The Problem with LCS Playoffs.

So today I wanted to talk about something that really bothers me (and a lot of other people) about the way that Riot Games handles coverage of its Professional League of Legends eSports organizations.

First things first we should talk about how they are organized. Riot directly oversees the running of two major markets of their eSports juggernaut: North America and Europe. Each League features 10 teams (up from the 8 teams they used to have just a couple years ago), and for a long time, Riot has treated them both relatively the same.

But then last year, something weird happened. They decided to expand from each match consisting of a single game, to each match being a Best of 3 (or in Europe's case initially, Best of 2) contest. The number of games being played each week skyrocketed. This was great for teams, as the lack of games being played live on stage in competition was seen as one of the primary reasons NA and EU teams performed horribly at International Tournaments. Which makes sense, when teams in China and Korea are playing 40+ competitive games in the same span of time your best playoff teams are playing 20, there is going to be a disparity between them.

Along with this shift came an even stronger shift in schedule, with EU being played on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings; and NA playing in Prime Time on Friday, then Saturday and Sunday.

And then there is playoffs.

This is where I think Riot fails.

Back when they were playing Best of 1's and people were sometimes more serious about watching both NA and EU games, it made at least a little sense that fans might want to watch both sets of playoff games. So they had the EU play in the morning, and NA play in the evening. The coverage was even spaced out so as not to overlap, unless a series of games in EU runs long...

But in this day in age, in North America alone, there were 221 games played this split, and coverage of those games are at least 45 minutes each for even the shortest games of the split. Following those games every week is a HUGE commitment of time. Most fans adopt a stance more similar to real sports, where you pick a favorite team or two and watch those games. What fans don't tend to do is watch all 20-30 games a week played in the NA LCS, and then turn around and ALSO watch all 20-30 games a week played in the EU LCS. Again, they might pick a team or two to follow, but generally fans invest in either NA or EU and rarely both.

So the problem comes in with the way Riot schedules their playoff coverage. Instead of staggering the days and having Europe play on say Thursday and Friday, and North America play on Saturday and Sunday, both groups play on the same two days (Saturday and Sunday). Europe plays at 11am Eastern (3pm GMT). North America plays at 3pm Eastern. 

That feels pretty fair, right? They both get to play starting at 3pm in the "standard" time for their respective continents. But where this all goes wrong is when Riot delays the start of the North American games *AND* coverage until the European games conclude. 

4 hours seems pretty safe, right? Well, that's where the problems start. These playoff matchups are Best of 5 series. They get played consecutively with a short break between games (which ends up being about 30 minutes). So we start with maybe 15-20 minutes of pre-game analysis. And then an average game takes 30-35 minutes to play out. Followed by 25-30 of post-game analysis, a quick break, and pre-game analysis for the next game. 

If we're optimistic, Game 1 will end right around noon... Game 2 around 1pm. Game 3 around 2pm, and Game 4 around 3pm... and here we get around to where the problems really start... close series goes to 5 games? Game 5 is going to end around 4pm. And that's if all of the games hover around a 30 minute duration. What happens when both games *AND* series run long?

In this split's Quarterfinals, the Misfits and Splyce played a full five games in a *6 HOUR* series. Seriously. Here's the video. This meant the Team Dignitas vs Phoenix1 coverage didn't even start until *AFTER* 5pm

Imagine if you were a Team Dignitas fan, and were hosting a viewing party with friends? "Hey guys come on over at 3 so we can watch our favorite team in the playoffs!" Only you're stuck twiddling your thumbs until the game comes on. And can you imagine if the DIG/P1 game had gone a full 5 games? 

Yeah, it's nitpicky. But it's also completely disrespectful to your fans. No other sport does this. If you want to be taken seriously as a sport, you shouldn't be doing it either.

I was there at 3pm to watch the North American playoffs. At 5pm, I was off doing something else. I made other plans at that point. And I know I wasn't the only one.

Riot needs to fix this. They handle it so well for the entire regular season, only to completely botch things in the playoffs. 


All that ranting aside, one of the coolest things Riot does for their eSports brand begins this weekend. Over the next week, the play-in Tournament for the Mid-Season Invitational takes place. Starting today, underdog teams from all over the world play for a shot at the big dogs. These teams won their respective leagues in Brazil, Japan, and a handful of other new and growing territories. 

The format is weird. The 8 teams from these emerging regions are split into 2 groups and they play a big double round-robin (play each team twice) in Best-of-1 Matches starting today.

Then next Wednesday, the top team in Group A will face off in a Best of 5 series against North America's Team Solomid. Winner is into the Mid-Season Invitational.

On Thursday, the top team in Group B will face off against the winner of China's Legends Masters Series (LMS) the Flash Wolves. Again, the winner of the Best of 5 is into MSI.

Then on Saturday May 6th, the losers of the above two games play in a Best of 5 series for the last chance to get into the MSI Tournament.

International Tournaments are interesting. In addition to team pride, region pride is on the line. 

But the real questions come in a couple weeks when the Korean superpower teams enter the mix. Can SK Telecom Team1 capture yet another giant Trophy to put on Faker's shelf?

This weekend though, we cheer for the underdogs. Two teams to keep an eye on are Supermassive out of Turkey, and Team Rampage out of Japan. Supermassive had a good showing at World's last year. And Team Rampage has a huge chip on their shoulder to prove that they're just as good as the Chinese and Korean teams.