First and foremost welcome to the 2020 League of Legends World Championships!
We’re about to embark on a month long tournament and now is as good a reminder as any to keep in mind the big picture concepts I’ve discussed so far. I’ll summarize them below but you should read the other articles I’ve written about this tournament so far to provide context for my positions and opinions.
Beyond that, here are a few of my big picture thoughts on this tournament.
1) Other than the truly elite teams, pretty much every other major region matchup is probably closer than you think. “Strength of competition” isn’t as big a factor as most people think.
Most “analysts” and talking heads want you to think one way or the other to fit a narrative. Are some regions stronger than others? Absolutely yes, but that doesn’t make the top teams from each league any less qualified. I tend to treat strength of competition as a tiebreaker. In years past this was a much bigger obstacle than it is these days. Unless there is a distinct lack of overall talent like in the very small regions like Japan or Latin America it’s safe to assume that strength of competition is probably an overrated concept in general. Great teams are great and you can’t always hold it against them for smashing their domestic leagues. Did people criticize the New England Patriots for smashing their division every year during their reign of terror?
2) Shorter formats create more variance. Season ten has also created a lot of variance. That’s a potentially dangerous combination. All it takes is one result not going “as expected” to throw and entire group into chaos.
I’ve talked at length about the forced parity through design in season ten League of Legends so I won’t bore you with more of that here but combine that with these shorter best-of-one tournament formats and you have a recipe for the unexpected. People seem to forget that we only get to see twelve games per group in the main event group stage and ten games per group in the play-in stage. When you consider that there are only a handful of teams in each all it takes is one unexpected result to affect everything.
The reason I bring this up is because people tend to look at these teams in a vacuum and say “X should beat Y because Z, A, B, and C” but they rarely consider the result of Team V vs Team W and how that could affect the result of the group. Don’t construct your range of outcomes with certainties in mind!
3) Do not underestimate early adopters. The tournament will have its own metagame and we’ve seen in the past that the teams that are ahead of the curve often do well.
Last year FunPlus had improved steadily over the course of the season to develop into a well-rounded beast but teams struggled to “solve them” early in the tournament and that should have been an indicator that an already strong team could make a deep run. Teams that have a unique solution to a problem in draft or in-play have a distinct advantage in short format tournaments where teams have VERY LITTLE TIME TO ADJUST. If a team looks to have a strong read or looks “hot” then don’t sleep on them.
4) Ignore regional bias and consider the context of statistics you look into. Watch the tape or you’re lying to yourself.
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the first point but don’t give the benefit of the doubt to teams just because of the region they play in. Conversely, don’t underrate teams based on the region they play in either. Part of the reason I’m so bullish on the LCK teams this year is because their tape is excellent. It has nothing to do with the fact that they’re LCK teams or have LCK players. Part of why I don’t like LGD is because they’re tremendously inconsistent and their film raises a lot of red flags to me. V3 from Japan show a lot of great things on film but have some fundamental flaws in their play as well. My judgment of them has much more to do with their tape than the fact that they play in the LJL.
Similarly, a lot of people characterize a team based on their numbers. Not all early game centric teams have great early game stats. Not all “controlled” teams have low kill counts. Not all high kill teams are “aggressive.” Short game times doesn’t mean early game centric. This is lazy analysis and you’re going to hear a lot of it at this tournament from Twitter and the broadcast. Ignore it. Your opinion of a team should be derived from their game film and their intent (to the extent that you can tell). Numbers can support any narrative you give them and while they’re an important part of complex analysis, they often don’t tell the full story especially when comparing region-to-region at international events.
5) (related to above) You’ll notice a lot less emphasis on the statistical analysis and modeling in my handicapping of international events.
The metrics in these domestic leagues are measured against their domestic foes. Some of those are good and similar quality and you could use them. Some of them are not. Metrics are something to look at to give you a more general measure of a team’s strengths and weaknesses but they often don’t translate well as direct comparisons for inter-regional play.
