North America will send three teams to Worlds this year, and those three tournament positions, or seeds, are all determined through different means. The first seed is given to the winner of the Summer Split. It’s simple enough, and probably the first and last time you felt like you understood the LCS seeding structure. That’s because the second and third seeds are determined by the all-mysterious Championship Points.
Spring and Summer split playoffs both award teams with a number of Championship Points based on their performance. At the end of both of these splits, the team with the highest combined Championship Points is awarded the second seed into Worlds. The next four highest Championship Point-earning teams face off in the regional finals, the winner getting the third and last NA seed.
There are a couple of things to note here. One is that teams receive no points for their standing at the end of the regular season, only for their final playoffs placement for that split. Right now, for example, no NA LCS team has been awarded points yet, and even though TSM ended the regular season at the top of the standings, they won't get top points if they place 2nd in playoffs.
We should also note that Summer Split is weighted a little more heavily points-wise than Spring Split, awarding the second place team 90 points instead of 70, third place 70 instead of 50, and so on. It makes enough sense; a team’s performance closer to Worlds is a better indication of how prepared they are to compete in the international level. If a team had an awkward start but picked up their game hard, or if a team lost their way in the second half of the season, the points are designed to recognize that.
But not everyone would agree on its success.
CLG's Smooth Road to Worlds
Rewind to 2016 Summer Split, when TSM won the first seed as the Summer playoffs winner, and CLG locked in the second as the team with the highest number of points. CLG hit the Spring Split hard, ending second place in the standings and taking home the Spring Split playoffs trophy.
Summer Split was a new story. The team, struggling with a new meta, eventually placed fourth behind TSM, Cloud 9, and Immortals, and would continue to drop their relative luck in playoffs, where they placed fourth behind the same teams.
By the end of the season, CLG saw the most disappointing performance of the top four teams, but it’s Immortals that suffered. They placed first and second in their splits, compared to CLG’s second and fourth places. They redefined “duo top” synergy with Huni and Reignover. They placed third in both playoffs. They never saw Worlds, while CLG secured a spot after placing fourth in Summer Playoffs. Counter Logic Gaming’s first place Spring playoffs win was weighed just strongly enough to set them ten points ahead of a team that performed with more success at every other time.
The greater question lies not in lost chances, but in who was gifted the easier road. Who deserved to fight it out in the unforgiving regional arena?
Immortals did have a chance to fight for the third seed in the regional finals against C9, Team Liquid, and Team EnVyUs. C9 came out on top as Immortals, much as they did in playoffs, failed to turn their rock solid seasons into equally convincing wins when it most mattered.
So where does that leave us? In the end, the strongest teams all had a chance. Those who didn’t win a seed fought for their right to Worlds, and perhaps understandably, the team that choked in the high-pressure laps didn’t make it to League’s biggest stage.
The greater question lies not in lost chances, but in who was gifted the easier road. Who deserved to fight it out in the unforgiving regional arena? CLG, the team that wrecked faces but later lost their way; C9, the team that bombed early on then miraculously steamrolled in the final stretch; or Immortals, the team that steadily improved but never stole playoffs?
The points chose the team that lost their spark, and this has perhaps been the most questionable effect of the Championship Points system. CLG’s advancement over Immortals left fans confused, debating, and crafting complex point breakdowns for their confused and debating peers.
The solution to this technical case, and one that may prevent similar scenarios in the future, seems to require a lighter reward for winning Spring playoffs, one that can still incentivize teams while holding them accountable for their end-of season state. But while perceived unfairness of 2016 lies partly in the strength of Spring Split Championship Points, much of the community turmoil signals a larger issue at hand: visibility.
THE BIGGER PROBLEM
The LCS season is, in the minds and experiences of the fans, a collection of wins and losses. Storylines are built on the backs of brackets, standings, and scores, but never this background point system. You’ll rarely hear them mentioned on broadcast, and by the time you do, it’s because they’re suddenly in control of the LCS’s most climactic moment, having built no ties to the season’s painful losses and heroic upswings. It’s an authority so quiet that any result feels unintuitive to the average viewer, with our without an in-depth seeding breakdown.
Perhaps more telling of this issue’s prevalence, though, is that Riot saw it coming.
The original purpose of Championship Points, outlined by Riot in August 2015, was to support their unique two-split format -- to give teams a meaningful reward for their Spring Split results. Along with these well-meaning reasonings, though, Riot was clear to outline “some concerns about the intuitiveness of this point system, specifically as it pertains to new viewers” -- concerns that have become their current dilemma. The Points have all but disappeared from LCS broadcasts, forgotten among the more exciting narratives of standings and playoffs.
As Championship Points shed their introduction and near three years in age, they remain the LCS community’s least understood, and in the case of CLG, most debated format. With playoffs underway, their effect needs to be communicated more consistently if they are to have an understood say in our Worlds seeds. With greater effort to embed their presence into each season, and perhaps an adjustment to Spring point values, we could see this achieved.