Has NA finally figured out how to win on red side?

NA LCS teams looked completely lost on red side for much of the split, but it may be turning around.

Photo via Riot Games

Blue side is the stronger side of the map in League of Legends. This is true from solo queue to the professional stage. Usually, blue side teams enjoy a five to 10 percent boost to their win rate.

But even with that advantage, numbers have gotten really crazy in the NA LCS this split. Based on match data from Oracle’s Elixir, NA LCS teams had a 60-percent win rate on blue side through July 31. But that didn’t capture the most recent trend. From July 29 through the second game yesterday, blue side teams in NA went 16-1—that’s a 94-percent win rate.

So why is it that NA LCS teams are incompetent when switched to the red side of the map? It happens that the biggest red side disadvantages also feed into the weaknesses of NA LCS teams in general. And it all starts in the draft phase.

The draft

Blue side teams get first pick in the draft, so they can grab the most overpowered champion available. This usually requires the red side team to waste one or more bans on clearly broken champions. This is especially good for NA teams because having clearly superior champions simplifies the game.

Of course, red side gets the opportunity to respond with two picks of its own. In other regions, namely the LCK, strong teams at times preferred red side to trade one overpowered champion for two of their own. And red side also gets the last pick in the draft, allowing strong players to counter-pick at will.

These are strategies NA LCS teams simply haven’t utilized effectively. They’ve always preferred the simpler route of choosing the best champion or relying on comfort picks.

When the games start, blue side advantage most commonly manifest in another area: the Baron.

The map

Baron is the most key objective in the game, and the geology of the map favors blue side teams. Because there’s a wall behind Baron, red side teams can’t just walk into the river and see the objective.

This gives blue side teams tremendous control, even in neutral games. It’s simply more dangerous for red side teams to check Baron. And when the other team has started, it’s even tougher for a red side jungler to get into the pit and contest.

There are ways around this, but a lot of them go against NA LCS teams’ historical tendencies. Red side teams should pick champions with strong poke, like Varus, to deter Baron attempts by their opponents. Champions like Zoe can check the pit with her ultimate without too many ramifications—which is just another reason why she’s busted.

Or, red side teams can choose simply to not fight around Baron at all. Why walk into the top side river blind when you can simply splitpush and force the enemy team to make a hasty decision?

As we saw in LCS play today, some of these solutions can really work to the red side team’s advantage.

The solution

Blue side went through a strong winning streak in the NA LCS this split, but in recent games, that shows signs of stopping. In Sunday’s match between OpTic Gaming and favored Echo Fox, OpTic, on red side, pulled out a variety of interesting picks, from top lane Fiora to mid lane Fizz. Their goal? Splitpush and deter Echo Fox from the Baron pit.

Their strategy succeeded. In fact, OpTic had control of the map for most of the game, which allowed them to take key neutral objectives.

That formula was repeated in the succeeding game between Clutch Gaming and Golden Guardians. Clutch’s top lane Camille had constant priority in side lanes and helped the team close out the game.

All of a sudden, red side teams in NA have won five straight games (until 100 Thieves just lost a wild game against TSM). Only time will tell if that’s just a cyclical move or if NA teams have truly figured out the red side conundrum. If it’s the latter, then there’s one more region that needs to learn—EU’s red side win rate through July 31 is only 32 percent.