Metagame Round-up: Week 1
With three of the five major leagues already back in action and the LCS starting up again this week, the off season has officially come to a close. Fortunately, that means there are a lot of great League of Legends games to watch, unfortunately there is now so much League of Legends being played every day that it's almost impossible to keep up . To help people stay abreast of all the major leagues (LCK, LPL, LMS, LCS NA and LCS EU) I'm going to be writing a series of articles, of which this is the first, to briefly summarise how the metagame is developing in each of the major regions every week. This will primarily involve looking at the most frequent picks and bans, the level of aggression on display, whether there is a greater objective or kill focus, and possibly more external factors such as how substitutions are used.
Only the three Asian leagues were in action last week so they'll be the focus of this article, the EU and NA LCS will be included next week.
This article quickly became much too long. Luckily, it doesn't need to be read sequentially so if you want to skip to the part concerning one league in particular everything should still make sense.
Since we've just emerged from a period of international competition (MSI) each region has very recently had the opportunity to see its own metagame tested against the other regions'. Unsurprisingly, this has lead to a convergence of play styles throughout the different leagues. Exploring these similarities is a good place to start before moving on to look at each region individually.
Top 10 most contested picks last week:
Across all the regions that played last week there was a clear consensus over the best champions in the top, jungle and mid lane roles, however, pick and ban statistics show a less certain agreement over what should be prioritized in the bottom lane.
Top lane this week was dominated by Maokai, Gnar and Hecarim. This has been the case for a while, as these champions are a quintessential part of the 'tank meta', the important thing to note is that they are all champions which excel at teamfighting and are relatively poor at split-pushing. In the jungle Gragas (pick/banned in 52/53 games) and Rek'Sai were universally considered very powerful picks. Sejuani was the clearly the third highest priority jungler but after Clearlove's pocket Evelynn pick in the MSI finals, she also saw a small amount of play in all three regions last week. Again, Rek'Sai and Gragas are champions central to the 'tank meta', but they also represent a significant early game threat which Sejuani can't match.
Mid lane last week witnessed the completion of Azir and Cassiopeia's simultaneous rise in popularity, they stood alongside the ever dangerous Leblanc as the most contested picks in the LMS, LCK and LPL. Leblanc is almost always a power pick because her kit is extremely versatile and she can expect to fare well in most matchups. Cassiopeia and Azir popularity is due to their incredibly high consistent dps, strong defensive team fighting, and excellent scaling. They form part of the small minority of champions who can defend themselves against the hard engage of a Hecarim/Gnar/Maokai with homeguard boots and teleport.
As for the bottom lane, Alistar and Thresh were the most contested support picks, Kalista was banned in the vast majority of games (42/53) and while Sivir saw a lot of play, she only found real success in China (80% win ratio over 20 games).
Style of Play
As the graph above indicates the pace of games has slowed down significantly since MSI, snowballing to victory off of one or two early bottom lane kills has become less frequent as teams have had more time to acclimatise themselves with the early strength of Gragas and Rek'Sai. To counter the early aggression we are beginning to see increasingly defensive bottom lane picks, notably Alistar who is devastatingly effective at shutting down early turret dives and is difficult to gank at all after level 6. Even with these changes the bottom lane is still the most volatile part of the map during the laning phase.
Mid to late game team fighting, which was always a significant part of the 'tank meta', is still the deciding factor in a lot of games and has become even more important with junglers generally finding less success in the early game. Almost every high priority pick is valued for their team fighting ability, especially in the top and mid lanes.
The other worldwide trend as the summer season begins is the drastically increased number of substitutions. Last split only SKT and LGD were substituting players on a regular basis but already this split we've seen many more teams across all regions substituting their starting roster for younger talent. The most obvious example of this is EDG who, despite winning MSI without using subs, have decided that it's worthwhile to sacrifice some team synergy for the sake of developing new talent and becoming more resilient to medical problems and players retiring/leaving.
Top Three Picks in Each Role:
58% 58% 33%
54% 54% 38%
33% 33% 29%
83% 25% 21%
50% 50% 42%
N.b. these are the most picked champions, not the most picked and banned. The percentage is the percent of games they were picked in this League.
The most important pick last week in the LPL was undoubtedly Sivir, she achieved an 80% win ratio over 20 games while only receiving one ban. As mentioned previously, other regions have so far failed to exploit Sivir's strong team fighting, disengage and pushing power to the same extent as LPL teams. Most games essentially boiled down to one team believing they had the answer to Sivir and ultimately being proved wrong. Vayne and Lucian, the second and third most picked ad carries had win rates of just 33% and 20%. The resurgence of Vayne has been brought about by a small buff to Botrk and the fact that she is well equipped to deal with champions that benefit from Cinderhulk. Although she wasn't as successful in China as she was in Korea, it seems likely that we'll be seeing more of Vayne in the future.
