Providence Vs. Prowess: Analyzing The Overall Role Of Luck In eSports

Published: Oct 7, 2015 - Last Updated: Jul 14, 2023

This is the third in our series on the role of chance in eSports. The first, dealing with Dota 2, is hereThe second, dealing with Hearthstone, is here.

Esports betting is becoming more popular with each passing day. With this growth in popularity comes an ever increasing need to understand the variance associated with the outcomes of these games. There are seemingly infinite factors which can affect the outcome of any given event, but the more interesting factors are those which can be predicted and accounted for by bettors.


Many eSports titles are designed with chance-based mechanics which are determined by a random number generator, or something resembling that system. For these kinds of mechanics, two theoretical players in identical scenarios, who make the same button click at the same time, can experience different results; the result they get is based on chance, and the game itself calculates the result behind the scenes.

One player’s character may live, and the other may die. One player may win, and the other may lose. One result may occur 25 percent of the time, another 40 percent, and so on.

The chance of an outcome occurring differs with both the game and the type of potential result. Some of these results can have result-altering effects. For some games, these instances are regular occurrences which can entirely change the outlook of a match.

Smite and League of Legends

The first games are only minimally affected by random elements. Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) titles Smite and League of Legends, by Hi-Rez Studios and Riot Games respectively, both feature 5v5 match-ups in which players control a single powerful character each.

Both games, like most MOBA titles, involve the acquisition of items and stat bonuses (called buffs) which affect the power of each character. One important randomized element of both games is critical hit chance.

Characters have multiple ways of dealing damage to enemies. They can use abilities to damage their foes, or they can use their “basic attack.” Basic attacks are affected by critical hit chance such that they deal an amount of damage far exceeding that which they normally do, usually doubling the damage.

Each game has items which increase a character’s critical hit chance, and that has a huge impact on the outcome of a game.

Whether or not a player nets a critical hit at the right time can determine whether their character lives or dies, and affects their character’s overall effectiveness in a match.There is a massive difference between if a character acquires items to attain a 10 percent chance or a 50 percent chance to critically hit.

There are a few other ways in which each game is randomized, but these are largely negligible. It is possible that the 10 percent  chance character gets lucky enough to score a vital kill, and it’s also possible that the 50 percent chance character.

Dota 2

Dota 2 is a MOBA game by Valve Corporation. It features players controlling one “hero” character each in a 5v5 matchup.

Dota 2 is extremely complex and has a notoriously high learning curve for new players, and part of the difficulty is understanding the multiple chance based aspects of the game. There are inherently randomized mechanics which are important enough that they can occasionally affect the overall outcome of a game, surprisingly enough.

Two important randomized factors for each match are:

  1. Which rune spawns, and at which location.
  2. When Roshan spawns.

A rune is an item which offers temporary advantages to the player using it. Runes spawn at regular intervals at two locations, but there are a handful of rune types, and and the location they spawn at (out of the two potential spots) is randomized.

It’s possible to get a rune which isn’t situationally optimal, or one which turns the tide of a battle and saves a player’s character. Roshan is an AI controlled entity who, upon death, drops two very important items. The team that kills Roshan first often has a large advantage going forward in the match. He respawns at a random time, though the potential window is always 8-11 minutes.

Furthermore, there are random values associated with gold drops and tower damage, and there are multiple items and hero abilities which activate only a certain percentage of the time. A fuller description of chance in Dota 2 has been provided here.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it is important to note that Dota 2 is not a game whose outcomes are driven solely by these effects. Chance can impact certain games in a massive way, but the team that performs better, which also means accounting for these random elements the best, will usually win.


The game most driven by its chance-based factors is Hearthstone, the collectible card game by Blizzard Entertainment which earns more than $20 million USD per month.

Players start with a hand of four or six cards, depending on who goes first, and they continually draw from more from their remaining card pool (out of an initial 30 cards), for the rest of the match. Each card has its own strength values and special abilities, and drawing the right card at the right time is inherently luck-driven (like in many card games).

Where Hearthstone becomes quirkier than most is with the special abilities each card features.

A shockingly high number of cards have a certain chance associated with them to deliver an unexpected outcome. A basic example of this would be the “Ogre Brute” card, which has a 50 percent chance of attacking the wrong enemy.

