A little over a week ago, fans and competitors alike were left in shock as G2 Esports’ LAN chances were swept away with LeStream Esport’s resounding upset victory over Team Empire. Despite Pengu and Co.’s resignation on the matter of qualifying, nobody was amply prepared for the day they could say G2/ex-PENTA was not in contention for the title of a Pro League Season Final. Yet, overshadowed by this development was a fiercely-competitive, essentially do-or-die, game between Team Secret and Natus Vincere.
For the uninformed viewer, this third match of the 13th EU Play Day was simply a contest between the bottom dwellers of the EU Pro League, Team Secret and Natus Vincere (Na’Vi). Instead, it was perhaps either team’s most important contest of the season.
Separated by a mere two points with only one match left to play, the emerging victor, Na’Vi, secured the opportunity to control their own fate in the Pro League -- whether they stayed in it for Season 10 or not -- although they eventually let it slip. All this buzz surrounding the two lowest teams in the EU Pro League Standings was, of course, because of a very controversial system -- Auto-Relegation.
Relegation, at least in the world of Rainbow Six: Siege, is a system of maintaining the influx of competitive teams that reach the Pro League (PL), while also ensuring that the league itself is saturated with the best players from the four major regions (or so it is claimed) . This is accomplished by providing the opportunity for teams in the Challenger League (CL) to be promoted into Pro League at the expense of the lowest-placed teams they replace.
The following sentences are a small portion of the many passages under Section 3, “Tournament Progression”, of the ESL Rulebook:
The eighth placed team is demoted to Challenger League. The seventh placed team goes to Relegation
The seventh place team from the Pro League group state and the second placed team from Challenger League [Playoffs] play a best of three match.
The winner of each match is promoted to Pro League. The loser of each match is demoted to Challenger League.
While all of that sounds fine, it is the execution of this scheme that has been a point of controversy for the past few Pro League seasons. But, before I share my own opinions on the topic, I’d like to first clarify what these few sentences mean and the weight they carry for the teams involved in the whole relegation process.
For the non-APAC model, the difference between seventh and eighth place in the Pro League is momentous. The team that finishes in seventh place in their respective region faces off against the second best Challenger League team in a best-of-three match. The team that finishes in eighth place is automatically demoted down to the CL, and the top CL team replaces them in Pro League. Thus, the system of Auto-Relegation provides only the second-worst team record-wise in the PL the chance to play one more match to prove they deserve to stay in the Pro League. The worst-seeded team, loses its spot in the Pro League once the season is concluded, with no second chance for redemption.
It is, without a doubt, a procedure built upon variation and a lack of mercy. It amply rewards teams who excel throughout the group stage and playoffs of the Challenger League, providing the team who wins it all a guaranteed spot in the PL. Likewise, it punishes PL teams who cannot hold their own against their regional competition, only giving the team who finished just above last place the opportunity to retain their spot. However, I still believe Auto-Relegation is inherently fair and even exciting for a multitude of reasons.
Firstly, it promotes a diversity of teams and perhaps even play styles and strategies at the highest-level of competitive Rainbow Six. In the Auto-Relegation system, no season of the Pro League will ever (consecutively) feature the same exact eight participants with identical tactics and methodologies on attack and defense. Just as players have to adapt to the ever-so-fluctuating meta, teams deserve no right to retain their spot in Pro League if they fail to evolve with the game and level of competition that grows with every new in-game season.
Secondly, the argument “PL teams that get relegated will fall off the face of the Earth, disband, etc.” is no longer valid. The proof is in the EU Challenger League, where Team Vitality, after being relegated, remained mostly intact and are the community’s favorite to return to the PL in Season 10. Indeed, the Challenger League does not average the same viewership as the Pro League (for obvious reasons). But thanks to RainbowSixUK, Samuel “Stoax” Stewart, and others, many of the competitive viewers are able to watch the games and throw their support behind their favorite teams or players as they battle to reach the Pro League.
Last, but certainly not least, is the importance of maintaining competitive integrity across all levels and leagues. Now, I am not trying to imply that the absence of Auto-Relegation would mean no CL teams ever qualify for the Pro League. My point is simple: if only relegation matches were played at the conclusion of the regular season, PL teams that did not perform well in the early half of the season may not even care about improving their overall record. Instead, they could dedicate the rest of the season towards preparing for the inevitable CL team they will face in relegations.
So, if a Pro League team can devote maybe a month’s time near the final PL Play Days towards studying and preparing for a Challenger League team that hasn’t even started CL playoffs, the system would only serve to retain the same teams in the Pro League. Unless a workaround is discovered, Auto-Relegation will continue to be the major motivation for Pro League teams to compete throughout the entirety of the season, like what was mentioned earlier with Na’Vi and Team Secret.
