The Worlds 2023 Swiss Stage was a Great Success
The League of Legends World Championship is nearing its final stage. Only eight teams remain in the hunt for LoL’s biggest prize, the Summoners’ Cup. Worlds 2023 featured the brand-new Swiss Stage in place of the Group Stage. This was the first major format change to the Worlds Main Stage ever since 2013. While this past decade of Group Stage play certainly had its moments, it was also plagued by many downsides.
Groups Had to Go
Worlds used to feature a 16 team Group Stage. Teams were split into groups of four and played a double-round robin where all games were best-of-one. The two teams with the highest record would advance to the playoffs. Simple enough, right? The issues begin with how the groups were seeded.
Coming into Worlds each year, teams would be placed into Pools one through four (1 through 3 prior to 2020) with the groups having teams drawn from each. This seeding was based on their regional performance, with winners getting Pool one. A group would only get one team from each Pool, or two from Pool two pre-2020.
Additionally, Riot would avoid placing teams from the same region into the same group to avoid having the same intra-regional matchups that were just played in the Summer playoffs. After all, Worlds is all about bringing teams from around the globe to play unique matches that we can only see there. With all of these limitations in place, this is how the average Group Stage would look going into matches:
|LCK Pool 1||LPL Pool 1||LEC Pool 1||LCS Pool 1|
|LCS Pool 2||LEC Pool 2||LCK Pool 2||LPL Pool 2|
|LPL Pool 3||LCK Pool 3||LCS Pool 3||LEC Pool 3|
|LEC Pool 4/Play-Ins||LCS Pool 4/Play-Ins||LPL Pool 4||LCK Pool 4|
Theoretically, this system provides the best teams in each region an advantage by going up against the lower seeds of the others. If each Pool one seed did advance, we could get multiple inter-region best-of-fives in the playoffs, something that the Group Stage didn’t provide. However, this would almost never be the case.
The Cruel Reality
Korean and Chinese teams have historically dominated Worlds. It hasn’t been particularly close either. At absolute best, NA would have one team that could be competitive with any eastern team and EU would have two. Most years, the west got one team through the Group Stage while the LCK and LPL could have three or four.
Because of this disparity in skill level, most groups would consist of one KR or CN team crushing everyone for first seed, the other either comfortably taking second seed or at least tiebreaking for it, and the NA, EU, or Wildcard teams bottoming out the table. At absolute worst, there would be multiple games of the first seed mercilessly beating up teams that were just out of their depth, making for an incredibly boring experience.
To the system’s credit, it can in theory make for a tense and high stakes four-team series. This was highlighted at Worlds 2021 where, in the 11th installment of the tournament, we had our first four-way tie.
The fact that this happened only once in Worlds history should be telling. The reality is that teams in the same pools are not made equally. The LCK’s Pool three could often destroy NA’s Pool one. Other discrepancies ran rampant as well. Riot experimented with switching the seeds around, even taking away NA’s Pool one seed at a point, but it was all just band-aid fixes for a system that just didn’t work in practicality.
What’s the Solution?
So, we have a list of issues that plagued the Group Stage in the past:
- Discrepancies in regional strength affect the effectiveness of Pool seeding. This often created “Groups of Death/Life” where teams could undeservedly advance or be eliminated.
- The top teams in each group could completely one-sided runs that went on too long.
- The back half of games had many useless matches that wouldn’t affect the final group results.
- Best-of-ones caused a lack of gameplay overall, often resulting in NA, EU, and minor regions playing few if any best-of series against each other in a year.
- The break in between the first and second round robin killed hype, as many groups had a predictable outcome by the mid-point.
When Riot was coming up with a new system to try and remedy as many of these issues as possible, they looked to another top esport for inspiration.
Counter-Strike’s most important tournaments of the year, the Valve Majors, also had a sixteen-team stage (two of them to be exact). They decided on a Swiss system with the goal of getting the tournament favorites through as fast as possible while making the end of the stage just as important for everyone else.
