After a busy offseason it’s about time we finally get some professional League of Legends again!
Before we dive into our first day of action I wanted to take some time to break down a few big picture concepts in regards to the first few weeks of action.
“Predicting the metagame”
I’ve done some research into what has been played during the offseason tournaments and on the current patch but while I think it’s important to have a general idea of what’s going on in terms of the champions picked and style of the game in its current state, it can be a futile endeavor to predict every team’s tendencies. Even if you consider your read on the game to be very accurate, it doesn’t mean that all teams, coaches, and players will act rationally and hold the same opinion. For these reasons I try to abstain from making decisive calls based on the metagame in the first few weeks.
That leads me to my next point….
Cognitive Biases and Overall Approach to Opening Weeks
How you decide to attack the first few weeks depends heavily on your risk tolerance but no matter what you choose to do it’s important that you have structure within your process. Over the years I’ve been very aggressive early on in the year because I trust my evaluation of the offseason more than the books and there are frequently very bad lines. There are pros and cons to this approach. While you might be “ahead of the curve” on a team, you could also get yourself in trouble “sticking to your guns” for too long. Last year, for example, I was overconfident that TSM were a good team based on my pre-season evaluation and continued backing them over and over insisting that they’d eventually meet my expectations. Long story, short; they never did.
Another way to play the early season is to be very selective and take more of a “wait and see” approach. This is more what I’ll be doing this season with a few exceptions for what I think are extremely undervalued and overvalued teams.
I’ll be discussing the different cognitive biases over the course of this season, likely in an evergreen style article or podcast but I think the two that come into play this early are overconfidence and confirmation bias if you are “right” or “wrong” about a team in the first few games. It’s a long season folks and the first few weeks mean very little in the grand scheme of things. Identify things as a red or green flag, keep an eye on it, and re-evaluate down the line after collecting a larger sample size.
In short, I’ll be taking a less aggressive and more of the aforementioned “wait and see” approach to the opening weeks than I have in the past. Staking will be smaller until we get a decent picture of what each of these teams starts to look like and then we’ll ramp up from there along with the models and our eyes collecting more data. Of course, there are going to be a few exceptions to this. There are a handful of teams that I think are not just undervalued, but extremely undervalued and we have some bigger picture trends that I’m going to discuss below that I want to take advantage of early on.
Spring Last Year
We had a bit of a bizarre year last year (obviously…) with the first LPL week being played before the league went on hold over concerns about COVID-19 before picking back up again in the second week of March. In a way we got two different week ones. We had 34 matches over those two separate week ones. Let’s take a look at some of the results:
- 8 underdog 2-0’s (LGD def TOP, SN def BLG, EDG def eStar, SN def EDG, RNG def TOP, RW def SN, eStar def RW). Admittedly a few of these look a bit silly in hindsight such as eStar who dominated the rest of Spring split and Suning being underdogs to BLG only to eventually end up in World finals.
- Favorites had a combined 20-14 moneyline record with average odds of -521 over the 34 matches. (underdogs averaged +237 on the moneyline)
- Favorites went a combined 13-21 against the map spread with average odds just over even at +17.38 (underdogs near even as well at -98.38 or roughly +101)
If you would have wagered the same amount on every single underdog map spread through the first two weeks you would have had a +84.35% return on investment. While that seems ridiculous there is a history of this phenomenon across the globe in the major region domestic leagues specifically in the Spring split.
Why is this the case? Some of the good teams had a longer season with a handful of them going to playoffs and the World Championships and the players and coaches don’t get as much preparation time since most take a break while other teams are working (think Super Bowl hangover). Many teams both good and bad are dealing with roster shuffling as players are moved around. The game is also more “chaotic” and “raw” early in the season with the pre-season patch, where most of the major changes to the game for the year take place, only about a month old. It takes awhile to figure the balance out resulting in some over and underpowered champions and higher variance games. There are also coaching and infrastructure changes similar to the players changing teams which can disrupt things.
How the books derive their prices early in the season?
In addition to the points above, books tend to heavily overprice the favorites, especially those that went to the World Championship or finished the Summer season in a high position. They also shade toward popular teams with name brand value that receive a lot of action as favorites. If we look back at Summer 2020 in the LPL anecdotally who would you guess were the most heavily bet and talked about favorites? TOP, Invictus, FunPlus, JDG, Team WE, and Suning are your top six teams in the futures markets and their prices are reflected accordingly in the opening match lines. The books also favor teams that didn’t change much, especially ones that were favorites, like the top six in our case. While they consider other roster moves there isn’t a lot of faith given to unknown qualities. In a traditional sports context this would be like grading a rookie quarterback as a varying amount below league average for example. Some end up performing at about that level, others exceed it, and other still far exceed that expectation.
