Riot’s announcements for North America and Europe regarding LCS playoffs, released today, contain two important details: a change in format and the dates of competition.
I applaud Riot’s decision to alter the format of such an important tournament to best-of-fives, which I consider by far the most fair and entertaining mode of playoffs in League. It sets the best balance between match length, ability to adapt, strategic depth, and comeback potential, and it’s great to see Riot embrace bo5’s for both LCS Regionals and the World Championship. Moreover, the playoffs are now spread out over two weekends, which allows teams more time to prepare for opponents. While I hope we are moving toward a three-week playoff structure, with quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals/third place match on different weekends, this initial shift will notably improve the quality of the matches in the playoffs.
While the structural changes to the LCS playoffs are fantastic, Riot’s decisions about when to schedule these events makes proper preparation for Worlds extraordinarily difficult for North American teams. Let’s take a look at dates for regionals around the world before I discuss the ramifications:
European LCS Regionals and an International Wildcard - August 13-17
It’s unclear whether Riot is breaking the European playoffs into two weekends, since no schedule is included in the EU announcement, but I assume they will follow a similar format to North America. Presumably the quarterfinals will occur in the Cologne studio on August 7-8 after the conclusion of the LCS regular season on August 1st.
OGN Champions Summer Finals - August 16-17
After the conclusion of Champions Summer we will know two of the three Korean squads heading to the World Championship, since the top two in circuit points automatically advance.
GPL Summer Finals - Unknown (Presumed August 16-17)
The GPL league also utilizes a circuit point system to determine which teams qualify for the World Championship, meaning that the teams should be determined by the end of the summer season. While the dates for the semifinals and finals have yet to be announced, the quarterfinals end on the same date as those of Champions, July 25th, and so the rest of the playoffs will likely fall around the dates OGN set in Korea.
Korean Regionals - Unknown
In previous years Korea determined the third and final seed for Worlds by creating a playoff consisting of the 3rd-6th teams in terms of circuit points. While dates have yet to be announced, this will likely occur in the two weeks immediately following the Champions Summer final and conclude before the end of August.
LPL Summer Finals and Chinese Regionals - Unknown
The LPL Summer regular season ends on August 16th, followed by the playoffs and the Chinese Regionals. The Chinese Regionals consist of the top two teams from both the Spring and Summer LPL seasons competing in a separate playoff for the three seeds to Worlds. Due to the timeline, it is unlikely that the qualifier will finish before early September.
North American LCS Regionals and an International Wildcard - August 29 - September 1st
The first stage of the playoffs will occur in the Manhattan Beach studio, presumably August 23-24, and then conclude at PAX Prime in Seattle. The top 3 teams, and therefore the teams representing North America at the World Championship, will be determined by September 1st.
World Championship 2014 - Unknown - October 19th
Riot released the date for the World Championship Finals as October 19th, 2014, but have yet to reveal when the tournament will begin in Taiwan and Singapore. However, based on the number of games that must be played, it seems that a minimum of a month will be necessary. I would set the most conservative date as September 19th, but more time will likely be required due to the travel between nations and the increased number of games compared to previous World Championships.
With all of these factors in mind, we can begin discussion how this scheduling affects teams who qualify for the World Championship. My main issue with the scheduling of the North American Regionals stems from the lengthy delay Riot put in place between the end of the LCS season and the playoffs themselves. While EU Regionals commence immediately following the regular season, NA waits three weeks before moving to the next stage. As the coach of Counter Logic Gaming, this schedule deeply concerns me since it means that my team will suffer from insufficient preparation for the World Championship should we qualify.
Because the North American Regionals end on September 1st and the World Championship Group Stage begins presumably in mid-September, this gives an insufficient window of time to travel, recover from jet lag, set up adequate living conditions, and practice. CLG hoped to bootcamp in Korea to prepare in the best manner possible for Worlds, since it will put us in a time zone where we can acclimate to the tournament and on a server where not only Korean teams but also Chinese and Southeast Asian teams can scrimmage with us.
In a best-case scenario my team would have to pack for the entire World Championship prior to PAX Prime, fly to Seattle, buy tickets the instant we qualify for Worlds, and fly to Seoul on September 2nd. Due to crossing the international date-line, we would lose a day upon landing and then spend a couple more dealing with jet lag. We would be unable to set up accommodations or PCs to play on more than 24 hours in advance as well, due to the sudden need to travel. We could probably start bootcamping in earnest on September 5th or 6th but, depending on when Riot requires players to arrive in Taiwan or Singapore in advance of groups, that will likely leave us with a week or less to practice.
When compared with the additional two weeks that European teams have to travel to Asia, acclimate, and prepare, this amount of time is miniscule. While the Chinese teams will likely be on a similar timeframe to those traveling from North America and the final Wildcard squad, they at least will be able to practice against international teams due to proximity to the Korean server. They also will not face the same issues with jet lag that will trouble players from further abroad. As for the teams competing in the Korean Regionals, they will likely enjoy practicing against the two teams already qualified alongside any international teams that may come from Europe to prepare during that period.
Our only other option is to remain in North America and practice solely against the teams that we have played for the entirety of 2014. This will not help us anywhere near as much as practicing with international teams, many of whom are better than us, as we head into stiff competition at Worlds. I feel that my team’s best chance comes from the opportunity to be exposed to playstyles from around the world prior to the competition itself.
For me, the biggest question is: why would Riot create this scenario? Riot’s David “Phreak” Turley, made a good point on Twitter that it isn’t the best for viewers to have the EU and NA Regionals on the same weekends. I understand that viewpoint, but only in the circumstance that it doesn’t unfairly affect a region’s ability to prepare for the World Championship, the tournament that teams have been working toward for the past nine months. As a coach of a professional team, Riot’s decision makes me deeply concerned about my team’s adequate preparation for the World Championship.
It seems to me more likely that Riot prioritizes placing the EU and NA Regionals at Gamescom and PAX respectively over competitive integrity. I understand the desire to create an awesome atmosphere for fans and maximize the pageantry of the event, but I don’t think it should come at the price of the competitive integrity of the World Championship. With other options available, such as finishing the NA Regionals at the LCS studio prior to PAX, I believe that the atmosphere should be sacrificed so that the teams heading to Worlds have an adequate chance to prepare.
While likely too late to change now, I hope that Riot reconsiders the way they schedule for the World Championship in 2015. It isn’t in the best interests of LoL eSports to give certain teams or regions a large preparation advantage heading into the world’s biggest event.
—Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles