The East and the West: Best of Fives
The Eastern superiority
In recent years, its no secret that regions such as Korea and China have been unstoppable, and are simply the superior region when it comes to playing League of Legends, whether it be raw mechanical skill, rotational plays, shot calling or team fighting and coordination. So what is it that makes this side of the world such a dominant force? There are many reasons and aspects that need to be considered when asking that question, but this article will focus on a major issue that has plagued the West in recent years.
Split formatting in League of Legends
If you're new or have never watched the LCK/LCS/LPL before, they all have different formats during the regular split. The LCS play 18 regular split 'best of ones' and then best of fives during the play offs. The LPL play 2-game series (where the outcome is either a 1-1 draw or a 2-0 win) and then best of fives in the playoffs. The LCK, however, play best of three series all split long, and then best of fives in the playoffs. To the regular viewer, this wouldn't seem like that big of a difference, especially since all three regions have the same format in their respective playoffs, but this is an obvious handicap to the West when considering how major tournaments are formatted and played. Lets take a look at the World Championships for an example. Sixteen teams are divided into groups of 4, who play off against each other in a double elimination format, and the top two teams from each group are placed into the bracket stage. An interesting thing to take note of is that many western teams actually make it through the group stage, along with a Korean or Chinese counterpart. From here on out, every match is a best of five. Once it makes it to this stage, the trend of the West being steamrolled starts to become prevalent. It's obvious to see where my point is heading, but this is an issue that I feel flies under the radar so much when analysing these performances.
Why this is a problem
The main point this article will focus on is the fact that Korean teams play in excess of three times the amount of games that European and North American teams will play in a regular split, and China in some cases two times as many. When considering this along side the format of the World Championships, you can start to see how heavily the competition is tilted in the East's favour. One of, if not the most important abilities a League of Legends team can have is adaptability, be it during a singular game, a series, or an entire season. The ability to identify the enemies win conditions, drafting habits, play styles and tactics, and then adapt your own to counter that is key to a successful showing at multi region major events, where metas differ and teams have different win conditions to play to. Korean teams have honed this skill, they've been playing series whilst Western teams have been playing games all season long. The ability to adapt, clear their mindset after a loss and play as a singular unit, completely in synch with their team mates comes from the sheer number of games they play during each split. Having a split format which is very similar to the format of an event as important as the World Championships means that you will be closer to your comfort zone, where you've practiced and played all year long, adapting, learning and succeeding. If you don't believe this is as big of an issue as I'm making it out to be, consider this. Every World Championship, Western teams consistently make it out of their group stages (with a few exceptions of course, such as SK with a sub jungle etc). These stages are best of ones, which EU and NA teams are very comfortable with. However, during the bracket stages, they are swiftly knocked out by their superior Korean and Chinese counterparts, leaving us with an all asian line-up from semifinals onwards. I have a huge amount of respect for the Korean and Chinese League of Legends scene, and their amazing infrastructure and eSports culture, but I miss the days where one of the big Western teams could really make a convincing challenge on the world stage, or even pull off a TPA styled cinderella run to glory.
The 2014 World Championships
What this means for results
Its clear to see that this obvious disparity has a clear effect on performances on the main stage. A perfect example of this is the 2014 World Championship, ending with the top four finishing teams all being either Korean or Chinese. The only time a western team has won a World Championship in League of Legends is in season one, where Europe's Fnatic were able to beat aAa, another European team. Since around the beginning of season three, Korean teams have consistently dominated League of Legends major events, with the occasional Western triumph at invitationals, such as IEM Katowice, where Team SoloMid were able to take the number one spot. However, this event by no means showcased Korea or China's best. If you pay attention to the hype and speculations leading up to major events or the World Championship, you'll see that it is typically a giant circle jerk around which Korean team will steamroll the entire competition (shout out to you, reddit). This kind of mentality brings an unwanted feeling of complete predictability, which very rarely sees an upset. It's quite clear to see that everyone's predictions are the same, even on Riot's analyst and caster desk; Korea takes first place, followed by either another Korean or Chinese team, followed by the same whilst the rest of the world scramble to fight over 5th - 10th place. The divide between the East and the West has really taken a toll on the competitive and exciting atmosphere that surrounds League of Legends and eSports in general, where the viewer almost submits to a pre-defined ending, where the Korean overlords stamp out anyone in their path to a "gg ez".
Samsung White, 2014 World Champions
Whilst this article was a fairly brief look into what I consider a huge handicap placed on Western teams, I would love to see riot tackle this issue, especially if they want to see the West catch up to the East in the near future. Call it a pipe dream, which it may well be (this is Riot we're talking about) but I believe that Western teams should follow the example set by the LCK, and their what I believe to be superior game and ladder format, or at least China's 2 game system. I believe that this would bring the element of unpredictability and excitement back to League of Legends and its major events, rather than just concede that this will always be the domain of Korea. I'm surprised that this issue isn't brought up more often, considering that it obviously plays a huge part in the success (or lack thereof) of teams in the League of Legends World Championship.