The 2020 Play-Ins concluded two days ago and ended up being the most exciting as well as post popular edition of Play-Ins thus far.
Play-Ins feature one team from the LPL, LEC and LCS, one from the PCS (formerly LMS), and eight representatives of Wildcard regions. Only six Wildcard teams attended this year as a result of Vietnam being prevented from entering the tournament.
Each year, the expectations are that the Chinese, European and American teams have an easy stride to victory, with SEA’s representative being favored to be the last team to make it into groups. For the 2020 edition, EU and NA were predicted to be at the top of their group without a doubt, with China dominating theirs, followed by UOL or possibly PSG, in spite of them having to field in two temporary subs at the last minute.
It’s a good thing that Pick’Ems only begin in group stages, because we couldn’t have been more wrong. LGD started the surprises by dropping several games to Wildcards, only to then be followed by MAD Lions who fell in a similar fashion. Both teams ended up tying for last in their respective groups, with a score of 1-3, and both had to make their way through a tiebreaker to not be the first two teams eliminated from Worlds Play-Ins – as representatives of major regions.
They both advanced to the bracket phase, and while LGD carved a path into the group stage after winning two quick BO5s, MAD Lions fell in their first match against Supermassive Esports, the Turkish squad. Supermassive’s victory makes it the first time a Wildcard team ever wins a BO5 against a representative from a major region!
A much better format for competition
The format for the 2020 Play-Ins had to be changed due to the Vietnamese teams being forced to drop out. The format used between 2017 and 2019 had four groups of three, with the winner of each group facing the second place finisher of another in a BO5 to qualify for the group stage. This meant that there would never be a game between two major regions’ representatives in Play-Ins, barring a series of upsets – and there had never been such a game until 2020.
With this year’s format, we were guaranteed at least one match between major regions, expectedly more due to tiebreakers. Additionally, with each squad having to face 4-5 different opponents instead of 3, the favorites were more likely to face a team with a stylistic advantage over them, leading to final standings that couldn’t entirely be predicted in advance.
The rise of the Wildcards
This year’s competitiveness wasn’t solely due to the different format. Each game of League of Legends takes place the same way regardless of what the format is, and LGD, TL and MAD did lose a combined 9 games to Wildcard teams, and to a team from the PCS playing with two substitutes. And as stated earlier, Supermassive made history on Tuesday by winning a BO5 against a team from a major region for the first time ever.
Wildcard teams have started making waves since 2016. At Worlds 2016, Albus Nox Luna pushed G2 and CLG out in groups, took a game off of Rox Tigers and tied for first place in their group. Gigabyte Marines took TSM to 5 games at MSI 2017, as did Gambit to C9 at Worlds 2018. And in 2019, UOL won a combined four games against CG and Splyce.
They’ve been on the rise since 2016, and them finally posing a real threat to the major regions this year was the other factor that made the 2020 Play-Ins such a great show.
A record-breaking viewership
The quality of the 2020 Play-Ins was fully reflected in the viewership it received. Excluding Chinese audience, the viewer count broke the million mark on the very first day of Play-Ins, hitting a record of 1.17 million during the MAD vs. TSM game, while last year’s peak barely reached a million.
Overall, the Play-Ins had an average of 714k viewers, 35% higher than last year.
Now, Group Stage is just around the corner, with the first match taking place just 15 hours from now. Tune in at https://lolesports.com/ to watch the action unfold, and until then, make sure to be up to date on the latest news from the tournament!