Worlds 2017 is almost here. The World Championship’s play-in stage begins in just eight days. Essentially, the play-in stage is a tournament before the the tournament–a last chance qualifier for 12 teams from 12 different regions to earn a slot at the group stage. The play-in groups include the #3 seed from the four major regions: China, EU, NA, LMS, as well as 8 teams from smaller regions, including Russia and Japan. The play-in stage precedes the group and knockout stages, and is a new addition to this year’s Worlds format.
Riot doesn’t like stagnation. This philosophy is evident in all aspects of their product: constant game re-balancing, endless new features, champions and skins. Also, a brand new EU LCS format every half-season–four EU regions are slated for next split, has Riot gone insane? If Riot doesn’t like a feature or thinks a feature can be improved upon, rest assured it will be overhauled very soon. Now that the World Championships has three distinct stages, I worry that the tournament is becoming slightly bloated. While the play-in stage begins on September 23, the tournament won’t conclude until November 4. That’s 43 days. While I can’t complain about more high-level League, I have a feeling Riot will revamp the format again next year.
Some consistency is a good thing. At the behest of pro players, Riot decided to tone down the constant patching this year and put limits on patch frequency leading up to major tournaments. Pro players were complaining that they didn’t have enough time to learn the metagame, and that when they finally did adjust to a patch, a new update was already imminent. I would argue that constant patching pressures pros to adapt and improvise new strategies, whereas fewer updates challenges pros to polish. Constant patching allows players to find new cheese strats and OP combinations, but it also inhibits a metagame’s ability to reach equilibrium due to the constant flux. There’s a “Goldilocks Zone” between too many and too few patches, and I think Riot is still looking for it.
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If anyone remembers the patch 5.16, or the Juggernaut patch of late August 2015, it was a huge patch that included a bevy of new items and champion reworks. Worlds eventually played out on patch 5.18, and the group-stage metagame was pretty wide-open until the best teams started dictating pick/ban priorities by the time the knockout stage rolled around.
With respect to patch frequency, go figure that Riot is doing things a little differently this year. Instead of throwing the game into disarray with a giant patch right before the big tournament, Riot has been scaling down their patches as Worlds 2017 draws closer. The metagame we have as Worlds begins should be fairly balanced and well-understood – no champion reworks to contend with. I have to agree with fellow Esports Edition writer Jungroan Lin, who predicted last week that the Worlds 2017 meta is going to be a bit stale.
If anything, Riot has gone too conservative with their changes this year. By adding the play-in stage to Worlds, Riot has wasted an opportunity for the play-in teams to explore a fresh patch and help define a brand new metagame before the group stage takes place. Sure, the Worlds Patch 7.18 is a new patch, but it’s dinky. This already well-defined metagame, combined with a longer Worlds tournament, should mean that the meta will stabilize sooner than it has in previous years. Expect to see fewer surprise picks, fewer cheese strats, but more polished play – the kind of play that belongs at a World Championship.