How to improve the LCS regular season

This discussion first appeared here. There has been a lot of discussion about the LCS format lately on social media.

This discussion first appeared here.

There has been a lot of discussion about the LCS format lately on social media. Critics argue that the new schedule is not conducive for preparing the West (EU, NA) against the East (Korea, China, TW/HK/MO) in international competition. This article analyzes these claims and proposes some adjustments to the LCS schedule for 2016 that address these problems.

History of the LCS

From 2013 – 2014, the LCS consisted of 8 teams per region. In each split, every team played 28 matches, 4 against each other team in the league (2 on red, 2 on blue side). Thus, each region played a total of 112 matches over 10 (in 2013) or 11 weeks (in 2014).

To compress 224 matches over such a condensed period of time, the LCS implemented superweeks. During 2014, a split had the following schedule:

  • 8 normal weeks (8 matches per region, 2 per team)
  • 3 superweeks (16 matches per region, 4 per team)
  • 1 week of playoffs (Bo5 finals, Bo3 otherwise)

This format had several deficiencies, however:

  • Too many matches: Partly due to the Bo1 format, teams faced each other too often, lessening the “must-watch” status of each match.
  • Superweeks are too stressful: 6 days of matches, with each team facing off against 4 opponents, proved to be too hard on the players, the production, and the viewers.
  • Playoffs are too short: Before Summer 2014, playoffs lasted only one week, with every match a Bo3 (except for the finals). As discussed previously on this blog, Bo5 single elimination is the best bracket format for LoL.

After the expansion to 10 teams this season, the LCS has adopted a much more streamlined schedule that rectified the aforementioned problems:

  • Regular season: 9 weeks (10 matches per region, 2 per team each week)
  • Playoffs: 3 weeks, Bo5 throughout

By reducing the number of matches played to 90 per region per split and clearly defining the two halves of the split, the LCS regular season has become far more spectator-friendly and easier to follow. Each team plays one match per day, and every individual game has become much more important, as teams are unable to make up ground during superweeks as in the past. In addition, Summer 2014’s shift to Bo5 playoffs led to a thrilling bracket stage, and Spring 2015’s expansion to 3 weeks, accompanied by the MSI and the new Championship Points system, produced a worthy followup.

Bo1 vs Bo2 / Bo3

For 2015, LCS retained the best-of-one (Bo1) format, in contrast to the Bo2 system used by LPL, LMS, and CBLOL, plus LCK’s Bo3 system. Below is a table listing the formats of various leagues around the world:

League Teams Regular Season Playoffs Duration
LCS 10 x 2 Double round-robin Bo1 (90) x 2 6 teams, 3 rounds (Bo5) x 2 9 / 3
LCK 10 Double round-robin Bo3 (180 – 270) 5 teams, 3 rounds (Bo5) 12 / 3
LPL 12 Double round-robin Bo2 (264) 8 teams, 3 rounds (Bo5) 11 / 2
LMS 8 Double round-robin Bo2 (112) 4 teams, 3 rounds (Bo5) 8 / 1
CBLOL 8 Single round-robin Bo2 (56) 6 teams, 3 rounds (Bo5) 7 / 3
TCL 8 Double round-robin Bo1 (56) 6 teams, 3 rounds (Bo5) 7 / 3
OPL 8 Double round-robin Bo1 (56) 4 teams, 2 rounds (Bo5) 7 / 2

The new format of the LCS has prompted the following criticisms:

  • Too few matches: While 28 Bo1s was too much, 18 Bo1s seem like far too little practice for the teams, especially when compared against the 22 Bo2s of LPL, 14 Bo2s of LMS, and 18 Bo3s of LCK. Teams are not given leeway to experiment with team compositions when every game is a must-win.
  • Bo1 does not adequately prepare teams for Bo5 series: As mentioned previously, LoL Esports primarily uses Bo5 series in major tournaments. Important metagame elements such as in-series adjustments and substitutions are not present in Bo1 matches.
  • Bo2 / Bo3 is more indicative of strength: A 2-0 set victory is certainly more convincing than a 1-0 win, and two-game sets allow for easier comparison of teams in the power rankings.

For this reason, there have been calls to change the LCS to a Bo2 / Bo3 format. One proposal doubles the matches to 180 per region, with teams playing a Bo2 match twice during each split. There are some important factors to consider, however:

  • Two regions: A typical LCS week features 20 matches, which is on par with 24, 12 – 20, and 14 – 16 matches of the LPL, LMS, and LCK respectively. (A LCK Bo3 is assumed to be equivalent to 2 matches for the purposes of this comparison.) However, the matches are divided equally between the two regions. For better or worse, the LCS is catered towards both EU and NA. Expanding the number of matches makes it difficult for casual spectators to follow along.
  • Schedule constraints: Assuming the ideal number of matches per day is 6 (i.e. 3 Bo2s) and the ideal number of game days per week is 4, it would take 15 weeks to run a full double round-robin Bo2, which is clearly not feasible. LPL’s 132 Bo2s over 11 weeks is already considered to be excessive, with player fatigue noted mid-season. LCK has 90 Bo3s over 12 weeks, but the schedule is imbalanced, with some teams playing 2 matches per week and others only playing one.

Improving the Regular Season

As discussed in a previous article, a Bo2 format is favored over Bo3:

“During the regular season, the Bo2 format is preferred for balanced schedules. Bo2 would ensure that each team matches up once on red and once on blue side on the same patch. While Bo3s are suspenseful, their variable time length and the issue of side selection in the third match make them unattractive for scheduling in the regular season.”

The existing LCS schedule can easily be modified to incorporate Bo2, though it will require an expansion of the schedule to 10 weeks, 6 days each. Here is how such a system would work:

  • Double round robin Bo2: There are 6 days of LCS each week, Tuesday – Thursday for EU and Friday – Sunday for NA. On each day, 3 Bo2s are played.
  • The regular season is divided into two five-week halves; in each half, every team in the LCS regular season plays one Bo2 against each other. Every team plays two sets each week, except for one “bye” week during each half in which they only play one series.
  • Playoffs: The existing structure is retained.

This modified schedule would enable teams to benefit from Bo2 matches, while increasing excitement for viewers. The main impediment becomes cost – doubling the number of matches is not insignificant, and since the LCS is a loss-leader, Riot may be adverse to such an expansion regarding the bottom line.

2016 LCS and International Schedule

If the regular season expansion is implemented, international tournaments can be slotted in as follows:

  • Spring LCS: 10 week regular season + 3 week playoffs + 1 week promotions
    • The best team after Week 5 qualifies to IEM Katowice
    • Playoffs winner qualifies to MSI
  • Summer LCS: 10 week regular season + 3 week playoffs + 1 week promotions