2020 League of Legends Worlds futures betting

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The 2020 professional League of Legends season will culminate with the game’s largest and most prestigious tournament on Friday morning–the LoL World Championship. It’s the only chance that teams will have this year to measure themselves against rivals from the other side of the planet and to stake their claim as the best team in the world. It was once a distant dream that any type of international sporting or e-sporting event would be able to take place this year. Now with mere days to go until the biggest annual event in esports, excitement is building about who, what, and how to bet on this tournament. For that side, we’ve got you covered.

Format

It is important to note that the LoL World Championship–like everything else in 2020–is a bit different this year. The tournament will be played live in Shanghai from September 25th- October 31st, but without any fans. Teams have been quarantining in Shanghai for 2 weeks to create a bubble-like environment that has been seen in other sports such as the NBA.  Unfortunately, the Vietnamese teams had to withdraw from the tournament due to travel restrictions in their country which has reduced the number of teams in the play-in stage of the tournament. Otherwise, the tournament will go off nearly as planned before the Coronavirus outbreak.

Worlds will begin with a play-in tournament that mirrors the structure of the full tournament. Third and Fourth-placing teams from the top regions of Korea, North America, China and Europe will compete with the top teams from the traditionally lower-placing regions like Russia, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, and Latin America to find 4 teams that will move into the group stages with the other already qualified teams. 

From there, the teams are split into four groups of four and play a double round-robin of best of ones to determine the two teams from each group who will move on to the knockout stage. In the knockout stages, games will be best of five and single elimination until one champion remains. The graphic below shows the teams in their groups and what league they will be representing.

Play-in Stages

Group AGroup B
Team Liquid (LCS)LGD Gaming (LPL)
MAD Lions (LEC)PSG Talon (PCS)
Legacy Esports (OPL)V3 Esports (LJL)
Papara SuperMassive (TCL)Unicorns of Love (LCL)
INTZ Esports (CBLOL)Rainbow7 (LLA)
Group stages

Group Stages

Group AGroup BGroup CGroup D
G2 Esports (LEC)Damwon Gaming (LCK)Team SoloMid (LCS)Top Esports (LPL)
Suning (LPL)JD Gaming (LPL)Fnatic (LEC)DeagonX (LCK)
Machi Esports (PCS)Rogue (LEC)Gen.G (LCK)FlyQuest (LCS)
Play-in TeamPlay-in TeamPlay-in TeamPlay-in Team
Group stages

How to bet on Worlds futures

For information on the game itself and how to bet on LoL generally check out this piece by my colleague James McCool to get you started. 

While there is a wide variety of futures odds about champions that will do the most damage, players who will win MVP, and what stage of the tournament each team will go out in. For our purpose, we’re going to focus on the markets for the outright winner and the teams that will make the final. 

With season-long or tournament futures, I usually like to go one of two ways in LoL: bet only on the runaway favorite when their odds are reasonable or, conversely, make a few smaller bets on all the teams with a reasonable chance who are not the favorite. For this tournament, Top Esports comes in at a pretty heavy favorite at +175. To me, there are multiple teams that should at least be on the same level as Top, if not favored over them at this tournament, so I will be going with the latter approach.

Identifying World Championship winners

Over the course of 10 World Championships (and nine with Korean and Chinese teams present), a few consistent themes have emerged for teams that win the whole thing. In a game that constantly changes and evolves, identifying what team is best suited to the current iteration of the meta-game can give bettors a big edge in LoL. However, when it comes to the World Championship, meta aside, there are a few things that every world champion has in common.

Korean and Chinese teams win

A Korean or Chinese team has won 7 straight world championships. Korean teams were on a five championship streak that was broken by the Chinese team– Invictus Gaming– in 2018 and started the two-year run that LPL teams are on now with Fun Plus Phoenix winning last year’s event. Of the 18 teams to reach the final, 13 have been Korean or Chinese. They have the best players, the most developed infrastructure, the highest national interest, and the rich history. If you are betting on a non-Korean or Chinese team to win the tournament, there had better be a good reason for it.   To get a better idea of regional strength, check out this series of articles I did on the four major leagues: the LPL (China), the LCK (Korea), the LEC (Europe), and the LCS (North America)

Adaptability

One of the things that makes LoL an interesting and frustrating game to bet on  is its “living” nature. In LoL, their constant rule updates and changes to the game itself can quickly shift a team’s strength. For example North American team, Cloud 9, after having the best spring split in history, completely fell apart on a new patch of the game in the summer and failed to reach the World Championship. At times in LoL,  it can be as if the NCAA decided to outlaw zone defense right before March Madness: teams that have only practiced zone defense all year  would have a huge disadvantage coming into the tournament while teams that have always played multiple defenses would be at an advantage. It is similar in LoL: Teams who have only played one style throughout the year can struggle at the World Championship if that style becomes irrelevant in the metagame. Therefore, world champions have traditionally been teams that impose their style on their opponents or are particularly good at adapting to what their opponents bring. If a team is thought of as inflexible or passive coming into the tournament, they usually struggle. 

