Friday, October 20, 2017

League Worlds = Hot Damn

For those unfamiliar with League of Legends Worlds Pick 'Em, it's basically LoL's March Madness: pick the winners, earn points. During the group stage, with four teams in each group, you get points for picking the correct position of each team in the group, a bonus for getting the two teams in each group in the correct order of finish, and a bonus if you nail the whole group. There are sixteen points available per group, for a total of sixty-four. In the bracket stage, you get five points per quarterfinal correctly chosen, ten per semi-final, and twenty if you pick the overall winner, for twenty points per round. So, overall, you can earn up to 124 points.

One of the current missions in League is to score at least thirty-four points in Pick 'Em. You have the whole tournament to do it. Given the relative predictability of most matchups, and the lock-it-in reliability of Korean teams, not scoring thirty-four is almost impossible if you're trying.

Halfway through the quarterfinals, I still haven't, because this tournament has lost its goddamned mind. If SKT had gone out, I might not make it at all.

Something I enjoy about watching League that doesn't often seem to be the case in other sports is how unpredictable results look so obvious in retrospect. Of course EDG ate shit. Of course TSM failed at the last minute. Of course Misfits slapped TSM around and made it out of groups. I believed Misfits could beat SKT, but I still picked SKT because 'could' in this case meant about 10%, which is probably more than 99.9% of fans would have given them. Yet in the games Misfits won, there were no major throws by SKT, just excellent work by Misfits in the drafts and the games to put them in position to throw down the biggest upset in the game's history. 

Longzhu losing to Samsung, even though it was Korea beating Korea, is as close to a real shock as there's been in the tournament when viewed in retrospect. As the analysts pointed out after the match, Samsung straight up played differently than they had during groups, especially in regards to vision play. How they beat Longzhu makes sense, but it's also easy to understand why nobody expected it—teams might talk about holding back their real strategy until they need it, but that's not how these things usually go.

On the other hand, Misfits have been as prime an example as any of how previously poor long-term results are not indicative of future poor occurrences in League. It's possible for a team to have a magical day where they play over their heads, but it's far less likely than in more traditional sports for three reasons:
  • High-level athletic performance is more prone to variance. If you put a basketball player at a three-point line with a hundred basketballs and no defense for ten straight days, that player is not going to hit ninety-eight or more shots all ten days. Maybe Steph Curry could hit ninety every day. Professional LoL players (at least top/mid/ADC) needs to CS at that level while they're laning despite being on the lookout for enemy ganks and facing one or two players actively trying to stop them. They're expected to land the right skills on the right targets in the middle of high-stress, ultra-chaotic team fights. Errors happen, but those errors are noted because of their rarity. As a high bronze player, I have the room between my normal game and my skill cap to play out of my mind, but pros need to be so close to their skill cap already that the only real change they can have is to play worse than normal.
  • Every traditional sport can lean on a superlative performance by one or two individuals. Even if a LoL pro plays surprisingly well, if his average team remains average, the coordination involved in most key moments is not going to be sufficient to beat a far superior opponent. If a team is going to win in a true skill upset, it's going to happen through better drafting and shot-calling, and that's not something which comes and goes. A good strategic coach and team can always draft intelligently. Someone who's capable of shot-calling well doesn't get worse a week or a month later. If you see a team winning through these methods, even if it just started, those teams are usually quite capable of continuing. And when they make a mistake against that superior opponent—see Misfits, Game 4, around 27:30—it can fall apart precipitously.
  • Traditional sports don't have meta shifts. The absolute best players can do any job required of them, but even pros have preferences and are not usually as good on one type of champ as another (e.g. tank vs. carry). In the short-term, if it appears the meta has begun to suit a team, it's reasonable to expect their performance to improve until the meta shifts away from that strength. 
Ergo, despite everybody shitting on Misfits because they had to go on a huge playoff run to make Worlds, their performance against SKT should not be viewed as a shock given that between the playoff run and their work in the group stage, something clearly changed. Likewise, it's completely reasonable to have doubted Gigabyte Marines despite their competitiveness at MSI because their summoner switched to top (position switches matter, just ask Piglet), and their whole bot lane is new. 

Keep in mind, the reverse is not true. As stated at the end of point #1, a player or team can absolutely fall apart. There are numerous examples of this throughout League history, and EDG/TSM/IMT can be used as examples in this Worlds alone.

And to think, C9 vs. WE seemed like the most competitive matchup when the quarterfinals were drawn. Maybe the main lesson we can take from all of this is that we shouldn't be hard on anyone trying to do pre-game analysis and predictions, because this shit is hard to figure out. RNG should beat the dicks off Fanatic, but who the hell knows anymore? I just hope it goes five. I hope they all do.

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