6) While one shouldn’t overreact to results in a small sample size, the truth is this is a small sample size tournament so adjustments need to be made quickly.
This is perhaps the most challenging part about tournaments when compared to league format play. A few of these teams we might only see four or six games from this tournament and for the next few months they’ll be judged on their performance (well.. that’s a lie people will judge them on the results not their performance and you know it…) in this small sample. We’ve seen plenty of good teams have one or two bad games and fail to qualify. This doesn’t make them bad or your read on them incorrect. Conversely we’ve seen inferior teams overperform or perform as expected while another team underperforms or fails to meet expected results. That also doesn’t make that team good or bad. Don’t be results oriented…
However in a short tournament like this you need to quickly call a spade a spade and derive a lot from a little OR stick to your initial handicap. It takes a lot to balance both. I’ve had a lot of success betting international tournaments over the years (although don’t look at Worlds last year…). Part of the reason is why is that I know when to stick to my read and when to make adjustments. Pay careful attention. Don’t overanalyze but don’t under analyze either.
7) Keep in mind that these teams have had many weeks to practice on this patch and that teams will more than likely “stick to their guns.” Similarly to week one after an offseason the games will be closer than you think because of extra preparation time.
Even with COVID throwing a wrench into things this year, these teams will be more prepared in much the same way we see at the beginning of a season after an offseason. Many of these teams haven’t played on stage in many weeks and that can have affects, both good and bad. I generally treat these early tournaments just like week one or a regular season. Teams are probably closer than you think and underdogs a probably more live than you think unless there is a massive talent disparity. Each team will be as prepared as they’re going to be at any point in this tournament and good teams will adapt quickly as the tournament goes on while the bad ones will fail to.
With those points in mind let’s get on to the first day!
Play-In Stage – Day One
Since its inception in 2017, the entire Play-In Stage has given us exactly two “upsets” every year if you count an upset as an emerging region team against a major region team. Last year it was Unicorns of Love beating Clutch twice and that was it. The trend remained true. The reason I bring this up is because a lot of people are going to go “hunting” for upsets and to me it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Even in season ten where the gap between good and bad is artificially compressed by the current design of the game, there’s often a big enough difference that you shouldn’t expect upsets without good reason to. Don’t attack this group stage with the “bet every underdog” strategy. If you’re going to fire on a few smaller region underdogs then pick your spots.
MAD Lions -476 vs INTZ Esports +331
Kill Total: 24.5 (implied, OTB)
Kill Spread: -9.5 @ -109 / +9.5 @ -123
Team Kill Totals: 16.5 / 7.5
Time Total: 31:00 (over -105 / under -123)
MAD struggled in the second half of the season in the LEC and had a fairly disappointing showing in the playoffs. The more stagnant and “solved” metagame did not favor them and in all likelihood they ran out of “tricks” that their domestic peers would be surprised by after seven months of scrims and stage play. Does this mean that I think MAD are “solved” or figured out? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact I think their aggressive drafting of counterpicks and bizarre strategies could be a strength in a best-of-one format. The question to me is whether or not the inexperienced and extremely young MAD Lions will make a clean adjustment to traveling and playing in their first international event.
Part of the reason why I’m down on Brazil’s representative this year isn’t just because I’m fairly down on the CBLOL overall but because they’re definitely not the strongest representative that the region could have sent to Worlds. Until their domestic playoffs INTZ struggled mightily against the top teams in the CBLOL. Six of their nine regular season losses occurred against the other top four teams (Pain, Prodigy, and KaBum!). In those losses INTZ had an average of 7.83 kills and lost by an average margin of 11.33 kills. Not good.
While I’m a tad more bearish on MAD Lions than a lot of my peers, primarily because I think their lower range of outcomes is larger than a lot of people, I do think they’re a vastly superior team to INTZ. I also think that they’ve shown a lot of resilience and versatility to adjust both in game and in the draft to weird things being thrown at them. They’re in a region with G2 and Fnatic and themselves…
INTZ shouldn’t be here and until playoffs where they got a little hot struggled a lot against the good teams in their region. If the good CBLOL teams gave them trouble how about a good LEC team? While I tend to like underdogs early in the tournament as this is likely the closest these teams will ever be, I think MAD are galaxies better and unless INTZ can really bust out something weird I have a hard time seeing them beating MAD here.
