Saturday, January 9th, LPL Opening Day Recap

 

TOP Esports vs Suning Gaming (Net: +4.455 units)

I’ll break down this match shortly but wanted to begin by using this as a teachable moment. Starting the year off with a winner, especially one with odds like this is always fun but it’s also a great opportunity to discuss confirmation bias. It wasn’t overwhelmingly the case but Suning probably should have lost both of these games. TOP were in firm control in the early mid game in both with superior team fighting compositions and simply botched their setups in a few key spots and took their foot off the gas a little too much to my liking, a problem they had at time last season too. We got the win here but this was a tad lucky. It’s crucial not to get overconfident or overrate Suning and conversely underrate TOP after this performance but we’ll discuss the good and the bad below.

Game one was a tale of two drafts. Suning opting for their trademark momentum play with SofM on a high efficiency jungler, this time Nidalee. Typically once these comps get rolling they’re hard to stop but if you can stymie them early they fall off, especially with Nidalee who can struggle later in the game. TOP had a small lead with a superior team fighting composition in this one and managed to keep pace in the jungle even in a matchup that puts a lot of pressure on Pantheon to keep up. TOP had stacked up two dragons and at the third dragon fight simply let themselves get bullied out of position. A minor mistake but considering they favored themselves in a scaling game not a fatal error. The same exact thing happened at the fourth drake except they were indecisive and hesitated on their engage because of Bin threatening a flank. Even after taking this fight and scoring a few kills to boot, Suning were just even on the gold but the momentum had swung already.

Game two the top duo’s were dueling back and forth but Bin andSofM just got the better of 369 and Karsa. What’s impressive about this is that 369 had the Jax which is frequently considered a counterpick to Camille and still lost this 2v2. That aside, TOP were pretty disrespectful or lazy depending on your interpretation in this game. Around the 20 minute mark 369 and Karsa were caught by three members of Suning in the bottom lane and they saw them leave directly to flank them in mid lane and continued to try to siege mid tier two knowing they were about to be in a 3v5. TOP managed to position well to get a baron after recouping from that fight but as they were setting up to siege top they forced a fight in the jungle way too hard. Knight had used his Orianna ultimate before the fight began, the first engage didn’t go well, and TOP tried to force a second attempt at the Alistar combo even after all of this. At this point they were overextended, Suning hadn’t taken much damage and still had all their cooldowns and they were able to turn this one around with some great teamfighting, one for the highlight reels for Huanfeng’s Kaisa.

Toward the end of last year one of the very few concerns I had with TOP Esports was that they were very predictable in the draft. They will always pick a solid scaling composition, lane for as long as possible to utilize their individual player advantage to accrue a lead, and then group up and play a “slow and steady wins the race” type of game. Generally speaking it’s a good overall approach with the players they have but every once in awhile you’re going to have moments like this where you wish they’d press their advantages harder and not let teams back into games. They hesitate sometimes.

One series doesn’t make a season by any means but this was one of the few weaknesses TOP had last season and it’s reared its ugly head here in the first match. Suning deserve some credit for remaining patient in these games and team fighting extremely well. Bin and SofM got the better of 369 and Karsa pretty badly in game two even with the Jax pick into Camille and that ended up being a big part of why Suning were able to turn that game around. This was a classic Suning match. They had just 32% of their wins in Summer grade out as “quality wins” which makes sense because they played a lot of these kind of really ugly games where they managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It’s a good skill to have but the fact that they have to do that as frequently as they do could be cause for concern.

 

OMG vs EDward Gaming (Net: +1.4425 units)

EDG completely rolled game one with a severe draft advantage, at least in my opinion. Olaf is a problematic champion for  Twisted Fate and Galio as well and that’s exactly how EDG attacked this game just blitzing either down and ignoring their crowd control in every fight to make it a 4v5 scramble drill quickly. EDG did play this well, it wasn’t an automatic win in draft they still had to avoid the early plays and play side lanes well but they ended up closing this one fairly easily once they took the lead.

Game two OMG tried another version of this side line, pseudo-global ult combination with Taliyah and Galio. Simple to execute, tons of crowd control and three lanes that are really easy for Taliyah to gank and set up her full damage combo in. OMG abused Taliyah’s insanely fast clear to grab the early pace advantage and turn it into multiple dragons and eventually slammed this one home with an ocean soul and an absolutely clinical close assigning their globals to solo lanes and showing a lot of discipline in their baron push not overcommitting.

Game three I liked OMG’s team comp a lot. Poke and three ranged carries into Kennen counter engage. When the other team is forced to dive your triple backliners through Thresh ult it provides amazing setups for Kennen to rush in and decimate them when they commit. While this game was pretty close throughout I think OMG played a few of their setups too cute. In a composition like this, Kennen doesn’t need to look for flanks like you traditionally want to see him do. Instead he wants to serve as a sort of counter engage. New not only got behind due to a ton of jungle pressure but was playing this like a flanking Kennen and got caught out multiple times during dragon setups. It was well played by EDG for sure and Flandre threatening flanks was a big reason they won the fifth and sixth dragon fights but I think OMG wasn’t operating this comp quite right when it mattered.

