My Trusted Friend - Lulu
Inspired by Thoorin's "Bring me your experts" video, I decided to do a series about signature champions. My goal with this series is to establish historical context by exploring who I think are the best players to ever play those champions. This series will give an in-depth history of a champion's competitive history and showcase some of the best Summoners to ever call them forward.
At this year's IEM World Championship, the best Lulu player to ever play this game devastated the competition alongside his trusted champion. To Lustboy, IEM might have felt like a complete blast from the past. Once again, he was helping his AD Carry past the laning phase so they could dominate teamfights. Once again, he was catching opponents over and over again on a support many considered a passive peeler. Once again, he was an IEM World Champion.
The history of Lulu in competitive play has been a long and interesting one. First introduced in Season 2, her versatile kit has seen played in all five positions (she was played as an AD Carry in the GPL by Bebe) and saw time in the jungle during the Season 5 pre-season.) However, Riot always intended Lulu to be played as a support, and by and large, this has been where she has seen the most play over the years. This article will outline Lulu's competitive history from her creation in Season 2 to the present day.
An Unplanned Start
Although Riot has always intended Lulu to be played as a support, her versatile kit and powerful laning has meant that she has always had a knack for showing up in the solo lanes. When Lulu was first released, former Dignitas Voyboy immediately saw her potential for abuse as a solo laner. Voyboy has always been famous for his eclectic champion pool and tendency to heavily snowball lanes. Modern fans may know him better for making champions like Katarina or Akali look completely broken but during early Season 2, Lulu and Lee Sin were Voyboy's deadliest picks. One of the scariest aspects of Voyboy's Lulu play was Dignitas's tendency to pair it up with other supportive champions, most notably Soraka mid (pre-rework.) After securing these two powerful support solo-laners, Dignitas would then pick the relatively unpopular Kog'Maw for Imaqtpie, creating an extremely broken predecessor to the modern day Jugger'Maw composition. Dignitas had a history of pulling out creative compositions against CLG, and the first time they would debut this strategy would be in the semi-finals of IPL 4. For an example of this comp in action, click here!
As would often happen when Voyboy played a champion, Lulu was met with swift nerfs. Lulu would briefly fade away from popularity as pros stuck to tried-and-true champions like Janna or Sona and neglected the Fae Sorceress, who only saw sporadic play for a while but would soon see a golden age as a top-tier meta champion.
Lulu would return to prominence alongside the legendary CLG bottom lane of Doublelift and Chauster. One of the key contributions the duo made to League of Legends was their re-invention of how bot lane was played, with a severe focus on fundamentals such as harass and trading. Most of the time, supports played out extremely passive laning phases and focused on either protecting the AD Carry or making plays out of the lane. This re-imagination of the bot lane proved extremely effective, and even titans like MadLife were pushed back by their coordination and desire to fight. Many teams simply looked like they didn't know how to deal with the their aggression.
Because of Chauster's emphasis on powerful laning, he would bring back Lulu to competitive play. Lulu's powerful auto-attack damage and long-range poke meant that Lulu was the perfect tool for Chauster to dominate the laning phase. Heading into teamfights, her multiple team-mate buffs meant that she was a great fit for CLG's "Protect the Doublelift" strategy. Although Lulu was a great fit for any AD Carry, she was particularly strong when paired with Doublelift's unique champion pool. For example, a Lulu-Caitlyn bot lane created a powerful poke duo that could also fast push by combining their Q spells and a Lulu-Graves bot lane was simply the most powerful lane combination possible in both trade and all-in situations (Lulu's speed boosts and health shields also complimented Graves's passive while compensating for his mediocre range.)
