Zechs Files: RIOT's LCS gamble
RIOT is planning some pretty huge changes to the LCS format for 2018, but will they pay off?
I was worried yesterday that flu was going to make me miss column for the first time since I started back at GosuGamers. I woke up in a cold sweat, not because of panic, but because of the delightful virus that decided to pay me a visit.
Still, I was out of ideas and out of energy. The Hearthstone nerfs were pretty topical but I was already wrapped up in bed by the time that broke and my colleague covered them in great detail anyway. There was something to be said about G2 winning Dreamhack Malo and LCS Europe on the same day, but I already wrote about how awesome G2 is a few months ago and I do not want to seem like a fanboy.
So I let influenza have its way with me and decided I might try and write something the following day instead. Then, as I was drifting off to sneeze-interrupted sleep, the story broke about EU LCS being divided up for 2018. Bingo.
To summarise: RIOT is dividing the European LCS into four regions, with six teams in each. That’s a total of 24, compared to the current system’s ten teams. The top two teams of each group will compete in a Champions League style event, run alongside the regular four divisions. Teams which finish third and fourth in the regular groups will compete in a playoff to qualify for a spot in the big league, while teams in fifth and six battle through an open qualifier. In total, 16 teams will be in the main league itself. Still with me? It sounds fairly complicated compared to the current straight forward league system but it will probably play out quite simply.
Speaking of the current system, the ten teams currently taking part in LCS will be kept over and asked to announce their region in the coming months. The other 14 spots are currently anyone’s guess. RIOT is said to be courting football teams and endemic esports organisations alike.
Apart from the unnecessary complexity this new system adds to proceedings, I am excited to see how this plays out. Part of the problem with LCS system is that it becomes difficult for new talent to break out and even more difficult for a whole team to climb the ladder. Since RIOT effectively killed off competitive play outside of the LCS system, there is little to no room for a player to make a name for himself. Expanding the league by more than double forces teams to spread their nets wider and leaves plenty of room for upcoming talent to find a home.
But there is a downside to this. Look at the recently-finished LCS season and see two teams who managed just two wins each out of 13 games. Sure, somebody has to finish bottom, but these two teams were quite a distance behind their opposition and it showed in the matches. They will be replaced by Schalke 04 and Giants, but do you expect them to fare much better than the teams they are replacing? If the league system was staying the same I would bet on both of them going into the relegation tournament next spring.
My point? Clearly this is a move by RIOT to increase interest in a league which has struggled for viewers compared to its North American cousin, but will it actually just stretch talent too thin? Are there enough good players in Europe to make up 14 teams that people will actually want to watch? Even if we assume there will be foreign imports (which is a safe assumption), it would take an exodus the size of the entire LCK just to fill the spots required.
On the other hand - looking at the cup as half full for a moment - if RIOT views this as a plan for the long term it could work wonders. If they expect the new blood to come good a few splits down the line and challenge the likes of G2 in, say, 2019, then they might be onto something. A team full of challenger players is unlikely to makes inroads immediately, but you only get better by facing tougher opposition and this new system will encourage exactly that.
Ben Spoont, owner of Misfits - one of the teams that recently applied for NA membership - said that he was “happy with the direction and structure.” Whether or not he will be happy when the system is rolled out remains to be seen. This is a gamble on RIOT’s part, but one with low risk. The EU LCS is already in a less than ideal spot in terms of viewership and therefore ad revenue. RIOT is betting that it can’t really get worse and, ideally, bringing in more big name organisations will make things a whole lot better. Personally, I’m not willing to bet either way just yet but it will be interesting to keep an eye on.