MSI 2023 saw a format change that many hadn’t expected. Today, we are analyzing those changes in terms of the good, the bad, and the overall effect on MSI.
The 2023 Mid-Season Invitational (MSI 2023) saw the implementation of many changes. In addition to the changed number of seeds per region and the new location of London, there was also the change in format. This update entailed the best-of-three (Bo3) matches being introduced from the start of the play-in stage. The requirement to win a Bo3 to qualify each time, while allowing for teams to try out different strategies and drafts, had one arguable flaw.
The chances of minor regions progressing significantly became much harder despite many of the players believing that the good of these changes.
This new format was beneficial for the minor regions as it allowed them to compete against the major regions in the play-ins. Most notably, this included G2 Esports from the Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region and BiliBili Gaming from the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) in China.
The previous MSI format (2018 to 2022)
Formerly, the MSI format was that each region had one seed, and each of these seeds was filed into play-ins or the main bracket stage. Those in play-ins played best-of-one (Bo1) games, and any tiebreakers were a Bo3. Then the highest-performing teams during play-ins advanced to the main bracket stage.
The bracket stage then saw the teams compete once more in various Bo3s up until finals for the final best-of-five (Bo5) match that determined the MSI winner. The winner also claimed an advantage, typically an additional seed, for their region for Worlds. In theory, this was very straightforward. Every region had a team at the first international tournament of the year, every team played their matches, and we saw which regions were on top ahead of Worlds.
Here’s the thing, though. The new MSI format changed a lot of what was so significant in the old format.
The 2023 MSI format (2023 to the present)
For 2023, MSI received a makeover. Not all regions had a direct slot for MSI – including the removal of the Turkish Championship League (TCL) and the integration of League of Legends Circuit Oceania (LCO) into competing for their MSI slot via the Pacific Championship Series (PCS). The removal of some regional slots meant other major regions gained more slots. The "one region, one slot" of old vanished. The 2023 MSI format featured major regions with more slots, the minor regions with fewer slots, and the removal of the Bo1 format.
Pros and on-air talent opinions on the format change
Throughout MSI 2023, we have asked pros from all regions, both major and minor, for their opinions on the format change. While the answers have varied, one thing is clear, most players are happy with the changes. While these changes do, in theory, put minor regions at a disadvantage, many of the pros from the minor regions have cited these changes as beneficial for the minor regions.
"The previous format of best-of-ones where we got to play lots of teams was really fun, but I prefer this format more because you can show your preparation, your picks, and more. And being able to show preparation is important, so I prefer best-of-threes."
For many of these players, their belief is that if you want to be the best, you have to be able to compete with and indeed beat the best. If you can’t beat them, then you need to learn how to do that. The change of format directly enables this. Broadcast talent have similar opinions, noting how they liked this format for supporting the minor regions because it lets them improve and push up the level of competition.
"I would make one change for sure when it comes to drawing the groups, and that would be to not allow the same regions to be drawn into the same side of the bracket so that we don’t get a repeat of all the regional finals. Most people are probably in agreement with that."
Additionally, in future years, it would mean not having the same regional teams ending up in the same brackets. This means we may see more Europe (EU) versus North America (NA) matches instead. With MSI 2023 being the first year of this format, it would be unfair to claim it was a total mess and didn’t add a new level of excitement to the tournament.
How the format change in previous years would have changed the course of history
Would history be changed if we had a format change a few years earlier? Well, let's look at MSI 2021 as a recent example. The event had travel and visa issues for the Vietnam Championship Series (VCS). It was also down one region. Under the old format, it meant that one of the play-in groups had only three teams.
Many people have speculated that if the VCS had been at the 2021 MSI, then the LCO team Pentanet.gg would not have made it out. However, one could also argue that under the new format, assuming the LCO still receives a direct slot to international tournaments, there would have been a higher chance to not qualify, and the LCO wouldn't have gotten "lucky" against both the LCS and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Perhaps the biggest point of MSI is to change the future because we’ve already made history. Now, it’s about moving forward and building our own destiny and future.
What this could mean for the future of MSI
Without too much speculation, there are a few things that this change could mean for future MSI events. As mentioned, this changed format really forces the minor regions to compete with the major regions. We can expect to see the minor regions’ level of competition improve so long as all the minor regions who currently hold direct MSI slots continue to have these slots. Similarly, it benefits the western regions against the eastern regions since more west versus east matches can increase the level of competition in the western regions.
Maybe, just maybe, this would mean a return to the finals stage at international events for the western regions as well. While this format change has seen question marks from fans, it does benefit the players. Additionally, to some extent, seeing more teams from the same regions benefits fans, too. It means we get to see more top teams at the halfway mark instead of having to wait for Worlds to roll around to see more of a region’s teams.