Berlin, Germany – March 7 — during the 2019 League of Legends European Championship Series Week 7 at the LEC Studio on March 7, 2020 in Berlin Germany (Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games)

Talent wins

While League of Legends is a team game that requires cohesive game plans and emphasizes cooperation, there are undoubtedly moments when the best players just win the game by themselves. Whether it was Rookie and Theshy with Invictus gaming, Doinb with Funplus Phoenix, or Faker with SKT,  every world champion has had at least one player who could be credibly thought of as the best player in the world. All of the most recent World Champions have had a player listed in the top 3 of the “Worlds Top 20” list that the broadcast team puts out going into the tournament. That list hasn’t been released yet for this year’s Worlds, but players who will almost definitely make the top 5 include: Damwon Gaming’s Showmaker, Top Esports’ Knight, JD Gaming’s Kanavi, and DRX’s Chovy. When making a futures bet for who’s going to win a tournament, I like to be able to envision which player is going to win MVP when they win.  It is easy to project with those teams.

Best value bets

With a few parameters defined on the kind of team we’re looking for to make and win the finals, let’s get into a few teams who could fit the bill with bettable odds. I do think that Top Esports is deserving of their favorite status heading into the tournament. They are coming off winning arguably the best league in the world, they have a potential MVP in Knight, and they showed the ability to adapt in the playoffs that they had not shown in the regular season. But at  +175, that makes their implied odds to win the tournament over 35%, that’s a tall ask for any team, but especially one I’m not sure is the best at the tournament. 

Damwon Gaming (+260 to win, -110 to reach the final)

The Korean top seed is one of my personal favorite teams to win the tournament. They fit all of my criteria: they’re a Korean team, they take every game to their opponent, play a myriad of styles and champions, and they have a possible MVP in mid laner Showmaker. They are the kind of team that you can look at each position and it is difficult to find a weakness. It makes them a bit reminiscent of the 2018 Invictus Gaming squad that won Worlds.  They have two monster carries in the top lane and mid lane who are supported by their aggressive ganking jungler while their bot lane is asked to just hang on until the later stages of the game.  Essentially every analyst in the world predicts this tournament to be focused around teams’ mid- jungle duos. If that’s the case, Damwon is well-positioned.  

Damwon has also stood out all season as a statistical anomaly.   According to important in-game economy stats like Gold Spent Differential (GSPD), Damwon Gaming is the best team in League of Legends history. They are a team that absolutely obliterates their opponents when they win and seemingly never take their foot off the gas. That style of team won in 2018 and 2019 and when push comes to shove, it’s likely that style of team wins again with Damwon.

Recommended bets: Damwon to win the finals (+260)

JD Gaming (+450 to win, +160 to reach the final)

Not only do I believe that JDG presents the best value to win the tournament at their odds, I believe this is the best team at the tournament. They are tied 5-5 in playoff games this year with the betting favorites, Top Esports, and have played them close in all the games that have mattered. They are–like Damwon– a team with no discernable weakness. Their mid laner is  not the kind of standout superstar of the other teams, but that is partially because it is not the role his team asks him to play. JDG is all about their aggressive jungler, Kanavi. He is the kind of player whose pressure on his opponents can be seen from the minute the first minion spawns. He often outmaneuvers, outsmarts, and outplays the enemy jungler to a point where they become irrelevant in the game. As previously mentioned, the game has recently turned toward emphasizing the jungler even more than in the past. Kanavi is the best jungler in this tournament, if anyone could completely put his team on his back, it’s him.

Recommended bets: JDG to win (+450), JDG to reach the final (+160)

Gen. G (+1200 to win, +650 to reach final)

Should Gen.G be favored to win the tournament? Probably not. Should Korea’s second best team ever be +1200 to win a  World Championship?  Definitely not.  This number presents tremendous value on a team that again fits the bill of every other world champion: they’re from Korea or China, Mid Laner BDD could win MVP, and they have shown the ability to adapt from being one of the slowest paced teams in the world in the spring split into one of the fastest in the summer. It’s the kind of transformation that points to a team with a solid coaching staff and the ability to learn on the fly. Additionally, they have not fully unleashed their  jungler, Clid, yet this season to carry, but he has at times been the best jungler in the world. If they ask him to carry a game or two with a big damage-dealing champion, he is more than capable. They were already the second best team in the LCK to me this split, and there’s potential for growth. That should be scary to the favorites.

The other side here is that this number opened at +2000 before the group stage draw. It plummeted down because Gen.G got drawn into an easy group in which they are favorites to win and easily move on to the knockout stages. If they are able to coast through group stages and save some of their best stuff for a quarter-final, they could easily surprise and upset a top team. The bottom line: Gen. G is significantly more in play to win the tournament than their 7.7% implied odds.

Recommended bets: Gen.G to win (+1200), Gen. G to reach final (+650)

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