League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK)
A couple of “big picture” concepts to consider as we move into the Summer season:
The Spring 2020 Season of the LCK calcified into a very clear top three (or four if you include Hanwha) and then “the rest.” Going into the season I thought the league would have been more competitive, particularly with some promising rosters in the middle of the table but that just didn’t come to fruition over the course of the season. This was, in large part, due to a few teams that drastically underperformed expectation from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives. There were also a few teams that performed quite well quantitatively and just simply couldn’t put the results up (think Pythagorean win expectation regression candidates).
Sandbox and Afreeca were quantitative darlings throughout the season and shot themselves in the foot far too often causing them to lose games that shouldn’t have. KT Rolster and Nongshim had promising rosters that just didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. Then we had DRX who had perhaps the largest delta between their results and their quantitative performance of any team that I’ve ever seen (even more than LGD last year). They won A LOT more games than their performance measures suggest that they did. All of these things culminated in a rather bizarre Spring season in the LCK.
I’m anticipating a less stratified league overall in this coming season. The LPL already appears to be settling back into that “good are good, bad are bad, very little middle ground” while I think the LCK will become more nebulous in a positive way for the league. There were teams that I simply cannot see performing as poorly as they did during Spring as well as others that likely should have picked up a lot more wins based on their level. There are also some key roster changes that I think should improve things in the middle of the table.
I’m just going to go team-by-team here and then big picture view at the end.
Add: Leo (ADC, former Sandbox), Coaches: Spirit returns from academy, Cain from Liquid
Coming into the Spring season I really liked this Afreeca lineup. I didn’t think they’d win the split or anything like that but a solid blend of underrated veteran players combined with a stylistically sensible roster construction based on the way these players have played in their careers felt like almost a perfect storm to me. I expected them to be a gatekeeper team of sorts in much the same fashion that they were during the 2020 LCK. Well, statistically they were. Afreeca finished as the hard cut between above and below average teams ranking 5th in my economy/objective model (see rankings below). However, they finished ninth after spending a few matches in dead last behind Fredit Brion.
|AF||Tale of the Tape||BRO|
|1209.9||Gold Diff @ 10 min||-492.4|
|267.4||Gold Diff @ 15 min||-1807.7|
|-9.9||Gold Diff @ 20 min||-1998.0|
|8.3||GPM first 20 min vs Avg||-54.2|
|10.7||Gold Diff / min first 20||-109.8|
|-213.8||Gold Diff / min Rest of Game||-357.2|
|1746.6||Gold /min (GPM)||1678.9|
|-31.1||Gold / min vs Avg||-98.8|
|-67.2||Gold Diff / min||-185.1|
|-1.0||Gold Percent Rating (GPR)||-2.6|
|1583.0||Kill Agnostic GPM||1557.3|
|-46.7||Kill Agnostic Gold Diff/min||-136.2|
|1931.2||GPM in wins||1867.0|
|290.6||Gold Diff per min in wins||224.1|
|1633.0||GPM in losses||1595.3|
|-287.3||Gold Diff per min in losses||-367.0|
|-59.4||Adjusted Gold Diff / min||-177.3|
|0.2||Win-Adjusted Gold Dif/min||-66.3|
|52.8||Dragon Control %||45.6|
|63.8||Herald Control %||29.3|
|41.4||Baron Control %||32.7|
|50.0||% of wins as Quality||53.3|
This is Afreeca and Fredit Brion. Afreeca look, statistically, like a league average team, or slightly above that. Just some perspective for you.
I think Afreeca very easily could have won half a dozen more games than they did in this season and suddenly we’d be talking about them in place of a DRX or Nongshim in playoffs. Would they have done anything in playoffs? Not likely, but the point I’m getting at is that there is going to be some clear opportunities to attack results oriented evaluation here. Simply looking at the standings and saying “hey the 9th place team vs the 5th place team, 5th should be favored” is a TERRIBLE way to look at things. Afreeca made a lot of obviously stupid, game-ending mistakes this season but speaking from experience those are typically very easy to fix compared to more systemic issues or a poor foundation of never having leads or positive things to look at to begin with. Obvious mistakes are easy to fix, subtle ones are more difficult to fix.
I’m expecting a lot of positive regression for this team. I still like this roster and their statistical profile suggests that they should have had much better results than they did. To me that’s a very strong bull case. If you can find Afreeca to make playoffs at any sort of close to even money target I think that’s a great bet to make going into the season. Expecting a 4th-6th finish for this team.
(Quick Note: I’m not expecting to see him much but there’s a chance Leo and Bang split time, both are fine and I don’t think it really changes the outlook for this team overall that much.)
