For this year’s League of Legends World Championship (Worlds), the LEC was awarded a fourth seed. Historically, the LPL and LCK have taken additional seeds due to their regular claims to the MSI and World Championship trophies; however, the LEC earned the open spot this time around for having “the best [performances] during international events over the past two years, but [not] already [having] 4 team berths.” Of course, the LCK and LPL were both already awarded a fourth seed. If either of them were to have only had three, the open spot would have been given to one of them instead.
The open spot, originally awarded to the LCL, was left for the LEC to claim after the LCL opted not to host their season this year due to issues surrounding COVID-19.
While an additional seed is great news for Europe, it also complicates their playoff bracket which was originally designed to support a three-seed system. While other regions like the LCS have taken the precautions necessary to produce a system that works with both three and four seeds, they receive criticism every year for the number of teams permitted to participate in the playoffs.
With eight of their ten teams attending playoffs, the seventh and eight seeds in the LCS are usually teams with loss-heavy records. Prior to TSM’s upset win over FlyQuest this year, these seeds have never won a best of five and have always been eliminated in their first match. With the seventh and eight seeds having no success, fans regularly called for the LCS to adopt the six-team systems the LEC and LCK have to avoid playing “useless” matches. However, TSM’s upset victory may have given the LCS the credibility they need in order to keep the system alive.
With the LCS’s system proving to be effective for the first time ever, many European fans have begun to consider the eight-team system following the outcome of the first round of the LEC playoffs this year.
How Are the LEC Playoffs Structured?
Designed with three seeds in mind, the LEC’s six-team system fundamentally breaks with the addition of a fourth seed. Because of their additional seed this year, the outcome of the first place versus fourth place match automatically determined three of the four worlds teams. With G2 Esports defeating Misfits in this match, both Rogue and MAD Lions qualified for Worlds. This is particularly irritating for viewers because MAD Lions qualified without winning a single playoff match.
While that might seem vexing on its own, G2 Esports automatically qualified for Worlds by earning first place in Summer. With 3/4ths of the Worlds seeds being given out after one best of five, the purpose of the playoffs—determining the best teams in Europe given time to prepare for individual matchups— is completely destroyed.
The reason for this failure is in the playoff structure. The LEC Playoffs are organized based on the regular season records of each team from the Summer Split. The top six teams are invited to participate, with the higher seeds earning the more favorable positions. The playoffs are double-elimination for the top four teams. The fifth and sixth place teams face elimination immediately as they play each other in the lower bracket.
In the upper bracket, the first place team plays the fourth place team, and the second place team plays the third place team. From there, the higher-seeded loser of the upper bracket matches gets a bye for their lower bracket match.
In other words, if the fourth place team defeats the first place team, the first place team is given a bye in the lower bracket for having the highest seed of the two upper bracket losing teams. This happens regardless of the outcome of the second versus third place matchup, because the first place team has the highest placement from Summer.
The lower-seeded loser from the upper bracket, on the other hand, plays against the winner of the fifth versus sixth place match. In simpler terms, Summer placement has significant value in the playoffs; being ranked higher awards special privileges in the event of a loss.
How Does the Structure Affect Worlds Seeding?
Normally, the three LEC Worlds seeds would be awarded to both of the upper semifinals teams as well as the winner of the upper-seeded lower bracket match. This means that Worlds seeds cannot be determined until the highest-seeded loser from the upper bracket has played the winner of the prior lower bracket matches; in other words, five total matches have been played.
With four seeds being given out this year, the winners of the upper bracket matches (the upper semifinals teams) still earn their Worlds spot; however, the higher ranked loser also earns the third seed because they are guaranteed to be in the four remaining teams in the tournament; in other words, four total matches have been played.
With G2 guaranteed a spot because of their first place finish, the only way for MAD Lions—the second place team in Summer—to not make Worlds would have been for the fourth place team, Misfits, to have defeated the first place team. With that being nearly impossible, MAD Lions; Rogue; and G2 Esports; all earned their Worlds seeds through G2’s victory and their seedings from Summer.