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Is the Playoffs Loser’s Bracket Valuable to the LCS?

C9 won 3-0 over GG and EG won 3-1 over FLY in the 2022 LCS Spring Playoffs.

Four teams remain in the 2022 LCS Spring Playoffs, as Evil Geniuses eliminated FlyQuest and Cloud9 eliminated Golden Guardians over the weekend. Team Liquid and 100 Thieves prepare to face off to determine North America’s primary finalist. EG and C9 do battle for the last opportunity to reach the Finals. Virtually everyone agrees these final few matches should deliver much better experiences than the first round of the Loser’s Bracket that played out this past weekend. Which begs the question—is the Loser’s Bracket valuable to the LCS Playoffs experience? 

The Favorite Always Stomps

C9’s dominant 3-0 over GG and EG’s dominant 3-1 over FLY are not unusual for the first round of playoffs’ Loser’s Brackets. Look back through the last few splits:

  • Higher seeds tend to dominate lower seeds in the LCS Loser's Bracket.
    Higher seeds tend to dominate lower seeds in the LCS Loser’s Bracket.

    2021 Spring

    • TSM 3-1 EG
    • 100T 3-0 DIG
  • 2020 Spring Round 1
    • TSM 3-2 100
    • FLY 3-0 GG
  • 2021 Summer Round 1
    • IMT 3-0 DIG
    • C9 3-0 GG
  • 2021 Summer Round 2
    • TSM 3-1 IMT
    • C9 3-0 EG
  • 2020 Summer Round 1
    • EG 3-0 100T
    • TSM 3-0 DIG
  • 2020 Summer Round 2
    • TSM 3-2 GG
    • C9 3-0 EG

Prior to 2020, the LCS did not have the current format that gives the top four teams a second chance if they lose their first series.  Of these 12 series, only two resulted in an upset—fifth seed TSM beat third seed 100 Thieves in Spring 2020, and fourth seed C9 beat third seed EG in Summer 2021. Before thinking Immortals was the underdog against Dignitas in Summer 2021, IMT’s summer record was one win ahead of DIG’s. 

Over 42 matches, the underdog only won seven times. Adding in the most recent 2022 matches from the week, that number moves to eight upset match wins out of 49. This means the lower seeded teams are getting smashed by the higher seeds in these series. Seeing the favorites play on stage beforehand doesn’t seem to help. The extra rest time doesn’t seem to help. The top four teams pretty much always come out ahead of fifth-sixth. 

Alternate Outcomes

In three out of the last four brackets, the LCS could have completely skipped the first rounds of the playoffs Loser’s Bracket and leave the top four teams to duke it out. Of course, the alterative outcomes would be completely hypothetical. But Spring 2021 could have started with C9 versus TL and TSM versus 100T and played out the same way. Spring 2020 could play out similarly starting with C9 versus 100T and EG versus FLY. Summer 2020 could have started with TL versus FLY and C9 versus TSM. 

Summer 2021 is the exception, and could demonstrate exactly the potential of the current format. TL, 100T and C9 ended up earning the World Championship spots for North America, despite entering playoffs as the second, fourth and fifth seeds. First seed TSM and third seed EG petered out and lost two series each to fall out of contention. Nonetheless, including sixth, seventh and eighth in the bracket had no bearing on the final results. 

LEC Playoffs

The LEC playoffs feature a gauntlet format.


The LEC playoffs feature a gauntlet format.

Europe’s LEC lays out the playoffs bracket differently, with a gauntlet-style lower bracket. First seed picked their opponent from the top four, while the remaining two face off. The losers of those matches seed into the lower bracket, where fifth plays sixth, the winner plays the lower seed from winner’s bracket, then the next lower seed, etc. 

In theory, this setup should pit similar-strength teams against each other at each step. 2022 Spring Playoffs were the exception, as G2 went 12-0 to run the entire gauntlet and win the title. Last summer, Fnatic went on a similar tear, but three of the lower bracket series ended 3-2. Last Spring, only one series was 3-0. Summer 2020 had some more one-sided matches, but Spring 2020 didn’t have 3-0s until the semifinals and finals. 

Conclusion

Every format has its pros and cons. Number of matches, quality of matches, higher stakes, etc. all go into the formation of playoffs brackets. For the longest time, LCS viewers have called for double elimination formats. But now that it’s here, the underdogs hardly ever upset. 

The higher seeds rarely get eliminated earlier than expected, and the top four in playoffs are almost always the top four from the regular season. If this is the case, then why have the first stage of the playoffs Loser’s Bracket that includes fifth-sixth in spring or seventh-eighth in summer? 


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1 comment

Anonymous April 16, 2022 at 9:59 am

I’d be curious to see if the upset numbers are any different in the LEC lower bracket. While it seems the guantlet theoretically pits more equal-strength teams against each other, you can’t look at upset numbers in a vacuum. It makes sense that higher performing teams beat lower performing teams. Upsets will always be rare, regardless of the format. I’m just curious if the LCS format makes them MORE rare than the average or even more rare compared to other regions. It’s a classic statistics question!

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