Add: none, cvMax contract updated to November 2022 (see below)
Out: no changes
It appears, from what I’ve read, that cvMax will be returning to full time coaching duties after serving his KeSPA suspension. He also received either a contract extension or restructured the current contract given the circumstances. Whether you like the guy or not, like the style or not, believe the accusations or not, DRX appear to be over this whole situation and just want him to get back to doing what he does best which is building up young rosters into disciplined killing machines. Otherwise they wouldn’t have kept him around.
If you followed me during the Spring Split, you’ve heard ad nauseam that this team had a severe delta between their actual results and their overall performance but in a bad way. DRX scored just 9 quality wins out of their 21 game wins (40.9%). For comparison, Brion and Afreeca had 8 each, Nongshim had 3, the top tier started at 17 (56.66%) with T1. There’s a case for “wins are wins” here but you can see why this team earned a “fraudulent” grade from me overall.
With that said, DRX knew who they were and played to their win conditions like good teams do. They did exactly what I think you should do with a young roster, figure out one concept at a time and master it before moving on to the next one. Building that foundation allows you to fall back to it in worst case scenarios. My concern with DRX is that the game has trended away from the “scale and let other teams screw up” approach that they took in Spring. Early games are more volatile right now and, generally, tempo teams learn how to actually close games out more effectively as the professional LOL year progresses. I don’t think they’re going to be able to get away with just sitting around waiting like they did in Spring.
This is a young team and he has a history of leading young teams to tremendous results. I’d also expect all of these players to continue their overall progression in their careers (improving). For this reason, DRX are perhaps the most perplexing team to gauge going into the season, at least for me. This is a squad that obviously exceeded expectations but also appears due for severe regression, but they’re also likely to naturally progress based on normal career trajectory and the return of a great coach, but the meta doesn’t look great for them either. See what I mean?
As it currently stands, DRX are your fifth favorite to win the split (+1200), which is where they finished Spring. This team has a wide range of outcomes, maybe the widest of any team in the LCK this season. This isn’t enough of a pay off for the risk for me personally but I can definitely see a “perfect storm” of factors bull case. I’m going to be taking a wait and see approach to DRX because I want to see if cvMax’s return makes some sort of immediate impact. If it does then I think this could be a MAD Lions-esque situation where it’s an overrated but also improving team and there will be very few spots to bet for or against them for awhile.
DAMWON Kia Gaming
Add: no notable changes
Out: RangJun leaves
DAMWON played much better in the finals of MSI than they did in the rest of the tournament where they played seven of their worst eleven individual game statistical performances of the entire 2021 season. It’s hard to figure out what to take from that. Historically this team has been a much worse team in Spring and then ramps into form during the Summer split regardless of the coaching staff behind them. Perhaps that’s the case again this year or maybe it’s not.
Until playoffs, DAMWON had some competition in the model from Gen.G but over the last few weeks really pulled away from the field into a tier all their own (see below). That said, they still exceeded win expectations based on their performance although not by much. It’s difficult to maintain that sort of dominance and while I think they’re still the best team in the LCK, they’ll have stronger competition across the board in Summer. They might remain the best but it’ll be more interesting.
Add: no changes
Out: no changes
Fredit Brion were a weird team in Spring. They played two of the best individual games I’ve seen in the LCK all season against DAMWON in their upset 2-0 and again against T1 but otherwise looked mediocre at best. Those sort of lightning strike games make me think there could be something to this team but the fact that they looked so poor the rest of the time over such a large sample makes me wonder if it was, in fact, just lightning striking twice. It’s hard to remain that bad over the course of a season when you’ve got time to improve and scrim against better teams but I do think we’re probably looking at the tenth place team again.
Add: no changes
Out: no changes
Gen.G had some poor playoff performances, particularly against DAMWON, but overall they were the clear #2 team in the LCK over the course of the season. It’s going to be interesting if we see more chances for prospects like Burdol in the Summer but with T1 solidifying a roster and middle of the table teams potentially improving I’m not sure they’ll have the time to “waste” games.
I’ll be discussing it below but I still think Gen.G’s roster is just rock solid top-to-bottom. They’re well-coached and versatile enough that they’re resilient to being “patched out” from a bad meta. In fact, I think this current form of the game is VERY favorable for their style both as a team and individually. I’d expect them to come out the gates firing. However, I think T1 are going to take a step up now that they’ll have roster continuity (fingers crossed they follow through on this) so they should have stronger competition this time around just like DAMWON.
Hanwha Life Esports
Add: no changes
Out: no changes
While we got to see some noticeable improvement from Vsta, Arthur was the standout to me during the Spring split but make no mistakes, Hanwha is still 99% The Chovy Show. Chovy turned in yet another all-World level individual performance this season just completely dominating in just about every game regardless of house burning down around him, being counterpicked, or playing one of the million champions in his pool over the season. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say he’s the best player in the world currently and at the very least it’s pretty tough to make the case against him.
