This year’s much awaited world championship will kick off in Paris on the 1st of October with sixteen teams competing for the chance to declare themselves the best in the world, and reap all the fame and glory that they will so richly deserve. Meanwhile, across the English channel, a tournament has already begun. Much like worlds, teams from all over the glove have gathered together to hold a competition to declare themselves to be the best. They will participate in a group stage of four groups, the two top teams from each groups will qualify onto the knockout stage of the competition. Whilst the format of the tournament is the same as worlds, the nature of the competition could not be more different. For league of legends, ten players will compete at the pinnacle of competitive league of legends. In the rugby union world cup, thirty men will be push themselves to the limit of strength, skill and endurance at the highest level of the sport.
On Sunday, a true David and Goliath match unfolded. On one side South Africa, two time winners of the world cup itself and a team consistently ranked in the top three in the world. Only three teams have ever beaten them in a world cup before. On the other side Japan, in six world cups having only won one game. Their participation is often joked as being a holiday for their players. Not this this time though. From start to finish the Japanese played out of their minds, matching the springboks blow for blow, falling behind but repeatedly responding to stay in touch. In the dying moments of the match, three points down, when offered the chance of a kick for goal to secure a draw, they instead opted to go for the win. A brave call rewarded as they scored in the last play of the game to record the biggest upset in the game’s history. The group has been left wide open, the teams to qualify being anyone’s guess.
The minnows rise…
It is a story to warm the cockles of anyone’s heart, but particularly those fans of H2k, paiN gaming, BKT, TSM and Origen. The reaction to the group draw last Saturday was not one of optimism. My personal favourite coming from the oddone. But we needn’t need to look so far as another sport looking for a cause of optimism. Just last years world championship provided plenty of upsets. AHQ managed to take down EDG, widely considered China’s greatest hope at the tournament. Fnatic, playing with the consistency that could only be expected from a team from the EU LCS, began by losing to LMQ before roaring back to beat Samsung Blue, another favourite for the tournament. The final Korean seed, Najin Shield, another team considered a contender before the tournament, were dismantled by Alliance and beaten soundly by cloud nine. Finally there was the most famous upset of the groups, the game that sent shockwaves across the world, leading to a new verb in the league of legends lexicon: to Kabum (past participle: Kabumed). It should be noted that all these teams lost the other fixture in the matchup. They are of called upsets for a reason. In a best of five it doesn’t matter whether you won 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2, what matters is that you won, however every game in the group stage counts and can change the entire makeup of the group. AHQ forced a tiebreaker with EDG, Fnatic managed to cancel out their earlier slip up before proceeding to ride their rollercoaster to ruin. Wherever Froggen now walks, he is followed by the ghost of KaBuM!, reminding him what could have been.
The truth is, upsets in the group stage aren’t just likely, they’re inevitable. This isn’t just League of Legends, this is the fundamental nature of competition. The best team does not always win. They just win most of the time. In some cases nearly all of the time. However is is not unreasonable to expect the lower seeded lcs teams to grab a game off some of the Chinese and Korean squads. Of all the LCS teams last year, only SK gaming failed to do so.
The underdog has a chance then. Alas, you probably already knew this, or at least wished it. As every bookmaker knows, punters secretly love an underdog. On average, bets with long odds lose more money per bet, yet they don’t need to shorten the odds to satisfy demand.
As an example closer to home, lets take a look at some of the predictions from the analyst desk last year. Reddit user playhacker conveniently recorded these in a table and gave each pundit a success rate. Montecristo had the highest correct guess rate of 81%. He achieved this by having a very clear and simple strategy, he predicted the favourites to win every time. He had a firm idea on how good he thought the teams were, and he didn’t ever deviate. The prophet Crumbzz, despite his uncanny ability to spot the unexpected, falsely predicted many upsets and ended up with a meagre success rate of 65.5%. Pr0lly similarly tried to favour underdogs favouring Fnatic over OMG, then shortly after Fnatic’s loss, choosing LMQ over Fnatic only to be wrong again. His success rate was just a hair better than the fans, who chose Dark Passage to win four times. This teaches three important lessons for the group stage; to never count a team out in a best of one, the results of one game are rarely indicative of two teams relative strengths and that predicting the unpredictable is as difficult as is sounds.
This year is more unpredictable than ever, with a much longer time between playoffs and the championship, the dilution of Korean talent into other regions and a special bumper worlds patch. This should be the most exciting and competitive world championship ever, and every team has the opportunity to leave their mark, no matter how small.