Throughout the years, the North American League of Legends Championship Series has seen many structural changes.
Before becoming just the LCS, they were formally known as the NA LCS and shared the name with their European counterparts (the EU LCS). Alongside changing names, logos and much more, the LCS has also altered the way games are played during the regular season. Before 2018, when the NA LCS wasn’t a franchised league, the games were played in best-of-three format. This made for longer streams for players, casters and those watching.
It didn’t take long for Riot Games to decide this format wasn’t the way to go from a broadcast standpoint. So, when the LCS franchised to twelve sponsored teams, the format returned to best-of-one. While this led to much shorter watch times, it also meant that teams got less playtime in the LCS Studio.
How best-of-threes determine LCS matchups
With less playtime, some games are determined by minor mistakes made by one team. In a best-of-three situation, teams are able to correct their errors from the previous game, whether they happened in the draft, during certain fights or around objectives. But how else does the regular season format affect the players and coaches who are having to play throughout them?
“We played a shit ton of matches during the regular season, so I don’t know if [the format] is about the games,” Jonas “Kold” Andersen, Team Liquid’s Head Coach, said. “I’ve had this opinion for a while, that best-of-ones in the regular season are completely fine. [But] if you want to see who is really the better team, you should be playing best-of-threes at the minimum. There are times where you have one game and you misplay or make a draft mistake. There are mistakes that happen that don’t tell who is the better team.”
Kold recently joined the team as the head coach after Joshua “Jatt” Leesman stepped down from the position. Team Liquid have become known, in the last few years, as one of the better teams in the LCS. Despite this, they still only managed to place fifth overall in the regular 2021 summer split season. Even with this low placement via best-of-one games, Team Liquid showcased in their opening playoff match against Cloud9 that more games show who is the better team. They defeated Cloud9 3-1 in a true spectacle.
The mindset behind best-of-fives over best-of-ones
There are other differences between single game and multi-game series, including the strain it puts on a team’s players. That’s why head coaches like Envy’s Peter Dun get their players ready for the postseason in advance.
“I’m confident in my players’ ability to make it all the way through a best-of-five,” Dun said. “Some of the things that we are doing internally was practicing for best-of-fives. So, simulating breaks between games so that it would feel like it did in today’s matches. In addition, we’re also making sure we’re focusing on the health aspects; like making sure the guys are getting good sleep, what we’re snacking on and eating before matches, taking the time to go outside.”
This is important because, instead of just sitting down and playing one game that could last between twenty and forty minutes long, they may be playing up to five games that could each last that same length of time. That can be tough on the players and coaches involved in the matches. And if regular season games were longer, it could have a similar health effect on the players that the best-of-five formats have over the long term.
With that being said, Dun does have a very clear idea about what the format for the regular season should be.
“I think it’s a tough balance from a competitive perspective,” Dun said. “I always think it’s more valuable the more games that you can play. Ultimately, stage games are going to be more valuable than what your scrim games are just because things feel different for the players. I also think that, for competitive integrity, the more games you play, the better the strengths of the teams are.”
More games mean more practice, but longer broadcast time
As Dun stated, the longer the regular season matches are, the more practice time a team has. For that reason, Cloud9’s head coach Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin reiterated that more games during the regular season is the best way to go. As a coach and someone who played when the regular season games were best-of-threes, he understands how more games can be valuable to players.
“For League, for sure a best-of-three format is better,” Reignover said. “I don’t know how they would do it but, if it’s two days of LCS, the teams would have one more day of practice. It’s more stage games and more scrim games and would be better for the LCS.”
Those within the LCS have established that more games are helpful in not only showing who is the best of the best but in terms of getting players more time on stage. That being said, what does that mean for the broadcast team and those watching? With every match in the regular season being best-of-threes, broadcasts and games could end up spaced out over more days. That may affect how many fans tune in, too.
“I understand the broadcast tradeoff as far as what viewership looks like and keeping fans engaged,” Dun said. “I’m not well versed in what that looks like and why we play best-of-ones. But I like the idea of just playing more games cause I think it ultimately sets up North America to be better in the long run.”
Thanks to the complexity of the issue, there may never be a return to the previous LCS format. However, coaches have expressed their desire to have more games to better prepare for teams and really see who is the better team in matchups.