LCK Playoffs Format Needs an Overhaul

The League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) is the oldest ongoing League of Legends league. Founded in 2012 by OGN as the League of Legends Champions, it rebranded to the current name in 2014 and then was taken over by Riot Games in 2019. In those years, it has provided many laughs, tears, and overwhelming excitement to fans all across the world. Now, the venerable grandfather of the modern League of Legends competitive scene is due for a makeover to keep in touch with the times.

Despite all of its historic accomplishments and contributions, the fact of the matter is that, as of the 2020 Spring split, the LCK has the worst playoffs format of any of the four major regions.

© LCK / LoLesports

The Current LCK Format

Currently, the LCK has a regular-season format mostly similar to the other major regions of North America (LCS), Europe (LEC), and China (LPL). A ten-week season structured as a double round-robin in which each team plays two matches a week. The primary differences are that the LCK and the LPL play matches as a best-of-three games series instead of the LCS and LEC’s best-of-one and that the bottom two LCK teams at the end of the regular season must play in a promotion series to avoid relegation.

The playoffs are completely different. While every region has its own unique spin to the postseason format, the LCK’s format diverges the most. In the LCK, the top five teams in the regular season’s standings move on to a single-elimination single playoffs bracket. In that bracket, the top seed receives an automatic bye to the final, the second seed to the semifinal, and so on, with the first round of playoffs a match between the fifth and fourth seeds. The first match in the playoffs is a best-of-three games series, with the following matches instead played as best-of-five games.

This results in a playoff format that only has four rounds for a grand total of four matches, and in the worst-case scenario, it is only 11 games. It is appropriate that the lowest-seeded fourth and fifth teams must pull off a titanic effort and play up to 18 games for a shot at the championship, indisputably proving that they were worthy underdogs who claimed the title through a miracle run instead of one fluke win. However, this means that on the flip side, the first seed only has to win three games to secure the title.

How to Improve the LCK Playoffs

While high seeding in the regular season should be awarded in the playoffs, it seems disingenuous to have this big of a disparity when it is entirely possible for the difference between the first seed and lower-seeded teams to be much smaller.

An example of this is the 2019 LCK Summer season. Eventual champions SK Telecom T1 were seeded fourth with an 11-7 overall record (26-17 game score), tied with fifth seed Afreeca Freecs (26-20 game score). First seed and hence automatic finalist Griffin were at a 13-5 record (29-13 game score), only two matches ahead. SKT went on the utterly stomp through the postseason, dropping only two games: one in the first round against the fifth seed and one in the final against the first seed.

There is plenty of evidence across all esports and sports that a double-elimination bracket with more than one branch is superior in ascertaining which team is the best and most deserving of the championship. Most recently, the LEC demonstrated the benefits of a double-elimination bracket with the eventual champions G2 Esports falling early in a shocking loss to the MAD Lions in a close 2-3 series. G2 met MAD again in the lower bracket to then trounce MAD in a 3-1 victory and then moving on to obliterate Fnatic in 3-0 in the finals.

The following tweet showcases the complex yet ingenious way the LEC solved their playoffs parity:

 

With the news that the LCK will be franchising in 2021, this hopefully indicates that Riot Korea will implement more changes to the LCK’s format to bring it in line with other regions that operate on more robust playoff formats. If not a variant of double-elimination such as the LCS or LEC, then hopefully at the very least two brackets as in the LPL.

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This article was contributed by Michael Jeong. 
Twitter: Michael4Jeong