Riot decided to raise the numer of teams competing in their LCS to ten. To determine which two teams qualify they hold the so called Expansion Tournament, starring the teams that lost in the Promotion Tournament, the 4th to 6th placed team from the Challenger Series and the 7 highest teams on the ranked 5’s ladder at 11:59 AM PST on November 2nd, 2014 for NA and 23:59 CEST on November 9th, 2014 for EU. For the sake of simplicity we will only look on the american part of the tournament, but the point i will make is just as true for EU.
Let’s begin this by watching the Bracket of the Expansion Tournament:
Basically there are three teams that fight for spot A,B & C and four teams fighting over spot D. This is due to the fact that the teams that failed in the Promotion Tournament get a bye to the seconds round and therefore need only one win to secure their spot in the double elimination bracket. The match on the very left is only to determine who is #5 and #6 seed from the Challenger Series Playoff
Let’s fill in the gaps with the already locked in teams: (Graphic taken from: http://lol.esportspedia.com/wiki/Riot_League_Championship_Series/North_America/2015_Season/Spring_Expansion#Results )
This is were things get interesting. Depending on how you rate the strength of the teams, Ranked 5’s teams could purposely lose games to get a seed that they think improves their chances of getting into the second part of the tournament. If you argue that the three best teams in this tournament are the ones that played in the Promotion Tournament #6 and #7 seed are the most desirable spots on the ladder.
Another example is Ranked 5’s 5th seed: In the first game the team will play against the weaker one out of XDG and Denial and in the 2nd round they would face CoL who do or do not have a roster after Bubbadub left to play with his (former) ex-teammates Robert and Prolly.
Furthermore Riot stats that “The top two teams to emerge from the tournament in NA and EU will secure an LCS spot in their region.”http://na.lolesports.com/articles/2015-lcs-season-na-and-eu-expansion-tournament-details
I think double elimination is the best format to determine the two top teams participating, but the matches leading up to the 2nd part are not. Per definition the best team is the one that wins against every other, the 2nd best team is only beaten by the best, the 3rd best is only beaten by the ones above them and so on. There is a number of scenarios where the 2nd best team in the tournament will not even get to the Double Elimination bracket. For example:
If the best two teams are Ranked 5’s seed #1 and Coast, only the better team will reach the 2nd stage. This leads to the best and the 3rd best team qualifying for LCS.
If the best three teams in the tournament are Ranked 5’s Spots #2 and #3 and Promo #6(Crs A) only one of them can qualify for LCS, this would leave the second spot for the 4th best team in the tournament.
Worst Case Scenario:
The best teams in this tournament are: Ranked 5’s #6 & #7 and NA CS #4 & #5. Only the best team of these will get into the second stage and qualify for LCS while the other spot is conquered by the 5th (!!) best team.
Of Course these are scenarios that are ranged from unlikely to nearly impossible in terms of probability but nonetheless a huge factor if you want to determine who is suited best for the highest competition in their region.
To conclude the Expansion Tournament has two major flaws: The seeding of the Ladder-Teams promotes shady actions like purposely dropping games and the format doesn’t ensure that the additional LCS-spots are filled with the best contenders.
But is there a format that gets rid of these problems? Yes, there is! If you play out two Round-Robin-Group-Stages with 5 teams each, leading up to a Double-Elimination-Bracket with 8 Slots (the Promo-teams get a bye into the bracket stage, Top two teams each group advance, last spot is determined by #3 vs #3) there is no possible scenario where the top two teams do not secure the LCS-Spots. The Groups would look like this:
NA CS #4 (LoL Pro)
NA CS #5/6 (Denial)
Ranked 5’s #7
NA CS #5/6 (XDG)
Ranked 5’s #5
Ranked 5’s #6
Ranked 5’s #3
Ranked 5’s #4
Ranked 5’s #1
Ranked 5’s #2
#1 on the ladder would be the most desirable spot, since you only have one team with experience in the NA CS and you have the #7 placed team in your group. Note: I would let this groups be played in best of 2.
Apart from the points I made above I am really looking forward to the Expansion Tournament and I think that Riot’s efforts to improve the e-sports scene are amazing but the format of their tournaments is something they really need to look into if they want to promote competitive integrity.