Although the first day of the 2018 World Championship in the books, it certainly feels like something’s being held back. The tournament’s opening day of play posted higher viewership numbers in comparison to last year’s Worlds Play-in Stage, but oddities sprung up throughout the course of the day, making a traditionally exciting and thrilling day quite odd and puzzling. With a jam-packed schedule of games featuring teams that nobody’s heard of, a crowd filled with people dressed up as empty seats, and a broadcast crew planted nearly 6,000 miles away, Worlds feels less like its usual grand spectacle and more like just ‘another day at the office’.
With the introduction of the Worlds Play-in Stage at last year’s championship, the field of teams present at the tournament expanded immensely, giving representatives from lesser-known regions a better shot at making the game’s most prestigious tournament. And it must certainly be noted that the extra stage of the tournament has begun to introduce plenty of League of Legends fans to new teams from across the world, increasing viewership numbers for these lesser known regions in the process. Yet even still, the point is somewhat moot, simply due to the fact that many of teams are dropped to the wayside immediately upon their essentially-guaranteed departure from the tournament, only to return to their underfunded, undervalued, and under-appreciated regions.
While today’s event was a little off-putting, to say the least, it wasn’t always this way. Take the 2015 installment of Worlds opening day as a quick example. The first day of that tournament featured some serious marquee matchups that set the stage for one of, if not the strongest World Championship in the history of competitive League. With matches featuring Fnatic, Invictus Gaming, Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, SK Telecom T1, Flash Wolves, and the KOO Tigers, there were plenty of reasons to tune in, no matter what team or region you were a fan of.
Three years later, on the 2018 tournament’s opening day, the only team with a genuinely recognizable name upon first glance would be Cloud9, that is, if you discount the shambling remains of Gambit Gaming and the ancient folk heroes of KaBuM! esports (whose roster now features zero of the players who mounted the ridiculous upset over Alliance at the 2014 World Championship).
Wildcard teams just don’t generate the same level of excitement that big name organizations do. While it’s admirable to expand the tournament and bring new teams into the fold, potentially bringing in new viewers and revenue, alike, it’s tough to generate the same excitement that many fans felt on the tournament’s opening day in years past.
Another change made to the pomp and circumstance of the World Championship was the decision to keep the broadcast team rooted in the NA LCS studio back in Los Angeles, while all the actual gameplay was taking place across the Pacific Ocean in Seoul, South Korea. Not only is this decision bizarre to the utmost degree, it takes away from much of the atmosphere that the 2018 World Championship is already lacking.
The excitement of hearing the casters have to scream over the roar of a crowd is what helps to make Worlds what it is. Or, even seeing a wave of fans behind the analyst desk in between matches is enough to bring presence to the tournament. And now, with shoutcasters and analysts watching the games from a continent away, just like most of us, it takes a large portion of the tournament’s usual factors of hype and greatness and tosses them directly out the window.
Even the postgame analysis segment, cleverly titled ‘Cooldown’, felt largely disconnected. It was hard to forget that the analysts spearheading the show were watching the matches from a studio over 6,000 miles away. If anything, these moments, while they featured really solid analysis from Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, Barento “Razleplasm” Mohammed, and Mark “Markz” Zimmerman, it felt more like a podcast with three friends rather than a raw postgame show.
All in all, this year’s World Championship is off to a seriously odd start. What was supposed to feel like a grand beginning to the season’s most prestigious tournament feels like just another day of matches with teams we’ll probably end up forgetting about within the next few weeks, if not days.
While there are certainly brighter days to come over the course of the next month, Worlds is definitely off to a weird and wiry beginning. And once the tournament makes its way into the prime slate of matches later next week, things are sure to kick up once again, and the feeling of Worlds season should most definitely come back into full swing. We can only hope.
Photo Credit: Riot Games, League of Legends