Bot lanes around the world quickly realized the power of both aggressive support play and Lulu herself. As professional players around the world quickly picked up on Lulu's power, Doublelift and Chauster still remained the best laning duo in the world. As the individual power of CLG's other members waned, the bot lane would begin going to greater and greater lengths to trade in lane advantages in favor of late game strength of cheese strategies. One of the most ridiculous involved taking Teleport and Promote instead of traditional combat summoner spells. A lane already prone to severe jungle camping went on to trade further advantages (back then, Ignite was also somewhat overtuned and players were extremely reluctant to give it up.) One of the best examples of this working out was the infamous CLG vs. SK game at Worlds, where Teleport allowed CLG to backdoor SK's base for the victory. The backdoor is already famous, but focus on how well Double and Chauster play the laning phase against the SK bot lane (considered one of the best in Europe) without summoner spells.
The Golden Boy
To modern day fans, it looks like Chauster's supposed mastery of Lulu was little more than just a very solid understanding of the champion's basics. With how fast the game has advanced, what was once very innovative and effective way to play is soon left the wayside by newer techniques. With how fast the game has gone, Chauster's genuinely awesome Lulu play in Season 2 is probably eclipsed by even relatively weak Lulu players every week in the LCS. In the hands of Chauster, Lulu was a powerful tool, used to dominate lanes and protect Doublelift. Chauster was the one who discovered the main purposes of the champion, but it was took another player to fully explore the depths of a deceptively versatile champion.
After Chauster began consistently using Lulu in support, other players around the world began to copy him and pick Lulu for their own bottom lanes. Many of these players became powerful Lulu players in their own right, such as TSM's Xpecial and TPA's Mistake. Although it was never one of his signature champions, Azubu Frost's Madlife also had a very powerful Lulu. While he was far from the mechanical level of his competition, Curse Gaming's Elementz deserves credit for creatively using Lulu's ultimate to compliment Saintvicious's Shyvana engages. Last of all, Gambit support Edward used Lulu as a powerful roamer, complimenting the team's counterjungle intensive style. However, there is no doubt in my mind who the best of the group was. When Lustboy played Lulu, it looked like him and the champion were one.
In some respects, the union of Lulu and Lustboy was one borne out of necessity. One of the recurring themes of Lustboy's career has been a tendency for him to play alongside AD Carries with mediocre laning phases. Although he spent a stint alongside aggressive Draven aficionado Emperor in Korea, he has spent the majority of his career with Cpt Jack (and later WildTurtle.) When they played with Lustboy, both were passive laners who made their money with powerful teamfighting. In many respects, this has gone against Lustboy's inherent nature as a player. Fans who have listened to Lustboy's interviews or watched his time with Emperor would realize that Lustboy has always been an aggressive playmaking support at heart, much like his CJ Entus teamate MadLife.
In Lulu, Lustboy a champion with whom he make aggressive plays while keeping his main role as his AD Carry's bodyguard. Lulu's spells all can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes - the basic aspects of Lulu fit very well with what Lustboy needed. As Lustboy eagerly used Lulu's long range to poke down his opponents, he was always extremely cognizant of his AD Carry's positioning. Cleanse master Cpt Jack was once known for baffling lane phase decisions that can often set him extremely far behind. By dilligently using his Whimsy and ultimate to keep his teammates out of trouble, Lustboy was able to bring Cpt Jack to teamfights, where he would excel. In modern times, fans can still enjoy Lustboy's complete mastery of the laning phase, but in an era before players fully understood lane harass, Lustboy's play was all the more deadly.
Lustboy was also one of the few players to conceptualize Lulu as an aggressive making champion. For a long time, most players considered her little more than a lane bully. It's only been recently, with Lulu's shift into the solo-lanes, that players have felt comfortable playing her aggressively, emboldened by her higher gold count. Lustboy was one of the first players to keep Lulu frequently in the front lines, setting up picks for his team with Glitterlance and bringing them into the fight faster with Whimsy.
