Fans of competitive League of Legends rejoice – the LPL (League of Legends Pro League) is back! Unfortunately, China’s premier LoL circuit has a bit of catching up to do after a few weeks out of action, a result of the ongoing coronavirus concerns.
The LPL was already known for having a significant amount of games relative to other regions, featuring a best-of-three round robin format between the 17 teams in the league. Korea’s LCK (League Champions Korea) also has a Bo3 format, but almost half as many teams in comparison – to say nothing of the ten team best-of-one double round robin prevalent in North America and Europe.
As all of these regions are playing with the World Championship in mind, it’s fortunate that the current crisis didn’t emerge during the peak of Summer, where games are significantly more important. Instead, however, teams wishing to set their sights on the Mid-Season Invitational find themselves on a massive grind over the next six weeks.
To put it into perspective, there will be three LPL best-of-three’s, with a maximum of nine total games, played per day until the 19th of April. That’s an insane amount of stress placed on the organisations, broadcast staff, and fans – to say nothing of the players going through this grueling schedule. So what other options were there for the LPL?
Move to best-of-1 format temporarily
Playing devil’s advocate here is the easiest option to go for. Often criticized for the smaller sample size of stage games, the format currently adopted by Europe’s LEC (League European Championship) and North America’s LCS (League Championship Series) has been the source of constant derision from the community. Effectively setting players up to fail due to lower quantities of quality practice relative to their international counterparts, and featuring significantly lower best-of-series adaptation opportunities, the best-of-one format is truly the scourge of many a competitive League player’s existence.
That being said, however, the format could prove fruitious for the LPL if the plans to grind out Spring truly to continue on their proposed path – games would be much less exhausting, perhaps an actual break day could be implemented, and the never-ending exhaustion could have time to be staved off. In defense of the current format, however, these players were already grinding League – there’s a reason why the LPL is the best region in the World two years running – and I am certain that some teams are just grateful to be playing on stage again.
Have Riot cancel the Mid-Season Invitational (Coronavirus has already claimed the LEC Finals’ initial choice of venue)
Due to the nature of international tournaments attracting huge amounts of crowds, the rationale behind the Mid-Season Invitational having yet to have a venue announced and the LEC’s Spring Finals in Bucharest already being relocated to Germany puts a certain uncertainty around the tournament.
If it is to go ahead, it will presumably be in a less-affected country that still permits for large crowds to gather, which presents visa issues in droves as well as health concerns should a crowd even be allowed. With the tournament often being seen as a luxury or consolation prize for Spring’s victors, depending on how you look at it, perhaps it would be for the best that MSI 2020 is moved to the off-season or disregarded entirely.
Player, audience, and everyone else’s safety comes above all, as sad as a six-plus week long break in the middle of the season would be.
Move to online (LCK may have to given their recent suspension due to the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea)
When the LPL was initially announced to be “resuming” of sorts, it was in the form of an online scrim league conducted between all of the teams. This was streamed on the side and unofficially cast by some of the biggest names in the industry, but of course lacked somewhat in terms of production, to say nothing of the fact that it was a no-stakes tournament with no real sequence or progression.
Uneven latency due to server distance and the sheer size of China also presents an issue here, given that some teams are in Shanghai, Beijing, or as far as Wuhan in the case of the rising rookies of eStar.
Another concern is that some players are notable “scrim gods,” meaning that they overperform when the relative lack of pressure an online game presents is provided to them, but they fall flat on their faces when on the big stage.
An online league is difficult to coordinate, but again – it could be a much safer option than the alternatives.
Continue to postpone and disregard Spring entirely in favor of Summer
The last resort for Riot – even more drastic than cancelling MSI – is just foregoing Spring here entirely, in the hopes of the outbreak either disappearing or being cured between now and Spring. This would, however, mean that fans would be left without League of Legends for a long time, players would be left without stage practise, there would be no revenue from one of the most influential media initiatives in the past decade, and a handful of other incredibly significant negatives.
Expect this to happen only if the coronavirus situation gets significantly worse overnight, but also do consider that if you sacrifice Spring and the problem still isn’t cured by Summer, it will set a weird precedent.
Coronavirus is scary and competitive League of Legends is already suffering. With Shanghai – which, in its defense, doesn’t have the most documented cases – being the location of this year’s World Championship, sponsors, organizers, teams, fans, and everyone else will be watching developments with bated breath.
Regardless of cost, though, you can’t put a price on safety.