Tying it all together
Good teams from the previous season with a lot of continuity seem like an attractive position to take but historically they have not been successful early in the season for a litany of reasons (see above). Bad or mediocre teams with a lot of changes or unknown players, especially rookies, aren’t given a lot of respect early on and most people are afraid to back them so it makes sense for the books to lean toward juicing up the favorites. This results in a double whammy situation. Not all unknown players end up bad or below average and if you can figure out the more promising prospects in good situations there’s even more gold to be mined here early in the season.
In the early weeks I’ll be asking a lot of favorites if I’m going to pay the tax that comes with their price tag. Typically you want to operate in the middle, making the case for both teams and weighing your options but I tend to shade more towards the underdogs in the first couple of weeks in combination with a lighter staking structure.
We’ll be touching on these points and more as we go today but I’d encourage you to check out my LPL Team-By-Team Outlook post where I break down each team and their expected trajectory in greater detail.
I watch every single game, often more than once. I also originate my own lines. In the early parts of the season this is much more art than science with so many changes to both the game and these teams. As the season goes on and we collect more and more information on these teams these posts will become more and more data driven but film review and market evaluation remain the foundation to my approach in handicapping League of Legends. It is my goal to not only bring you entertaining and informative content through a sort of shared journey here, but to help show the process I use to help you develop into better bettor.
Without further adieu… our first major professional league card of the year!
LOL Pro League (China)
Week 1 – Day 1
TOP Esports -556 (-1.5 maps @ -154, +1.5 @ -3333)
Suning Gaming +374 (+1.5 maps @ +121, -1.5 @ +850)
Total Maps Played: 2.5 (over +164 / under -213)
Kill Total: 29.5 (over -132 / under -109)
Kill Spread: -8.5 @ -118 / +8.5 @ -122
Team Kill Totals: 18.5 / 10.5
Time Total: 31:00 (over -111 / under -128)
Suning – Bin, SofM, Angel, Huanfeng, ON
TOP – 369, Karsa, Knight, JackeyLove, Zhuo
We open the LPL Spring with a Worlds Quarterfinals grudge match between eventual finalists Suning and the domestic kings TOP Esports that were toppled along the way during Suning’s Cinderella run.
TOP Esports are more or less running back the same lineup but they’ve brought on WarHorse, the previous head coach for FunPlus Phoenix. TOP also added a promising new support in Zhuo who is very talented, one of the best prospects coming out of the LDL. I’d expect him to compete with Yuyanjia for the job or take it outright. Suning made one change to their roster with 17 year old sub/prospect ON replacing SwordArt who is now with TSM in North America’s LCS. The worlds finalists will also sport a (mostly) new coaching staff with the departure of head coach Chashao and others. While there is some turnover, these teams have more or less made very similar moves that shouldn’t cause major disruptions. They have much more continuity than many other teams have this offseason which should give them the potential to hit the ground running.
I don’t put a lot of weight on offseason tournaments but TOP dominated in the Demacia Cup and showed no real signs of a hangover that we sometimes see from worlds contenders. Suning were bounced in the first round of the knockout stage by Vici 3-0. TOP are also going to want revenge for being eliminated from Worlds by Suning. To most people this looks like an obvious spot to back TOP but there is just no way I’m paying this kind of premium for them on the first day of real matches so the question becomes whether or not the Suning price is good enough for a position. I think yes.
We all know Suning got hot at the right time and we should expect some regression but this is too much of an overcorrection. Their quarterfinals match at Worlds had TOP favored by -233 to Suning’s +186 and I found value in that position. Even if you think TOP had the superior offseason this number is way too rich for the quality of players on the other side of the rift. With a blend of priors and player adjustments assuming slightly below average performance for both new supports I make this line more or less the same as I made it during that quarterfinals match at Worlds.
It feels bad going against the revenge narrative and a TOP team that just stomped their way through a pre-season tournament. Usually teams coast through them and they looked like they were on a mission…. but this number is simply too big and we’re not betting the teams and feelings, we’re betting the numbers. Take the dogs.