Undoubtedly , the real reason Lustboy was able to completely unlock Lulu's potential was his great understanding of game timings. While Lustboy's mechanics have always been great, what's set him apart from his peers is his knowledge of the perfect time to use his spells to stop the opponents. (It's no mistake that one of his other best all-time picks, Annie, demands extremely similar skills.) Lustboy's masterful usage of Whimsy and Wild Growth to stop opponent spells and escapes was why he became a legend. Dignitas's series against Azubu Blaze at MLG Dallas was one of the closest series at all time, and Lustboy's Lulu play, repeatedly cancelling Imaqtpie's Valkyrie, led Dignitas' captain scarra to proclaim Lustboy the greatest Lulu in the world. (Watch the game here.)
Lulu would continue to enjoy fairly frequent play as Season 3 rolled in. The many popular assassins in the mid lane were easily shut down by Lulu's wide arsenal of defensive spells. In some respects, she was outclassed by support Fiddle who brought many of Lulu's benefits (anti-assassin, strong laning, fast-pushing) while dealing significantly more damage. Lulu had seemingly settled into a niche/pocket support pick. All of this would change soon as Season 4 rolled around.
=Lulu had seen sporadic play as a mid laner through the years, most notably by NA Challenger scene player Zamphira and enigmatic EU mid laner extinkt. Zamphira used a magic penetration build focused on Haunting Guise, Sorcerer's Shoes, and her powerful auto-attack passive. While Zamphira never amounted to much as a player, it's important to remember how strong he was on Lulu. His confidence in playing a champion many considered too weak or mana hungry and ability to do so using a tailored style on he could succeed on was amazing. On the other hand, extinkt made Lulu look outright broken in a completely different manner. Abusing the overpowered DFG of Season 2, extinkt would play Lulu as a bursty assassin, simply running at opponents and combining DFG with her passive E+Q burst to nuke down opponents in the laning phase over and over again.
However, it was only during Season 4 that she became an extremely common pick in the mid lane. Against Zamphira and extinkt, Lulu mid was considered a must-ban pocket pick, but the new Lulu mid focused on Lich Bane became one of the most powerful picks in the meta. First played by Gambit's Alex Ich during the spring split (he would cheekily claim after the interview that he wanted to pick it "before the Koreans" so that he would get credit, but later credited solo queue star Incarnati0n with showing him the powerful pick.) This went on to spawn a Lulu mid lane craze. Lulu mid went to the front of the scene for two reasons. She was able to counter the many assassin mid laners played after worlds and because the Season 4 mastery changes left tanky top laners extremely overpowered. These champions, most famously the trio of Shyvana, Dr. Mundo, and Renekton had immense resistances that could be further complimented by the bonus HP given by Lulu. Furthermore, her ability to speed up and compliment their engages meant that there was no escape from a well-played Lulu + tank combination. Before Gambit's decline, Lulu was the perfect fit for their all-in style.
Although many mid laners were able to succeed on Lulu, many of the best Lulu mid players were shockingly all known as extreme hard-carries for their teams. Considering Lulu's supportive nature, it was quite surprising to see players such as Alliance's Froggen or SKT's Faker turn to the Fae Sorceress so often. Unfortunately, a recurring trend in Lulu mid play mostly involved superstars failing to carry teammates on the more supportive pick - both Froggen and Faker's teams saw severe downturns during the spring of Season 4 in spite of spectacular individual performances. As a stark contrast, Samsung Blue's dade refused to play Lulu, instead turning to his beloved Zed, Twisted Fate, and Yasuo picks en route to winning his second OGN title. (He did however, play Soraka mid, combining her resistance shred and defensive spells with Deft's Kog Maw to devastating results.) On the other hand, PawN of Samsung White found his home playing Lulu. Pawn is a player very well-known for his lane dominance and supportive roaming with DanDy. Lulu fit perfectly into his wheelhouse and also allowed the team extra options to aid imp's sometimes over-aggressive positioning. One of the most enigmatic Lulu mid players was Korea's solo queue superstar Apdo. Playing Lulu in over 75% of his solo queue games, Apdo was able to easily move several accounts into Challenger. Because of his great ability to read opponents, Apdo was able to carry on this "supportive" champion.
