SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Riot Games announced on Wednesday a series of format changes to the LCS broadcast as well as the end-of-year playoff system.
The League of Legends Championship Series will be expanding for the 2020 competitive season to include Monday night games in addition to the usual Saturday and Sunday broadcasts as well as NA Academy games.
Monday evenings will feature a premier broadcast called Monday Night League, in which two of the league's headlining matchups of the week will be played along with three NA Academy games.
"The LCS changes moving to Monday night, we're really looking to put a flag in the ground," LCS commissioner Chris Greeley said. "We're the third-most popular sport in America by viewership. We want to get out in front, plan that space for ourselves, create a spectacle for our fans and make something that they can attach themselves to the same way that traditional sports fans attach themselves to Monday Night Football."
Monday Night League matches are set, but Greeley didn't rule out the possibility of talking to the LCS teams about flex scheduling in the future if initial viewership trends indicate that moving games between days, especially as the league draws closer to playoffs, would be more valuable.
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"We tried to find a pretty good balance between the super hype matchups, TSM/TL kind of stuff," Greeley said, "as well as providing a platform to highlight all LCS teams. The idea isn't to take the two best games of the week and hide them on Monday night, since that will make the weekend feel really boring, as well."
One of the key takeaways from Riot's 2016-17 broadcasts that featured best-of-three matchups (in contrast to the league's current single-game format), concurrent broadcasts and Friday night matches was that some teams and players felt like they were being hidden.
"We heard feedback from pros that it was just a really bad experience," Greeley said. "If you weren't playing a good team and you weren't getting the main stream, people didn't get to watch you, you didn't get to grow your brand, you didn't feel like you were playing on the big stage."
Riot hopes to alleviate this with special events around Monday Night League and spreading out the matches so that all teams and players get a chance in the spotlight. The new Monday Night League broadcasts also won't be ticketed. Instead, Riot will try running a variety of events with special audiences, like a high school night or a college night.
"It creates a cool opportunity for us to reach out to different groups in the ecosystem and create a special experience for them, as well," Greeley said.
Highlighting Academy talent
The North American competitive League of Legends week will begin on Friday with a new broadcast called Academy Rush starting at 2 p.m. PT with a preshow at 1:30 p.m. Four NA Academy games will be played online simultaneously with casters jumping between the matches. One Academy game also will be added to the Saturday and Sunday LCS broadcasts, which will begin at their usual starting times of 2 p.m. PT and 12 p.m. PT, respectively. Each broadcast will have a standard 30-minute preshow.
"[Academy Rush] will allow our analysts and casters to switch between four simultaneous games and highlight the big moments from those games and the stories -- things that when we just provide fans with a five-hour block of Academy games, they might not engage with," Greeley said. "We're hoping to be able to curate the Academy viewing experience a bit more to make it more relatable and hopefully more fun for our fans."
These changes come after heavy criticism during the offseason toward North America as a whole and its perceived lack of domestic talent development. One of the hurdles identified in talent development was not only a large gap between a small amateur scene and the Academy league, but getting media and fans excited about Academy games and player narratives. According to Greeley, the Academy Rush concept is something Riot has been thinking about for well over a year but didn't have a spot for on the broadcast.
"We've been talking about the Academy league and the amateur system and trying to find ways to expand them. This seemed like a good fit and hit some of our goals in creating a better story around Academy," he said.
Citing the National Football League's RedZone broadcasts, Greeley said the ultimate goal is to build a narrative package that will in turn inspire a stronger interest in Academy players beyond the existing group of hard-core Academy fans, who are primarily analysts and team staff.
New playoff format, worlds qualifying system
In addition to these broadcast changes, the LCS also will be restructuring its playoff format. Championship points have been eliminated, and spring split victories will only count toward qualifying a team for the Mid-Season Invitational. LCS spring playoffs will follow a format similar to that of the current League of Legends European Championship playoff bracket, wherein the top two teams get byes for the first round.
In doing away with championship points, the LCS will no longer have a regional qualifying tournament for the League of Legends World Championship. Instead, the top eight LCS teams at the end of the summer split will be placed in a double-elimination playoff bracket. This bracket will be used to qualify three teams from North America to the world championship. The grand finals winner will be the first seed, the grand finals loser (and loser's bracket winner) will be the second seed and the loser's bracket finals loser will be the third seed.
According to Greeley, many of these changes came about due to the low impact of the regional qualifier outside of crowning the region's third worlds seed.
"We really did want to create this big finals moment where we could end the year as the LCS," Greeley said. "One of the big goals for us was to eliminate the regional qualifier. Summer playoffs are greatly expanded; the first two rounds are four days each. We wanted to create an entirely different playoff run going into worlds. You'll get to see the top teams playing more often."