The question for Hanwha comes in two parts; 1) Can Chovy do it yet again and maintain this level? and 2) Can anybody else take a step forward on this team to give him some help? Both of these questions need to be answered with a decisive “yes” for HLE to have a shot at unseating DAMWON, Gen.G, and T1 atop the table. If you ask me, I don’t think that’s very likely to happen but I’m not ruling it out either.
Hanwha had a lot of macro issues as a team and frequently outplayed their way out of bad situations. It’s good to be able to do that, it’s bad to rely on it as much as Hanwha did and we saw over the course of the season that teams that simply didn’t give them the chance to make these sorts of plays were able to just hang around until Hanwha beat themselves. I think that could be the case again but if they can fix a few things I’m open to including them to make the top of the table more than a top three. As it stands I think they’ll be in the middle of the pack in the 4th-6th range or A Tier.
Add: Blank and Harp join from academy
Out: HybriD to academy
Doran made a fairly strong case for the best top laner this season but it just wasn’t enough with all of the problems elsewhere. KT really struggled to piece together any kind of gameplan in most of their matches this season and couldn’t build any momentum. I was hoping they’d switch over to the prospect roster with Gideon and Noah sooner than they did but at least they did by season’s end. I’ve been very patient with Ucal but I think it’s time Dove just gets the full time starting job. I’d like to see a Doran-Gideon-Dove-Noah-Harp lineup. There’s more than enough talent here for KT Rolster to be at least a decent team and I think they will be. It’s pretty hard to remain as big a dumpster fire as they were in the Spring season. That said, I have concerned with how unwilling they were to show any sort of uptempo looks until very late in the season. They’re going to need to show that they can do that this season but perhaps it’ll be easier with a lineup solidified and not constantly changing.
KT Rolster should be better than they were in Spring and I think they’ll be in the mix for a playoff spot by season’s end.
Add: Howling and Kingkong join from academy
Out: Route and Leo leave (reiterating this)
Sandbox and Afreeca were peas in a pod last season. Both had very strong performances in the model and that followed through on the rift, but just beat themselves with obviously stupid, game-ending mistakes on way too many occasions. By the end of the split, Sandbox stopped beating themselves and picked up a few quality match wins to finish on a positive note. This team is very individually talented and showed a stronger team game than KT Rolster did despite a similar shuffling roster.
I’m fairly bullish on Sandbox moving into the Summer but I also think that the overall bottom half of the table, besides Brion, will also be much better than it was during the Spring split which is going to make those bottom few playoff spots more contested than they were. You’re not going to be able to snake into a spot with an abysmal record again.There’s a chance we see the rookies early on and they have a rough start but I’d generally put Sandbox in the A Tier range with Afreeca and Hanwha.
Add: Gori (former EDG, SKT), coach Comet
Out: Bay and Juhan to academy
Bay was a promising prospect but it simply didn’t work out in his first attempt in the LCK as he was arguably the weakest performing individual player in the entire league during the Spring split. He was such a gaping hole in the Nongshim lineup and caused more than a handful of losses almost single handedly. Hopefully he does better in his next chance if he gets one but a change needed to be made because the rest of the team performed pretty well.
His replacement is going to be Gori. I couldn’t come up with a real sports comp but Gori has more or less been a “super” prospect since 2018 and has just never had a chance. A product of the SK Telecom development system, he sat behind Faker, battled Clozer, and eventually left to back up Scout on EDG, who also learned under Faker back in the day. The only thing he’s done wrong is learn behind a couple of all-time greats including the consensus G.O.A.T. Gori is an incredibly talented player and he’s been waiting patiently, grinding for this opportunity for years. I fully expect him to deliver and make an immediate impact for Nongshim and drastically improve this team.
How much of an improvement though? I think they’ll likely finish in a similar place (4th-7th, A Tier) but the overall quality of the team will be much better and I’d expect them to be competitive with the top of the table even if they don’t win many games against them. This has the potential to be a franchise altering move and I sincerely hope, for Gori’s sake that he delivers. If he doesn’t then I’d expect more of the same from this team but I’d bump them out of A Tier if he’s not as good as expected with the other teams taking steps forward.
Add: no changes
Out: no changes
T1 manager Joe Marsh came out in an interview on Inven effectively saying that the constant roster changes during the Spring split were “by design” to promote and develop the plethora of talent in T1’s academy system. As frustrating as it was for DFS players, this isn’t a new thing for T1, who have a history of giving their prospects premium big stage opportunities and that’s been extremely effective for them as an organization over the years. Countless players from this system have gone on to long and successful careers across the world. Keep in mind that teams sometimes have other motivations than just what works for us.