As the meta shifted once again, Lulu began seeing play in the top lane, especially after nerfs to Lich Bane lowered her burst damage. She brought many of the same supportive tendencies but also synergized well with one of the most broken champions in Season 4 - Yasuo. Lulu's easy to use knockup proved to be one of the most reliable ways to activate Yasuo's ultimate, and teams began moving her to the top lane, where she also saw better matchups when paired against melee tanks or bruisers. One of the first players to play Lulu top was Fnatic's SoAZ, but unfortunately it looked like he was simply a bit too early - the tanks were still too strong when he began playing her, and it was only after a nerf that Lulu truly rose to prominence. When she finally did, SoAZ stood as one of the best Lulu's in the world. While other players preferred more defensive Lulu builds, SoAZ played an extremely high-risk high-reward style, going glass cannon and hoping to kite out his opponents. For the rest of Season 4, Lulu would become a staple in the top lane metagame. While SoAZ was the first Lulu and remained one of the best until the end of S4, he would eventually be eclipsed by players outside of Europe (especially because he strangely began swapping back to tanky picks as soon as AP champions became meta!) Across the sea in Korea, Acorn and Save would rapidly become some of the best Lulu top players in history. While Acorn's teammate Looper topped out as a mediocre Lulu, Acorn would master the champion, using it to complement dade's extremely aggressive engages while also peeling for Deft's immobile AD carry picks such as Twitch or Kog'Maw. Save, widely considered one of the last of the top lane carries, has surprisingly excelled on supportive top lane picks. In addition to his beloved Shyvana, his Kayle and Lulu both rank among his strongest champions. What distinguished Save's Lulu from Acorn's was that Save was better in laning/split pushes but Acorn was better in the team context.
Repeated nerfs to Lulu in the solo lane role would seemingly doom her from seeing competitive play anymore. But as the mid laner meta turned back to assassins, some players, including former Gambit/H2K support Voidle, began wondering why Lulu couldn't return to the bottom lane. As Season 5 moved in, SK support nRated became fond of flexing Lulu into the support position. His pairing with talented AD Carry Forgiven couldn't help but bring back memories of one of the first bot lanes that began using Lulu frequently - a wise strategic mind was advising a mechanical prodigy. Lulu returning to support has been one of the most recent developments of Season 5. Mostly, Lulu has seen play as a flex pick and as a peeling support. With Janna seeing a nerf near the beginning of the season, supports looking for a peeling option began turning back to Lulu, especially after seeing nRated's many victories with her on SK. For now, Lulu support is mostly popular in the West, Korean players still prefer to play champions like Thresh or Janna, but a return to a Lulu meta may come soon in the East as well. (Lulu remains popular in the East and West as a supportive top/mid laner, especially in the fearsome Jugger'Maw composition.)
With the support meta turning back to peel, Lulu would find her way back in the bot lane, and soon, a king would find himself back on his throne.
Three years after Azubu's Blaze IEM World Championship win, Lustboy found himself back in that familiar seat. He had already played a fantastic tournament, showing his skill on multiple support champions, most notable Annie. (In spite of Lustboy's Lulu mastery, Annie was his most deadly pick that tournament. His multiple speed item build scored pick after pick for TSM.) With his back against the wall down 1-0 to the YoE Flash Wolves, Lustboy summoned the trusty Yordle to deliver a perfect support game: 0-0-18. Lustboy's unique approach to Lulu was completely on display this game. His build of Talisman to repeatedly speed into teamfights and treat Lulu as a frontliner played a critical role in TSM's come-from-behind win. (Against WE, he would also build Righteous Glory on Lulu, identical to his Annie build.)
Lulu has had a long and storied history and brought many players fame and glory. I consider Lustboy the greatest Lulu of all-time. He is synonymous with the champion, has frequently turned to her when the stakes were highest, and continues to demonstrate that she has a depth that many fail to consider. Almost every great Lulu game has been played by Lustboy, even including games when she was in a solo lane. We'll have to see what the future holds, Season 5 is just beginning - will the TSM star continue to dominate or will a new (or old!) challenger take his throne?