LCS 2021: Evaluating the Champion Pool of LCS Players

League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /
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League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

Let’s take a deep dive into the champion pool of the LCS players entering the 2021 season.

The term “champion pool” is often thrown around without context when evaluating professional players. Commentators and analysts will often discuss an LCS player as having a large champion pool or “champion ocean” simply by looking at the unique number of champions played, as if the ability to pick a unique champion is itself a skill.

Having a large number of champions to pick from is one useful feature of a player’s champion pool, but few commentators dive deep into whether the player is actually able to perform well on a unique pick. As an analogy, any mid laner in the LCS could pick Fiddlesticks, but only a skilled player like Bjergsen can pilot the champion to its maximum effectiveness.

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To say it another way, if you think of a champion pool like an actual swimming pool, it’s great to have an Olympic-sized pool for training. But if the pool is only two feet deep, you’re not going to be able to do much swim training.

Thus, my goal in looking at champion pools was to attempt to find a balance between the value of having a large number of champions to pick from but also having a select number of champions one can play at a high level. In this way, we can evaluate whether a player has both a “wide” and “deep” champion pool. To do so, I looked at every LCS player entering the 2021 season (and a few who are not, but were prominent in 2020) and broke down the champions they chose in the 2020 season into three categories.

First is what I would call champion pool length, which is simply the number of unique champions chosen. Although having played a lot of unique champions is not determinative of having a “big” pool, being able to play many different champions does still have value to a player.

Second, we have champion pool width, or the number of champions a player picked in at least 10% of their games. This is, effectively, their “comfort” champion pool and having more champions to rely on is also important. There is a difference between having played 20 unique champions, but 18 of them only being picked once versus 15 unique champions, but only three were picked once.

Finally, we have the depth of champion pool, which is the number of comfort champions that a player has demonstrated above-average proficiency in playing. To evaluate proficiency, I evaluated only three stats: KDA (over 3.00 is considered acceptable), Estimated Damage Differential (over 0 is acceptable, because it indicates a player does more damage than the average player on this champion), and Matchup-Adjusted Experience Plus Gold at 15 (again, over 0 is acceptable because it indicates the player is performing better than average in lane on this champion). If a player is above the minimum threshold in all three categories, we consider this to be their “core” champion pool.

When we combine these three “dimensions” (length, width, and depth), we can form a three-dimensional figure that would represent a player’s champion pool. One note, because collegiate stats are not as widely available, we could not do a full evaluation of Niles and Iconic, so we assumed that their core champion pool is the median of the qualifying champions.