will be multiplied. This is where ROX Tigers are likely to differentiate themselves from Samsung, however.
If our impression of the team is right, the hardships experienced by the roster during the course of the last year might have forged the bonds of friendship too strongly for any amount of money to break. Similar to the Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who’s likely to retire before he leaves SK Telecom T1 a la Kobe Bryant and LA Lakers, the Tigers roster might actually keep playing for ROX despite having to refuse better offers in order to do so. Not out of plain loyalty, as is seemingly the case with Faker, but out of friendship and genuine fondness for their teammates.
It’s hard to find four people you enjoy playing and spending your free time, and living with for months at a time, while also winning games. Somehow, I suspect that the current ROX Tigers are guys who might value that more than the money they could get by playing for a richer org. You should also consider that the team’s success might actually increase the org’s financial situation significantly, allowing it to pay the players more than they could before.