More so than a side in this series I love the first props for Suning when the moneyline is this large and you have a great jungler in SofM. It’s obviously a different season but if the books were to offer these lines last year I would have piled on to the first tower and first herald props as they show the biggest delta between their results and the implied odds of the book lines. That’s where I’ll be attacking in this series.
The other option was to hit the unders. Demacia Cup was extremely bloody even by offseason LPL standards and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get back to “reality” a bit here. Kill total unders, team total unders, especially TOP’s 18.5 are all in play if you prefer that route, I see more value on the Suning first tower or herald.
Map Spread: Suning +1.5 maps @ +121 (1 unit)
Moneyline: Suning +374 (0.5 units)
Map Spread: Suning -1.5 maps @ +850 (0.25 units)
Prop: Map 1 Suning First Tower @ +145 (0.25 units)
Prop: Map 2 Suning First Tower @ +145 (0.25 units)
Prop: Map 3 Suning First Tower @ +145 (0.25 units)
OMG +369 (+1.5 maps @ +120, -1.5 @ +919)
EDward Gaming -556 (-1.5 maps @ -159, +1.5 @ -2500)
Total Maps Played: 2.5 (over +159 / under -204)
Kill Total: 28.5 (over -118 / under -111)
Kill Spread: +7.5 @ -108 / -7.5 @ -122
Team Kill Totals: 10.5 / 17.5
Time Total: 31:00 (over -123 / under -105)
OMG – New, Aki, Wuming, Eric, Cold
EDG – Flandre, Jiejie, Scout, Viper, Meiko
In a way, both of these teams had disappointing seasons. OMG because… well, it’s OMG and they’ve been quite bad for a long time and it didn’t improve and EDG because it was the first time the franchise has missed playoffs… EVER! Both teams are going to be looking to turn it around this season.
I’m just going to give the simplified version here because you can read my LPL Spring Team-By-Team Outlook post. OMG graded out as the worst team in the league and they landed 17th (last) in my power rankings. I’ve placed them and LGD as the only two team in my C Tier which represents that they would need a lot to go right to have even a chance at making playoffs. With that said, it’s not as if this team has nothing to work with which I’ll touch on in just a bit.
EDG had an interesting offseason picking up Flandre from LNG, the second graded top laner in my individual model, and former Griffin superstar Viper from Korea. They also retained most of last season’s roster which was significantly better than their final record. I absolutely loved this offseason for EDG. They kept what was working and accrued not just depth talent but added some potential best at their position level talents. If new coach Maokai (from Vici) can figure out what’s working with this lineup then the sky is the limit but even if that isn’t the case, EDG will be very good just on individual ability.
For someone that’s as bullish as I am on EDG and with the less than optimistic outlook I have for OMG this feels like a slam dunk spot but I make this number fairly close to the book price. However, if you take into consideration the week one dynamic discussed in the intro above I think the OMG +1.5 maps is absolutely worth a shot at this price.. As optimistic as people were about OMG’s solo lanes last year I found them both to be overrated, Icon much more so than Breathe (Curse) who was quite good and just had a lofty valuation. This team also had the worst graded jungler in the LPL H4cker playing for them last year. That’s a difficult thing to overcome. I don’t hold Wuming in high regard whatsoever but there’s a chance this top trio actually looks better than OMG 2020’s version. With Eric now playing full time and Aki likely being an upgrade I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say OMG will be better this year even if they end up in a similar position in the standings come the end of the season.
When you’ve got big moneylines in play you should always pay close attention to the prop markets which frequently offer exceptional value, particularly for underdogs. First herald, blood, and dragon are more agnostic to the quality of teams and more correlated with the focus and style matchup between the two teams. With so many unknowns and a likely upgrade in the jungle I think it’s worth taking a look at the best price amongst these which is the first herald for OMG.
Map Spread: OMG +1.5 maps @ +120 (0.5 units)
Moneyline: OMG +369 (0.2 units)
Prop: Map 1 OMG first herald @ +139 (0.25 units)
Prop: Map 2 OMG first herald @ +139 (0.25 units)
Prop: Map 3 OMG first herald @ +139 (0.25 units)
I believe in accountability. For years I’ve publicly tracked all of my picks. 2021’s selections will be via this spreadsheet but it isn’t updated until AFTER the games have started. The Esports Department subscribers get the first look.
Check out The Gold Card Podcast and can find me on Twitter @GelatiLOL
(all lines from Nitrogen unless noted otherwise)