Competitive Legends of Runeterra traces its beginnings to the Open Beta that launched more than a year ago. Since then, the community has experimented with many various formats. However, to this day we are yet to unanimously agree on the best format and ruleset for LoR tournaments.
If you have scrolled through LoR-related Twitter threads over the past few months, there is a good chance that you have seen format discussions among top players and Rioters, and it seems everybody has their own preference as to what they would like to be the standard moving forward.
In this article, I am going to present my take on the subject. I will talk about why we should care about this whole topic as a community, discuss what an ideal tournament format should accomplish, and explore the pros and cons of the four most popular LoR tournament formats to the day. In the end, I’ll share a verdict on which one I believe is the best option moving forward.
Before I begin, I would like to mention that I will not be considering a single-deck format (with or without a sideboard) in my analysis due to the widespread community dissatisfaction with this particular format.
The Need For a Universally Accepted Format
A format that is universally approved and implemented by the community and developers will mean that players will have a sense of consistency in competitive LoR, never needing to worry about different rulesets (and, sometimes, metagames) between tournaments.
At the time of writing, different tournament organizers still use different formats for their events. This serves as a barrier to entry for newcomers to the scene – the prep they did for one tournament in one format may be irrelevant for another format. A universally accepted tournament format would help prevent all of this and create a more seamless experience for all competitors.
It is also important to keep in mind that the legitimacy of a format is defined by its universal acceptance, not by the party that creates it. In other words, the universally accepted tournament format is the best way to promote healthy competition, even if the game’s developers or another authorized party currently pushes for another ruleset.
An example of when a competitive format put forward by an authoritative party was rejected by the player-base is EVO 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament. Particular ruleset decisions for that format effectively led to the variance that was deemed too high for a competitive environment and made people question the legitimacy of the tournament. As a result, players chose to ignore EVO’s ruleset for all future grassroots Brawl events.
Personally, I am unhappy with the Champion Lock format that Seasonal Tournaments currently make use of – I believe there is a better alternative format that the community has already experimented with and generally approves of.
Goals of the Ideal Tournament Format
Before we explore the four formats that the competitive community has experimented with, I believe that it is important to establish what an ideal tournament format should accomplish. There are two big goals:
- Promote ‘player expression’.
In other words, players should not feel “forced” to play certain deck(s) due to tournament format restrictions. Instead, players should be able to play their comfort decks (provided they are competitively viable strategies) and expect a reasonable amount of success with those.
- Provide an impactful ban phase.
Ban phase is a tool that helps players to manage matchups and it encourages innovative lineup construction. But more than that, the ban phase must also have a relevant level of impact.
For example, when a particular polarizing card can be played across all of the decks in a player’s lineup, the ban is effectively devalued – sometimes feeling close to meaningless. For example, players should not be able to play three copies of Hush in all three of the decks in their lineup, as this significantly decreases the viability of strategies that lose to this card (ex. Thresh Nasus, They Who Endure, and Lee Sin). Other examples of such polarizing cards are Deny and Stony Suppressor.
With all of that out of the way, let us examine the pros and cons of each of the tournament formats the community has made use of since the game’s release. These formats are Region Lock, Champion Lock (aka Riot Lock), Card Lock, and Collection Lock.
- Rules: Players may not repeat regions between decks.
- Lineup example: Draven Ezreal (Noxus/Piltover and Zaun), Zoe Lee Sin (Ionia/Targon), Thresh Nasus (Shadow Isles/Shurima).
- Pros: Region diversity/representation.
- Cons: Inability to make use of everything a region can do, punishing Allegiance decks with splashes, lack of ‘player expression’.
Region Lock was the first format that tournament organizers used all the way back in Open Beta. Back then, only six regions (Demacia, Freljord, Ionia, Noxus, Piltover and Zaun, Shadow Isles) had been released, and players were forced to either make use of all of these regions as part of their lineup or play an Allegiance deck and omit one of them.
This a problem that carries over today with Region Lock tournaments: it sometimes forces players into situations where they have to play decks that do not resonate with them, only running them in order to comply with Region Lock’s strict lineup construction rules. For example, a player who greatly enjoys what Shadow Isles, Bilgewater, Noxus, and Piltover and Zaun have to offer may not be very happy to be forced to play a Targon deck. Meanwhile, in almost any other format, a lineup consisting of mentioned regions and without Targon – Deep, Fizz Twisted Fate, and Draven Ezreal – would be allowed.