The question becomes whether this kill spread is in play. With only four games I don’t think we’ll see a lot of reckless behavior from the favorites in any of these matches, at least not intentionally. I’d expect MAD to play this rather close to the vest which makes me hesitant to lay the big -9.5 kill spread here even though INTZ’s domestic results against, in my opinion, inferior quality might suggest a play on it. I’ll pass.
MAD averaged a 31:17 game time in Summer and INTZ averaged 32:47 but as mentioned in my opening, these numbers don’t always translate. 31 is a really low total and I’d actually lean to the over in this spot. I normally take an aggressive stance before a tournament and the books get a chance to correct the numbers but I’m going to re-evaluate after the first day in this case.
In terms of the team totals I like INTZ under 7.5 if you think we’ll see a more tame MAD Lions (I do). I also think that generally the first games in a tournament tend to go under especially after a long layoff. A lot of these teams are “tight” or nervous. In a normal situation this would be a slam dunk over situation but don’t underrate the nerves aspect especially for the favorites who are all new to this type of event.
Team Kill Total: INTZ UNDER 7.5 kills @ -114 (0.57 units)
PSG Talon -132 vs Rainbow7 +103
Kill Total: 23.5 (implied, OTB)
Kill Spread: -3.5 @ -111 / +3.5 @ -120
Team Kill Totals: 12.5 / 10.5
Time Total: 33:00 (over -123 / under -105)
Again reference my previous articles for more detailed thoughts on Talon’s roster setup. One thing I didn’t really touch a lot on in that piece is that I think the Uniboy/Kongyue duo prefer to play a much more uptempo style than Talon did most of the season. Talon were also already attempting more uptempo looks during playoffs even without the two knowing that they’d have to have a more diverse approach as they had already qualified for Worlds. They knew they wouldn’t be able to just play safe and rely on individual skills to get them by. I fully expect a faster Talon.
Rainbow7 are yet another example of a region perhaps not sending their strongest team as I touched on in my preview article. I do, however, think that Josedeodo is absolutely destroying super server solo queue which is intriguing.
Most of you know by now that I’m rather bullish on Talon for this tournament. I view these roster moves, besides Unified to Dee as an upgrade individually as well as in overall stylistic versatility. I think Kongyue and Uniboy are exactly the kind of pairing Talon needed. It’s a bit of a leap of faith that they’ve been able to build chemistry together with the new lineup on short notice but I think the all Taiwanese lineup will have an easier time making that adjustment without a language barrier and knowing that these players have played with and against each other before could also be a hidden strength. I love Talon in this spot.
This time total is inflated by the average game times of these two teams but as I’ve mentioned I expect a much more fast-paced Talon than we saw for most of this year and I expect them to win fast or lose trying.
Moneyline: Talon -132 (1.32 units)
Kill Spread (alt): Talon -5.5 kills @ +119 (0.5 units)
Time Total: UNDER 33:00 @ -105 (1.575 units)
INTZ Esports -147 vs Legacy Esports +116
Kill Total: 24.5 (implied, OTB)
Kill Spread: -3.5 @ -120 / +3.5 @ -111
Team Kill Totals: 12.5 / 11.5
Time Total: 33:00 (over -139 / under +106)
As I already mentioned I’m fairly down on INTZ as a whole and while I don’t see Legacy making it out of the play-in stage, I do think they’re one of the stronger representatives that the OPL has sent. They’re essentially a super team of all the best talent left in the region that didn’t leave for other leagues (Ryoma, Destiny, etc) or coaching gigs. This team is very good and their gaudy statistics do represent just how dominant they were this season.
