On September 2, the LCS broadcast went live for their second straight day of action. Fans were preparing to watch an eventual war between Evil Geniuses and TSM for the right to move on in the playoffs and continue their hopes for a World Championship qualification. For the loser, they would be eliminated, their season would be done. Evil Geniuses were the top-ranked team in North America, looking to fight through the loser’s bracket after a surprising defeat and qualify for their first World Championship. And TSM were just looking to not embarrass themselves.
To say the stakes were high would be an understatement.
The result of the match would see Evil Geniuses continuing on yet that would only be a minor storyline. Rather, the focus would be on the eight hours it took to complete five games and the controversy that came with it.
At 35 minutes into Game 2, the fourth and subsequent fifth pause of the game would be called in rapid succession. Colin “Solo” Earnest would crack a smile of disbelief, Mingyi “Spica” Lu would adjust himself in his chair. The pause could not have come at a more inopportune time for TSM as they were looking to burn down the baron or force a fight, hoping that they caught EG off-guard with their call. Yet for Evil Geniuses, they were experiencing audio issues. It needed to be fixed. Once un-paused for the final time in the game, Evil Geniuses would win a critical team fight at baron — evening out the series at one game a piece.
In Game 5, 26 minutes into the game, a potentially game-altering team fight is about to take place. Both teams find themselves at the dragon pit, dancing for position and waiting for one mistake from their opponent. At 26:22, TSM might have found it. Joseph Joon “jojopyun” Pyun barely oversteps but it is seen by Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang. He throws out his charm and just as the animation is about to hit, the pause is called. The daggers from Solo’s eyes tell the story. Edward “Tactical” Ra searches for comfort in his chair, Spica completes quick sips of his drink. And Evil Geniuses look to maintain their composure. After three minutes and a five-second countdown, the team fight would not take place. Evil Geniuses would get their third dragon, TSM would walk away.
Riot has historically struggled with managing pauses across the globe. There is a common understanding that there is a need to fix problems with equipment for competitive integrity purposes. A mouse not working or issues with network connectivity understandably need to be fixed. Yet the impact it can have on a game its tremendous. A key and often referenced example being Fnatic’s pause back in 2021. Against Misfits in Game 4, a pause over a concern of a bug would derail Misfits’ momentum after securing a pick onto Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau. An inquiry regarding the bug is valid yet it is tough to swallow given the influence on the game it can have. Time is spent to investigate; time is spent to cooldown and regroup.
In the LCS Handbook, they outline how a stoppage of play is enforced in Articles 11 and 12. However, interpretation of a “dead-ball state” is up for interpretation.
In the match between TSM and EG, the pauses became a much greater mess.
The context of the broadcast at the time is important. The broadcast led the public to believe that the pauses were being called by Evil Geniuses. However, in post, it would be learned that Riot officials were calling for the pause. The multiple breaks in play without a clear solution completely ruined the integrity of the game for both teams. And after Game 3’s completion, a two-hour long break would occur – featuring painful analyst desks segments, in-house audio being lost and more importantly, at least two more matches of play still waiting to happen.
Should we mention again that this was an elimination series – with one team being out of Worlds contention at the end?
One could argue that it is similar to a weather delay in sports yet given the difference between a game and a series, it is a much different context and general influence. Riot does not offer a different procedure for series play — a critical gap given the difference in nature from a one-game setting.
The following afternoon, the LCS’ official Twitter account would release a statement of the issue at hand:
“Today’s playoff match between C9 & 100T will be played from the LCS Arena as scheduled. We are sincerely sorry for the disruption on Friday, and want to think EG, TSM, C9 & 100T for partnering with us through this difficult situation every step of the way. Thank you to our teams and fans for their understanding.
“We also want [to (they somehow managed to forget this in their public statement)] shout out our engineering team who work through the night to repair the network and hardware infrastructure issues.”
No statement would be delivered from the Head of LoL Esports NA & LCS Commissioner Jackie Felling – outside of a re-tweet and a reply of “Thank you all so much 💜.”
Organizations are at fault to some degree for not pushing back on what is ludicrous behavior and expectations from Riot in a competitive setting. Players calling for a match to be continued – given the importance of momentum – and playing through technical issues just speaks to their general view of how pauses are handled and executed.
Evil Geniuses should be calling for heads from Riot’s side given the public backlash they received from the broadcast’s mishandling of the communication of the pause. To their credit, they did call out TSM’s Head of Social media for his comments. And TSM should be pressing harder given the clear influence the pauses had overall.
It’s the lack of accountability for the poor handling that still just feels a tad bit unreal.
Organizations should be pressing Riot to provide a suitable competitive environment. If the environment isn’t suitable, the teams should not have to play that day and Riot should re-schedule. If a pause is required, Riot needs to have a better system in place to protect both teams. As of this moment in time, pauses essentially act as an unofficial timeout being called by one team – even with communication being removed.
And at some point, someone has to acknowledge this is a competitive league, not a relationships-based league.
Following the match, people flocked to social media praising the work of on-air personalities, production members and engineers for their work to continue out the day. In a way, it felt as if people were patting each other on the back for a job well done rather than acknowledging it as a – to put it bluntly – a massive f***-up.
There were no apologies, no real admission of errors. And in a way, it is a somewhat perfect ending to this story. The story will die in a week and once Worlds begin, the story will likely be forgotten entirely.