3 Reasons Adding a Losers Bracket Would Ruin Worlds

League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

Fans and commentators are arguing that the next Worlds tournament should include a losers bracket, but that’s a bad idea.

With Worlds 2020 winding down, a lot of players fans, and commentators are looking ahead to Worlds 2021 and how the tournament can be improved. Every year, there is discussion regarding the seeding, group draws, and the general structure. This year, most of that discussion revolves around the addition of the losers bracket.

The losers bracket isn’t new, as there is some form of a losers bracket in the playoffs of two of the major regions – Europe and NA. Many fans point out that DOTA’s International (their equivalent of Worlds) also has a losers bracket. They argue that this format makes the tournament more interesting, allowing better teams to not be eliminated because of one bad performance, and create more interesting storylines.

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Already, you have seen plenty of pro players on record as being for the additon of a losers bracket, with CLG’s Pobelter saying “[I] think it led to a lot of great moments/games in LCS and LEC playoffs.” And I call BS, for three reasons.

1. Competitive Integrity

Many advocates for a losers bracket will actually claim that this system preserves a tournament’s competitive integrity. They claim that, without it, you have instances where a favored team’s wild underperformance in one game or on one day can cause them to lose their shot at a title. But so what?

Every sport is decided by a system in which a team can lose to a massive underdog based on bad performances. 16 seeds upset 1 seeds, teams blow 3-0 series leads, a team can blow a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, these things are the feature of playoffs, not the bug.

If true competitive integrity was the goal, there wouldn’t be a knockout round at all. We’d just have all the teams in one 24-team group play each other and whoever ends with the best record wins the tournament.

Instead, losers bracket advocates want a system where a team is punished for not losing. Think I’m exaggerating?

Take the LCS playoffs. The finals were between TSM, who were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, and FlyQuest, who had made the finals by, you know, winning. TSM won one series and won the championship. No chance of redemption for FlyQuest because they lost too late into the tournament.

This is the inherent flaw with a losers bracket; it creates a system where a team can make it to the end only to lose to a team that should have been eliminated long ago. And if the solution is “well it should be a true double-elimination tournament, TSM and FlyQuest should have played again,” that leads right to the second problem with a losers bracket.

2. Meaningless Games

I’m old enough to remember way back to a month ago where fans were moaning about how worthless it was to have the losers bracket in LCS. TSM faced Dignitas, Evil Geniuses played 100 Thieves, and fans were left wondering why they should bother watching these two sure stomps. In fact, they were both stomps, with both TSM and EG sweeping their opponents in three-straight games.

So I did a little research. This year, in those two leagues there were six matches in the losers bracket between a team that did not make the knockout portion (aka they were a one-elimination team) and a team who did.

Only once did the team that started in the lower bracket manage to win that series, when TSM managed to take down 100 Thieves in a 5-game series. They were then beaten in the very next round by FlyQuest.

In fact, of the losers bracket starters versus upper bracket losers matchups, three series were 3-0 sweeps, two were 3-1 wins by the upper bracket, and then there was the TSM upset. In six series, the lower bracket team has combined to win just five games.

The point is that, while advocates of a losers bracket imagine the chance for redemption of teams like Top Esports or G2, they forget that we’d also be subjected to a slog of matches like JDG versus G2 and DRX versus Fnatic. Worse yet, we could have a situation like that which played out in the LEC Summer Playoffs.

In that tournament, Fnatic beat G2 in the semifinals three games to two to advance to the finals. However, G2 managed to beat Rogue in the lower bracket to also advance to the finals, which they won 3-0. And while that is fun and exciting for G2 fans, it must have been equally frustrating for the Fnatic players (who didn’t get that same chance for redemption because they lost at the wrong time) it was frustrating for the fans who just saw this matchup a week earlier.

The fact that G2 managed to get back to the finals and face Fnatic basically meant that the semifinal series was meaningless. Not literally, since Fnatic winning guaranteed them a spot in the finals while G2 could still lose, but having a system where you can beat a team and then lose the tournament to them is not only unfair, it’s unfun to watch.

3. Scheduling Issues

The final reason a losers bracket wouldn’t work is that it would require the entire tournament format to be revisited. Right now, the Worlds format is fairly simple: you have four groups of four teams, with the top two getting out. In a system with a losers bracket, suddenly you cannot have this format because a loser’s bracket starts with another two or four teams in that lower bracket.

This leaves Riot with two options.

First, they make it a four-team lower bracket with all the third-seeds in the groups starting down there, waiting to face the losers of the first round. Great, so now more meaningless games where we’d get to see matchups like Fnatic vs. PSG Talon, JDG vs. Team Liquid, Gen.G vs. FlyQuest, and DRX vs. LGD. Are we really upset as fans because we missed out on TL and FlyQuest maybe taking a game off a dominant Korean, Chinese, or European team?

Plus, with this system, Riot would have to have these series on their own days, which would push back the schedule by a week. This means, you’d have one week of the first round, followed by another week of the losers bracket, followed by the semifinals, and so on.

The second system they could use is to just make it a loser’s bracket from the eight-teams that start. So if you lose in the first round, you play the other loser on the their side of the bracket. So that would give us Fnatic vs. JDG and Gen.G vs. DRX. Better matchups, to be sure but we still have one matchup that is fairly uncompetitive (FNC/JDG) and another all-Korea matchup (GEN/DRX). Again, did we really miss out by not having these extra matches?

If those series go the way we would have expected, we would have then gotten TES vs. JDG and Gen.G vs. G2. That means that, absent upsets in the lower bracket, we would have gotten a rematch of the LPL finals and a rematch of the first round series. All for the right to potentially advance and fight Suning/Damwon.

And again, we’re now adding six additional series, two in the first two rounds each, to the schedule. How is Riot supposed to give the teams in the upper bracket enough time to regroup and refocus on their next matchup against a team that’s had all week to study them?

No matter how you slice it, there’s no way for Riot to re-format the World championship so that there aren’t too many games in one week, or where you won’t have rematches. These games in the lower bracket would only serve to bloat the tournament with more useless games.

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There are issues with the Worlds format, to be sure, especially the seedings, pools, and group draws. But adding a lower bracket so that teams who underperform get one last shot at redemption is not the answer.