Swiss seeds all sixteen teams into the same bracket. You advance through the bracket by winning matches, needing to win three overall to advance to the next stage. Conversely, losing three matches knocks you out of the tournament. The best part about Swiss comes from the match seeding. In Swiss, your next opponent must have the same overall record as you. Winning round one puts you up against another round one winner in round two. All advancement and elimination matches are also best-of-threes.
The Goal of Swiss
The best teams will meet each other half-way through the stage, with the best escaping with a 3-0 record. It’s okay for the loser though, as they’ll have another chance to get out with a 3-1 record. At the lower end, the same thing happens. Losing round one means that you have a chance to improve your standing against other weaker teams. When the final round rolls in, its all 2-2 teams fighting the most competitive matches with the highest stakes.
Riot adopted Swiss for Worlds 2023 with a couple of changes from how Counter-Strike does it. Instead of re-seeding based on Bucholz score (score based on record of opponents), they did a random draw between teams of the same record. They also allowed rematches, where as CS doesn’t. Let’s take a look at the results of the Worlds 2023 Swiss stage and see what problems were addressed by the format change.
The top teams in each group could completely one-sided runs that went on too long.
Gen.G and JD Gaming, Korea and China’s first seeds, both went 3-0 and escaped the Stage early. Gen.G so by beating the LCK’s 2 and EU’s 1 seed. JDG did so by beating the LPL’s 2 and 3 seed.
Best-of-ones caused a lack of gameplay overall, often resulting in NA, EU, and minor regions playing few if any best-of series against other regions in a year.
A total of 52 games were played in the Worlds 2023 Swiss Stage. This compares to 48 (plus tiebreakers) in the previous Group Stage. Among these 52 games, only 10 were regional matchups. In the 13 best-of-three series’ for advancement and elimination, 11 were cross-region.
The back half of games had many useless matches that wouldn’t affect the final group results.
This is naturally solved by Swiss making advancements and eliminations happen in each of the final three rounds. As for competitiveness, round five saw two of the three matches end in 2-1’s, and the third arguably should have as well.
The break in between the first and second round robin killed hype, as many groups had a predictable outcome by the mid-point.
The Worlds 2023 Swiss Stage took place over the course of 11 days as opposed to the 10 of the 2022 Group Stage. Both stages had a single two-day gap between all other consecutive days of play. However, The two-day gap of the Swiss Stage came after round three following the 3-0 and 0-3 teams exiting. This caused a hype buildup due to the most competitive 12 teams being left in the field.
Discrepancies in regional strength affect the effectiveness of Pool seeding. This would create “Groups of Death/Life” where teams could undeservedly advance or be eliminated.
Just because the format is different doesn’t mean that Worlds results will just change overnight. In the end, the LPL got all four teams through to Playoffs while the LCK got three of four. North America has the last Playoff team, and they earned it by beating the LEC’s first seed G2 Esports in a round four best-of-three.
What this does mean is that the change to Swiss has not negatively affected the results of the stage. The intermingling of all 16 teams provides a melting pot that more reliably brings the better teams to the top. It is highly likely that the best eight teams have advanced to the Worlds 2023 Playoffs.
Bring this Format Back
In the end, the Worlds 2023 Swiss Stage has been a massive success for LoL Esports. Worlds is the biggest event of the calendar year. As much should be done as possible to make it great. The previous Group Stage system had some highs, but was plagued by tons of issues that only became more pronounced as the years went on.
Swiss addressed almost all of these issues in some way. The main contention point right now comes from Riot allowing rematches via the random draw in between rounds. However, it can be argued that the randomness adds an element of fun and chance while keeping the general goal of Swiss intact.
This system has provided a much-improved experience for viewers. 2022’s Group Stage viewer peak was 1.39 million (excluding CN viewers), while 2023 Swiss was 1.95 million. We’ve also already reached a 950K average, while 2022 saw an overall 987K average including Playoffs. Suffice to say, Swiss should definitely be back for the next Worlds.