IEM out, “Rift Rivals” in, and the future of international tournaments

Significant changes to the League of Legends competitive calendar were announced earlier this week with new Riot events and the loss of a longstanding tournament tradition.

Image from Riot Games

Rift Rivals will be a series of international events pitting teams from two to three regions against each other in battles over pride and bragging rights. This announcement came the same day that the ESL announced they would no longer be hosting a League of Legends tournament as part of their yearly Intel Extreme Masters tournament series. Despite being a mainstay of international competition and giving us some of the most memorable moments ever, the execution and coverage of IEM’s LoL tournaments have been criticized heavily the last few years.

While some community members have praised the addition of a new set of international events, others have been more critical. Naser ‘Empyre’ Al-Naqi, Head Analyst for Misfits, called the format for the (presumably NA vs EU) event “too gimmicky.”

To some this announcement seems like a step in the right direction. Vitality AD Carry Pierre “Steelback” Medjaldi expressed his approval of the event and said that he hopes it would eventually lead to an event that fields teams of players representing their respective nations. The idea of a national competition has been talked about for years and was recently implemented in the Overwatch scene with the Overwatch World Cup. I count myself among the fans who would love to see such an event; however, this could prove to be difficult considering how packed the LoL calendar is already.

The addition of Rift Rivals has once again stoked the flames of reforming the length and scheduling of competitive play. With a new set of major tournaments during the Summer Split many people have argued that it makes the Spring Split less important. Some have even advocated for scrapping the Spring Split entirely and leaving it open for international tournaments. While this could provide the opportunity for some sort of event featuring national teams or for a new tournament organizer to fill the space now vacated by ESL, there are some potential downsides to dropping regularly scheduled league play in the spring. Riot addressed this very issue in a recent article on their LoL esports website. While Riot said they have considered potentially “radical changes” to the format and schedule of play and that they may shorten the splits in the future (although not in 2018), they point out that consistent play throughout the year is what allows over 100 teams all over the world to stay financially viable. They go on to argue that if a large portion of the year were dominated by tournaments then a majority of teams in each league that do not place high enough to attend would lose out on significant sponsorship revenue.

While I feel these are strong points made by Riot in favor of the current schedule, I think a potential solution to this issue could be setting up a set of tournaments that allow most or all of the teams in the world to participate, akin to the system of international club tournaments in professional soccer. The top tier teams from each region would still compete in events like the Mid-Season Invitational which would have the largest prize pools, biggest venues, and most fanfare. This would be akin to the Champions League in soccer. Two or three smaller tournaments could be created, hosted in the dedicated studios that would be left vacant if Riot were to drop the Spring split, that would allow the bottom of the table teams to compete with other regions (think Europa League). Allowing time for more global competition could help to close the skill gap between Korea and the rest of the world, as a lack of consistent play against top level teams is often cited as one of the biggest reasons western (read: NA) teams fail to succeed on the international stage.

What do you think? Should IEM have dropped League of Legends? Will Rift Rivals be a success or is it just a gimmick? Should the competitive calendar be changed, and if so, how? Let me know in the response section below or reach out to me on Twitter.

-Michael “Iriadel” Jones