For the first time in years, Riot has lost an intangible amount of viewers for their Western LCS broadcasting programmes. Both the EU and NA LCS have lost so many viewers that it has sparked a lot of discussion within the community, particularly about how Riot will intend to fix this.
You see, Riot is partially to blame for this since they introduced new format changes to both respective regions. For the first time in the history of the Western LCS, regular season games are not decided in a Bo1 but in a Bo2 format for the EU region and in a Bo3 format for the NA region.
The changes for the consumer became apparent very quickly: The NA LCS stopped being a weekly event that would take about 3-4 hours of your day into an event spread over two days, with matches and their respective reporting lasting up to 7-8 hours, per day mind you. The NA LCS changed from something you can casually watch on your couch, to something that you actually needed to plan around, which unlike with most Sport events is hard, since League doesnt have a specific time at which a game ends. For a normal fan who just wants to watch some professional League of Legends, it's turned from a hobby to a serious commitment, it's not for a Casual fan to enjoy anymore.
You start to wonder how much League is too much League. As Doublelift put it "No one wants to tune in and see three matches of P1 against Envy" he said when asked on stream about the issue:
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However, with all the downsides in mind, there's a massive benefit to this that few people seem to realise (or care for): The more teams play on stage against other professional teams, the better they become. The more practice TSM gathers from playing against a powerhouse like Immortals, the better they'll perform at this year's Worlds. Certainly, the teams are scrimming against each other day in day out anyway, so what difference would this make? First of all, no simulation will be a proper equivalent to the real deal: Pressure on stage will always be an issue, and there's no better way to tackle this than to play on stage instead of your secured PC at the gaming house.
Secondly, it enables players to train for Bo3 or even Bo5 formats, which become crucial during Playoffs and Worlds. Bo3s have, as we've seen times and times again, their own ruleset, and it's very important to train teams and players to perform when they're down a match. How do you react mentally, do you severely change your plans during picks and bans, how do you perform when you're 2-0 up but don't want the enemy team to reverse sweep? All of these factors can be massive when it comes down to actual tournaments, and again there's no better to train towards them than by playing Bo3s. Don't listen to me, listen to the LCK and the LPL, two regions that have been dominating when it comes to international tournaments.
Now, the Bo2/Bo3 format certainly isnt the only reason as to why China and Korea in particular have been so oppressive when it comes to international tournaments. Stricter rules for players, more support for the sport cultural wise, the societal standing of being a professional gamer in those countries, all of these things play into the fact that these specific regions usually outperforming the West. But it's not surprising that the two most dominant regions in the past two years have been those that abandoned the Bo1 system for their respective leagues a long time ago.
As Doublelift mentioned, there could be more ways to make LCS worth watching again. For starters, he recommended having more international tournaments, which I'd disagree with however. Having more international tournaments chips away at the relevancy and specialness of Worlds and MSI. I cant recall a single popular Sport in which it's common to have more than one huge international tournament per year - it simply would make the experience of said event too repetitive and dull.
What I have in mind would be a system that rewards viewers for turning into the game. Valve has already introduced such a system via Steam, so by watching certain CS:GO tournaments you can get weapon skin drops. Riot /could/ introduce a similar system, after all you can already watch the LCS games through the League client, and essentially bait people into watching more LCS, hopefully getting hooked in the process. This however is more of a band aid than a true solution to the problem.
So what's the proper solution here? Go back to the old formats or stick with the current ones and hope that viewership numbers recover? Truth be told, there is no perfect solution for this, and Riot will have to make a decision between having more competitive Western Leagues using a Bo2/Bo3 format or having an entertaining and watchable LCS schedule. Personally speaking, although the East has been crushingly oppressive, recent tournaments like last years Worlds and this years MSI have shown that the Western teams can keep up and even beat Korean and Chinese powerhouses, whether it's Fnatic, CLG or hopefully this year TSM/IMM during Worlds. Although I think that the format changes are beneficial for the team's competitiveness, I dont deem them necessary. The viewability of the Western LCSs is too much of a sacrifice. I say bring back the old system.