This means that a player can target this card to attack one card, only for it to attack another. The chance for the to attack the player’s lifepool directly also exists, making this card’s target a sure thing only when the other player has no cards in play.

With one card out, it’s always a 50 percent chance he’ll attack incorrectly (or correctly, if you’re a glass half full sort of person). If the opponent has six cards out, there are two calculations which occur once the attack order has been given:

  1. Will the ogre attack the correct target?
  2. If it does not attack the correct target, which will it attack?

If the opponent has six cards in play, that means there are seven potential targets (including the player’s lifepool) for attack at the beginning of a turn. Attacking the “wrong” enemy means that he will not attack the targeted card, which reduces the number of potential “miss” locations to six.

There is now a one in six chance of him attacking anything but the original target on the board. That can affect the outcome of a match greatly, depending on the context.

The Ogre Brute is not an isolated instance. There are three other Ogre cards and an Ogre weapon card which all have the same or similar effects.

Beyond that, there are cards which can deal random amounts of damage, cards which spawn random other cards upon death, cards which give random effects under certain conditions, cards whose effect can be random based on the state of the board at the time it’s played, and much more.

A fuller description of nearly every possibility in Hearthstone can be found here.

It is important to note, however, that Hearthstone is mostly a game of skill. The same players climb the ranks of constructed play and win tournaments repeatedly. The skill of a player is based on his or her ability to mitigate the effects of chance-based outcomes and play with them in mind.

Also, not every card is part of the current Hearthstone metagame and, therefore, only those which are popularly featured at a given time deserve most of a bettor’s attention. A “meta snapshot” is a regular feature of Tempo Storm.

The meta is always changing, so prospective bettors would be wise to keep up with it.

Starcraft 2 and CS:GO

It is important for people to know which games feature little to no randomization, too. Blizzard Entertainment’s Starcraft 2 and Valve Corporation’s CS:GO both feature no elements of inherent randomization.

CS:GO is a first-person shooter (FPS) title which relies much more on twitch gameplay. It’s a 5v5 matchup between two teams, terrorists and counter-terrorists, in which the terrorists attempt to plant a bomb at one of two locations. The counter-terrorists, predictably, try to stop them.

Any chance-driven game mechanics would destroy the competitive balance of such a title, and it’s thankful that there are none.

Starcraft 2 is a real-time strategy (RTS) title by Blizzard Entertainment which is renowned for its competitive balance. Each team builds a base to sport a large army, and the goal is to destroy the enemy base first. Each of the three factions (Terran, Protoss, and Zerg) offer unparalleled multiplayer balance.

Were there any important elements of Starcraft 2 based solely on random-number generation, it would be unlikely that the game would be so balanced.

It’s important to keep in mind that, in spite of their lack of inherently chance-driven game mechanics, CS:GO and Starcraft 2 still feature the opportunity for luck to play into the outcome of a match. Players in CS:GO can score a “lucky” shot on their opponent, almost like a person might in basketball. A Starcraft 2 player might get lucky to have avoided the sight of another player’s scouting unit.


There’s a multitude of reasons why the best team or player may not win in these games, but the reasons why an upset can occur differ drastically in each of them. Players can get lucky in numerous ways, whether based on their own actions, the result the game provides them with, or a combination of both.

Games in which chance is such an essential aspect, such as Hearthstone, are games where a huge part of the skill of professional players is luck mitigation, or being able to account for all the potential outcomes of an action.

A person who thinks that Hearthstone is solely – or even mostly – luck-driven is the same as a person who believes that Texas Hold ‘Em is determined solely by luck because they once lost money from a bad river card.

Furthermore, the fact that every player has an equal chance to be afflicted by such chance-driven results helps to maintain competitive balance. The winning percentage of a skilled player or team will always correct itself over a long enough period of time to reflect how good or bad they are.

If a Hearthstone player keeps getting unlucky over and over again, it’s likely that the player keeps putting him or herself into the position to be unlucky to begin with.

Michael Kaufman

Since: August 23, 2015

Michael Kaufman covers eSports and uses his knowledge of each game to help create betting strategies. He is based in New York.

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