“Tennis Model” Format for Competitive League: Changes to resolve patching issues & more

The idea for this post came from watching the latest episode of “Summoning Insight” last night and thinking aboutMonte and Thorin’s discussion around how releasing big patches at certain times (i.e before playoffs/Worlds) is problematic. During their talk, I had this idea for how the competitive LoL format could be re-jigged. It builds on the CS:GO model that Thorin was discussing, while incorporating the regional leagues as well.

I’ll call this new format the “Tennis Model” because it draws on the Grand Slam format in tennis, where there are four major tournaments throughout the year (the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open). In tennis, what makes each tournament unique is the surface played on — Australian and US are hard court, Wimbledon is grass, French is clay. In League, the idea would be to have four splits/tournaments, with each played on a different major patch (and series of minor patches). I’ll elaborate on how this could work below.

Before anyone dismisses the idea out of hand, I actually think this new format could resolve a ton of issues/drawbacks with the current format of competitive League — while conserving what’s exciting about the game for spectators: its constant evolution.

Here are the key issues/drawbacks that I think it could solve:

  • Big patches being released at awkward times
  • Lack of international tournaments
  • Long splits with too many games
  • Small viewership for Challenger Series
  • Burn out for pro players

I’ll start with patching as it’s the main impetus for this idea. We all saw that Worlds last year was a shitshow due to the timing of the Juggernaut patch. 6.15 laneswap changes has already led to one upset with Giants vs. UoL. Although the timing of the patch release is better this year, I think the ideal scenario is clearly to patch at the beginning of a split or during the off-season.

So here’s the main thought: rather than dropping major patches at random throughout the year, the new format would schedule major patches in conjunction with professional play — releasing one major patch each split. In other words, we would have a Spring Patch, Summer Patch, Fall Patch, Winter Patch. Obviously, there would need to be some room for adjustment in the schedule, so minor patches could drop during the splits or before playoffs. But anything big like new jungle items, class updates, or objective changes would have to fit into a major patch.

But why can’t they just do that within the existing system?

Riot have been getting better at dropping major patches at more appropriate times (such as the off-season) and this is an option. The big issues with the current competitive schedule is that there are really only two time windows when a major patch can arrive: (1) in the off-season (Nov-Dec) and (2) after MSI and before Summer Split starts (June). The transition from Summer Playoffs to Regional Finals to Worlds in the fall is too hectic to drop a major patch and NOT expect it to fuck up the teams trying to qualify—unfairly giving an advantage to those who are better at adapting quickly.

I know that some people may make the argument that League is all about ‘adaption’. I agree with this to an extent, but I don’t think the first team to adapt to a patch is necessarily the best team (except with outliers likes the Tigers). We’ve seen many teams adapt quickly to patches and then fail to execute them as well as others. And ultimately, the best team should be the team that crafts AND executes strategies at the highest level.

But what will happen to Worlds and other international tournaments in the new format?

So instead of Worlds, there would be an international tournament or “Grand Slam” — somewhere in size between MSI and Worlds—at the end of each season. The top 2 teams from each major region (KR, CN, NA, EU), plus 2 LMS and 2 Wildcard teams will qualify— or something like that. Details here are not my focus, but I’ll sketch out the general format that I’m imagining.

First place seeds would get a buy into the second round, then other teams would be randomly matched against each other. First week would be initial 4 matches, followed by quarterfinals against the first seeds in the second week, then semis and finals in the last week.

Four mid-sized international tournaments (as opposed to one small, one large) would allow us to see much more play between regions, which I think is really lacking in League right now. It would also space out achievements throughout the year — with the ultimate goal being similar to tennis: win all major tournaments in a single year. For those interested, the last person to do this (in singles tennis) was Steffi Graf in 1988.

If Riot wanted to keep something like Worlds, they could adopt a format similar to IEM, where each major tournament win (or second-place finish) would earn that team a buy into the final “Grand Slam” in the Fall Season, which would be larger than the others and more competitive. Personally I like the idea of not having everything build up to a single World Championship, which is the end-all and be-all of the entire year’s competitive play. Seems to poorly reflect the way that the game is actually played, even at the pro level.

How do you fit an entire split (plus an international tournament) into a 3 month season?

I think the simple solution is to have less teams in the league. You want to allow for a full round-robin each split, with each team playing everyone twice. So drop the league to 6 teams, play for 5 weeks of regular season and then allow 3 weeks for playoffs (with 1 week’s break). 8 weeks for domestic play, and then 4 weeks for international tournaments (another 1 week break). 12 weeks total = 1 full season.

What would happen to the other teams currently in LCS?

Part of the idea with decreasing the League to 6 teams would be to create a more robust Challenger scene and establish a truly viable second tier. Everyone keeps talking about similarities to English football in the context of relegations — but what truly differentiates League from football is that the Championship in England is treated like a league in its own right, whereas the Challenger Series is just a glorified stepping stone to LCS. Create a second league with 6 teams (maybe even a third tier too?) and play it in parallel with the LCS — although obviously on different days of the week to allow dedicated viewers to watch both.

With four splits throughout the year, teams would bounce between league tiers much more often and you’d be more likely to continue following a team in the second tier. Competition in a 6-team league would be much closer and relegation would not be a death sentence. Everyone would have something to fight for, as 5th/6th place finishers would have to play relegation matches to stay in the top league.

How would this prevent burnout for players?

At first glance, it definitely sounds like more playtime. But remember that we’re not just cutting out Worlds — we are also eliminating Regional Finals gauntlets and that playoffs will be shorter with 6-team leagues. 3rd/4th place matches will be unnecessary for playoffs and international tournies without the Circuit Points system. If you do the math, you have about 4 weeks of buffer anyways: 52 weeks in the year with 48 weeks of playtime (domestic + international) including weeks off.

In my mind, the ideal scenario for reducing player burnout is to spread downtime across the year rather than have 2 straight months off and then non-stop action for the rest of the year. I don’t know if a pro would agree with me, but this would seem preferable from my perspective. So the aim would be to provide at minimum 1 week off between every split. Without writing everything out, I can’t be sure, but I feel like you could re-gig the schedule to allow up to 2 weeks downtime—if not more—between every split (even for teams that were playing in international tournaments).

Would definitely appreciate feedback on these ideas. I’d be very interested to hear whether other eSports fans (League fans in particular) would like to see this type of system instead of the current one. Also, if you see any major drawbacks with the format that I’ve proposed, let me know! Definitely looking to start a broader discussion around the drawbacks on the current competitive LoL format.