Another issue with Region Lock is that it punishes Allegiance decks with splashes, which was a problem that I personally noted back in Call of the Mountain. I was competing in a tournament and wanted to bring both Miss Fortune Quinn Scouts (which was a Demacia Allegiance deck splashing for Bilgewater) and Gangplank Sejuani Plunder, but because the tournament was making use of Region Lock, I could not do this. This felt frustrating to me – Scouts and Plunder Sejuani are two very different decks, but I had to choose between one or the other.
Finally, Region Lock is problematic because it prevents players from exploring all that a region has to offer. For example, despite being in the same region, Nautilus and Miss Fortune are two very different cards that require extremely different synergies and supporting cards to make them shine. Not being able to make use of all a region has to offer as part of one’s lineup is something that I feel to be unnecessarily over-restrictive.
I personally believe that of the four formats that the community has experimented with, Region Lock is by far the worst and most flawed one. Fortunately, very few tournaments (if any at all) still make use of Region Lock. The one exception is Giant Slayer’s Fight Night series, which gets a pass from me because it’s a two-deck Region Lock with no bans. The fewer decks players have to bring, the less restricted (and frustrated) they will feel.
Champion Lock (aka Riot Lock)
- Rules: Players may not repeat champions or region combinations between decks. Additionally, players may only play one deck with no champions at all. Regions may be repeated as long as these rules are followed.
- Lineup example: Zoe Lee Sin (Ionia/Targon), Shen Jarvan (Ionia/Demacia), Thresh Karma (Ionia/Shadow Isles).
- Pros: Out of all four formats, Champion Lock has the least restrictive lineup construction rules, which allows for the best level of ‘player expression’.
- Cons: Ban is heavily devalued because polarizing cards are not always champions: in fact, they are often spells (Hush, Deny) or sometimes followers (Stony Suppressor).
Champion Lock, also known as Riot Lock is the format that all three Seasonal Tournaments up to this point have utilized. It is also the format that the Gauntlet makes use of.
Champion Lock is flawed in the sense that even though the ban phase helps to manage matchups, it fails to take into account that the most polarizing cards in the game are not always champions. In fact, often spells act as culprits (e.g. Deny and Hush), sometimes – followers (e.g. Stony Suppressor).
A notable example of this is the lineup that Henneky placed Top 4 with at the Monuments of Power Seasonal Tournament. He brought Feel the Minah (Ionia/Freljord), Zed Lee Sin (Ionia/Targon), and Fiora Shen (Ionia/Demacia). Each of his three decks ran three copies of Nopeify! and three copies of Deny, which were used in an effort to counter both Twisted Fate Go Hard and Feel the Rush decks.
Riot Lock can lead to scenarios where the ban essentially does not matter. While I tolerate Riot Lock to some extent and believe that it is nowhere near as bad as Region Lock, I don’t believe it’s the best option.
- Rules: Cards may not be repeated between decks regardless of the number of copies played in a given deck. Regions may be repeated as long as this rule is followed.
- Lineup example: Azir Irelia (Ionia/Shurima), Fizz Twisted Fate (Bilgewater/Piltover and Zaun), Miss Fortune Quinn Scouts (Bilgewater/Demacia).
- Pros: Ban phase is centered around what matters: the cards themselves.
- Cons: Unusual compromises forced by restrictions in deck construction.
Card Lock is a format that (from my understanding) originated in the Brazilian LoR community, stemming from their unhappiness with Region Lock.
The premise is quite simple: regardless of how many copies of a card you play in a given deck, cards may not be repeated between decks. Despite how simple this clause is, it is quite effective at creating a very balanced and enjoyable tournament environment, and I believe it is mainly because the ban can target all cards, not only the champions.
When a player can ban almost any card they wish, it opens up a much wider variety of lineup possibilities. For example, in a current environment, where we see less and less Rite of Negation in Thresh Nasus, banning an opponent’s ‘Deny deck’ (such as Lee Sin) fully opens up the strategies like Feel The Rush, Warmother’s, Draven Vi Give it All, and any other deck that plays an expensive spell as top-end.
One of my only issues with Card Lock is that it forces unusual restrictions in deck construction. For example, in a lineup consisting of Deep and Thresh Nasus – only one of those two decks will be able to make use of Vile Feast. Another example involves a lineup of Ashe LeBlanc and Draven Ezreal, where only one of those decks will be able to play any copies of Captain Farron.