This series was a great example of why I like underdogs in the early season. Until you get some film and see what teams want to do the good teams with good coaching staffs don’t have much to adjust to so they’re sort of going in blind only advancing their own game plan. Once they get more of a sample and can both adjust and improve their side AND account for their opponents we start to see the good teams pull ahead. OMG had a great plan in game one but they ran a similar style and looked a bit worse when forced off of that in game three. Maybe notes for other teams moving forward. I’m not concerned about my optimistic outlook for EDG. It’s one match.

 

Daily Net Total: +5.8975 units

 

——

(I’m going to copy/paste this intro from day one into the first handful of days of matches as a reminder for those just joining us)

“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” 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.

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)

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 Pre-Season Power Rankings post where I break down each team and their expected trajectory in greater detail.

 

———————–

LOL Pro League (China)

Week 1 – Day 2

 

Team WE -526 (-1.5 maps @ -116, +1.5 @ -2000)

vs

Rogue Warriors +349 (+1.5 maps @ -106, -1.5 @ +828)

 

Total Maps Played: 2.5 (over +149 / under -192)

Kill Total: 28.5 (over -105 / under -123)

Kill Spread:  -7.5 @ -115 / +8.5 @ -114

Team Kill Totals: 16.5 / 10.5

Time Total: 32:00 (over -101 / under -128)

Starting Lineups:

WE – Breathe (Curse), Beishang, Shanks, Jiumeng, Missing

RW – Ziv, Haro, Forge, Kelin, QiuQiu

 

The artist formerly known as LuXun, Kelin, is getting the start at ADC for Rogue Warriors in a move that I’m not sure anyone predicted with Betty and even ZWuji on this roster. We have a very VERY small sample size from Kelin, only 7 LDL games last Summer with Rogue Warriors developmental team. Notably he’s played Syndra bottom twice with wins both times. The fact that we’re seeing Kelin makes me think that either they’ve seen something in scrims from him OR that maybe Betty is sick or something. Should be interesting but I do think this is likely a downgrade for Rogue Warriors overall since Betty was rock solid last season.

Team WE added former OMG standout Curse, now named Breathe, in the offseason to replace Morgan but retained the rest of their roster. In my LPL Spring 2021 Team-by-Team Outlook article I spent a lot of time discussing the Team WE mid lane and overall team dynamic as being the only things holding this team back. While I think WE could use some work on engineering their own advantages instead of just letting other teams screw up, we saw how that went with TOP today, but if this combination of mid laners can somehow churn out a combined league average level performance I think Team WE are going to be a playoff team with a good chance at a title. We’re going to get Shanks as our first try here and given how poor Teacherma was last season I’m considering this an upgrade even if Shanks slightly below league average at his position.

Rogue Warriors are a very high variance team that added a ton of individual talent to their roster this offseason upgrading every position but keeping Haro. Haro is a very “coin-flippy” player in that he’ll take 50-50 fights and assume he’ll outplay them VERY OFTEN. This leads to a high risk, high reward style that make Rogue Warriors great as a punch up underdog but very poor in a long form regular season format where they’ll struggle to consistently win with this approach. With the ADC downgrade I’m slightly less in love with this selection than I was before but I still think this number is too big for the first match of the season. This is sort of a double swing wager in that Rogue Warriors can spike games anyway AND we have “the week one effect” which is discussed in great detail in the intro from yesterday (and copy/pasted into today).

 

Other Markets:

Once again we’ll be hitting the first props with the best prices given the large moneyline involved here. In this case it happens to be first tower and first herald which are correlated and show the most value. We’ll split our position there. I don’t normally load up this much on the first props I tend to pick my battles but Haro scored first blood in more than half his games last year while Beishang was on the lower end of most junglers in the league. Given the individual player upgrades I wouldn’t rule out some lane solos in this game for RW as well so I’m going to take a small position there.

I don’t normally play totals in week one and early in general because I prefer to have more data points about the patch and teams. I desperately want to play this under but Rogue Warriors have some extremely volatile games and more consistently hit them than almost any team in the world so I’m going to just pass this time.

