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The Summoner's Guidebook: LoL's World Championship fiasco alienates fans

Patrick Mackey

I'm a big fan of e-sports, but League of Legends is currently one of the worst e-sports to garner a major scene. This isn't because the game is bad, though some aspects of LoL's Classic gameplay are bad for e-sports. It is universally because most LoL tournaments are poorly run and organized. A badly run tournament can ruin everything, regardless of how good (or bad) the game being played is.

I would expect more from Riot Games, which creates and publishes League of Legends and which has a vested interest in fostering competition for the game. However, the studio seems to have learned absolutely nothing from very successful e-sports tournaments such as the Evolution Fighting Championships, the GOMTV Star League, and OGN's The Champions. All of these tournaments have better seeding structure and better venues, which contribute to a better overall event.

Why can't Riot learn from these very successful events?

Tournament brackets must not be poorly set-up

Even before tuning into the stream for the LoL World Championships, I knew there would be problems with the event. It was obvious! The qualifying brackets featured round-robin pools followed by a single elimination main tournament. Single elimination is the most pure tournament format, and it offers no second chances. I am not a big fan of single elimination, but at least we can be sure it is fair and every match played will be very meaningful. Every matchup played ends in someone getting kicked out, and every game contributes to that eventual end. No matches are wasted in single elimination.

Round robin pools are the absolute least effective way to seed a bracket. It is possible, though unlikely, to get a very exciting round robin pool if all teams in the pool go 1-1 in the first two rounds. Sometimes this is just impossible, depending on when teams match up against each other. This happened exactly zero times during the World Championships. Every bracket featured either a 2-0 team or a 0-2 team going into the third round. Many featured both.

In a four-team round robin pool, being 2-0 means that you've already advanced, while being 0-2 means you've already been eliminated. There is literally no point to playing further games as either of these teams, and any games they play in are "lame duck" matches. Occasionally, they make losing a match the best strategy if it seeds a team into an easier bracket. This happened recently in a terrible non-e-sports event called the Olympics. Round robin sucks.

The GSL solves this problem by simply putting the winners of the first round against the losers of the first round. If any team loses two games, it is eliminated. After the second round, any teams with tied records play a final round to determine seeding. In a non-GSL tournament where winning games affects future tournament seeding, tied teams that go 0-2 in the pool don't even need to play again. This eliminates the potential for "useless" matches. In the case of two 2-0 teams that play-off to determine position in the main tournament, the Olympics problem comes into play. The best solution is to give some clearly favorable situation (like picking which bracket to go into) to the winners, and the next best solution is to hide information so competitors don't know where winning will put them. If you know winning puts you in bracket A and losing puts you in bracket B, and bracket A has the strongest team in the tournament, losing becomes the winning play.

Evolution solves this problem by having double elimination qualifying pools. This is the most ideal method. Double elimination has fewer matches than a round robin pool (six instead of nine in a pool of four teams) and removes all potential lame-duck elements. Because the pools are double elimination, it might be a bit more natural to have only one team advance from the pool stage (in a tournament of 16, this would eliminate all but four teams) rather than two.

A double elimination main tournament is probably the best solution, with bracket seeding done via Circuit Points won in regular events. Sixteen teams is not many, so a double elimination main tournament will still produce fewer yet more meaningful games than a tournament with round robin pools. Nobody wants to see a 0-2 team fight a 2-0 team. Nothing changes as a result of playing that match, so it can be skipped.

Fail venues ruin tournaments

Every once in a while, the venue ruins an event. I was once at a regional fighting game tournament where the projectors using to display the main events to the spectators were causing lag in competitor inputs. We ended up switching to old CRT televisions to play the rest of the games, and spectators couldn't really see. It was a hard choice between dealing with lag for the spectators and dealing with small displays for the competitors. We decided that a sham finals with laggy inputs wasn't worth watching anyway, and it was probably the smart play.

In a game like League of Legends, imperfect information is the name of the game and vision is incredibly important. What would happen if teams could see the main screen where the spectators were watching in real time? While there are screenshots showing certain players blatantly looking in the direction of the main screen, I don't want to call out any of the players involved in these cheating allegations.

The only winning move in this scenario is to cheat. You don't know if the other team is doing it, so you have to do it or you'll fall behind. I don't blame the teams who may have cheated in this scenario because it is not their fault. It is a competitive game, and in that situation, players have to make the winning play. It is Riot's fault for allowing the option of cheating at all.

Players should not be able to see the spectator's view in an imperfect information game. They also shouldn't be able to hear the in-game commentary, and they also shouldn't be able to hear the crowd. While a vocal crowd can be positive, it takes only a small group of people in the crowd to manipulate things so that the "favorite" team gets information that they shouldn't. The best option is soundproof booths such as those used in StarCraft events, and the next best option is separate rooms.

DDoS attacks on the game servers during the event have been rumored to be the source of the server disconnects, and I personally suspect that the rumors are true. An offline tournament mode for these sorts of events is absolutely mandatory; if there is some form of DDoS attack, the worst thing that can happen is the stream will lag out or a failure to connect to voice chat (though LAN-hosted voice servers can easily handle that problem). Both of these are minor compared to a forced regame after 40+ minutes of safe play due to a disconnect.

In the event of some kind of computer failure, good referee rulings can also help a lot. In game 3 of versus World Elite, played a super defensive game, stalling out until it could exercise its superior teamfighting skills in the late game. had carved out a strong advantage, and WE's Ryze was caught out of position. WE's Nocturne activated his ult in response and dove onto, while Ryze flashed away. Seconds after Nocturne's ult was used, the server crashed. In this situation, there was basically no way could lose the game, but Riot called for a regame. In the great sea of tournament failures, the referee situation was by far the most glaring.

Fix your bad commentary

I'm totally sick of bad commentary. I'm very sensitive to bad commentators, which is a huge reason I don't watch the OGN tournaments. TorcH is a great commentator, but not all of his compatriots are so skilled. Among the LoL commentators, one of them gets a lot of undeserved flak. His name is Phreak, and he's been the voice of Riot for a long time. Phreak is the guy who does the Champion Spotlights, and he loves his job. It's really obvious from the way he commentates that he really enjoys everything about LoL, and this makes him really great to listen to. He's not the most knowledgable person about LoL, and he makes some mistakes, but he's human, and he knows far more than any other commentator (other than Jatt, anyway). He's really good at play-by-play, and he's pleasant to listen to. I think fans are just very sensitive to him (due to the Champion Spotlights) and like to rag on him a bit.

The other official Riot commentators could stand to learn a few things from TorcH and Phreak. Commentators need to become true experts at the game in addition to honing their charisma and communication skills. You have to know what you're talking about and convey it while at least pretending to sound excited. Don't make League sound boring!

Riot has failed to impress anyone with this season's championships, which is unfortunate. League of Legends is a fun game, one I'll play even if the tournament scene sucks, but it would be nice if events weren't hamstrung by terrible organization and awful commentary.

We understand what it's like to climb the skill ladder in League of Legends. The Summoner's Guidebook teaches you the tools you need to get a competitive edge. Whether you're climbing the ranked ladder, playing Draft Dominion, or getting crushed by intermediate bots, every enemy has a weakness. And every Thursday, Patrick Mackey shows how you can improve improve on yours.

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