Last week, the League of Legends Champions Series and the League of Legends European Championship had the first round of playoffs completely online for the first time in either league’s history. This type of competitive environment will leave a mark on this season’s results because of its massive differences from a local area network situation.
Riot Games, the developer of the esport title League of Legends, has professional leagues across the world with most of them playing in front of a live audience in some sort of studio setting. With COVID-19 shutting down all in-person events, these leagues have switched to an online format.
This type of environment is new ground for most teams, the last time a Riot Games-sanctioned event with the same weight was online was in the game's infancy back in 2012.
Other esports titles such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League have some of their big leagues or tournaments compete online, at least during their regular seasons. Major League of Legends leagues have been played in front of a live studio audience with competitors smashing their keys and clicking their mice on stage since 2013.
Local area network environments are important for esport competition, especially in a playoff format with potentially millions of dollars on the line. The latency issues of a Wi-Fi network connecting 10 different computers together can greatly affect how the game is played from an individual's gameplay perspective.
The different spells and abilities that players use have a delay over Wi-Fi that is nonexistent when they are side by side on a stage. There are also certain abilities that are unavoidable over Wi-Fi, or need to be predicted to dodge, that can be avoided when on Latin American North.
Playing in front of a crowd is also different from playing online from your home. The crowd cheering for their favorite team to win or booing their opponent can greatly affect an individual's performance in game. The crowd can also directly affect certain outcomes in teams' decision-making.
For example, in League of Legends there are certain monsters that can be defeated to gain game-changing bonuses and power ups. Teams usually fight over these monsters, but they can also stealthily take them down without the enemy knowing — if they are smart enough.
These types of plays can be called out by crowds in a studio environment, with cheers and boos sounding as a team tries to gain these buffs without their opponents' knowledge. Players can normally infer that these buffs are being taken thanks to the crowd.
Technical issues have also plagued the playoffs. Pauses have been instituted in some games across both leagues, either for in-game bugs or latency issues.
The FlyQuest and Evil Geniuses series had a pause of more than 30 minutes because of a bug that required the game to be remade. Pauses are nothing new to professional League of Legends, but there would never be a pause for dormancy issues in a studio environment.
The League of Legends Championship Series and League of Legends European Championship have a double-bracket playoff format with the four highest seeds in an upper bracket and the two lower seeds in a lower bracket. If a highly seeded team loses in a best-of-five match, it gets knocked into the lower bracket with a second chance to make the finals.
So far, the LCS has been fairly predictable. The top two seeds won their first match and sent the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds into the lower bracket.
The LEC has been more turbulent. The No. 1 seeded team, G2 Esports, lost its first match and was sent to the lower bracket after a full five-game series against MAD Lions. Its lower bracket also had an upset — the No. 6 seeded Rogue defeating No. 5 seeded Misfits Gaming.
These results have yet to be challenged by teams, and pros haven’t said that they would have won their match in a LAN setting. But, when the leagues return to normal and we as a society can congregate in large crowds again, I would be surprised if anyone put as much stock into this season as previous ones.
The next round of the LCS playoffs is April 7 and 8 for the lower bracket and the upper bracket continues to Saturday April 11. The next round of the LEC will be played April 10 and 11. Both leagues will have their finals on April 19.