World news – Bayes Esports: Predicting the Unpredictable with Esports Events


Erin-Marie Gallagher

March 25, 2021
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Darina Goldin, Director of Data Science at Bayes Esports, delves into seasonal trends in the esports industry and why she has learned to manage the chaos that comes with trying to predict esports events in 2021.

When something is seasonal, it means that it fluctuates in a predictable way within a calendar year. This applies to shopping, the average temperature and, for the most part, to professional sports. These are usually organized into leagues or major events that happen around the same time each year.

In tennis, you have the Grand Slam. In football there is the Bundesliga, the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, the World Cup (every four years) and so on. You may not know who will be playing a year from now, but – barring a global pandemic – you can pretty much tell where and when they will be playing.

Not only is that nice – it’s absolutely necessary when you can looking at professional sport from a business perspective. Players and teams need to plan their travel and training plan. Referees, commentators and experts know when and how much they will work each month. Sponsors need to know about upcoming events so they can allocate the appropriate funds. Companies that provide or use sports data can budget their year early.

It goes without saying that the same standards are expected in sports. After all, professional esports have long overtaken traditional sports when it comes to prize pools, sponsorship, and production quality. However, when it comes to reliable event planning, the gap is still open.

As a company that processes and enriches esports data, Bayes Esports needs to know which events will take place and when for the most important esports titles. But if you’re going to do any – and I mean any – esports event prediction, you have to give up everything you knew and get your crystal ball out. Then leave it on the table – you can see just a few months in advance every time you look.

Of course, I’m too dramatic: things aren’t really that bad. For example, we can be fairly confident in saying that there will be no significant games at Christmas in western countries and that Chinese teams will not play around the Chinese New Year. Then the teams take a well-deserved vacation.

We can also say that the total number of games for the big three will increase a little each year: Counter-Strike, Dota 2 and League of Legends. Finally, we can uncover another trend: No matter what, you can expect entire leagues to be constantly postponed, canceled or restructured: with or without Covid.

Take Dota. For the longest time, the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) consisted of major and minor events (with the number of events changing over the years). The events had independent organizers but were selected and co-sponsored by Valve.

Events at the DPC are usually the most prestigious and important as they are the only way a team can get a place at The International – the culmination of Dota 2 Professional game, the world championship of the game. But precisely because the events were hand-picked by Valve each year, they were never the same.

The number, locations, and organizers of major Dota 2 events varied from season to season. Even if you could expect a certain event to happen long in advance, you wouldn’t know for a long time whether it would have major status.

Take ESL as an example. As one of the foremost organizational organizations in the esports world, they host a number of major Dota 2 events, including the ESL One series. In 2017/18 all of their events were at the DPC. 2018/19 wasn’t one of them. In 2019/2020 ESL One LA (which was canceled due to COVID) made it to the main route and the other events. And while ESL One Birmingham was still a very big event in the 2018/19 season, it just wasn’t that important.

Fortunately, you don’t have to remember anything – it turned out that even the minor / major System was not set in stone. This year Valve abolished the old system (and with it all forecasts) in favor of a league-based system. So in the 2020/2021 season we have two leagues: one in winter and one in late spring, followed by a major event.

Together, these leagues and majors will culminate in The International (which was decisively canceled in 2020 due to international travel restrictions) . Understandably, Valve is not yet ready to pinpoint a specific day for the event as so many factors are likely to change – but if the past is any clue, the approximate date for that is August 2021.

According to TI 2021 the leagues will start again in October. There will now be three leagues and majors: one in fall 2021, one in winter, and one in late spring 2022, hopefully followed by TI in August 2022.

At least that’s been promised, and if Valve keeps its word we can expect a more rigid structure from the Dota 2 Professional Circuit in the future. That would be a nice change.

The leagues are planned to have a top game every day except Monday during this active time, which is great for fans and data providers like Bayes Esports. With roughly 180 hours of Dota 2 gaming per week, we’ll never run out of coverage again. We hope that this league system will prove to be successful for a long time to come.

It must be added that not all notable Dota 2 events are on the DPC. As mentioned earlier, in addition to the Omega League from WePlay! Also a Dota 2 series that is considered Tier 1. At the time of writing, March 2021, we don’t know when most of these or any other events will happen beyond April. This is not because of Covid – it’s just the way things are.

While Dota 2 has just switched to a league-oriented system, LoL has been doing this for a long time. Riot Games (the title’s publisher) is also the sole authoritative body behind the game’s professional events. This makes LoL the most seasonal of all the titles we deal with. The main event of the season, the World Cup, has been played for a decade, which is a very long time in the esports world.

Overall, League of Legends has three major international events where the seasons converge: Worlds usually take place in October with an ever-increasing number of teams competing for the highest glory. Winning worlds for a LoL player is like winning the Super Bowl or the FIFA World Cup.

The second most important event is the Mid-Season Invitational, which takes place in May (although it has been postponed to July 2020). With one major event in spring and one in autumn, the rest of the calendar is divided into two league seasons: spring and summer. Each season there are twelve regional leagues in which the teams compete for a place in the worlds.