In the jungle Rek'Sai and Gragas (win rates 69% and 62%) significantly outclassed Sejuani (33%) who simply couldn't keep up in the early game. Similarly in the top lane the two highest priority picks, Maokai and Gnar (50%, 69%), proved more effective than the frequently banned Hecarim (38%).
Orianna's popularity and success in the mid lane (joint most picked mid laner, 63% win rate) was one of the major differences between the LPL and the other leagues in action last week, but considering she has good matchups with the other popular mid laners, strong team fighting, and excellent synergy with all the current top lane champions (and Alistar), Orianna fits perfectly in to the LPL meta.
Looking to the future for a moment, we can expect to see some of the Kalista bans (21/24 games) move over to Sivir and some of the Hecarim bans (13/24 games) change to Maokai or Gnar. It's possible that if Kalista sees more play she'll be able to justify her near-permaban status but it seems unlikely given the fact she went 4 wins/6 losses across all regions last week.
One pick to look out for which surfaced again this week in the LPL is mid lane Varus. EDG's Pawn played it twice, UoL famously played it in the EU LCS playoffs, and it's being played in Korean Challenger solo queue (by Faker no less). There's a chance that Varus, like Evelynn, will develop in to a niche pick to counter specific champions and compositions.
Style of Play
Historically the LPL has been a region focused on winning the game from the bottom lane, this week was no exception. However, in the current LPL meta this isn't achieved through snowballing a hypercarry - though Jinx and Vayne were both played this week - instead bottom lane serves as the killing field in the early part of most LPL games. Lane swaps are rare, ganks are extremely frequent, and as a result bottom lane is where most of the early game gold leads are accrued. The LPL is the only region where junglers are still able to execute lethal ganks consistently in the early game, with 96% of first bloods occurring before 10 minutes as opposed to 71% and 58% in the LCK and LMS respectively. This is also one of the main reasons Rek'Sai is still a successful pick in China while he's beginning to fall off in other regions.
Once a lead has been established in the bottom lane, teams use the advantage they have gained to gain vision control over dragon. Dragon itself is rarely a win condition; in fact, despite the higher number of games played each week, the LPL was the only league in which no team secured 5 dragons last week. Instead the dragon is simply used as a place to start fights, the real objective in LPL games is Baron. After winning a team fight most LPL teams prioritise Baron over all else, and will mercilessly end games once they've acquired it. For this reason the LPL had the shortest games this week, averaging just 36 minutes. LPL teams will seize any opportunity to go for the jugular, and have the required talent to pull off very aggressive, game-ending plays without overstepping their limits.
Top Three Picks in Each Role:
67% 58% 50%
75% 67% 16%
42% 33% 25% 25%
75% 50% 25% 25%
75% 42% 25%
There are a number omissions and inclusions in this list of the most picked champions from the LMS which immediately raise some questions. First, the absence of Rek'Sai. Not only was she not amongst the three most picked junglers, Rek'Sai wasn't picked at all in the first week of the LMS. She was banned in 9/12 games, but in the game where she wasn't banned Sejuani and Gragas were prioritised instead. Both Sejuani and Gragas were either picked or banned in every LMS game last week. This is probably both a symptom and a cause of LMS junglers' failure to find kills early in games, there is no reason to pick Rek'Sai unless you are able to use his early power spike. It's true that Gragas is also strong early in the game, but his ultimate gives him a much greater impact in team fights regardless of how well he did early in the game.
In the mid lane Vladimir and Cho'Gath (25% and 50% respective win rates) stand out because they are rarely seen in other regions (Vladimir does see play, but he's not a top tier pick in any other region). Vladimir's popularity is further evidence that LMS teams are willing to sacrifice early game strength for late game team fighting. Cho'Gath is simply an example of the 'tank meta' taken to its extreme conclusion, and was played mostly as part of 4 or 5 man bruiser team comps by AHQ and TPA. He's also an effective counter to both Vladimir and Cassiopeia because of his silence, and since those were the other two most picked mid lane champions it makes sense for Cho'Gath to see a lot of play.
One further point of interest is the AD carry position. In the LMS teams couldn't exploit Sivir in the same way as their LPL counterparts, resulting in an underwhelming 44% win rate. It's difficult to know exactly why this was but it could be that Sivir simply doesn't scale well enough to keep up with the late game-focused LMS team compositions.
