As free agency begins and all eyes in the League of Legends world turn to spring, questions still linger from the World Championship that ended just over a week ago. Chief among them, as it is every year, is a discussion about the format of the championship— specifically the playoff section.
For as long as Worlds has existed, this has always been a debate: Is the current single-elimination bracket, where if a team loses in the top eight they are eliminated, the best method to find the best team? Or would a double elimination format where teams would get a second chance be better?
Ashton: I personally prefer a single-elimination format. I think the current format, the historical format, has really come to epitomize what makes the World Championship what it is and changing it now to something more resembling Dota2’s The International feels like a concession to fans frustrated because their team lost a bad series. Beyond that, the single-elimination format allows for more drama; all it takes is one bad series, three failed games, for a favorite to go home as we’ve seen throughout Worlds history.
Sam: When it comes down to how the World Championship should be formatted, a major factor in how this is decided should be how the competing regions decide to send their representatives. At this point headed into the 2022 season, all of the major regions, with the exception of Korea (and I strongly hope that the LCK decides to reform their format as well), hold some form of double-elimination playoff before sending teams to Worlds. This could honestly be enough of a reason to switch Worlds to a double-elimination format, as consistency in a competitive environment is key to bolstering the integrity of the event. However, it must be acknowledged that Worlds is also an entertainment product, but even on that front, double-elimination would not harm the narrative quality of the event. While sure, the same narratives might not prevail, other interesting ones would rise to replace them. Imagine, for example, if RNG had been given a second chance at the knockout bracket in 2018, or if SKT and ROX’s legendary semi-final in 2016 could have had an encore in a grand final?
Ashton: While the SKT vs ROX semi-final was incredibly legendary, it still remains legendary today without an encore in the Grand Final. What if ROX came back, played SKT in the final and got brutally 0-3’d? Then, the iconic semi-final which has been widely considered one of the best league series ever, would be tainted because of double-elimination.
Single-elimination also allows for more upsets, which are generally more exciting than seeing a team who came in as the favorite, get a second chance. G2’s upset of RNG in 2018 would’ve been far less dramatic if the story ended in it not mattering because RNG came back to win. The opposite did happen in the LEC last year, when G2 getting knocked out by MAD Lions didn’t end up mattering because G2 ended up coming back.
Sam: While I do agree that the drama of single-elimination upsets is top notch, it’s important to look at the tournament holistically. G2’s upset over RNG was an incredibly entertaining series to watch, and the rest of 2018’s quarterfinals was filled with excitement, but that’s where the hype ended. Semi-finals of that year featured Invictus Gaming 3-0 sweeping G2 and Fnatic giving Cloud9 the same treatment. This all culminated in IG sweeping Fnatic as well. The symptom of tournament defining points of excitement surrounded by a sea of dull, unbalanced matchups, is chronic in a single-elimination format. While 2021’s Worlds was unprecedented in that both semi-final series and the final went the full five games, this was only made possible because the quarterfinals resulted in three out of the four series ending in sweeps. In short, there’s no way to mitigate severe power imbalances for the entirety of the knockout stage unless a double-elimination format is used. This way, while sweeps will always inevitably occur, they will be more evenly distributed with exciting series, and there will be a larger amount of memorable moments in total.