Tuesday, December 31, 2019

January 3rd-4th: KeSPA Cup (Korea)

It's really easy to get caught up in the excitement of an impressive performance. Our brains want it to be a sign of things to come, especially if there's a degree of confirmation bias involved. More often than not it's the opposite; a flash in the pan, a unique event, not the beginning of a trend. The thing is sometimes it really is a sign of things to come.

This morning we got to see arguably the four teams I'd power rank as the top four play, some for the first time in season 10. I've yet to do my pre-season power rankings so you'll have to just bear with me a bit here but I think Gen.G, DragonX, T1, and DAMWON are, in some order, probably your top four with Afreeca and maybe one other on the outside looking in.

What's interesting about Korea this season is that there are a lot of roster question marks. Instead of questioning the metagame like we have the last year or so we're questioning the overall quality of rosters. There's a lot of new blood in the LCK this split including some on these teams. Besides DAMWON, who returned their entire roster, the other three teams are sporting combinations of new players and coaching staff which leaves us with some unknowns. Gen.G look incredibly strong but are they going to mesh right away with all of these players mostly new to each other? Can T1 maintain their reign over the LCK without Kkoma for the first time and with top laners that the public is asking a lot of questions about in Canna and Roach? How about DragonX and their two rookies pushed into a situation with three bonafied studs, two of which I'd argue are the best at their positions in the world in Chovy and Deft? Today we got our first data points for a few of these teams as well as a reminder that we shouldn't overreact to roster moves in the offseason because there are so many unknowns.



Friday January 3rd - 3am Eastern
Sandbox Gaming +145 (+1.5 @ -150)
SK Telecom T1 -165 (-1.5 @ +120)

The main question a lot of people had about T1 was regarding Roach and it turns out we didn't even get to see him. Instead we saw T1 start Canna, a trainee from last year that has quite a bit of excitement and hype built up. I'd say, considering Rascal is probably a middle of the road top laner in the LCK that this was a good test to see what he's got for his first stage game. He didn't exactly blow anybody out of the water but he looked fairly solid in his debut. It's going to be interesting seeing Coach Kim and this top lane situation as this is someone that recently came from Nuguri/Flame and TheShy/Duke, four outstanding players at the position. Did the coach make the players or vice versa? Or is Kim going to show the world that it's not about that at all? As it turns out, having the returning Teddy/Effort bottom lane that was excellent all last year and Faker is still good. Who knew!? Cuzz was arguably the most highly touted prospect in the world when he came into the LCK and while he didn't exactly light the world on fire he has been solid for the most part and ever improving. If he can take the next step and this top lane situation can be even average T1 will be one of the favorites to win the Spring split.

Our first look at the reworked Sandbox roster was one that I'm not entirely sure we can gleen a lot of information from. Griffin looked absolutely terrible. I'm not sure if it's just a rough start or what but they looked completely out of sync and lost. Perhaps this was an aberration but the main point is that it's hard to really take a lot away from this series Sandbox just played. They looked great but it was definitely more Griffin just making mistake after mistake than anything Sandbox did inparticular. I can't really hold it against them that they punished some egregious errors but I'm having a tough time moving the needle much based off of that match. I think Sandbox are going to be a good team, likely one that's challenging for a playoff spot this season. There's a degree of continuity as well as some fresh faces that I'd argue are probably upgrades to last year depending on how they show this year. Summit, OnFleek, and Dove are three of the best at their positions in the LCK, a region with a particularly strong pool at all three positions.

This line is fair to me given our expectations and what we've seen from these two teams. I could see an argument for either side but I'm going to plant my flag on T1 in this spot. It's always tough gauging strengths and weaknesses with small sample size and a lot of unknowns but T1 looked, except for some weird spots in game three, pretty strong against a team that most people had pegged as the top team going into the season. Again, maybe it was just a rough start for Gen.G and in time they will build chemistry and end up the best so you don't want to completely go nuts over one result but I liked what I saw from T1 more than what I did from Sandbox. My only reservation is the Summit vs Canna/Roach matchup but you could say the same about T1's bottom lane against Leo/Gorilla or whichever players Sandbox march out. I like T1 quite a bit here.

Moneyline: T1 @ -160 (3.2 units)
Spread: T1 -1.5 maps @ +120 (1.5 units)


Saturday January 4th - 1am Eastern

Afreeca Freecs +270 (+1.5 @ +105)
DragonX -330 (-1.5 @ -135)

Afreeca are going to be a fascinating team to watch develop this year. Last season, they were one of the best uptempo teams on the planet largely due to the exceptional play of their top half of the map, particularly Kiin and Dread. This offseason they brought in Mystic from Team WE in the LPL, an exceptional late game carry, and a new coach. So which team are they going to be? Historically Mystic's teams have revolved around him strategically but will there be remnants of last years Afreeca? Are they going to be a slow and disciplined scaling team now? Or maybe it's both? So far it's been a bit of everything so I suppose time will tell. This team has a ton of talent but I think the philosophical questions are what keep me from putting them into the top four, although it wouldn't surprise me at all.

