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Determining a legacy: One tournament vs. many

Starcraft Pro Player Lee "Life" Seung Hyun

There has always been an argument about what is the better format for a game: One long league that runs into a year-end culminating playoff? Or the open circuit system currently used in Dota2 or Counter Strike?

I will examine this particular problem from just one point, the legacy of the team or players. Some have argued that too many tournaments become “meaningless,” that it would be better and easier if there was just one large culminating end-of-the-year event to decide the best team that year.

I agree on only one point: It would be easier. You wouldn’t need to think. For the average viewer who doesn’t want to exercise their brain or imagination, I suppose that is easier. You just tune in once at the very end and have one playoff decide a team’s entire legacy for the year.

Photo: StarCraft II StarLeague

But in scenes with an open circuit, it never works that way. Take for instance Starcraft 2. In 2015, Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin won Blizzcon. For any non-SC2 follower, they would assume then that he was the best player of the year. As an expert who has written and watched more SC2 than nearly everyone else on the entire planet, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

These were the criteria I used: Results, consistency, dealing with multiple metas, paths, formats of tournaments, the level of players at any particular event, refinement of skill, innovation of a strategy — and X factors including composure, clutch, versatility, play style and series planning.

By those criteria, nine players had better claims to be the best SC2 player of the year before sOs. Yes, it was a great feat winning Blizzcon. Yes, Blizzcon is the most prestigious tournament in the SC2 Calendar. But winning the year-end tournament doesn’t mean you won the year. To earn that distinction, you have to win the whole year, not just one tournament near the end.

Here’s another way to think about it: Does one tournament mean more than winning multiple tournaments in the same amount of time? Joo “Zest” Sung Wook was the most dominant SC2 player for the first six months of this year. Sadly for him, he could only participate in two events, one of which he lost, and he won GSL. Now compare that to Lee “Life” Seung Hyun at the end of 2014 into 2015. In the same amount of time as Zest, Life won Blizzcon and took second at DreamHack Winter, fourth in SSL, first in GSL, first in IEM Taipei, top eight at SSL 2 and top four at Kespa Cup.

No matter how you cut it, Zest’s run in 2016 is nowhere near comparable to Life’s. It’s not Zest’s fault he has fewer opportunities, but that’s how it worked out.

Let’s look at Dota 2, which has an open circuit but also a giant year-end event called The International. Fans often say whoever wins that tournament is by default the best team of the year. If you follow that logic, then whoever got second is the second best team of the year, and so on and so forth. I doubt you could find a single expert or player who could legitimately say Digital Chaos, which finished runner-up to Wings, had a better year in terms of results than OG (won the Manila Major), Liquid (won EPICENTER and finished second at two majors) or Newbee (won Nanyang championships, second at EPICENTER, third at Manila Major).

Photo by Patrick Strack/ESL,
Photo by Patrick Strack/ESL,


It might be easy to credit whoever won the big one as the best team of the year, but it is also disingenuous and a discredit to the hard work and skill that teams display in every other tournament. Some fans argue that with too many tournaments are meaningless as they cannot find the value in each one, as if multiple tournaments dilute the value of each.

I’d argue the opposite. Multiple tournaments increase the value of each. Players will always give a game more weight when trying to win a tournament compared to winning a random league match. Instead of getting only the one, they get multiple chances to prove that they are the best over and over again. It is why teams like Ninjas in Pyjamas or Fnatic are hailed as the best teams ever in CS:GO. Why people still cite NiP’s 87-0 as a remarkable feat, or how Fnatic came to dominate an entire era — one of the most prolific and competitive in CS:GO’s history.

Every tournament matters, every win is tallied, every loss is recorded. We get to witness that struggle as the teams and players strive against each other over and over again. Each adds something to their legacy. And though it might get muddied and the casual viewer might not be able to understand it, that is the very spirit of competition: An eternal struggle between players or teams as they clash not just once, but as many times as it takes to prove who is the best in the world.

Cover photo courtesy of Blizzard.


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