The most popular regions are Europe, China, Korea and North America. This is shown by how many positions they are allowed to occupy on the worlds. Each league has its own rules, although they are usually played in a round robin format followed by a complex playoff. The playoff rules still change from season to season and can get very complicated.

Tier 2 leagues also exist in many regions and follow roughly the same schedule as Tier 1 leagues. The European region deserves a special mention here, where each country has its own regional league. The winning teams take part in the prestigious EU Masters tournament that attracts the attention of fans.

Despite the name, the spring season usually starts in January and ends in playoffs at the end of March. The summer season takes place after the Mid-Season Invitational, beginning in June and with play-offs from late August to early September. The total number of games per league can be estimated well once the number of teams is known.

With this rigorous league structure, it is also easy to estimate the ups and downs of the league games as a whole: Few, but high-quality games will be played Played in May and October through December, with just a few games in early January and a large number of weekly game games in the remaining months.

We saved the Juwel CS: GO for the last time. Like Dota 2, CS: GO is published by Valve, which also sponsors some large and small events. Unlike Dota 2, there is no international or other overarching tournament that resembles the World Cup. Every event works almost like a silo – very separate and different from each other.

Because of this, the majors have more prestige. They also occur rarely: 1-3 times a year. The majors consist of a large group stage (usually played with a modified Swiss or GSL system) followed by a single, eight-team elimination play-off round.

But unlike Dota 2, the majors represent in CS: GO just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. There are several leagues that lead to LAN finals and are considered premium, in particular ESL Pro League, ECS and BTS.

There are prestigious events such as ESL One Cologne, IEM Katowice, DreamHack Masters or Starladder. All of these offer similar prize pools and are very interesting for fans due to the large number of participating teams. They also often offer superior production value and are therefore worth more overall.

This makes Counter-Strike the game with the fullest calendar of top tier events. The problem is not finding interesting matches to offer enough content, but choosing the most important ones – and of course getting the data rights for them!

Unfortunately, as with all titles, most of these events are not announced early enough. We might expect them to happen – but we have no way of knowing what month they will happen.

One thing that there is in CS: GO is pre-arranged summer and winter holidays that are every year from the Counter-Strike Professional Players’ Association. Both breaks last about a month and no major tournaments should be scheduled during this downtime.

The winter break includes Christmas and the Chinese New Year. The summer break is planned between July and August. For example, the ESL Cologne, which is planned from July 6th to 18th, will be the last international LAN before the summer break in 2021. The season will reopen on August 17th with IEM Melbourne. So it’s difficult to predict how many CS: GO games will take place. It should be noted that the downtime between breaks is very predictable and known in advance.

We’ve only discussed the big three of the sport here, since these are the titles that are currently attracting the most interest. However, it is worth noting that it was not clear which Valorant events this year would still take place in November 2020. For Overwatch, plans and leagues have changed since the title launched.

In fact, Activision Blizzard has announced another overhaul of its Overwatch and Call of Duty leagues a few weeks before the 2021 Overwatch season begins, and with the CoD 2021 season already underway. Starcraft II premiere events have not been announced beyond July 2021. Another legacy game, Quake, just got its new Quake Pro League two years ago.

Sure, some of these uncertainties can be explained by Covid – big tournaments have offline finals, but how can you get an international offline Planning an event when you can’t even plan your own vacation?

However, most of these problems existed well before spring 2021. And that’s hardly surprising. Overall, esport is still very young. You will have a hard time finding an esports title that is more than ten years old and has a significant competitive scene. Conversely, new titles are published every year that compete for a place in the sun with a further tournament structure. We are still in the test and growth phase here. It’s okay for things to change.

What is wrong, however, is how late these changes are sometimes communicated. It’s hard to imagine that big promoters really don’t know what event they want to host. The lack of transparency and communication is detrimental to the popularity of the sport. It’s hard to communicate with outsiders.

As Bayes Esports urged in our recently released white paper, tournament organizers should strive to professionalize their approach to data and timing. This is understandably more difficult to do in 2020/21, but it should still be the overall industry goal.

All organizations involved in sport need this information sooner rather than later. Every business has to plan revenue. To do this, it must be known how many games are being played and when. This data is vital for the esports industry to continue its current growth and professionalization. But it just doesn’t exist! And won’t exist for at least a few more years.

There is a silver lining, however. 2020 was not a typical year and 2021. Sports events (and sports events, albeit far less often) were canceled left, right, and center. Every prediction for traditional sport went down the drain.

But Bayes Esports was fine – we were used to everything that happened at any given moment. This is the only advantage of being a data scientist in sports: there has never been a normal year. We never knew which events were coming and when. But we always manage to get the data right.

Tags Bayes Esports Call of Duty COVID-19 CS: Los Darina Goldin DOTA 2 ESL Pro League esports esports events League of Legends Monitor Quake Pro League Starcraft II Valorant

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