Photo courtesy of Riot Games
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What is the Snowball and Why is it Important?
Every fan of professional League of Legends will at one point or another hear a caster talk about “snowballing the game” or some variation of that phrase. Basically, what that means is taking an advantage gained in the early game and burying the enemy team underneath it. But just how important is it to gain that early game advantage internationally?
This experiment is looking at the past four international tournaments (MSI 2019, Worlds 2019, Worlds 2020, and MSI 2021) and will see how often a team with a 1,000 gold lead at 15 minutes goes on to win the game. Over the past four international tournaments there have been a total of 394 games, so there were plenty of examples to choose from.
Originally this experiment was going to be a 2,500 gold lead at 15 minutes, but a problem soon emerged. Teams very rarely throw that big of a lead. In fact, out of 394 games across the past four international tournaments, there have been 166 games with a team ahead 2,500 gold or more at 15 minutes. The leading team has only thrown that lead 11 times. So congratulations, if your favorite team is up 2,500 gold at 15 minutes, they are going to win 93.37% of the time.
Games with a 1,000 or Above Gold Lead
Out of 394 games, 295 (74.87%) of them have had teams with a gold lead of 1,000 or more at 15 minutes. In the below chart we can see that in these games, teams very rarely throw that lead. The average percent of games won when ahead by 1,000 or more gold at 15 minutes across all four tournaments was 85.89%.
Surprisingly, it was in the knockout stage of the main event where teams would lose a 1,000 or above gold lead most often. In those games the team with a 1,000 or above gold lead only won 77.68% of the time. While this may still seem like a guaranteed victory, it is the lowest of any other stage. Play-in group stage saw 80.23% win rate, 94.77% for the play-in knockout stage, and an 89.16% win rate in the main event group stage.
Now this data set only looks at games where a team held a 1,000 or above gold lead at 15 minutes. There are still 99 more games that were played in these tournaments, so how does the data look when it is stacked up against every game that was played?
Every Game Played
So here it is. This chart looks at all 394 games that were played over the past four international tournaments. It goes to show that when a team drafts for the early game and is able to build up that gold lead in the first 15 minutes, it is much easier to win. The average percent win rate across all four tournaments for this data set was 65.33%.
But this graph also shows just how close these past four tournaments have been. Just over a quarter of every game played does not have a team with a significant gold lead at 15 minutes. These games are really going down to the wire, especially in the knockout stages.
The tournament that is perhaps going to be the most relevant to Worlds 2021 is the MSI that took place this year. It is the most recent tournament and is the closest to the meta that we have now. Out of 81 games the team that any gold lead won the game 69.51% of the time.
As with most data sets, there are games or series that need to be highlighted because of how crazy some of the stats are. One such game is game four of Suning vs. JD Gaming from Worlds 2020. The reason this game is interesting is because it has the largest gold lead at 15 minutes that ended in a loss for the ahead team. JD Gaming accrued a massive 4,200 gold lead over Suning that did not matter, as Suning took the game and the series with a win.
The largest gold lead at 15 minutes happened in MSI 2021 with the Chinese side Royal Never Give Up getting a massive 11,200 lead over Oceania team Pentanet.gg. The largest gold lead at the end of a game was in Worlds 2019 with another Chinese team, Funplus Phoenix, amassing a 21,300 gold lead over the Taiwanese team CTBC J Team.
Red side had a total of 141 games where a team had a 1,000 or above gold lead, with 123 of those games turning into wins (87.23%) Blue side had 163 games with a team ahead 1,000 or more gold at 15 minutes but only 136 of those turned into wins (83.44%). This means it is easier to get a lead on the blue side but ride side advantages turn into wins more often.
There were two games where a team led at 15 minutes by 1,000 or more gold and then went on to lose the game but did not lose the gold lead. The first was at Worlds 2019 where in a game between the Korean SK Telecom T1 and Chinese Royal Never Give Up, RNG got a 500 gold lead over T1. T1 went on to win the game still down 100 gold at the end. The second was at Worlds 2020 where the Chinese Top Esports team faced a 3,000 gold deficit against the Korean DRX side at 15 minutes with Top winning still down 1,500 gold at the end of the game.
Finally there is one series I want to highlight because of how bizarre it is. In the semifinals of Worlds 2019, Europe’s G2 Esports took on Korea’s SK Telecom T1. G2 took the series in four games to advance. The reason this series is unique however is because whatever team was leading at 15 minutes would go on to lose the game. It is the only series like this, every other series across all four tournaments has at least one game where the winning team was also winning at 15 minutes. Truly a baffling series.
Worlds 2021 Update
Through play-ins and the group stage there have been 92 matches this year. Of those games, there have been 21 where the gold difference at 15 minutes was less than 1,000. Teams with that smaller lead only won 57.14% of the time. However, the teams who found themselves with that 1,000 gold cushion after 15 minutes have won 83.10% of the time, right in between Worlds in 2019 and 2020. Teams who held any type of gold lead at this year's Worlds have gone on to win 77.17% of the time so far in this tournament. Watching the knockout stage, you should hope your team is winning the early game. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in Worlds 2021 playoffs or if teams are able to keep things closer like in past tournaments.