On the second day of the European League of Legends Championship Series summer split, Fnatic's Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau sat down with the broadcast team to discuss recent upsets. This was a week after the North America vs. EU edition of Rift Rivals in Los Angeles. Teams that had attended, including Fnatic, hadn't looked as strong after returning home. G2's previously undefeated streak, for example, was broken by Misfits.
"I feel like it's a matter of underperformance," Bwipo replied when Martin "Deficio" Lynge mentioned the possibility of jet lag and shorter practice times.
"It is -- but is it then because of that?" Deficio asked.
"I think it obviously makes a difference," Bwipo said. "You're obviously traveling for an entire day, missing an entire day of practice, which other teams are getting. They're also continuously practicing --"
"They get to watch your games at Rift Rivals," Deficio added.
"I guess the idea is what do you get out of it, right?" said desk host Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere. "Now NA obviously saw the strategies in EU. On the other hand I think there's also a valuable experience in going over there and scrimming teams that you wouldn't have scrimmed that you probably will have to play against at Worlds, if you get there. So does the good outweigh the bad?"
This is the current question being asked across all major regions. In Rift Rivals, the five major regions are split into two mid-summer-season tournaments. China, South Korea and Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macao face each other in one iteration of the tournament, while North America and Europe meet in another iteration.
The results of these teams after their return home have been mixed. South Korea's reigning LCK champion and 2018 Mid-Season Invitational representative saw an embarrassing 1-2 loss to the ninth-place Jin Air Green Wings. The Afreeca Freecs lost both of its Week 4 matches, although one was against fellow Rift Rivals representative KT Rolster, who went 1-1 during the week with a loss to Hanwha Life Esports. SK Telecom T1 also lost after returning to the LCK.
Meanwhile, in Europe, G2 lost both of its series while Fnatic and Splyce went 1-1 for the week. North America's Team Liquid didn't fare well, with a shaky win over OpTic Gaming and a loss to FlyQuest. Echo Fox and 100 Thieves also went 1-1.
South Korean teams returned home with only three days to prepare for Week 4 of regular season play, which could have possibly been cut down to one day depending on travel time (the flights themselves were likely just over an hour long from Dalian to Seoul). The flights for LMS teams would have clocked in at approximately three hours. European teams had anywhere between 14 to 16 hours of flight time before returning to Berlin to prepare for Week 4 of the EU LCS in five days (four with the time difference).
"There's just no break for players who went to Rift Rivals," Echo Fox top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon said. Echo Fox was one of North America's representatives and went 1-2 at Rift Rivals before going 1-1 in Week 4 of the NA LCS regular season.
"It would have been hard if I was a European player. I would have to fly from Berlin to LA, but for NA players, it's kind of whatever. I feel bad for the European players but fortunately I'm an NA player so it was fine," Huni laughed.
"It's a lot harder for them since they have to fly and have jet lag," 100 Thieves AD carry Cody "Cody Sun" Sun said. "For us, it was still a little harder than usual obviously. It takes a lot of energy. We tried our best with the practice we got for Rift Rivals and then we got more practice this week for LCS."
100 Thieves had a few extenuating circumstances. The team had just traded jungler William "Meteos" Hartman to FlyQuest for Andy "AnDa" Hoang. It also decided to start top laner Brandon "Brandini" Chen and jungler Đỗ "Levi" Duy Khánh for the duration of Rift Rivals. According to Cody Sun, coming off Week 3 of NA LCS gave the team only two days to prepare for Rift Rivals with a new roster on a new patch. Post-Rift Rivals preparation was a bit easier, although the team still had to adjust to a new jungler in AnDa. Echo Fox also dabbled with roster substitutions, although the team had been fairly consistent in these swaps prior to Rift Rivals.
"This week our practice was pretty good," Cody Sun said. "After Rift Rivals we had our normal off day and it was going back to our usual schedule. It was pretty good."
"We just had to play new," Huni said. "This is completely different from Rift Rivals and what we showed. Same patch but the roster was different. We played pretty well and we learned a lot even though we lost one game."
For Huni, the chance to learn from European teams, especially their use of bottom lane Heimerdinger, made Rift Rivals worth it. Even then, he reiterated that the mid-split timing and new 8.13 patch made it difficult, and for European teams, the situation was even worse.
"They have one week to fly, come here and go back with jet lag. That's so bad for a team and Rift Rivals isn't even that important since it doesn't count for Worlds or anything," Huni said.
"We noticed that [EU's] meta was a lot different than ours. I think they had a lot better understanding of the meta so we tried to learn a lot from them," Cody Sun said. "But even then, I feel like the amount of energy we used for what we learned from them wasn't really worth it compared to a regular week of LCS."
Given the responses from players, it isn't the tournament itself that they dislike but the timing and patch change. There's also the problem of taking away valuable practice time for the season, especially in this volatile meta. The season counts towards qualifying for a World Championship spot. Underperforming in the regular season after Rift Rivals counts more than Rift Rivals itself.
"It was an overall good experience to go," Bwipo said. "But I think from a competitive standpoint for the regular split at least, it's not worth it to go. You run a higher risk of underperforming, basically. So I feel like you need one or two weeks to get back into it."