In the early days of competitive League of Legends, the driving force for success was innovation. Simply being the most mechanically talented collection of players never guaranteed wins. When we look at the most remarkable teams of the first two years, we remember the Taipei Assassins and M5/Gambit. Then, the Koreans came and conquered the LoL world. For several years, the best way to play League of Legends was to do whatever the Koreans are doing. That said, even the best imitations are still a cut below the original. No team from any region could even touch the best Korean teams consistently. Of the eight World Championships, three are SKT’s and two are Samsung’s. Many analysts thought this trend, if it continued, would lead League to Starcraft’s doom, the lack of competition from other regions.
Fortunately, Riot changed the way the game was played and it gave the rest of the world a renewed fire. The Korean style of League revolved taking just the right amount of risks while earning the most profit. This led to long, stalled-out games where nothing happened for long periods of time. Top LCK teams would control vision through early leads and choke out the opposing teams. Thankfully, through gradual changes, the game incentivized teams that proactively made plays. Changes such as turret plating, Rift Herald and elemental dragons meant that teams can’t just sit back and wait for their opponents to make mistakes. This forced teams to interact earlier instead of waiting for Baron to spawn at 20 minutes. Needless to say, this worked wonders for the competitive scene. Last year, the first non-Korean team since TPA lifted the Summoner’s Cup.
However, the Koreans took the changes as a sign that they needed to adapt. The old guard of the Korean league fell to obscurity and young, talented teams such as Griffin, Sandbox Gaming and Damwon Gaming quickly rose to the top. Gone are the ward-cheering days of slow, methodical play. Now, aggressive, risky moves allowed less talented teams to sneak away wins from stronger teams. SKT even revamped their roster and rebranded themselves as an aggressive, playmaking team in order to keep up. Today, they are poised to retake their throne after a dismal 2018 season. Also, I want to talk about another point in the numerous storylines from this year’s Worlds: the top lane.
Top is an island, or is it?
While the statement is true in some way, the Group Stage games in this year’s Worlds says otherwise. Many teams, such as Splyce and Griffin, tend to play for the bottom half of the map. To be fair, their respective rosters worked best playing this style. Splyce won the EU Regional to qualify for Worlds playing raise-the-puppy with Kobbe and Griffin earned two runners-up finishes through Tarzan’s synergy with Viper and Chovy. At Worlds, better teams exploited this gap by destroying their top laners. TheShy had a field day against Sword while SKT simply made life miserable for Vizicsacsi. Usually, teams with weak top laners draft tanks and leave their top lane to generate leads elsewhere.
However, the current state of the game left tanks incredibly weak. With top tier picks like Kayle, Jayce and Vladimir, any tank will simply be a Klepto gold mine. Since most teams will essentially leave you for dead, you simply become a cc bot for your team. In team fights, you can’t effectively front line for your team because you have no items and you’re likely down in experience as well. In split push scenarios, you can’t fight the Fioras and the Jax’s in the side lanes. The game essentially becomes a 4v5. Putting weak top laners on tanks as a crutch no longer works. This crucial point prevented many teams from hiding their weaknesses. The last four teams at Worlds further prove my point: top difference won them their quarterfinal match-ups.
As early as the Group Stage games, it became clear how important the top lane was. Because of the introduction of turret plates, the Rift Herald became all the more important. For instance, one play revolves around a lane swap around the 10 minute mark. This play required not only bot lane priority, but preferably a teleport advantage in the top lane as well. If the top laner lost his lane, teams may swap earlier, losing tempo in the process. Moreover, if you don’t have top lane priority, that meant more flanking angles for the enemy team. Whichever choice you make, losing the Rift Herald meant the enemy team can easily take multiple turret plates, so most teams don’t give it up for free, because the effects can cascade into the rest of the game, more than just cs difference or KDA.
Fortunately, all four semifinalists have competent top laners and/or at least a game plan to counter the opposing team’s top. Well, hopefully. If FunPlus Phoenix can’t contain TheShy, they won’t stand a chance against Invictus Gaming. Thankfully, Doinb never really cared much for laning and he’ll most likely be camping top lane. Similarly, SKT and G2 no longer play exclusively in lane. They constantly challenge objectives and use quick rotations to force enemy mistakes and face checks. This is probably the strongest semifinals we’ve ever had and I’ve never been more excited. Watch out for each team’s top laner, because each of them are perfectly capable of popping off.
I had a wonderful day😉 pic.twitter.com/hez5G3YfP9
— Doinb (@Doinbmid) October 27, 2019
Lastly, the emergence of mages in the bot lane opened up a huge ocean for some teams. Previously, the top lane and mid lane picks would sometimes be switched depending on the matchup. Additionally, some champions can work with different roles in-game. However, only recently did picking standard mid-lane mages in the bot lane become viable. Picks like Syndra and Orianna can now be flexed as a bot lane carry. For teams like G2 Esports, the possibilities for their draft are endless. Target bans on traditional marksmen no longer work as before. Perkz can simply pick a mage and still make the same kind of impact. Picks like Renekton and Ryze can easily swap lanes, even after the draft phase.
To be fair, mages in the bot lane haven’t been successful so far. They don’t have the same kill potential early in lane like Xayah nor have the inevitable scaling of Kai’sa or Vayne. However, the ability to put an AP carry in the bot lane allows the rest of the draft to adjust better. You can still draft 3 AD champions in the top half of the map and not risk getting armor-stacked. Moreover, they usually have power spikes at level 6 (e.g. Orianna and Syndra) as well as better wave clear. This allows teams to execute plays like the 10 minute Rift Herald play I mentioned earlier without much risk. I still believe flex picks can be a huge difference-maker in the next Bo5 series. Perkz and Doinb will surely pull off some surprises that will catch their opponents off guard.
The Semifinals of the 2019 League of Legends World Championship resumes on November 2nd. Watch out for our recaps after every match.