Riot Games recently announced a new international tournament, much to the delight of fans who have thirsted for more opportunities to see their regional favorites test their mettle against the best in the world. Playing off of the already strong rivalries that have developed, Riot announced “Rift Rivals”, a tournament consisting of the top teams from a region competing in a two-stage event against a rival region. While the idea to create more structured international competition is well founded, the execution of this idea falters in a flawed format.
The tournament will follow a unique format for Riot’s international events, with the teams competing in a best-of-one, single round robin group stage that will seed teams for the “finals” round which will adopt a ‘last man standing’ style. In short, each regions’ teams will play the other in one game, where the loser is knocked out from contention starting with the lowest seeded teams. The region that eliminates all of its opponent’s participants will be crowned the victor of the event.
While the format will fulfil its goal of bringing fans the additional international competition that they have been so clearly craving, the tournament stumbles in its formatting. Quite simply, a best of one format for the elimination stage is a poor way to determine the actual best team from both of the regions.
An easy way of relating this to the EU vs NA format is by taking a glance at the results of the Mid-Season Invitational Group Stage: Team SoloMid was able to capture the first game between themselves and G2 eSports – Does this mean TSM is the better team because they won the first game against an opponent? Maybe, but the tournament outcome may suggest otherwise.
The issues with the format will only be exacerbated as many fans will quickly draw conclusions from the results of these events. Both European and North American fans will be quick to trumpet the accomplishments of their region should one of their teams prevail, yet these claims will have little substance behind them if they are only based off of best-of-one victories.
It is clear that Riot pursued this format in the spirit of limiting how much time the Rift Rivals tournaments would consume. Moving a format from a best-of-one to a best-of-three significant increases the time necessary for the games, and would likely require the tournament to be longer than three days if it were to include a round robin and a last man standing stage.
Another possible option could have been to eliminate the round robin and play three best of fives instead. While this format might work well in the NA vs EU tournament, it would not fit in many of the other tournaments (LPL vs LMS vs LCK, for example).
Best-of-ones are a weak basis upon which to make claims about the strength of a team or a region. Counter Logic Gaming won their first game against SK Telecom at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, and INTZ eSports defeated Edward Gaming in their first match at the last World Championships, yet in both these cases, few would consider either of them to be the better team. While Rift Rivals will undoubtedly be an exciting event for both the players and the fans, any conclusions drawn from the event should be taken at an arm’s length.