He also said that “Once we were gearing up for playoffs, we fielded the same roster, game after game. You can only take seven players into Worlds. Everyone knows this, so you can expect to see less of the switching around. It doesn’t mean that backup players won’t play here and there, but moving forward, I think everyone can see much more consistency with the starting five.” If you trust what he says, and I do as they’re a very transparent organization, then this would mean a Canna-Cuzz-Faker-Teddy-Keria lineup.
I quite literally handicapped T1 as two different teams during the Spring split; T1 “Young” and “Old.” The “Old” version was significantly better overall primarily because they relied much less on variance and high kill affairs to earn their wins and had stronger performances against strong competition than the “Young” version did. In some ways this makes a lot of sense when you think about it but it’ll be good to know what to expect at least a little more consistently moving forward.
I think T1 are going to be a clear top three team and challenge for a title in Summer. The “overall” T1 team ranked #2 in the economy/objective model by the end of the season but T1 “Old” actually had a slightly higher rating and, to me, significantly better film overall so I’m giving a healthy bump to T1 for this split and will likely have some futures positions on them.
Overall I think the LCK will be much more interesting this Summer than it was last split, not that DRX continuously forcing me to use the Jesse Pinkman “He can’t keep getting away with this” meme was interesting to others. I generally think the middle of the table should all take a noticeable step forward in quality and that we’ll get a much more competitive and less stratified league overall which should be a better product to watch and more opportunities for value in the markets.
Spring Priors / Power Ratings
My Tier List
(ordered but order matters less than overall tier)
S Tier – DAMWON, T1, Gen.G
A Tier – Hanwha Life, Afreeca, Nongshim, Sandbox
B Tier – KT Rolster, DRX
C Tier – Fredit Brion
DRX are the wildcard with a huge range of outcomes so consider this “B” tier to be an average of their potential outcomes.
|Team||Futures Price||Futures Price (Decimal)||Futures Price (as %)||% needed to warrant wager|
Total Book Hold Percentage (%): 29.938%
Break-Even Modifier (%): 1.761%
The break-even modifier is the hold divided by the number of options in the market. If you apply it to the implied odds suggested by the market price you get the implied percent change of the outcome necessary to warrant a futures position.
For example: DRX’s implied price from the book is 7.692% to win the split but given the hold (vig, rake, etc.) you’d need to consider 9.453%, or the odds you’re really betting into in this market. So unless you think DRX are more than 9.453% to win the split then it’s not a wager you should make UNLESS you have a plan to play it over the course of the season or take profits, etc.
I won’t be taking any positions in the LCK this season but I figured I’d mention a few hypothetical situations that could change my opinion. If you believe any of these to be a possibility then maybe take a piece. Generally I think you can throw out Fredit Brion entirely and spread their percentage across rest of the teams. Not saying they’ll be a complete dumpster fire but I just don’t see any world where they win this league while I could reasonably see at least a 1% chance for some of these others. KT are a reasonable “throw out candidate” as well but they have the individual talent and you never know if the young kids just get it together.
1) IF you don’t think DAMWON don’t “turn it on” for Summer like they always do…
In this scenario I think a huge slice of the overall pie gets divided amongst the entire “reasonable” league and suddenly the entire middle of the table looks appetizing (particularly T1).
2) IF you believe strongly in regression to the mean…
Sandbox and Afreeca are worth small long shot wagers and you can rule DRX out. Again T1 look appealing.
3) IF you heavily consider this current meta to be close to what the end of Summer meta looks like…
You’ll want to fade teams that showed poor early game management during Spring unless you think they’ll drastically improve that. Teams like DRX, KT, and even Fredit Brion can be safely ruled out. DAMWON also gets a slight downgrade but they’re versatile enough that this might not really apply to them that much. Buffs to Gen.G, Afreeca, and Sandbox
If I absolutely had to pick a futures position to take it’d be T1 +450 followed by splitting a unit on Afreeca, Nongshim, and Sandbox. as the regression candidates. For T1, the more consistent lineup, potential “Faker farewell tour” narrative (which I don’t entirely believe for the record), and overall talent for the players and coaching staff alike just make them an incredibly strong roster with a history of success across the board. That said, I was hoping for a slightly better price maybe six to one or better. IF you just want a sweat I think that’s the way to go.
If your book offers “to make playoffs” odds I like plus money on Afreeca, Nongshim, and Sandbox quite a bit and for “NOT to make playoffs” DRX. I’d pay more or less any reasonable number -1000 or less on Fredit Brion to NOT make playoffs if you don’t mind tying the capital up.
I believe in accountability. For years I’ve tracked all of my picks publicly. 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)