Western LoL fans will no longer have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get their LoL fix from China and Korea, as their home leagues return this weekend. The LEC will begin their regular season play on Friday and the LCS will continue the group stage of their preseason tournament with a $150k prize pool and playoff seeding implications.
It marks a real changing of the guard for both leagues, after one of the most active offseasons in Western LoL’s history that saw the two faces of the LCS retire in Doublelift and Bjergsen and one of the faces of the LEC, Perkz, make the switch to North America. Both leagues will have a serious delineation between “the contenders” and “the rebuilders”. Some teams saw the turnover as an opportunity to try and solidify their rosters with big buyouts of star veterans like C9’s multi-million dollar purchase of Perkz and others saw it as an opportunity to cut back on spending with teams full of rookies like Golden Guardians and SK Gaming. Some analysts see this as a growing problem for the league as the gap between the haves and the have-nots appear to be getting larger, captured by the Twitter thread below from former LCK caster, Montecristo:
For LoL bettors and DFS players in 2021, one of the keys to a profitable season will be nailing down exactly how large that gap between the big spenders and the rebuilders is and when the lines don’t accurately reflect those gaps. The other key will be ranking the teams that are in each of those tiers so that when a contender plays a contender or rebuilder plays a rebuilder we can still find value.
For me, here’s where each team will end up in 2021:
- Mad Lions
- XL Esports
- Schalke 04
- SK Gaming
- Team Liquid
- 100 Thieves
- Evil Geniuses
- Golden Guardians
Week 1 Preview (Moneylines)
- G2 (-323) vs. MAD (+233)
- AST(+108) vs. SK (-139)
- RGE (-270) vs. XL (+200)
- VIT (+137) vs. S04 (-182)
- MSF (+272) vs. FNC (-385)
- S04 (-159) vs. XL (+121)
- VIT (-145) vs. MSF (+112)
- MAD (-286) vs. AST (+214)
- G2 (-770) vs. SK (+454)
- FNC (-159) vs. Rogue (+121)
- AST(+135) vs. VIT (-179)
- RGE (-370) vs. SK (+257)
- MSF (+181) vs. MAD (-244)
- FNC (-222) vs. S04 (+164)
- XL (+354) vs. G2 (-556)
- DIG (+350) vs. C9 (-575)
- GGS (+250) vs. 100T (-360)
- EG (-280) vs. FLY (+195)
- TL (-175) vs. TSM (+125)
IMT (+125) vs. FLY (-175)
G2(-770) vs. SK (+454)
If you had never bet on esports, your eyes may immediately get stuck on this line and you could think to yourself “over -700 on a single game? SK must be one of the worst teams ever.” It’s the logical conclusion to come to, but this kind of line is pretty common in esports. Because of a lack of historical data and institutional knowledge, sportsbooks have been very cautious with lines for esports. That doesn’t mean I think you should just go out and blind bet SK for some sort of perceived value. In fact, you will almost definitely lose money approaching LoL betting that way. However, what I am trying to illustrate is that there can be huge opportunities for value in mispriced underdogs in LoL, but more often than not these kinds of spreads are completely unbeatable.
That is the case here. G2 has won the last 8 of the last 10 LEC splits and enters this season with arguably an upgrade at the easiest position to replace with ADC Rekkles coming in. They are -250 favorites to win the LEC championship. SK has completely rebuilt their team with stars from the second tier European Masters tournament. G2 should win this game around 85% of the time. They have the more talented players in every single position. The only way to play this game as a bettor is to refuse to play.
Dignitas (+350) vs. Cloud9 (-575)
The stratification of spending that was discussed earlier in this article will be on full display when Dig tries to take on C9 this weekend. It is difficult to know for sure because LCS franchises are not required to report salaries, but it is likely that C9’s midlaner, Perkz, costs more than the entirety of Dignitas’ roster.
