The League of Legends 5.5 patch went live on March 11, just in time for it to be implemented in this week’s League Championship Series. Lost in all the talk about the new support champion Bard, who was kept out of competitive play for at least one more week, and the new ability power item Luden’s Echo, were a host of changes to the jungle that shook up the metagame.
“Before when you jungled, you had mostly AD champions,” Gravity Gaming jungler Brandon “SaintVicious” DiMarco said. “You also had Nidalee, and then maybe Nunu. So, you had to pick AP top and mid, or like a Corki. You had to balance your team comp really well.”
Indeed, this week we saw a host of new champions enter the jungle, like the return of Zac and Sejuani, but also the top lane and mid lane, too. That allows teams to balance their team compositions with varying types of damage and varying tankiness, opening up more options in the mid and top lane. It may seem a bit counterintuitive that changes to the jungle would open up more options in other lanes, but it’s really elementary: It’s all about maintaining flexibility. Flexibility in team compositions, that is. It’s looking like one of the most diverse metagames in League of Legends history.
“It gives a lot more flexible, just because of the jungle changes, to what you can do to the team comp,” SaintVicious says.
Gravity Gaming took advantage of that this week. In their match against Team SoloMid, they featured Nunu in the jungle with Maokai top and Urgot, traditionally a marksman champion, in the mid lane. Against Dignitas, they used the AD-based Hecarim in the top lane with AP champions Sejuani and Fizz in the jungle and mid lane. Balance is needed to stop the other team from itemizing against you. Team SoloMid, for example, picked an AD-heavy composition with Rek’Sai, Zed, and Lucian, and were punished for it, with Gravity Gaming building four Frozen Hearts.
“I would like to see a little more on the physical damage jungle side, because its really AP heavy right now,” SaintVicious says. “I think they’re getting close to the fine balance right now. This is one of the best patches Riot has ever done.”
Team 8 shot caller and top laner Steven “CaliTrlolz” Kim, who is famed for his off-meta picks and diverse champion pool, agrees with SaintVicious—the patch rocks, opening up even more options in an already wide top lane champion pool.
This weekend CaliTrlolz used the hefty mage Gragas—a pocket pick he’s starting to pull out more and more—to beat Winterfox, winning a key teamfight by erasing enemy marksman Johnny “Altec” Ru with a perfectly timed dash and smash. Then he pulled out Vladimir for the first time in the LCS this year and used the tanky vampire to pull off a comeback victory against Cloud9.
“I think carry top lane is more a play style just because there are more tank junglers viable,” he said, echoing SaintVicious. “You could run two tanks, and there’s no problem. It opens up a lot for current meta. Like Urgot yesterday was ridiculous. I could play Gragas without having to worry about being able to tank anything very much. The meta right now is as versatile as it has ever been in competitive League.”
The top lane and mid lane are open for nearly any champion these days. Gravity Gaming’s mid laner, Lae-young “Keane” Jang said as much on Saturday, after using Urgot to beat Team SoloMid: “You can play anything in solo lanes,” noting that he really wanted to try traditional top laner Rumble in mid. CaliTrlolz agrees.
“Rumble mid is actually really good,” he said. “I played it yesterday in solo queue, too!”
One of the things that limits top lane champion variety is the tendency for pro teams to lane swap, ensuring their marksman are able to farm up into at least the mid game. That “skews” the pool of top laners, as CaliTrlolz puts it, because a top lane champion needs to be able to hold their own in a one-on-two matchup, as well as survive some partial jungle clears to deal with freezes or other off-the-wall situations. Earlier in the season, CaliTrlolz wanted to try Swain, but held off due to his weakness in lane swap situations—”he gets shut down too hard.” But the 5.5 patch opened up a lot more options, he says.
It’s possible that the meta settles down into a certain set of power picks once people are more used to the 5.5 patch, but for now it’s the wild west out there. That suits teams like Gravity Gaming and Team 8 just fine. They’re two of the squads more open to trying new things, after all, so it only benefits them.
There is one negative for CaliTrlolz. It’s harder than ever for him pander to the crowd with a weird champion pick. There are almost more champions in meta than not. “It’s not like back when Renekton and Shyvana were the only champions played top lane,” he said. “There’s so much variety.
“Anything could be played top, honestly. I think there’s like 15 to 20, it hurts my head to think about all the champions and know the matchups. Right now the top lane is the hardest to play competitively.”
The variety in the jungle, top lane, and mid lane is only a good thing for fans, who get to see a vibrant, interesting, and exciting version of League of Legends. Even if it gives players like CaliTrlolz a headache.