LCS 2021 Championship Prediction

LCS 2021 Championship Prediction

The LCS Championship begins this weekend, so let's walk back through the season, see how it stacked up against our pre-season predictions, and ask a magic 8-ball what's going to happen in this upcoming tournament!

Pre-Season Predictions

We started off the summer season with a power ranking across the LCS teams, as well as our expectation of their records.

A quick aside here: we predicted only their summer season results; however, spring records carried over to this season to affect their final standings for Championship entry. It turns out that just following summer performance would have given you the same set of eight teams, though it would have created some placement ties that the full records did not.

Another major caveat with those pre-season predictions, which we brought up in our LEC playoffs predictions but feel is worth repeating ad nauseam: they were made given the information we had at the time, before a single game had been played in this season. As the season unfolded, new data was incorporated into the model, and we were able to generate updated predictions for each match (which is what our suggested bets are based on - always using as up-to-date data as possible).

So, again focusing on just the summer split, let's take a look at those predictions, as well as our updated predictions, market odds, and actual results:

Team Name Acronym # Matches Wins Predicted (Initial) Wins Predicted (Final) Wins Predicted (Market) Actual Wins
Team Liquid TL 27 19.72 17.57 16.73 15
Cloud9 C9 27 18.6 18.43 18.16 15
Team SoloMid TSM 27 16.78 16.92 16.43 18
100 Thieves 100 27 14.97 16.91 16.36 18
Evil Geniuses EG 27 12.85 13.76 14.28 18
FlyQuest FLY 27 11.15 12.14 10.39 8
Counter Logic Gaming CLG 27 11.02 10.01 10.56 7
Immortals IMT 27 10.9 10.88 11.72 13
Dignitas DIG 27 10.82 10.35 11.48 12
Golden Guardians GG 27 8.19 8.04 8.87 11

We had expected Team Liquid to be the strongest, with Cloud9 and TSM not too far behind. Turns out reality had some curveballs in mind... Our top 5 are still the top 5, but TSM, 100 Thieves, and Evil Geniuses all dominated the season with 18 wins apiece, while Team Liquid and Cloud9 lagged by a trio of victories.

The bottom 5 teams were more of a shakeup: FlyQuest and Counter Logic Gaming underperformed expectations, while Immortals, Dignitas, and especially Golden Guardians outperformed.

Let's focus in a bit more on Golden Guardians. They had a disastrous 3-15 spring season, but were able to follow it up with a fairly commendable 11-16 summer (41% winrate), which took them from last to 8th, just barely squeaking by FlyQuest for a spot in the Championship (they had tied total records at 14-31). We still don't think they have particularly strong chances in the Championship, but clearly this was the season of the underdog, so maybe we'll be surprised again.

As with our LEC post-season analysis, looks like we generally agreed with the market this season. We suggested bets on 34 of 135 matches, which means that we were in relatively close agreement on the outcomes of about 75% of the matches.

Championship Bracket

And now for the championship!

Just like the LEC playoffs, this is a double-elimination, best-of-5 bracket with the top 3 teams qualifying for Worlds, so strong performance here is crucial. Unlike LEC, however, there are 8 LCS teams competing, so there is no immediate losers' bracket game and the top two teams, TSM and 100 Thieves, get a 1st round bye:

source: official LCS twitter (@LCSOfficial)

TSM and 100 Thieves can't place lower than 5th/6th, since they bypass the first round of the losers' bracket, and obviously Immortals and Golden Guardians are starting on the back foot, but hey, anything can happen.

Simulating the Bracket

As always, time for some simulation! Running this bracket through our predictions model, and simulating how it plays out 10000 times (Monte Carlo), here is the probability for each team to win the tournament overall, as well as their median placement:

Team Name % 1st Place Median Place
Team SoloMid 26.37% 2nd
100 Thieves 25.84% 2nd
Cloud9 23.95% 3rd
Team Liquid 15.43% 4th
Evil Geniuses 8.19% 4th
Dignitas 0.20% 5th-6th
Immortals 0.02% 7th-8th
Golden Guardians - 7th-8th

TSM is overall favored, and likely to place at least 2nd. 100 Thieves is just a touch behind them, and Cloud9 is also looking like a top contender, so those are the obvious top 3 teams to look out for. In spite of Evil Geniuses' outstanding summer split performance, we still think they'll revert to the mean and struggle here. Meanwhile, the bottom three teams have pretty much no hope to win, according to our model. In 10000 runs, Golden Guardians did not end up winning the tournament a single time (insert Dr. Strange meme here). Even starting in the winners' bracket, Dignitas just has too difficult of a road ahead of them for us to believe they can reliably beat multiple top teams for that #1 spot.