If this was Cloud9’s very first game of the season, I would recommend taking the shot with Dignitas as Cloud9 tried to fit Perkz in. But by the end of last weekend after a shaky performance in game 1, C9 seemed to be rounding into form and leads the LCS in the key stat of Gold Spent Percentage Differential on oracleselixir.com GSPD has become my LoL version of DVOA for football or real plus-minus for basketball. It is not the end-all-be-all for a team, but it is one of the best statistics we have for telling how a team is doing without only looking at wins and losses. The long story, short here is: Dignitas is doomed in this matchup. I would not make a bet on C9 at this money line, but the kill spread for this game is worth a look.
Game of the Week
Team Liquid (-175) vs. TSM (+125)
After playing trading places with Doublelift for the past 4 years, Team Liquid and TSM will have their first matchup without him on either team in quite some time. The expectations for the two LCS titans remains the same though as they both spent significant amounts of money on their roster in the offseason with Jensen and SwordArT.
This particular game will more likely hinge on the availability and preparedness of Team Liquid’s new jungler, Santorin, who just arrived in the US after being travel-restricted due to covid. If he seamlessly transitions into being the rock he was last year for Flyquest, Team Liquid is a runaway favorite here. If they struggle to get him acclimated, TSM could see an opportunity to get their first “good” win of the season.
Early Value Plays
Bet: SK Gaming (-140) vs. Astralis
If you look back up at my power rankings, you’ll see that I have these two ranked as the worst teams in the league.
So why bother? I think the gap between Astralis and every other team in the league this season will be as significant as it ever has been in the LEC. After a tough summer split that had them falling all the way to 10th from their 3rd place finish in spring, Astralis has moved almost entirely into rebuild mode. It is a move that makes sense for the long-term prospects of the team, save for one move.
They kept midlaner, Nukeduck, whose declining play was the main factor in the team’s freefall. An apt traditional sports comparison would be if the Saints saw what Drew Brees did against the Bucs on Sunday and decided to fire the rest of the team and build around him. It’s the kind of move that only dysfunctional teams make. SK is rebuilding with talents from the second level of European LoL, but is a functioning team that should beat Astralis in week 1.
Bet: Rogue (+121 or better) vs. Fnatic
When making my rankings at the beginning of a season, I like to think about where a team will finish by the end of the year, not necessarily their strength in this exact moment. I expect Fnatic to be the better team by the time of the World Championship, but right now to me, Rogue is pretty clearly the better team. They have brought back 4 of their 5 starters from their first place regular-season finish in 2020 and upgraded the one spot that clearly held the team back in the top lane. I expect this team to light the league on fire early on. We saw in the LCS Lock-in tournament this weekend that continuity reigns supreme in early season LoL. No one fits that box in the LEC as well as Rogue, who finished last season with a 13-5 record and a 6% GSPD.
Fnatic, on the other hand, after another loss in the finals at the hands of G2 decided to try to find a new mix to compete. Moving on from mid laner, Nemesis, to Nisqy is widely thought of as strictly an upgrade, but losing the face of the franchise, ADC Rekkles, to G2 will leave big shoes for new ADC, Upset, to fill.
Regardless of talent, trying to get a new mid laner on the same page as the rest of the team is always a big task in LoL. Since mid has the easiest access to the other two lanes, mid laners are often key to team cohesion and play. It will take time for Nisqy to bring his patented roaming style to Fnatic and while the team is working on that synergy they are going to drop games to good teams with continuity like Rogue.
Bet: Team Liquid (-175) vs. TSM
According to esports outlet Inven Global, Santorin has arrived in America. While his fill-in, Armao, did an admirable job in filling a role for the team in week 1 of the LCS Lock-in, he was badly outclassed in their loss to 100 Thieves. With Santorin back for week 2, Team Liquid can be confident they have the better player in 4 out of 5 positions on the map and could make an argument for all five.
Usually, a favorite’s first game with a new player would concern me, but not with Santorin. Santorin is the rare kind of player who is actually all about the team. He will fill whatever role the team needs him to do to win. If they ask him to take a backseat and play tanky, supportive Junglers, he’s happy to do it. If they ask him to play aggressive carries, he can do that too. He’s like Chris Paul with a mouse and keyboard. It is going to take TSM some time to mesh together with a roster change at every position except for Jungle and a new head coach. Team Liquid should roll here.