 

My Picks:

 

Map Spread: RW +1.5 maps @ -106 (1.06 units)

Moneyline: RW +349 (0.5 units)

Map Spread: RW -1.5 maps @ +828 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 1 RW first blood @ +111 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 2 RW first blood @ +111 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 3 RW first blood @ +108 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 1 RW first tower @ +148 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 2 RW first tower @ +139 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 3 RW first tower @ +133 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 1 RW first herald @ +129 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 2 RW first herald @ +129 (0.25 units)

Prop: Map 3 RW first herald @ +129 (0.25 units)

 

—–

 

JD Gaming -154 (-1.5 maps @ +226, +1.5 maps @ -276)

vs

Invictus Gaming +120 (+1.5 maps @ -303 , -1.5 maps @ +285)

 

Total Maps Played: 2.5 (over +101 / under -128)

Kill Total: 30.5 (over -108 / under -122)

Kill Spread:  -1.5 @ -116 / +1.5 @ -112

Team Kill Totals: 15.5 / 14.5

Time Total: 33:00 (over +120 / under -156)

Starting Lineups:

JDG – Zoom, Kanavi, Xiye, LokeN, LvMao

IG – TheShy, XUN, Rookie, Wink, Baolan

 

This line has moved a lot from open around even money (well… esports even money I guess) to where it is now. People are really hitting JDG which is understandable. They were at worlds, made both finals last year, and Invictus are starting a rookie jungler. To most people it makes sense for the line to look more like what it does now but I like Invictus here for a few reasons that I’ll get into before a quick recap of the moves these teams made this offseason.

JDG added Suning coach Chashao to replace long time head coach Homme. They also added very strong depth piece in Xiye and Mystic to help stave burnout from the veterans who have play a few longer running seasons in a row now. I like these moves quite a bit in the long term even if I don’t as much in the short term.

Invictus shuffled around some of their coaching staff as well, notably losing Chris who was a big piece in turning them around in the second half of Summer. They picked up Wink who should provide an immediate upgrade at ADC, are starting Baolan from the beginning of the season, and promoted stud jungler XUN from LDL champions IG Young who I believe will provide a sizeable upgrade over the one-dimensional veteran Ning.

I’m all over Invictus here. Invictus finished the season grading as the third best team in the LPL in my objective/economy model, very close to JDG who were second. A few bad series that caused them to fail to make Worlds isn’t going to change my overall evaluation of their Summer season which was impressive, especially in the second half. They were a much better team than their results which were still very good and I think people forget that. They’ve also made a substantial upgrade moving away from Ning. That might be an unpopular opinion to some people but Ning was not a good fit for the way the game is played right now and even though we might get some of the rookie adjusting to the big leagues effect here, I do think XUN will prove to be a valuable asset for this team unlocking a lot more options in the draft and not placing as much pressure on Rookie and TheShy to force outplays in every game to compensate. They’re also starting the exact lineup that I wanted them to use and JDG are using Xiye who I think is very good but a downgrade from Yagao. I liked this at closer to even money and I like it even more now that it’s moved more heavily toward IG. There’s a chance we see some hiccups with the new roster but there way too much bias going on here. Invictus and JDG were fairly evenly matched teams last season and one has downgraded while the other has upgraded. Love IG in this spot.

 

Other Markets:

I tend to wait until we get more data before playing many totals but I’m going to be taking the under here. The Demacia Cup was extremely bloody but teams were playing much looser during that tournament and as the metagame gets more dialed in and figured out we’ll see more disciplined games, even in the LPL. The totals for the first week are extremely high. Just looking at last year, and obviously Summer is a much different beast so take this with a grain of salt, but we saw just 30.2% of JDG games go over this total and Invictus were similar at 30.23% going over this total. Invictus have played in a lot of bloodbaths and there’s a chance we see something like that here but I’m going to take a rare kill total under position in week one here. I think the total is just too high especially because this should be a closer game and we no longer have Ning forcing action early over and over for IG. I don’t hate the time total either given that both these teams close very quickly but I prefer the kill totals in this spot. We’ll be playing the alternate unders as well.

With closer moneylines come closer prop markets, at least in most cases. There’s not nearly as much value in a series like this and given the new look I’m expecting IG to have I’m not sure if the “fade herald vs IG” strategy from last Summer will remain the case this time around, especially with XUN in.

 

My Picks:

 

Moneyline: IG +120 (1 unit)

Map Spread: IG -1.5 maps @ +285 (0.5 units) (you can get +315 at Pinnacle)

Kill Total: Map 1 UNDER 30.5 @ -122 (0.61 units)

Kill Total: Map 1 UNDER 28.5 @ +111 (0.25 units)

Kill Total: Map 1 UNDER 27.5 @ +128 (0.1 units)

Kill Total: Map 2 UNDER 30.5 @ -122 (0.61 units)

Kill Total: Map 2 UNDER 28.5 @ +111 (0.25 units)

Kill Total: Map 2 UNDER 27.5 @ +128 (0.1 units)

Kill Total: Map 3 UNDER 30.5 @ -122 (0.61 units)

Kill Total: Map 3 UNDER 28.5 @ +111 (0.25 units)

Kill Total: Map 3 UNDER 27.5 @ +128 (0.1 units)

 

 

—-

 

I believe in accountability. For years I’ve tracked all of my picks publically. 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)

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