Within professional League of Legends, the World Championship is the end-all. Every team in the world is either trying to qualify to Worlds or win Worlds. Regardless, the World Championship is the bulls eye on their target each year. At the same time, teams have limited time and resources. Worlds happens at the end of each year, so organizations have roughly 9 months to work with. The domestic LCS season splits into Spring and Summer Split, which breaks down into playoffs and regular season. At the end of the day, LCS teams have to create priorities to work within to reach their goals. These priorities can change weekly, and vary by team, but the top teams always keep the big picture in mind. The World Championship remains the number one priority. This is why some events are considered more or less important than others.
The Hierarchy of Competition Previously
If the World Championship is the ultimate goal, then the path to qualifying becomes the number one priority. According to last year’s rules, LCS teams competed for Championship Points throughout the year. These points determined who qualified to the World Championship.
Extrapolating from these rules, the best path to Worlds involves winning Summer Split. The winner automatically qualifies. The secondary approach involves earning the most Championship Points between Spring and Summer Split, but Summer Split points are higher. The final option involves having the next most Championship across the year and competing in the Regional Qualifier.
Immediately, organizations can start to prioritize the year. Spring Split and Summer Split are both important towards Worlds aspirations, but Summer Split is more important. Summer Split awards higher points and first place auto-qualifies. LCS teams might be more focused on improvement in Spring Split and more focused on results in Summer Split. They might try more experimental drafts or split time between multiple teammates in Spring Split, but those practices usually stop in Summer Split.
Other International Events
Outside of domestic competition, LCS teams and pro players could go to Mid Season Invitational, Rift Rivals and the All-Star Event. The team that wins LCS Spring Split playoffs represents North America at MSI. The top three teams from Spring Split playoffs battle Europe’s top three at Rift Rivals. And the highest-voted individual players get invited to All Stars. Where do these international events fit within LCS teams’ priorities?
MSI is definitely the most serious of these three events. The number one team from each region gets to compete, and it takes place shortly after Spring Split. It is the first opportunity teams get to compete against other regions. For North America, the top teams say they learn their weaknesses through competition against other regions. Some of North America’s best international performances happened at MSI. Most importantly, competing at MSI does not directly affect their opportunities to qualify for Worlds later in the year.
Rift Rivals is the opposite of MSI in several ways. It is held in the middle of Summer Split, which directly impacts the top teams’ practice schedule domestically. Either North America travels to Europe and LCS teams come back jet-lagged while their competition takes a break, or Europe travels to North America and LCS teams have to play jet-lagged European teams while their competition takes a break. Both of these scenarios cause teams to take the event less seriously (Zven said Europe was trolling last year), and maybe even see Rift Rivals as a burden with little upside. Whichever team loses has plenty of excuses for poor performance. Rift Rivals results have no bearing on Worlds qualifications. But the traveling and interruptions to domestic competition could impact LCS Summer Split performance in the short term.
All Star Event
The All Star Event is essentially a for-fun event to honor popular players and streamers. The World Championship is over. The off-season is about to begin. Wins and losses are fairly meaningless, and there are events, like the 1v1 tournament and tandem mode, that are not even real practice. In the grand scheme of competition, All Stars is meaningless. Several of the most successful players even turn down the opportunity to go to the event (Doublelift decided he preferred a break last year).
Taking all of this into consideration, LCS organizations generally view MSI as the “cherry on top” of Spring Split. Winning the split gives Championship Points, which is great for getting to Worlds, and getting international competition that does not interfere with domestic competition is a bonus. Rift Rivals is significantly less important, as it only involves Europe, it interrupts the more important split, and it has no bearing on Worlds whatsoever. All Stars is a lower priority, as far as competition is concerned, but at least it occurs at the end of the year with no serious competition left. Rift Rivals provides more competitive value, but the scheduling and traveling definitely takes away some of its merits. Therefore, LCS teams typically value MSI below Worlds, Summer Split and Spring Split, but solidly above Rift Rivals and All Stars.
Competitive Differences in 2020
The schedule and priority for these events completely changes in 2020. At the beginning of the year, the LCS adjusted the requirements for qualifying to the World Championship. They have done away with Championship Points, and only the best performers of Summer Split will qualify. More recently, Riot cancelled Rift Rivals, and decided to postpone MSI from May (between Spring and Summer Split) to July (in the middle of Summer Split), “given how much the COVID-19 situation has impacted international travel and live events for nearly every sports and entertainment property.” They also adjusted the start date for LCS Summer Split from June 20 to May 16, to account for this rescheduling.
This may not seem like a big deal, but these adjustments completely change the competitive landscape for LCS organizations. MSI moves into the middle of Summer Split, a slot Rift Rivals previously held, which teams already found burdensome because of the timing. The path to Worlds solely rests in Summer Split playoffs. This causes the value of Spring Split and MSI to drop substantially in the minds of the pros. Imagine training for six to eight weeks against LCS teams, traveling abroad to train for two weeks while your competitors continue training domestically, then coming back to finish out the split that determines who goes to Worlds. Teams should theoretically value the international competition, but an opportunity cost exists for losing Summer Split momentum. MSI might create some of the same problems as Rift Rivals for pros.
Why Bother With Spring Split and MSI?
The LCS Spring Split is already entering Week 8, and analysts still consider the game quality to be pretty low outside of Cloud9. Doublelift was benched, due to lack of motivation. Froggen stated in an interview that Spring Split is “all preparation for the Summer Split and eventually making it into Worlds.” CaptainFlowers had this to say about Spring Split in an interview at the beginning of the year: “there’s no reason to reward a team who was only good in Spring with a chance to get to Worlds in Summer when they’re clearly not fit to go to Worlds. I’m actually glad that Spring doesn’t weigh as much,” which furthers the idea that Worlds is the only tournament that truly matters in League of Legends esports. Everything else throughout the year is in service to that goal.
Because Spring Split does not tie into Worlds through Championship Points, and because MSI breaks up Summer Split, finishing second to sixth place in Spring Split may become strategic. Those teams will still get to experience playoffs, with best-of series. They can make sure their team has a baseline to work with for peaking in Summer Split. However, they do not risk breaking up their Summer Split training for a two-week MSI event, which may or may not help them do well domestically. The World Championship qualifying format favors practicing more versus LCS teams, which gives them the upper hand in Summer Split playoffs. Winning Spring Split and going to MSI does not give much benefit towards the end goal of going to Worlds.