How Professional Influence Inhibits Innovation on the NA Ladder
If you are anything like me seeing Faker dumpster somebody with Zed, Madlife make an amazing hook, or Wildturtle get a Penta, you find yourself wanting to go do the same. It is common to want to be like or play like the public figures that you watch and League of Legends is no different in that regard. The blatant issue is that you likely won’t be able to just go out do what these players are achieving. Attempting to imitate their successes affects the game quality on the ladder negatively since you have non-professionals trying to act as if they are professional players. However, this isn’t the biggest problem - there is a deeper, long-term issue that is going unnoticed and should be discussed.
Playing What We See Played is Setting Us Back
The largest problem is that professional players dictate what is Meta without question, namely the Koreans. With worlds coming to a close this upcoming weekend, it is already clear that some champions have returned to favor. ( Janna, J4, Rumble, Jayce, etc.) Just weeks before Worlds, these picks were not as common in NA ladder or LCS. It is not due to them being bad picks but simply they just weren’t used in Western Meta. Now after Worlds, these are prominent picks again, but why?
To me, it seems their absorption back into our Meta is merely because of them seeing play in the Eastern scene, not because the picks are any better than what we normally play. It is the idea that Eastern players and teams know better than us. A quote from a recent interview with an LCS player: “If something is being picked or banned consistently at the OGN level, then you can assume it is good.” We don’t aim to adjust to their selections in order to best them, we just adopt them no questions asked. It also shows with so many teams racing off to Korea for bootcamp prior to Worlds. CLG even left before the LCS season was even over! (Obviously, there is more to it than just this.) And here lies the problem, while we transition into this ‘new’ Meta we adopted, Eastern players are already moving on to the next. Essentially, we are lagging behind the transitions rather than setting the trend. We are not challenging their strategy at all and it’s something that has been taking place for far too long.
Playing into the Meta Improves Your Ladder Rating Not Your Skill
Meta picks are obviously a high priority for professional players that are looking for the immediate win. Anything that gives them an advantage is going to be utilized. What about us non-pro, solo queue players? What benefits do we gain from using the same champions? The truth is that there is little to no gain, especially as a region.
Short term wins are marginally useful as individuals since there is no reward for gaining any amount of LP. Adopting meta champions to your pool adds stagnation to your level of mastery. Time is spent to learn champion basics rather than experiencing outlying scenarios that allow for great plays to be made. Strategy isn’t allowed sufficient time to develop for all match-ups whereas everyone quickly learns to play against these Meta champions. In the end, your overall skill doesn’t improve and there isn’t anything new you bring to the ladder.
Thinking Fresh and Expanding Niche Picks
What should be happening then? Experimentation! Unfortunately, it isn’t appreciated when people experiment in LoL (or even MOBAs in general). It is heavily shunned by the community but this must change if we want to see North America win Worlds.
With 121 champions released and still more to come, there are so many possibilities and are already several identified as niche picks for specific situations. From here, take the niche picks and use them; master them. Expand the breadth of match-ups that you would use these picks then take them into solo queue and use them regularly.
Solo queue is the crucible for players and champions alike. By using picks effectively in solo queue, you manipulate the opinions of the other players in the game. You may even inspire those players to try it themselves and that’s what we need as a region! Diffusion of strong, non-Meta picks breeds a strong national Meta that we can use to our advantage during international competition. All of the picks we are adopting spawn from the same idea but out of a different region. Ideally, these picks would propagate or originate at the top of the ladder so that our LCS/Challenger players can experience them first hand and hopefully consider adopting them into their pool despite competitive Meta.
I know, I know. There is a lot of hopefulness in this article and many conditions for these changes to be possible and this isn’t something that one person is going to do alone. The whole community has to come together and foster innovation in order for it to happen throughout the scene. The pros and streamers will need to use their platform to promote open-mindedness and experiment for themselves as well. Until then, you won’t be seeing a North American or even Western win at Worlds because we will never beat the East in their own Meta.