It’s been over one week since the beginning of Worlds 2018. During this time, DetonatioN FocusMe made it out of the Play-In group stage, Gambit Esports took Cloud9 to 5 games in their playoffs series, SuperMassive once again proved Turkey is the most competitive emerging region… and none of these developments amounted to anything. Third seeds from major regions still advanced to the Main Event, and wildcard teams still vanished as if they were never there in the first place.
Just like that, the first week of Worlds was as meaningful as a filler arc in a drawn-out TV show.
A similar narrative took place last year. Despite the fact that 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports managed to break out of the Play-Ins, they were a complete non-factor during the Main Event group stage. And their sole contribution to the tournament was giving Samsung Galaxy’s Haru his only opportunity to play on stage.
Of course, the Play-In stage added more value to the Mid-Season Invitational. The first time it’s been introduced at the 2017 MSI, GIGABYTE Marines had such a good showing they single-handedly promoted Vietnam to an independent region. And while EVOS Esports weren’t as impressive at the 2018 MSI, they still took games off Fnatic and Team Liquid, and it was the Play-In stage that gave them a way to show off their skill.
But couldn’t the same thing be accomplished with the old International Wildcard Qualifier system?
Considering how far ahead Vietnam was compared to other emerging regions, GIGABYTE Marines and EVOS Esports would have easily made it through the IWCQ tournament. After all, emerging regions rarely—if ever—produce more than a single competitive lineup per event.
That being said, the Play-In stage does come with one obvious benefit. Namely, it puts a spotlight on teams that would ordinarily be in the shadows. It’s true that Play-In teams can technically say they were a part of Worlds. However, most of them look so lost in face of superior competition that the Play-In spotlight only serves to accentuate their failures. On top of that, the thing that gives these lineups recognition is taking down big names, so if, say, the third seeds from major regions had to take part in the International Wildcard Qualifier, defeating them there would command the same level of respect as it would in the Play-In stage.
So, why is the Play-In stage such a problem in the first place?
Well, Worlds is already one of the longest—if not the longest—tournaments in esports. Viewer fatigue is very much a thing, so it’s already hard enough to stay excited for a month-long event.
It gets even harder when the tournament starts not with a bang, but with a whimper.