What do you get when you mix a popular crypto and poker personality with irreverent Counter-Strike analysts? In this case, a Twitter war between mathematical insight and traditional esports narratives. But which side is right, and what can we learn from this internet scuffle?
On August 31st, Doug Polk was watching the New Legends Stage at the Berlin Major and was put out by the forthright analysis of esports veteran, Duncan “Thorin” Shields. His tweet to this effect tagged Thorin directly, and as a result begged to be torn down by a vehement CS:GO community.
Despite the backlash, this prompted an interesting debate between the value of deep- game knowledge vs betting odds from an online bookmaker. Much of the CS:GO community rallied around the knowledge-driven analysis that is so popular across the world of esports. On the flip side, there was strong support that mathematical models and the clever algorithms of betting traders were the best predictor of who would win.
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Analyst panels in esports
Tournaments today almost always hire experts to delve into the strengths and weaknesses of each side before a match begins and build a narrative for the audience at home to follow. These experts usually do substantial research on teams, and have a long history with the game to understand every nuance.
This is a fundamental part of the entertainment package because the pre-game show sets the stage for fans to better enjoy the action. Player and team stats are often used to add credibility to the expert views, but betting odds are still rarely included except when a betting sponsor demands it.
Betting odds are decided by a combination of mathematics, insight and actual betting patterns. When online bookmakers get the odds wrong - for example underestimating Astralis at the Major - punters would tend to bet more money on that under-priced option. The net result is that bookmakers will shift the odds to help cover those potential losses. This means that match odds you see online are often heavily skewed by the actual money people put behind their predictions.
Polk used these insights to claim that Thorin wrong to be so critical of Astralis, and that going off the pre-event odds they were still one of the top two teams in the world. This did not go down well with CS:GO fans but he persevered, going as far as offering a private bet.
As a former professional poker player, Polk’s outlook is heavily influenced by mathematics over gut feelings. It isn’t surprising that he maintains this view when talking about CS:GO esports.
However, betting odds, of course, are often proved wrong when both the experts and public are surprised by a result. Popular teams can sway the odds because their huge fanbase overestimate their chance to win. We've seen this in other areas, too, for example when betting operators didn't accurately predict political results like the Brexit vote in 2016.
Doug wins this round
Are odds really the trump card in predicting a match? Most esports fans would say that there’s much more going on than just mathematics. Understanding the meta of CS:GO, the strengths and weaknesses of each side and the dynamics at play when teams clash are all an essential part of being a fan. In this case, of course, Polk was vindicated by the strong finish by Astralis in Berlin.
While this one went in Doug’s favour, surely he would be among the first to point out that a single result cannot validate a theory. CS:GO fans will always be hungry for the storylines that enhance the viewing experience as well as inform them about the game. Maybe it’s time to now enhance that story-telling with the no-nonsense edge of betting odds.
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