I think Legacy are the better team on film and I don’t think it’s particularly close. Yes their competition wasn’t as strong as that of Mammoth’s last year so I’m not entirely sure if they’re quite to that level yet but I know that I like their fundamentals much more than I like INTZ’s. This should be a coin flip not a moderate favorite situation. Give me the underdogs for sure especially because I think Babip was excellent last year and improved this year. He’s one of the best players for any of the play-in teams and both he and Topoon are, in my opinion, the two best players in this matchup for either team.
Legacy are a bit on the slower side while INTZ play in the faster-paced CBLOL so it’s tough to get a strong grasp on this time total but getting plus money on the under at a reasonably high number like this should be worth a play especially considering the faster, multi-carry oriented metagame I’m expecting at this tournament.
Moneyline: Legacy +116 (1.5 units)
Time Total: UNDER 33:00 @ +106 (0.5 units)
LGD Gaming -769 vs PSG Talon +466
Kill Total: 24.5 (implied, OTB)
Kill Spread: -10.5 @ -123 / +10.5 @ -109
Team Kill Totals: 17.5 / 6.5
Time Total: 31:00 (over -114 / under -114)
I think by now you all know that I think LGD are highly fraudulent. This team is being given the benefit of the doubt because they’re an LPL team and that’s it. They deserve credit for knocking out a superior team in Invictus (twice) for sure but other than that they haven’t really shown to be anything other than barely an LPL playoff team. This is essentially where the strength of competition argument comes in. I’m not giving LGD the benefit of the doubt. This team threw games to good teams, bad teams, and mediocre teams. They needed large leads to close and while they often got them, they looked completely lost without them. I think Kongyue and Uniboy can keep match this early. My concern would be Dee in the strong (albeit overrated) bottom lane of LGD. Kaiwing was one of the best players in the PCS this season but he’ll be hard pressed to carry this lane.
To me this is an underdog worth firing a bullet at. Talon have a wide range of outcomes and if I’m going to take my shots against the big favorites I want big odds like this against a higher variance favorite, like LGD. I’ll take the kill spread and a taste of the moneyline.
LGD had an average margin of victory of 9.36 this season. They also had the lowest combined kills per minute in the LPL (right there with LNG). Talon, with River/Tank in the lineup had the lowest CKPM in the PCS this season (by a mile) but AHQ, Kongyue/Uniboy’s team had one of the highest. I’d expect shots to be fired early and often in this one and think the over is worth a shot. LGD averaged 24 CKPG. Talon 22.9 / AHQ 27.4.
Kill Spread: Talon +10.5 kills @ -109 (1.09 units)
Moneyline: Talon +466 (0.5 units)
MAD Lions -147 vs Team Liquid +115
Kill Total: 23.5 (implied, OTB)
Kill Spread: -3.5 @ -114 / +3.5 @ -118
Team Kill Totals: 12.5 / 11.5
Time Total: 33:00 (over -120 / under -109)
This should be a fascinating matchup. Both of these teams underperformed in the playoffs and yet both are coming into this tournament with drastically different expectations. I’m not sure if it’s just because MAD Lions are a more fun team to watch or a fan favorite or whatever but people don’t seem to be giving Liquid much of a shot and a lot of people don’t even have them making it out of this group. Anything is possible in a four game group stage but I think this is just a tad disrespectful to both the LCS and Liquid. I mentioned in my intro that you shouldn’t judge a team by their region. You can identify characteristics or tendencies from that region that could prove problematic or beneficial but the team alone isn’t defined by the league they play in. Liquid are a very good, VERY fundamentally sound team. MAD are as well. MAD are certainly the higher variance team in this spot. I like their overall approach to the game in a tournament format like this but that doesn’t always scale to a game-to-game level. Liquid are totally live here. This is a coin flip to me.
This is probably an over but I could see MAD running this over if they snowball early. I’ll pass on both totals but lean under.
Moneyline: Team Liquid +115 (1 unit)
Enjoy the first day and I’ll see you tomorrow!