ESL’s production of the Intel Extreme Masters has long since felt like a stain on the international League of Legends calendar, is it time for Riot Games to put a stop to the slow motion car crash? With numerous teams dropping out of IEM Katowice ahead of the tournament, the quality of competition attending IEM has evidently taken a hit in recent years; Riot surely cannot allow ESL to continue circling the drain in this manner.
The League of Legends eSports community remains split on the issue of international tournaments. Given the excitement and awe of the Riot Games produced World Championships and Mid-Season Invitationals, fans are left with a thirst for additional international events. IEM events however, do little to quench that thirst.
Plagued by production issues, low-tier competitors, poor competition formats as the start of a long list of viewer complaints, the ESL hosted Intel Extreme Masters seem to decline in quality with each passing annual event. Moments from IEM Katowice smacked of inadequacy, perhaps notably the end of H2K-Gaming and Hong Kong eSports’ first game of a deciding series, in which the camera inexplicably cut away from the exciting action prematurely, leaving both the audience and even the casters baffled as to what had happened:
The die was cast on the conclusive final day of the League of Legends event. G2 eSports vs ROX Tigers was pitched as a heavyweight clash between the European and Korean regions, yet all the semi final will be remembered for is a heinous delay.
The first game of the series started at 4:30 am ET and didn’t finish until four hours later. Four hours to complete a single game… the series itself would take seven hours. By the end of the day, G2 Mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković had been awake for 18 hours, barely able to keep his eyes open as he collected his tournament MVP award.
Is it time for Riot to withdraw ESL’s right to host the tournament? With League of Legends showcased as the biggest eSport title in the world, the opportunity to host an invaluable international tournament would naturally be in high demand. At the very least, ESL certainly need to do better.
ESL hosted events are nowhere near the same quality as Riot’s arena hosted events. This is understandable up to a point, given that IEM Katowice was not afforded its own LAN setup, a feature often taken for granted when watching Riot Games’ LCS productions for instance.
Technical factors aside however, the primary concern for ESL is that they are losing top tier team interest at an alarming rate, losing fan interest concurrently.
— Intel®ExtremeMasters (@IEM) 25 February 2017
Sadly, it isn’t as if it’s the first occasion that ESL’s IEM has left a nasty aftertaste, there have been more than enough opportunities to get the tournament right. During the off-season, when there is a lull in competitive action, fans feel almost obliged to watch the Intel Extreme Masters, yet even under these circumstances the event fails to satisfyingly quench the thirst for League of Legends eSports. With IEM Katowice falling in the middle of the Spring Split, this effect was further exaggerated.
With so many teams dropping out of the tournament to focus on domestic success, IEM is only a few tournaments away from it becoming the go-to international tournament for bottom-of-the-table teams to grab a consolation prize… but perhaps this is the niche IEM needs to fill?
Aside from the obvious technical failings that ESL need to address, the current system for assembling their tournament line-up does not enthuse the neutral viewer to tune in. Branding a tournament as a World Championship without a top Korean competitor or any North American teams to speak of, puts the event on the back foot from the offset.
Instead, there is an opportunity for IEM to actively pitch itself as a mid-tier tournament, attended by 4th-7th place teams from each region, teams that would otherwise never play outside of their respective regions. This format of the Intel Extreme Masters would actually serve a purpose and offer an incentive to watch.
Flash Wolves, for example, are an internationally-relevant team, yet that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the strength of the LMS region as a whole. A mid-tier tournament featuring teams from across the globe would provide viewers with a interesting perspective of how regions stack up overall, instead of hyperbolic reactions based on the performance of top teams from each region. There is hope for ESL and the Intel Extreme Masters yet.