For the last few years, fans and analysts have looked to the League of Legends World Championship to select the world’s greatest team. Organizations from all over the world descend on a location to duke it out and shoot for the top. Representatives from North America, Europe, China, Taiwan, Korea and more get drafted into four groups based on their year-long performance within their regions, and from there they scrap for two of the four slots into quarterfinals.
This system seems fair enough, but there has been an interesting trend since 2013. The LCK representatives continue to push towards the top of the tournament. In Season Three, Korean teams finished first, third-fourth, and ninth-tenth. Season Four was first, third-fourth, and fifth-eighth. They nabbed first, second, and fifth-eighth in 2015, and then first, second, third-fourth last year. In 2017 they will be looking to continue this trend.
Such consistently high placings begs the question: when will LCK get a fourth competitor at Worlds? Looking at the competition this year, Longzhu Gaming, SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy should theoretically remain a cut above. The LCK has been touted as a much more competitive league than other regions in the world, yet they get allotted the same number of Worlds seeds as China, Europe and North America. It is worth questioning the reasoning of this choice.
strength of korea’s fourth seed
Hypothetically, KT Rolster would be Korea’s fourth seed representative. No one would argue that they are unfit for the world stage. KT is made up of Smeb, Score, Pawn, Deft and Mata–world-class players by all measures. This is the squad that tied Longzhu for first place in the Summer Split regular season. KT only lost 2-3 to SKT in the playoffs to miss finals, then lost 0-3 to Samsung to miss Worlds.
What is the justification for KT to stay at home, while wildcard teams and other regions’ third seeds get to the Group Stage through play-ins? Sure, some fans may be upset about equal representation, or how Worlds would become LCK playoffs 2.0, but what about competitive integrity? KT Rolster would most likely make a deep run in the World Championship, but they are denied that opportunity because they play in a region that has too much talent.
Of course, there will be someone to point out the obvious slippery slope. Why stop at four? Why not five or six or seven Korean teams? Next, there will be four different play-in-type stages to Worlds, and it will last eight weeks, and people are not going to tune in for an eight-week-long tournament. This is a valid point.
Fairness of the Group Stage
Four Korean teams feels right because there are four groups in the main event of Worlds. Each year teams from other regions cross their fingers and hope they are drawn into the group without an LCK seed. That gives them the highest probability to make it out of their group, which means a higher chance to win the entire tournament. Introducing a fourth LCK team would remove that hope.
Picture a World tournament where Longzhu heads Group A, SKT in Group B, Samsung in Group C and KT in Group D. Every other team in the tournament would be guaranteed to face one from Korea. There may still be “groups of death,” but there would no longer be a safe haven-type group.
Bringing in a fourth team would also be a proper test for other regions at Worlds. If a TSM or G2 or Flash Wolves truly wants to feel accomplished making it out of their group, then they should be facing a Longzhu, an SKT or a Samsung. Just look at H2K last year. Many would argue that they only made into the semifinals because they topped the only group without a Korean roster, then faced the wildcard team in quarterfinals, and when they faced Samsung in semifinals they lost 3-0.
On that same note, if TSM tops this year’s Group D, they would face the second place from another group. For example, they could have to play Fnatic, Immortals or Gigabyte Marines in the quarterfinals. If TSM then made it to semifinals and lost to SKT or Longzhu, would they feel like they earned their way, knowing that other teams were knocked out earlier by Korean teams? It is not surprising that analysts were worried for North America’s chances going into the group draw but quickly became optimistic once TSM was placed in a group without an LCK seed.
The logistics of bringing in a fourth team from Korea would be relatively straight-forward. Each group is headed by the top four teams from LCK: Summer Split champion in Group A, second-most championship points in Group B, third most in Group C and a regional qualifier for Group D. From there, the first seeds of Europe, China, North America, and Taiwan would divide into the four groups. The second seeds would follow, and then there would be a play-in for the final four spots. Riot would need to revoke the wildcard slot promised from the Mid-Season Invitational, and include them in the play-in for their chance to the Group Stage.
Fleshing out this hypothetical, we could have groups that look like this:
A–Longzhu, Flash Wolves, RNG, Cloud9
B–SKT T1, TSM, Misfits, Team WE
C–Samsung, G2, Immortals, Gigabyte Marines
D–KT Rolster, Edward Gaming, AHQ, Fnatic
These seem a lot more balanced than the current groups. There are still ways to make them less fair, such as grouping KT, Flash Wolves, Misfits and Gigabyte Marines, while Longzhu, G2, RNG and Cloud9 faced off. However, no team would be able to make it into the semifinals of Worlds without beating a member of the LCK. This setup would also present Korea with the opportunity to truly prove its prowess, because if they could potentially secure all top four spots in the World.
The LCK has proven itself over several years of international and domestic competition. This year Riot allowed them instant access to the Group Stage without a play-in, but that is not enough. The World Championship should feature four teams from the LCK. Critics may point to the slippery slope “why stop at four Korean teams? Why not five, six, or seven?” but settling on four seems natural, given there are four groups in the Group Stage.
Each of the four groups would be assigned one Korean team, ensuring more fairness in the draw. It would also strengthen the competitive integrity of Worlds. KT Rolster would be a prime candidate to compete in this year’s World Championship when compared to other competitors.
It would be impossible for a team to reach the semifinals of the tournament without winning against an LCK representative. Any true professional League team should want to leave a competition knowing that it did the best it could. They would not want to think it was the luck of the draw. Adding in a fourth Korean seed would make that a reality.
Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr
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