It's rare that I react so strongly to a single match. It's even rarer that I react so strongly to a single match in a preseason tournament but DragonX look outstanding. It's almost like they answered every single question I had about them in a single series and passed that test with flying colors. The rookies Pyosik and Keria were the big question marks. Keria was in the DragonX program but Pyosik is... just some guy from solo queue? It's no wonder people weren't sure how this would work. DragonX also brought in coach cvMax. Is he the real deal or was it just the talent on Griffin? Having continuity from players that are not only exceptional talents but also are familiar with a coach's system, especially one as strict as cvMax's, is something that I think I may have underrated with this team and I'm immediately correcting course on. 

Pyosik had these games "downloaded" today. He looked startlingly like Tarzan! He took a lot of risks that might be punished in future games once people get some film on him but clearly the stage was not too big for him. He was creative in his pathing and ahead of every play, something it usually takes solo queue junglers quite some time to aclimate to on the professional level. So was it beginners luck? Time will tell but I'm extremely optimistic that a kid playing his first games against a world class team that brought the same exact roster back in DAMWON and making their world class jungler Canyon look stupid raised both eyebrows from me. 

Start with some degree of roster/coach continuity between cvMax, Chovy, and Doran. Add the best ADC of all time in Deft who seems to somehow, someway keep getting better and better (maybe it's ADCs... think of Doublelift and Uzi too... I digress). Add one of the best mid laners on the planet in Chovy. Add Doran who will be another year better and is already one of the stronger and more versatile top laners in the LCK. Add a kid you pulled from solo queue to play the position that is the most different to transition to from the solo queue version to the pro version in jungler Pyosik who just embarassed a world's representative in DAMWON and their stud jungler Canyon. Add a support that is clearly on the same page and building immediate chemistry with one of the best ADC's of all time. Add elite coaching that the players are all buying into (if you don't believe me listen to those post game interviews today). This is what great teams are made of!!

I watch a lot of League of Legends and have been for a long time. I like to think I'm pretty good at this. I've said it before but sometimes when you're really well-versed and experienced in something and your instinct or "gut" tells you something you have to trust it. My instincts are telling me this could be the best team in the LCK and maybe more. It sounds absolutely absurd to state that based on one series (I'm not counting the first two) in an OFFSEASON tournament but sometimes you can't explain it, you just see something that has that "it" factor. I see that here. Sure, you could say it's one series or that DAMWON are hungover or that it's beginners luck for Pyosik (maybe a little as I mentioned), but when you see these players completely ball out like they just did and then listen to them gush about the coach and culture unanimously and with conviction like that it means something. This team is buying in. Talent, creativity, philosophical alignment, insane potential, and perhaps the most important at this stage of the season is pure confidence. That's the kind of teams I want to get behind.

I'm so confident in this that I'm just going to go ahead and fire off a future now. I'll be doing another post on the ones I have in a few weeks before most of the leagues start but I want to get this one in now before DragonX win KeSPA Cup like it looks like they might. 

I realized after typing all of that that I forgot to handicap this actual match. Afreeca looked pretty decent in their 2-1 win against a Hanwha Life squad that I think is going to be a tad underrated but ultimately not that great.Spirit and Dread seem to be battling for the starting job, which I think can be a good thing but can also be disruptive. BEN also got a game. Afreeca are going to be good, potentially great but not everything is clicking yet and they're still trying to figure out exactly who they are while DragonX look like they're in midseason form in their first matches. Typically I love teams that are not only trying hard to win these offseason tournaments but are on the same page and doing so with new players. There's not a lot of film to pull from so while a lot of these new players like Pyosik might eventually develop tendencies and be figured out, it's tough to do that on such short notice without really knowing what to expect. Combine the roster "testing" angle from Afreeca with the above stated points about DragonX and I feel pretty strongly that DragonX are going to take this series down decisively even against a good Afreeca team. DragonX just look way ahead of schedule.

Future: DragonX to win LCK Spring '20 @ +710 (2 units)

Spread: DragonX -1.5 maps @ -130 (3.9 units)



Parlay (2): DragonX ML + T1 ML @ +112 (0.75 units)

Parlay (2): DragonX -1.5 maps + T1 ML @ +188 (0.5 units)

Parlay (2): DragonX -1.5 maps + T1 -1.5 maps @ +289 (0.25 units)

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