While it is true that some decks will be slightly less powerful in a tournament setting as a result of these restrictions, I believe that it actually promotes player skill during the deck construction and prep, as it rewards players who are able to identify what cards can potentially fulfill similar roles to a card that must be cut.
For example, say you wanted to bring Draven Ezreal and Pirate Aggro in the same Card Lock lineup. Both decks would look to use House Spider but restrictions say we can use that unit only in one of our decks.
In Pirates, we could replace it with Crimson Disciple, which fulfills a similar role as House Spider (a cheap unit that has the potential to stop some early attacks) while also having the added benefit of Imperial Demolitionist synergy. This opens up the ability for you to play House Spider in Draven Ezreal, which benefits from having chump blockers to set up Ravenous Flocks, Scorched Earths and Noxian Guillotines, as well as the additional offensive pressure against slower midrange and control decks.
- Rules: No card may be used more than three times across all three of the decks in your lineup – this also applies to champions. Regions may be repeated as long as this rule is followed.
- Lineup example: Ashe LeBlanc with 1 Captain Farron (Noxus/Freljord), Draven Ezreal with 2 Captain Farron (Noxus/Piltover and Zaun), Thresh Nasus (Shadow Isles/Shurima).
- Pros: Ban phase is centered around cards just as in Card Lock, but deckbuilding restrictions are lighter.
- Cons: The format is unintuitive and difficult to understand, the spread of polarizing cards as one-ofs between decks in a lineup affects player psychology.
After learning about the Collection Lock format from a Twitter post by Antoine “wargros” Dorso, I ran a tournament making use of it (the RCO Collection Lock tournament) in an attempt to examine its viability and potential flaws. The format was also later adopted by Spain’s Liga Runica.
Collection Lock takes Card Lock’s card restriction clause and tweaks it slightly. Instead of the clause being “cards may not be repeated between decks,” Collection Lock changes it to “no card may be used more than three times across all three of the decks in your lineup.”
This allows players to do is make use of the same top-end between two or even all of their decks. For example, a lineup consisting of Ashe LeBlanc with one copy of Captain Farron, Draven Ezreal with two copies of Captain Farron, and a third deck that does not play any copies of Farron at all are legal in Collection Lock, but not in Card Lock.
However, it also incentivizes players to make use of one-ofs and split key (potentially polarizing) cards between decks – something that they often otherwise would not do.
For example, a lineup consisting of Shyvana Aurelion Sol and Zoe Lee Sin may choose to play two copies of Hush in the Targon/Demacia deck and one copy in the Targon/Ionia deck. If a player brings a lineup that loses to Hush and chooses to ban Shyvana ASol (because it has more copies of Hush in it than Zoe Lee), then loses the match to the Zoe Lee player drawing their lone copy of Hush, they have every right to feel frustrated.
Scenarios like this can also result in the ban being slightly devalued in Collection Lock tournaments, but nowhere near to the extent of how it can be devalued in Champion Lock tournaments. Above all else, however, Collection Lock is quite unintuitive and unnecessarily difficult for players to understand. When I ran the RCO Collection Lock tournament, I came across many illegal lineups that had to be manually addressed before the start of Round 1.
Considering that the people who entered the RCO tournament were all established tournament players, and thus, were no strangers to competitive LoR, I can only imagine how many illegal lineups tournament organizers would have to deal with in a non-invitational setting. For this reason, despite Collection Lock being a relatively interesting format, I no longer support its widespread use and/or adoption by the community.
Out of all the formats that have been experimented with by the competitive Legends of Runeterra community, I believe that Card Lock should be the universally accepted tournament format that the community makes use of moving forward.
This is because out of the four formats described above, it strikes the best balance between promoting ‘player expression’ while also ensuring that the ban has value and is impactful.
Centering the ban phase around what actually matters – all cards, not only champions – is what I believe leads to the best competitive experience.
It is my hope that you now have a better understanding of the pros and cons of the various tournament formats that the competitive LoR community has made use of over the game’s history thus far. Regardless of whether or not you agree with my conclusion, I hope that this article will lead to a productive discussion between players and Rioters regarding the future of competitive LoR and that meaningful change occurs from said discussion.
As I always say: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”