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Lots of League and Drooping Drakes: LCS, Week 3

We're now three weeks into the League Championship Series and it's time to draw this week's conclusions. This week we'll be focusing on changes to both League of Legends and the format of both North American and EU competitions, having had ample time to see how the game and way we watch it have been affected by Riot's off-season tinkering.

Dragons – working as intended?

Let's talk about everyone's favorite imaginary fantasy dinosaur/reptile hybrid, the Dragon. Riot's original decision to split the dragon into four separate elemental types, each with their own unique line of buffs was not exactly welcomed with open arms, even if their goal was a laudible one. Adding random elements to the game that cannot be planned or strategized around goes against what some people's conception of the game is, emphasizing on-the-fly decision-making rather than tactics and clever coaching. On the other hand, some spectators and competitors like the notion of making the dragon an objective worth contesting in the early-game as a source of team-fights and breaking games out of stale laning patterns that have become the norm.

But the problem that has arisen — and has been evident since week one — is that not all dragons are born equal. While three of the dragons are largely seen as beneficial and prioritized by teams, the Cloud Drake has been the butt of many jokes since its announcement. With underwhelming buffs to out-of-combat movement speed it can kill a winning side's momentum stone dead and is certainly not worth the risk of an engagement for any team that's behind.

The European casting team in Week 1 didn't pull any punches with their analysis either, lamenting the high number of Cloud Drakes as a mostly unwelcome presence on the rift. Riot are standing by their drake for the time being, but clamour for changes is growing louder. If the objective was to incentivize dragons and to create more dynamic early games, the Cloud Drake isn't quite at the level of its other mystical peers.

Best of Three versus Best of Two

The Summer split finally brought about major changes to the LCS format and now we've had time to watch plenty of examples of both Bo2 and Bo3, here's what we like and what we don't about both formats. Firstly – both are an upgrade on Best of 1 and both will hopefully give western teams a better experience of the format, which could prove invaluable in international competition. There was always a feeling with a best of one that a single moment could decide an entire match, prizing consistency and the ability to avoid making mistakes over more aggressive and adventurous styles. The best of three format emphasizes this the most, with teams able to try out a unique pick or alternate strategy without necessarily risking their overall standing.

The Bo2 format is perhaps less successful. While it has created some memorable comedy thanks to awkward confusion over where hand-shakes should take place after a draw, there is a certain sense of anti-climax or unfinished business when a game ends in a tie. Perhaps this is simply because we're not really used to seeing tie games in League of Legends. It's hard to see why ties exist in something like LoL where there is ample opportunity to create conditions where it's win or lose (Bo3 and Bo1 are both examples of this). It also gives teams less incentive to win, when teams can scrape into play-offs by being 'just good enough' rather than pushing for their very best.

Endless Legends – do we need a highlight show?

The knock-on effect of the aforementioned format changes is that viewers now need to decide which matches to watch and which to perhaps catch up with later as VODs. Matches are now broadcast simultaneously, to fit everything into the four day period each weekend. This is obviously not a strange thing – in the world of sports, games are often played and broadcast at the same time, there's no reason this shouldn't extend to eSports as well. On the other hand there is now so much League of Legends, it's very difficult to watch everything - gone are the days of people having an encyclopedic knowledge of the western scene and every team. There was approximately 57 hours of LCS last weekend. For those who want to watch every single game and analyst segment, expect to be looking at around 14 hours a day Thursday-Sunday.

There are pluses and minuses here depending on perspective. On the plus side, picking and choosing games means that viewers needn't sit through a match they have no interest in to get to games they're excited to be watching. The downside, though, is that this could end up hurting smaller organizations, or teams newer to the LCS who don't yet have the fan-base to match up to the likes of Fnatic or TSM. Their matches are likely to have far smaller viewing figures, which could have knock-on effects when it comes to sponsorship deals. The last thing LoL needs is a status quo of top teams whose power is cemented by financial superiority (see most European sports – soccer in particular).

A potential solution is for Riot or another network to produce a highlights show. While PTL summarizes different international scenes in a single game, or plucks out moments of brilliance across the world's pro leagues, there is a gap for a comprehensive highlights package that shows us the key moments and key plays from each game. As the majority of the footage and analysis for the LCS is already being created by Riot, their talented editorial team could give us something that allows every team shine and keeps us all up to date with LoL, without having to forego sleep.

CLG struggling

Last week we discussed how MSI might have impacted CLG's desire, energy and motivation – and that could still be both the case and cause of their downturn this season. But ask any CLG fan what their team's weak link is and chances are they'll answer 'Huhi.' The Korean mid-laner is not without talent - he's reliable and mostly consistent as a strong farmer, yet he lacks that spark or flash of brilliance the best mid-laners have. Analysts have pointed out that CLG's attempts to give him focus above ADC Stixxay has backfired horribly, leaving the latter looking underwhelming too. CLG might need to refocus their strategy away from Huhi, or if they believe the meta has shifted away from their former style of play, consider roster changes.

EU standings take shape

In the EU LCS region, gaps have started to emerge in the standings, separating the teams into one of three categories – 'the best,' 'the rest,' and 'Unicorns of Love.' G2, Fnatic and H2K are separated by just two points now at the top of the standings and all three have adapted excellently to roster swaps and format changes. Fnatic look like their old selves again with Yellowstar easily reintegrated into the line-up, while jungler Spirit looks much more at ease on the rift this split.

H2K have also given Freeze and Jankos the platform they needed to demonstrate their talent and it's been pleasing to see them step up to the plate. G2 remain very good indeed and looking through their roster it's not difficult to see why they are topping the league. As for the poor Unicorns, they are frankly a bit of a mess right now. It's sad to see the team who arrived in the LCS in 2015 with such a bang in rock-bottom place, but a lot of people saw this coming. Now two points behind the improving Origen, it's time for the Unicorns to shape up or ship out.

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