After the remarkable success of Europe’s LEC rebrand in 2019, it was only a matter of time until North America went through a change of its own. Abandoning the ever-so-slightly stagnant best of ones for each Saturday and Sunday format of old, the LCS has now gone through a near-complete overhaul heading into the 2020 season.
Best of threes. Three days of matches.
Will this new format breathe new life into an already flourishing LCS viewing experience? And will we finally see all three of North America’s strongest teams at Worlds?
LCS’ Academy integration
Often criticized for the lack of exposure given over to up-and-coming talents in the region – or, in some teams’ cases, simply not committing to the development of up-and-coming talent at all – North America’s Academy League has had a lot to work on.
This applies both to the organizations and Riot’s handling of the broadcast itself. Handing the reins over to the teams themselves for the first two years of the franchised Academy League, the additional development for up-and-coming casters (myself included) was both necessary and yet occasionally underwhelming. Viewers would casually check in and out, not too fussed with their team’s secondary squad results either way, and with a solid 50-odd percent of teams not utilizing their substitutes at all on the main stage, player branding as well as Academy team exposure was at a low as we exited 2019.
The commitment Riot are making towards integrating Academy matches around LCS game days – in particular, having the most hyped two LCS matchups of the week behind a “wall” of four Academy games earlier in the day – is great for the players (stage experience, branding), the organisations, the established talent (more chance to hone their craft), and anyone interested in watching more professional League. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of both the casual fans only wanting to see their main team perform on stage, and most international fans.
Because the two highest-billed LCS matches of the week… are now on a Monday night.
- Not at all 50%, 1 vote1 vote 50%1 vote - 50% of all votes
- I like it 50%, 1 vote1 vote 50%1 vote - 50% of all votes
Monday Night League is a questionable change
An esports league being the third most popular major sports league (among the hotly contested 18-34 year old range) in the United States is absolutely insane in the best of ways.
A testament to the cultural phenomenon that is esports, and Riot’s commitment to driving League of Legends as a premier title within the sphere, expansion and experimentation seem to be the way forward – especially with more sponsors than ever on the lookout for potential partnerships.
While North America’s LCS certainly does have its own merit – the State Farm Analyst Desk preceding most consistent League sponsorships – they are now playing catch up to an LEC ripe with external branding from the likes of KIA and Shell.
Dedication towards this appeal – and making League financially sustainable for teams that struggle to break even – has resulted in the aforementioned additional exposure granted to the Academy League, as well as spreading the LCS’ games across a broader reach than just a weekend at a time.
While in the past the LCS’ three-day format would be spread over Friday through Sunday (with EU taking Thursdays in lieu of Sundays), choosing Monday as the third day while also keeping the best games until late really does isolate audiences with timezone constraints. The Monday night LCS games don’t start until 2:30am CET, and any kind of post-show breakdowns or recaps will likely be abandoned in favor of bed.
Spring Split means even less… Unless you really, really want MSI
Since the change in allocation of Championship Points from Seasons gone by, the Spring Split of the LCS has often been looked at as just another trophy for Team Liquid’s case. While qualifying for the Mid-Season Invitational is certainly a boon, one has to consider that Summer having such a hefty weighting in the Worlds qualification has its positives and negatives.
On the plus side, we will now have all three of North America’s then-strongest teams heading to the World Championship in Summer, thanks to a complete overhaul of the points system and a double elimination bracket being the long-overdue thing of beauty that it is.
The addition of a loser’s bracket has often been requested in the past by fans and analysts alike, and now teams will still feel the pressure heading into Summer Playoffs but are (mostly) not just one unfortunate Best of 5 from seeing what they’ve worked to the entire year fall away.
Negatives are largely tied around the fact that only a very small portion of the League of Legends community – both viewers and players – considers the Mid-Season Invitational to be a prestigious tournament in any regard.
While the shot at international glory is nice, and essentially a miniature World Championship within itself, teams still aren’t one-hundred percent on-board with sacrificing valuable break and preparation time between Spring and Summer.
Although the LCS’ regular season format is still a best of one double Round Robin, the changes to playoff format alone make this a promising venture for international hopes of the region. Famous for having players choke and not show up when it matters – and, of course, just get completely outclassed – the additional stage experience and draft adaptation granted by a similar format to China’s LPL or Korea’s LCK would have been nice, but at the end of the day the regular season changes were all about the broadcast and viewership experience.
And you know what? Even as a European CLG fan completely doomed by these time changes, I still respect that Riot are experimenting with ways to elevate the LCS viewing experience. In exchange for being the beta testers for the year and season to come, the teams – and fans – are rewarded with a long overdue playoffs format that may even prove North America to be an international contender.