Whoever eventually wins the Groundhog Day quarterfinal of the League of Legends Season 2 World Championship playoffs, the results will always be clouded by the fact that it took three restarts to deliver a winner in a best of three. Network failures have almost certainly changed the results of this quarterfinal, and made one of the strongest cases yet for offline LAN play at major eSports events.
There may not be two teams in this tournament who know each other as intimately as China’s World Elite and CLG Europe will by the end of this series, and both teams have reason to feel aggrieved at how the restarts have cost them.
World Elite looked like they were going to make short work of CLG EU after an easy first match. Game 2 started just poorly for CLG, who failed to ban Blitzcrank despite having been tortured by WE Fzzf’s superb Blitz play in Game 1. Once again CLG’s Yellowpete was proving to be a liability in the bottom lane, and Snoopeh was having no impact in the jungle. CLG were struggling to make a comeback when the first outage hit.
When it came time to remake the game, CLG had seen enough of Blitzcrank and promptly banned him, shutting down some of WE’s most effective plays. Right away, the regame was on a very different footing than the first Game 2.
CLG still had a tough start, but Froggen started turning the tide with a double kill at their bottom inhibitor, and then a few minutes later he picked off WE’s Misaya. CLG immediately feinted toward Baron, drawing WE into an ill-advised engagement that cost them two more deaths, then grabbed Baron and went on a tear. They pushed all the way to WE’s mid inhibitor, where a chaotic teamfight ensued that CLG won 4-3. They won the game a few minutes later.
You could have argued whether it was really fair, since CLG had clearly adapted to what World Elite showed in the first game and a half. But it was also undeniable that CLG had made an incredible comeback in Game 2, perhaps the best of the tournament, and the stage was set for an incredible final match.
Game 3 was at once maddening and thrilling. CLG to adopted an excruciatingly patient strategy, refusing to engage WE unless everything was perfect. They spent 20 minutes feinting toward Baron and trying to draw WE into a mistake, and then retreating when things looked the least bit uncertain. The crowd was getting restive when CLG finally grabbed Baron and then racked up quick inhibitor kills. Super creeps at the nexus forced WE to retreat and clean up at home, freeing CLG to get Baron once again. With the Baron buff active, CLG headed back to initiate what was likely the final fight of the game. Just as it started, the connection dropped again.
This is the regame everyone will talk about, because it certainly looked like CLG had checkmated WE. Barring a miraculous teamfight and follow-up, WE were going to lose their nexus within moments. Perhaps it was karma, since the first network failure had saved CLG from their own mistakes in Game 2, but it’s also true that outcome of the lost Game 2 was much more doubtful than the lost Game 3.
Nevertheless, there would have to be a regame. After a lengthy delay, Game 3 restarted with the same group of champions. Just past the 20 minute mark, the connection failed yet again.
The ensuing delay lasted almost two hours, and when the stream came back, it had the air of a hostage standoff as casters Leigh “Deman” Smith and Josh “Jatt” Leesman and host Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham desperately filled airtime while awaiting some word from Riot. Things got so desperate during the nine hour broadcast that Graham started singing the praises of the minimap, and we were surely just minutes away from a discourse on the virtues of the cursor when the teams came back to the stage.
Still, the match did not start. This time, a player’s computer needed to be replaced. Another long delay followed before Graham returned to main stage to make Riot’s apologies, and to explain that Riot no longer felt confident enough in their venue to continue holding the playoffs there. After an eight hour quarterfinal, the playoff event at LA Live was over, and the day hadn’t yielded up a single winner. The last game the match, as well as the semifinals, would be played on a secure connection... somewhere else.
The evening was an unmitigated disaster for Riot, whose signature event had just degenerated into the best viral marketing campaign Dota 2 and LAN play will ever receive. Hopefully it will cause a serious reevaluation of how Riot handles tournament connectivity, because I don’t think there’s a soul who will defend the ultimate outcome of this quarterfinal as a clean result.
Riot and League of Legends lost an entire playoff game last night, and lost parts of two others. All the strategizing and great play that World Elite and CLG brought into the match went for nothing. Professional teams who’ve worked an entire season to get to this point should not have to see their efforts wasted like this. If Riot are going to finish the playoffs at a “new venue with a secure internet connection”, then why didn’t the LA Live event have a secure internet connection in the first place? Is tournament-level League of Legends play only safe inside a bunker next to a Riot’s data center?
Riot’s playoff weekend in LA was an incredible production and a tremendous League of Legends competition, but its ignominious non-conclusion underlined the value of having some kind of offline option available for serious tournament play. If League of Legends, or any eSport, is worth the millions of dollars lavished on events and prizes, of the countless hours players spend practicing, and of the time and attention of spectators, then it is surely worth taking every measure to safeguard the integrity and reliability of tournament results. The easiest solution would seem to be a LAN, but however Riot go about solving this problem, last night’s quarterfinal should be the last time a connection drop takes an entire match with it.