Of course, the system is not perfect. Auto-Relegation, at times, serves as a standard for what the community perceives as ESL’s absence of compassion for Pro League players, some of whom rely on Rainbow Six: Siege as their only source of income. In addition, controversies have spawned out of what appeared to be “throwing” (an illegal act) by certain teams in order to shift the standings, potentially dropping an unfavored player or his team down to the 8th spot and out of the Pro League.
Perhaps the most infamous case for these concerns was the Obey Alliance relegation back in Season 8. Rise Nation, who were most likely saving strategies for the upcoming US Nationals, capitulated to Orgless in the final match of the season, which then saw Obey drop to last place and be relegated down to the Challenger League. Shortly after, the team disbanded and Obey Alliance in Rainbow Six: Siege was no more.
As sad as it seems to see the dissolution of a team and the retreat of a Tier 1 Esports organization from Rainbow Six, it is certainly not the norm. Ex-ENCE, having been relegated the very next season after being crowned Pro League champions, found themselves back in the Pro League this season, later being acquired by mousesports. Cloud9, who had recently released their original roster, returned to acquire mantisFPS, one of the hottest APAC teams in the game. Even Soniqs, a new organization sponsoring a team comprised of former Pro League players, are one of the favorites to win the Challenger League and return to the promised land of the Pro League. Auto-Relegation is an impetus for change, but it does not mean the end of anyone’s career or enjoyment of the game.
With many topics of debate, there rarely is an instance or idea where the opposing sides can truly compromise on the matter at hand. I would be lying if I said I knew how to make Auto-Relegation universally accepted by the pro community. However, the groundwork for what could be a great alternative has already been established in a region that has yet to truly been made “mainstream” by ESL. Allow me to introduce you to this somewhat unexplored system of the APAC Pro League.
Dubbed the “APAC-Solution” (by myself), this now-implemented structure for Season 9 in APAC may hold the key to fixing the stigma and problems with Auto-Relegation in the rest of the regions of Pro League. To summarize, it still holds many similarities, such as the standardized point system (3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss), a 14 match (or play day) round-robin format, and even a mid-season break. So what truly is different? The answer is how and when Auto-Relegation happens and when the Challenger league starts.
Essentially, Season 9 in APAC was split into two completely different halves. The first half saw each team play four others in two back-to-back best-of-one games before the mid-season break, with the other three teams played after the break. With the season finished, the top two went to the APAC Finals, but something interesting happened at the bottom of the table -- the last two teams of each subregion’s Pro League were auto-relegated down to their respective Challenger League(s).
Now, I can already sense the frustration and confusion you must be exhibiting:
“Two teams instead of one? How is this APAC-Solution any better?”
While the second half of the PL is running, the Challenger League qualifiers start up. There are only four spots to fight for in the six team Challenger League, and none of them carry over to the next season. However, (and this is where it gets really interesting) the Challenger League season begins once the Pro League ends. The two auto-relegated teams, combined with the four open qualifier hopefuls, battle it out until the before the start of the next season, and then the top two teams are then promoted to the Pro League, meaning that a relegated team can still play in the PL in the very next season.
Basically, Pro League teams that had a poor PL season can still prove they are capable of being with the best-of-the-best. By playing against the competition for their spots in a unique twist to the Challenger League, it satisfies the major argument the community holds regarding Auto-Relegation not allowing teams the opportunity to defend their membership in the Pro League. Henceforth, if the relegated teams manage to hold their own and place in the top two of the Challenger League, they will be brought back to the PL before the start of the next season. It could truly play out as if the two Pro League teams never left, all the while providing new teams to the scene a chance to make it big.
This is the most robust system for Auto-Relegation I have seen devised, and the potential it carries for the Challenger League to be featured and promoted during Pro League seasons could truly deliver stellar viewership to the entire competitive scene. With some careful tweaking (for example, creating a much larger Challenger League pool for the entirety of NA, EU, LATAM) and proper implementation, we can create a much more exhilarating and ongoing coverage of the Pro League and the Challenger League. The APAC-Solution may very well be the best alteration we have to Auto-Relegation without removing it outright.
With that being said, Auto-Relegation is still feasible for the Pro League without changes. Rainbow Six: Siege, with a chaotic competitive scene that sees variation every season, still finds a way bring back familiar faces and introduce new players, eager and determined to leave their mark on the game, thanks to the system of Auto-Relegation. While it is without a doubt not impervious to fault and can be seen as ruthless to players who depend on the game for their livelihood, it truly keeps the game fresh and competitive, which will be a determining factor in whether Rainbow Six: Siege can ever ascend to the top of the esports world.