I am at a bit of a disadvantage here. At the time I'm writing this, the group stage isn't over, but you guys will be watching the last of it around the time you read this. Regardless of the time delay, there have been some great matches at the League of Legends Season 3 World Championships.
The matches haven't been the only thing good about the tournament. Riot has added a lot of presentation quality, including pro interviews and an analysis desk. In spite of some minor technical issues, this has been a very solid tournament thus far.
I will never like round robin
Round robin is just a bad format, and the extended group stage makes it honestly even worse. Even after talking with Riot's e-sports guys about presentation quality, I still think that it's bad.
What really bothers me the most is that there are quite a few teams now in the extended group phase that have 0 chance of qualifying but are still playing, and quite a few that have to win all their games to get out of the groups. The sad part is that all of these teams lose regardless of whether the top seeds win one or two more games.
Because Riot chose to do this extended format, it clearly means it has a lot of time to do a lot of games. It's my opinion that it would have been a lot better if it'd just brought more teams in per region (such as four in the major region qualifiers) and done a bigger world tournament than have to watch the weaker teams flounder for longer. It's bad for everyone, especially fans, to watch the smaller teams lose to the bigger fish in enormous blowouts again and again.
The format's pretty much the only negative thing about the tournament, though. The presentation quality has stepped up a lot. The in-match commentary has gotten much better; the majority of casters that I complained about last year have leveled up quite a bit. In addition, Joe and Kobe, who didn't cast at Worlds last year, are doing it now and doing a really good job.
I want to give an especially big thumbs-up to Jatt, who has improved so much since last year. I think he's really gained a lot of confidence in front of the camera and delivers really insightful information in a very understandable way. He still works best with a more energetic co-caster, but that's exactly what the guys like Rivington, Joe, or Kobe are great at.
Also new to Season 3 is the expert panel. This isn't an entirely new idea, since it's been done before by other e-sports organizations and is a mirror of real-life sports networks like ESPN. However, the expert panel does a lot to fill in the time with entertaining and informative talk about the matches and about professional League of Legends in general.
This would not be possible without the right people on the panel, and I think the people chosen were excellent. Two of the casters sit on the panel and rotate out, while the other three spots are held by outsiders. The first is held by OGN commentator Montecristo, probably the most knowledgable English-fluent person when it comes to talking about the Korean scene. He has a very strong knowledge of matchups and has a great insight into the way the Asian teams play.
The second guest is EG's support player, Krepo. As the support of one of the best teams in EU, Krepo has a phenomenal understanding of how players work together and the mindset of each player going into any particular situation. He is also not afraid to pick at teams for critical mistakes, even when those teams end up winning. I was talking with friends while watching about how I felt SKT had made some critical errors in its game against TSM, and then Krepo explained on the panel in detail about what those errors were -- in a much better way then I could.
The last person on the panel is Doublelift, CLG's ADC player. Doublelift is a player I both love and hate; he's knowledgable and excellent at the game, but he has an enormous ego and a bad attitude. I think his attitude is almost entirely a good thing on the expert panel, though. Doublelift has similar insights to Krepo but is spot-on a lot of the time about predictions and matchups more often. While his language has occasionally come pretty close to the line of what is acceptable, most of the time he uses the right amount of arrogance to add a lot of color. It also helps that the others try to knock him down a bit, and it creates back-and-forth banter that is entertaining to listen to.
While I don't have enough space to detail all the teams, I want to talk about a few of the matches.
First, as always, I have to complain a bit about games that end before the 10-minute mark. A lot of matches, particularly Gambit's stellar wins in the first few days, were practically over before they started. After the first few days of the tournament I was unsure about whether there would be any games that actually went to the midgame before being decided.
Gambit vs. Fnatic would be the first big swingy game with lots of back and forth. However, Fnatic did really control the game, and there was no point really where Gambit was winning. It was still a really good match, and it took a long time for Fnatic to close it out.
The next big game was Lemondogs vs. OMG. To its credit, OMG just played amazingly; I think it's one of the scariest teams in the whole tournament. I thought LD would do better, and it did manage to keep it close for a long time, but OMG kept taking little advantages and came out ahead in the long run. LD really put up a good fight, though; it's a match really worth watching.
The most hyped match in the group stage was TSM vs. SK Telecom T1. There was some trashtalk between Reginald and Faker before the match started, so bragging rights were definitely on the line. Additionally, the losing team in this game would have almost no chance to fight for a qualifying seed, so this match was a big deal. TSM had a strong opening and better overall strategy but misplayed several key situations, leading to an SKT advantage. SKT managed to play very conservatively, taking small advantages until TSM threw the game away with two failed dragon fights. TSM played such a superior strategic game early on that it was sad to see it fail, but SKT had its number in the midgame and was constantly one step ahead.
I'm really looking forward to the rest of the tournament; we haven't even seen the four pre-qualified teams (including Cloud 9) play at all. I can't wait for that.
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