Sunday, 14 July 2013

Season 3 World Championships: Regionally Biased or Not?

With the Season 3 World Championships for League of Legends rapidly approaching, details about how the possibly most hyped event on the eSport's calendar with be structured are beginning to emerge. Just a few days a go a USA today article announced that the final for the World Championships would be held at the well renowned Staples Center in LA. This was then followed up by the announcement on by Riot of how many teams per region could secure a place in the World Championship.  The format is to be as follows:

"North America - 3 entries
Europe - 3 entries
Southeast Asia - 2 entries
China - 2 entries
Korea - 3 entries
International Wildcard - 1 entry"
These numbers certainly seemed to have surprised a lot of people and this led to a lot of questions mainly based around why the EU and NA regions has one more entry than any other region (Korea had gained it's 3rd slot after a win at the All-Star tournament earlier in April). Indeed, it was generally assumed that each region (NA, EU, SEA, China and KR) has guaranteed two entries into the World Championships, and then the winner of the All-Star tournament would win a third sport and be able to field more teams in the Championships than any other regions. This not being the case generated a lot of confusion and outcry, many people stating that this tournament structure was regionally biased, giving NA and EU an extra chance to get to the final without doing anything for it. Riot's reasoning for this, as stated in the article, was that it followed a similar structure to the World Championships for Season 2. For Season 2 both EU and NA got 3 slots, Korea, China and Southeast Asia got 2 slots. Save for the Wildcard slot and the extra slot that was up for grabs at All-Stars the format is exactly the same.

So, then, is there even an issue? Should all regions get the same number of slots? Personally, being from none of the regions that are guaranteed to be represented I think following the same format is a fairly conservative choice in a host of other options that are available. Riot is simply going for last years option because it seemed to work well and none of the regions seemed to be disadvantaged. After all the final of Season 2 consisted of a Southeast Asian team and a Korean team (Azubu Frost). Furthermore the Korean teams also had the slight disadvantage of not getting a regional bye due to the structure of the tournament yet they got a team into the final and did not seemed to be hampered by it at all.  However does this justify the decision and therefore is this the best decision? There is no clear cut answer to this question, especially since the way to tell will only be to see how the tournament itself goes as anything can happen at the Word Championships. I will attempt to discuss some of the issues I have with the format below.

The main thing I have an issue with is that the point of the All Star tournament is somewhat lessened because of this choice and (although only in hindsight because of the lateness of the announcement) it became a lot more important for Korea/China/Southeast Asia to win than NA or EU. Perhaps this perception is somewhat impacted by the fact that I assumed (like many others) that each of the five main regions would be only guaranteed 2 spots in the Championships and then the All Star winner would get an extra slot, making for a total of 12 slots including the wildcard. Thereby making the top two spots for each region much more competitive to get, especially in a league structured like the LCS for NA and EU. Since this is not the case however, I think it makes the NA and EU scenes a lot less competitive in at least getting to the World Championships.
If all five regions had 2 slots each it would validate the point of All Stars and the region to win All Stars would actually have an advantage above the regions they did defeat. Not to mention I think if either NA or EU were to win All Stars and got a fourth spot (which they would have with the current format) this would have been just ridiculous. A World Championship with double the amount of representation of one region compared to that of three of the "major" regions in the game? That is ridiculous, no matter how good the winning region is.  It's just kind of convenient that Korea dominated All Stars and won that third spot instead of NA or EU.  I want a World Championship to be just that, a tournament that represents the best of the world, to give each region an equal chance to show their strength in determining who is best.

So is this format regionally biased? Well yes. It is. NA and EU are simply getting an extra slot because of last years World Championship format, giving them a representation advantage over the others simply because of what happened last year. Considering the rapidly evolving nature of eSports especially in League of Legends, I feel that the choice to make it all equal (excluding the All Stars earned slot) for the five main regions would not be that crazy or at all unexpected (as I said earlier a lot of people already assumed this format anyway).  Last year, the regions of Korea, China and Southeast Asia were more or less unknown to pretty much every English speaking League of Legends spectator. Riot, being an English speaking and North American/European based company may have used this an reason to put in less spots for the unknown regions.  This year however there has been a lot more exposure with All Stars and with many of the other regions leagues being talked about a lot more, as well as the general popularity of LoL growing enormously. The lack of international tournaments this season may have hurt regional exposure slightly but I feel it's a lot better than last year regardless. Last year I barely knew Korea even played League of Legends, now Korea is my favourite scene to watch, due to their high level strategies and exceptional teamwork (aspects of the game that really appeal to me). Maybe this is just me and English speakers are still as ignorant about Asian regions as they were before, however I somewhat doubt this due to All Stars. But even if they aren't known I feel allowing them to be equal in slots with NA and EU would allow for more exposure and bring all of the main regions onto the same footing. Furthermore the development of the scenes inside the different regions is enormous, for example League of Legends is much more wide spread in Korea than it is in North America. The World Championships is not just going to be watched by those who watch NA and EU scenes, it's going to be watched by the entire world's League of Legends community.
By having even slots, it would be (one of) Riot's ways of letting the audience know, these are your top teams of the main regions, this is an international game that covers all the globe and all languages, everyone has a the same chance to win.

There is a lot more that can probably be said on this issue, and the above is just my opinion. In the end, it's not likely that Riot will change the format for this season, but discussion is important in order for eSports and League of Legends to continue to grow and be a fantastic game to play and watch.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this and hope it hasn't been a complete failure of an article.

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