The pick to look out for from the LMS this week is definitely Bard. Although he's been banned a few times in the LCK, no other region has actually seen him in action yet. AHQ's Albis played him twice for a combined score of 7/7/36, and played a pivotal role in his team's victory on both occasions. It's looking extremely likely that we'll be seeing more of bard in the future, especially if champions like Vayne are returning to the meta and looking for 2 v 1 lanes.
Style of Play
It's difficult to reconcile the LMS's 0.78 average kills per minute (which is the highest of the three leagues in action this week) with the fact that only 58% of first bloods occurred before the 10 minute mark. This apparent contradiction is caused by the lack of decisive team fights later in the game. Instead of one or two team fights which lead to an immediate baron and a decisive finish like the LPL, LMS teams have far greater difficulty in closing out games. Comebacks are abundant, as teams fail to snowball their small leads in to larger advantages. Winning teams in the LMS had an average 10 minute gold lead of just 79, as opposed to the LCK's 673 and the LPL's 621. This is a strong indication of how much difficulty LMS teams have with developing and exploiting gold leads early in the game.
These extremely close, bloody games are probably caused in part by a little bit of sloppiness from teams after a long break, and partly because it's just how the LMS metagame has developed. As this interesting article points out the LMS playoffs also had more kills per minute than the LCK, NA LCS and EU LCS. The Taiwanese region is simply more kill focused than other regions, they play in a style geared towards late game team fights, and as such LMS games tend to turn in to bloodbaths.
Top Three Picks in Each Role:
71% 41% 41%
53% 53% 41%
29% 24% 24% 24%
53% 47% 24%
65% 41% 35%
The first week of the LCK summer split was a week of high priority picks failing to deliver results. Maokai, who was the most picked champion this week, could only achieve a 33% win rate over 12 games and was outperformed by both of his major rivals in the top lane, especially Hecarim who had a 71% win rate over 7 games.
In the jungle Gragas with his 67% win rate dominated Rek'Sai won just 22% of her games. Additionally, in games where the two most picked junglers clashed, the team with Gragas emerged triumphant 6/7 times. However the second tier jungle pick Sejuani outclassed them both with a 71% win rate. Above anything this highlights the fact that Korea is not a region which heavily prioritises kills at any stage of the game. It's also a region with exceptional warding and relatively conservative play, as such Rek'Sai players have struggled to obtain the kills needed in the early game to justify picking Rek'Sai over either Sejuani or Gragas.
Cassiopeia, the most picked mid lane champion, only managed to win one game. It was a similar story in the bottom lane where Sivir, who was so successful in China and was the most picked ad carry in the LCK, had a win rate of just 33%. Once again, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly why Korea couldn't make Sivir work this week but looking at the most successful ad carries, Vayne and Jinx (Vayne went 3/1, Jinx went 3/0) it seems likely that Sivir's scaling is part of the problem.
Zed played an interesting role this week, banned in 35% of games but only picked once. Zed is generally considered to be fairly week right now and was only picked or banned one time in the LMS and LPL, but two factors combined to cause his high ban rate in Korea. Firstly, as we saw at MSI, he has a very good matchup against Azir in lane, and since a lot of teams were prioritising Azir (94% pick/ban rate) it was important to deny the counterpick. Secondly, Anarchy were involved in 6 of the 17 games this week and their mid laner, Mickey, proved to be devastating on Zed in the one game it wasn't banned against him.
Style of Play
The LCK is the most objective focused of the three leagues that were in action last week, it had the lowest kills per minute and the longest games, but what really makes the LCK unique is the amount of gold and map pressure LCK teams can gain from a small number of kills. This week was no different. Despite having fewer kills and a smaller percentage of pre-10 minute first bloods, the winning team in LCK games gained the largest gold leads at 10 and 15 minutes. Due to LCK teams' ability to quickly take advantage of kills and the heavy emphasis on gaining vision advantages the LCK has naturally become a league which focuses more on picks and split pushing. However, in the current 'tank meta' team fights are still relatively frequent.
One of the most interesting aspects of this week's LCK was the recently promoted Anarchy, who lived up to their name by creating chaos in the early game with plays which, by Korean standards, were very aggressive. This style of play wasn't very consistent but it did catch two of the more established teams off guard and allowed Anarchy to take a game from CJ and the entire series form Najin. It was a similar situation at MSI in the games between SKT and Fnatic/EDG, and last year when the KT Arrows won Champions Summer against Samsung Blue. It will be interesting to see how the traditionally objective orientated Korean meta adapts to this rising level of aggression both domestically and internationally.
Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or suggestions you can find me on twitter @Soseki7