Riot Games announced that the North American League of Legends Championship Series will switch from Bo3s to Bo1s. Increased viewer accessibility, balanced team exposure, and the absence of dual streams are cited as the main reasons for the change. And while this decision addresses these issues, it also raises several important questions.
Are Bo1s Better?
There are many arguments in favor of the Bo3 format. It’s more competitive, it offers more stage time and less variance while giving participants room to adapt and switch up strategies. That being said, can Bo1s actually be better?
From a competitive standpoint, it’s hard to overlook the pros of Bo3s, but at its core, professional League of Legends is all about viewership and entertainment. And at the moment, the scene is blatantly oversaturated. Bo3s take a lot of time to complete, and—let’s face it—if you’re not following LoL for a living, it’s next to impossible to watch every single NA LCS match.
Hell, even following a single series with your favorite team can be a challenge since the preparation, the pick/ban phase, and the games themselves can easily take up to 5 hours.
So it’s not exactly surprising that most viewers only tune in for the most hyped matches while games between bottom-tier teams go largely unnoticed. When you account for the upcoming changes, every team will want much more exposure than it’s getting now. The truth is that the NA LCS has to keep growing to sustain itself in the post-franchising era—and increasing viewership is a very big part of it.
But what about the competitive side of things? Won’t the Bo1 variance backfire for the participating teams? That might well be the case, but there’s actually nothing for them to lose now! The promotion/relegation tournament is gone, so even if a team ends up in the dreaded ninth/tenth place zone, it can always make a comeback next season.
Also, if you look at the records from past seasons when the NA LCS followed the Bo1 format, it was very rare for an underperforming team to sneak into the Playoffs. And even if that happens, the Playoffs will still be conducted in the Bo3 format, so it’s hard to fathom a weak team making it all the way to the finals (or even semifinals). It seems counterintuitive, but the move to the Bo1s might not actually be that bad.
What About International Tournaments?
It’s certainly true that even if the NA LCS switches to Bo1s, other leagues are unlikely to follow. LCK, in particular, seems to be content with the way things are, and considering that their teams will also have more stage time, the gap between Korea and North America will only widen. That being said, competitors like Albus Nox Luna and Gigabyte Marines have proven that you can create a strong international team even in the Bo1 environment.
Still, does this mean that the NA LCS will be reduced to a wildcard status?
Probably not. The region is about to get a massive influx of funds, making for a much better infrastructure. We’ll see world-class coaches, players, and sports psychologists flocking to North America and taking advantage of the vast resources available to them. And keep in mind that there will be a much better practice environment that comes with the resurgence of the 10-man rosters and the creation of the academy league. It might take some time, but in the end, Bo1s may well be the perfect compromise between growing the league’s viewership and preserving its competitive nature.
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