If you ain't first, you're last, right? Well, not actually - as we'd mentioned, top three teams have a shot at Worlds (though 3rd place technically just makes it to the Play-In, not a guaranteed Main Event spot, so there's still an incentive to do well here). Here's how likely each team is to place in those top three:

Team Name % Top 3
100 Thieves 75.30%
Team SoloMid 71.14%
Cloud9 60.00%
Team Liquid 48.47%
Evil Geniuses 37.56%
Dignitas 5.38%
Immortals 1.81%
Golden Guardians 0.34%

Unsurprisingly, the overall order is almost exactly the same. 100 Thieves slightly ekes out TSM here, in spite of being less likely to take the actual top spot. There are two interpretations: first, nuances of specific matchups and bracket position may make it easier for them to take 2nd or 3rd, whereas TSM is slightly more all-or-bust; second, Monte Carlo simulations are non-deterministic and there's always going to be some slight variance, so reading into minute percentage differences isn't worth it.

Because each of the top 5 teams are reasonably competitive with each other, and no single team is so obviously dominant, even the favorite (100 Thieves) still only has a roughly 3/4th chance to make it to Worlds! More likely than not, of course, but Golden Guardians has won 25/75 matchups this season, so I'm not sure 100 Thieves fans should be counting their chickens quite yet.

Still, we have a fairly obvious split of five strong contenders, and three heavy underdogs. What are the odds that any of those three actually pull off an upset and take a favorite's place at Worlds? 7.45%, according to the machine gods. Not particularly high, but not impossible either. This is, of course, bolstered by Dignitas being considered an underdog but starting in the winners' bracket; if we exclude them, GG and IMT have a combined 2.15% chance to squeeze through.

Finally, here's the total distribution of each team's outcomes:

Golden Guardians has a particularly rough bracket here, overwhelmingly likely to take 7th-8th (which means going out in the first round). They will face the loser of Cloud9 v. Team Liquid, who have 82.5% and 81.2% probabilities, respectively, to beat GG - hence GG's overall 82%-ish chance to take 7th-8th. Immortals is surprisingly well-stacked against its potential round 1 opponents; they have a good chance to beat Dignitas, who they are more likely to face, though are likely to hit a hard wall after that and duck out in 5th-6th.


If we naively simulate the bracket by having the favorite win each match, we end up with these final standings:

Team Name Place
Team SoloMid 1st
Cloud9 2nd
100 Thieves 3rd
Team Liquid 4th
Dignitas 5th-6th
Evil Geniuses 5th-6th
Immortals 7th-8th
Golden Guardians 7th-8th

This is actually kind of interesting: while TSM is still looking the strongest, we had claimed that 100 Thieves had a better shot at 1st place (or even any top 3 finish) than Cloud9, so what happened?

Well, as we've talked about before, tournaments are path-dependent, so the exact sequence of matchups happens. In addition, you can have rocks-paper-scissors triangles, where Team A is favored over Team B, who is favored over Team C, who is favored over Team A; the transitive property doesn't always apply to team performance in competitions. Also, the top three teams were all within a couple percentage points of taking 1st in our simulations from each other, so it's not like this is a huge upset.

It's also not worth putting too much stock in this: while it's technically the single most likely bracket to occur, it's still exceedingly unlikely. This exact sequence of match outcomes only happens with a 0.49% probability - a little under 1 in 200. If you're filling out pick'ems and just put the obvious bracket, you might be right by the year 2221...

(In a 12-match bracket, there are \(2^{12}=4096\) possible brackets, though not all are equally likely. The average bracket, though, should have a \(1/4096=0.024\%\) chance of occuring, so this bracket is about 20 times more likely than the average sequence.)

You Wanna Bet?

Betting on the outright winner of this tournament isn't a possibility, unfortunately, so this analysis isn't directly translatable to action. As usual, though, every individual match should have betting opportunities, so make sure you keep up with our suggested bets to stay on top of things!

In addition, hopefully this analysis has given you a good preview of what to keep an eye out for over the coming weeks. And hey, even the underdogs aren't completely out of this one, there's always a chance... an 7.45% chance in fact.

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