How can Riot Games fix its underwhelming MSI format?

. 1 month ago
MSI 2022

LoL esports fans have had plenty of opinions about the MSI 2022 format. But does it really need fixing – and if so, how? 

The League of Legends community has been rife with complaints about the format for the 2022 Mid-Season Invitational. It’s been criticized as boring, filling players and fans’ schedules with pointless matches whose conclusions are essentially foregone before the match even begins.

And those criticisms have a fair point. I love watching minor regions compete in League of Legends – I think it’s hugely important that the rest of the world isn’t forgotten in favor of Riot’s big four (the LCK, LPL, LEC, and LCS).

But it’s also undeniable that there are only so many times you can watch a minor region team get the snot beaten out of them by the tournament favorites before it becomes a little repetitive. And as someone who watched almost every game of the group stage, boy does it get repetitive.

But how does Riot go about fixing this? There’s been a lot of criticism of the format, but, unsurprisingly, not a whole lot of suggestions on how to actually make it better.

MSIs of the past

Riot Games
Riot Games
MSI 2019, in which G2 Esports won Europe’s first MSI trophy, was the last year to involve a play-in stage.

The MSI format hasn’t always been what it is now. The tournament underwent a complete format change in 2020, which saw the debut of the group/rumble/knockout format that’s currently causing the community so much grief.

From 2017-2019, MSI had a play-in stage, much like the World Championship. I won’t go into the excruciating details of the format here, but Leaguepedia has a very good and concise explanation of the format on its MSI 2019 page.

Essentially, the LCK, LPL, and LEC received automatic seeding to the group stage, and the LCS and LMS (now PCS) received automatic seeding to the second round of the play-ins.

Before 2019, there was another facet to MSI – the Wildcard invitational. Back when the LATAM region was still divided into Latin America North and Latin America South, the eight minor regions would compete at a pre-MSI tournament for one spot at the main event.

It’s clear that MSI, and more specifically its format, have been a thorn in Riot’s side. It’s undergone three significant format changes since its inception in 2015, in comparison to the World Championships whose format has remained essentially the same with only a few minor changes.

What meaningful changes can be made?

T1 and G2 Esports on stage at MSI 2022
Lee Aiksoon for Riot Games
The MSI format leaves a lot to be desired- making fans sit through boring games in the group stage to get to the matchups they actually care about.

Changing the format of an international event is a complex problem. It contends with the schedule of eleven (hopefully twelve once the return of the LCL can be assured) different regions, all of whom have their own start times and travel restrictions for returning players. Any major format change needs to accommodate every region at the tournament.

In the latest episode of Dexerto’s The Jungle, the show’s cast pointed out how egregious it is that this format doesn’t offer an opportunity for best-of-five competition between minor regions. Christopher ‘MonteCristo’ Mykkles pointed out how exciting a best-of-five between long-standing rivals Brazil and Turkey could be, but that MSI’s format simply didn’t allow it.

The section in question begins at 12:45

LCK caster Maurits ‘Chronicler’ Van Meeusen, who’s currently casting at MSI, had his own gripes with the tournament after the play-in stage. “I’m watching every game because I have to, but as a fan, I would not because there’s a low amount of actual worthwhile matches to watch,” he told Dexerto’s Andrew Amos.

And he was right — the fans weren’t watching the group stage. A report by EsportsCharts confirmed that the group stage viewership for MSI 2022 was down 37 percent from the previous year. The most-viewed match of the group stage was between DetonatioN FocusMe and T1, which averaged 30 percent lower viewership than the most-viewed group stage matchup of MSI 2021.

Image courtesy of @EsportsCharts

Cristian ‘IWDominate’ Rivera described the majority of the group stage games as “filler episodes,” and honestly, he’s got a point. But how do we get rid of these filler episodes without getting rid of minor regions from the tournament entirely?

They have just as much right to be there as the big four, and removing them for the sake of more interesting games would go completely against the spirit of a competitive league.

The return of the losers’ bracket

Michal Konkol for Riot Games
G2, RED Canids, Evil Geniuses and ORDER all made it to MSI off the back of losers bracket miracle runs – so why not implement a lower bracket at the tournament?

MonteCristo offered a solution on The Jungle: keep the tournament as a twelve-team, three group, double round robin structure, but include a loser’s bracket. That loser’s bracket would be populated by the three teams that finished last in their group, and the non-last place team with the worst win record of the three groups.

You’d then run a four-team losers bracket and an eight-team winners bracket simultaneously, with teams from the winners bracket being knocked down for one last shot at competing amongst the losers. It would eliminate the Rumble stage completely, which MonteCristo described as “garbage” — “who designs a tournament that’s round robin best of one into round robin best of one?”

And he’s got a point. Before the start of MSI, Renato ‘Shakarez’ Perdigão pointed out just how many of the tournament’s participants had made it to MSI off the back of a run through the losers’ bracket in their respective regions.

Losers brackets embody the spirit of esports — they’re about fighting back after getting knocked down and battling against the odds to make it to the top. And quite aside from all that motivational rubbish, they’re much more fun to watch than two back-to-back sets of BO1 games that seem, to all intents and purposes, like they don’t matter.

Minor region teams deserve better representation at international events than getting beat up by major regions for a week and then immediately flying home. A losers’ bracket format allows these teams to build their own storylines and rivalries amongst each other, and potentially even generate higher fan interest in their domestic leagues.

In the words of Chronicler, MSI’s current format does a “disservice” to its players. “I come from the Benelux (one of the worst-performing ERL’s in the European ecosystem)” he explained, “and it f**king sucks, so I know more so than any other region how important it is, even if you don’t do well, to have that shot.”

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