The International. League of Legends Worlds. The Major. Six invitational. CoD Champs. RLCS Worlds. All are great events that showcase esports at their finest and are responsible for some of the most memorable plays in history. While Psyonix has had to do a lot of the heavy lifting themselves when it came to building the prestige and excitement of their signature LAN event, there are few excuses for them to drop the ball on this season's playoff format.
Overhauling the wrong things
Psyonix decided to overhaul the format for Season 7 finals by adding in a round robin group stage and making the playoffs single elimination best of fives until the best of seven grand final. At first glance adding a group stage is not a horrible idea. Group stages allow teams to warm up at an event and avoid getting upset and dropping into an early losers bracket run.
While on the surface it is a good move to introduce groups, the way they are done is all wrong. The biggest issues with groups at tournaments are tiebreaker rules, how team's advance, and group balance. Psyonix decided that the tie breakers for this event will be, " in the case of a tie on points game differential always seeds the teams." So basically the event will reward high flying teams that outscore opponents vs. teams who their work done by grinding out series with lower scoring affairs. This should influence teams to score anytime when necessary, even in garbage time which could lead to more exciting games, but will unnecessarily punish certain teams for their playstyle.
The round robin format has been done in esports such as DotA's The International and League of Legends' Worlds, but they see their group stage played out several times giving teams opportunities to adapt and eliminate the idea of a fluke group stage. Unfortunately, that is not the case here as the group stage will last two days and will not be a truly meaningful addition of games due to the removal of the loser's bracket.
The loser's bracket has been an iconic staple of RLCS finals in the past from Cloud9's LB win over back to back champions Dignitas to FlipSide Tactic's iconic win over Mockit in Season 2. Considering how much history the loser's bracket has created in previous RLCS finals why would Psyonix remove it?
The obvious (but unfortunate) answer is costs. Having a group stage into a single elimination playoff bracket will reduce the overall number of games and allow for Psyonix to plan out the group stage much more efficiently. You can head over to Liquipedia and see when your favorite team plays today which is nice, but that means the phrase, "making it to day two" no longer has meaning.
An unintended side effect of the new format will mean teams like Paris-Saint Germain for example will not play on day two whether they win or lose because of how the group stage format works. The issue with that is if a team has good momentum like PSG, they can lose that on day three and how many times have we seen a team like Cloud9 take momentum and turn it into back to back-to-back series wins?
Worries for the future
Despite the legitimate complaints I or others might raise, RLCS Season 7 has all the hallmarks competition wise for a classic tournament. NA seems to be in peak form at the moment and EU has some genuinely exciting teams to watch. With the addition of a new region (South America) and the emergence of Oceania as a viable contender, we are in the prime time for competitive Rocket League. The issue for the future is that Psyonix will be beholden to Epic Games before it is to the community.
Fortnite is a game we cover at RealSport in depth and if you have been following my colleague' Nick "myst" Farrell's coverage of the emerging esport you will know how much Epic Games have dropped the ball on their signature product despite pumping millions of dollars of prize money into the cultural juggernaut. My worry for the future is that Epic will reduce the competitiveness of Rocket League in exchange for increased bottom lines and we lose something special to all of us.
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