On January 8, 2020, the League of Legends Championship Series (hereby referred to as the LCS) introduced an updated format for its upcoming 2020 season.
Changes included an increase in the number of broadcast days, a decrease in subsequent games per broadcast, and a revamp of the spring and summer split playoff formats.
The LCS aims to capitalize on the fact that it is currently the third-most popular major sports league among 18-34-year-olds in the US and that the League of Legends World Championship peak viewership has increased for the past 4 years.
But while some of these changes seem to even the playing field and raise the bar for viewers and players alike, some decisions seem questionable in respects to their intended (and unintended) effects.
Pros of the 2020 Format
Monday Night League
The LoL Esports staff revealed on Wednesday that they would be adding another broadcast day of LCS for the 2020 season. This change benefits viewers and teams for a number of key reasons.
First, by introducing a third broadcast day for “the 2 marquee matchups of the week,” the weekend games will be reduced from five to four per day, allowing for less consecutive games. This would benefit players by potentially giving them a day’s rest between matchdays. Additionally, viewers could also find appeal in the form of shorter broadcasts and less concurrent games per day.
Next, the existence of a third broadcast day solves for the demand for more LCS content while avoiding schedule conflicts with rivaling esports programs. A similarly effective parallel can be drawn through the NFL and their Monday Night Football program.
Monday Night Football, an installment that has been consistently one of the highest-performing series on cable television, advertises exciting matchups every Monday. It also avoids viewership conflict from other matches within the NFL and other sporting events that would usually occur on the weekend. Likewise, most esports events occur on the weekend — but like the NFL, the LCS already possesses a majority of the total viewer base in its respective category.
By allocating a portion of their schedule to Monday, the LCS can retain its viewership base from its regular weekend broadcasts while advertising featured matches on Monday nights to another market of readily available viewers.
Double Elimination Playoff Format
The LoL Esports staff also introduced a revamp to the LCS playoffs format.
With both Spring and Summer Split playoffs now in double-elimination and best-of-5 matches throughout the entire brackets, the playing field gives more opportunity for teams and more excitement for the fans in 2020.
Whereas previous formats in single-elimination saw high-seeded teams walk away from a finals tournament after just a single set loss, the new double-elimination brackets give teams an extra chance to fight their way back to the top.
This won’t be a given for all playoffs teams, however. The two lowest teams to qualify in each split’s playoffs will find themselves starting in the lower bracket. This includes the 5th and 6th-seed teams in the Spring Split, as well as the 7th and 8th-seed in the Summer Split.
But with more contingencies for underdog stories and miracle runs, the LCS playoffs look to be more exciting and eventful than ever before.
Cons of the 2020 Format
The North American League of Legends scene has been looking to revitalize its talent-building strategy for years now but the new Academy Rush program isn’t quite the perfect solution.
Alongside academy league games broadcasted on the weekend, the LoL Esports team announced that four academy games will be played simultaneously on Friday evenings.
Said to resemble the NFL RedZone program, the enticing factor of the new broadcast-style is to show viewers the most exciting plays of the academy league — while reducing the need to sit through “all 10 Academy games in a single week across multiple channels on top of the LCS broadcast”.
This may seem like an enticing idea to encourage interest and viewership in the academy league, but a few problems remain unsolved with this new format.
First, the Academy Rush show’s format restricts academy fans from the option of watching full-coverage matches. While the NFL RedZone program serves as a supplemental option to watching a game from start to finish, the Academy Rush show is the only way to watch academy games during its schedule. As a result, dedicated fans may find themselves limited from seeing their favorite teams.
Additionally, the new show could actually hinder growth and exposure for developing NA talent. Because of the overlap of multiple games in a single broadcast of Academy Rush, consistent players could often be looked over by broadcasters and analysts in favor of “biggest plays and highlight moments”. Games with increased lull states may be excluded from the show, and talented players on poorly performing teams could also suffer as a result of this bias.
Overall, this new format could possibly be better served as an addendum to regular LCS broadcasts than as a standard for the academy league. Even with the goals of talent exposure in mind, the success of Academy Rush remains to be seen.
Removal of regional qualifiers/championship points
The final major announcement from Wednesday’s announcement included a new method to determine Worlds qualifications.
Spring split victories now only account in qualifying for the Mid-Season Invitational and championship points are no longer a factor in the 2020 LCS season.
These changes were implemented to combat the usually “low impact of the regional qualifier,” but there are some high-impact consequences for doing away with championship points altogether.
Success from the Spring Split now has no weight in Worlds qualifications, which means that teams must now look at the Summer Split with a different weight of its own. Meta changes and roster moves between splits will carry larger consequences, and previously consistent teams in spring could potentially be locked out from a Worlds run in summer.
Although a spot at the Mid-Season Invitational may sound like a fulfilling reward for the Spring Split, runner-up teams may want more tangible accolades for their accomplishments with Worlds in mind. Without a merit system of championship points or a fallback of a regional qualifier, it seems as if only the Summer Split will actually matter in defining a team’s success or failure in the upcoming season.
Overall, many new announcements are set to be implemented in the 2020 LCS season. Some ideas sound beneficial and necessary, but the outcome of others remains to be seen. Despite the debate, change is crucial to the growth and development of the LCS; hopefully, these modifications will improve the NA League of Legends scene (and Worlds performances) in the long run.
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