Before the start of the League of Legends World Championships, we took a look at the Worlds patch and predicted that Olaf would be one of the strongest jungle champions. Just over a week ago, we looked again, and the conclusion was the same.
Across the play-in stage, Olaf was the second most picked-or-banned jungle champion, just after Taliyah. So far in the main event, he’s still second, this time behind Gragas. And yet, when teams do get their hands on the axe-swinging madman, he has one of the lowest win rates, at just under 30 percent for the tournament as a whole.
So what the heck is going on with Olaf? Well, it could be that teams are simply playing him wrong.
The first thing you need to know about Olaf is that he’s an early game champion. He’s extremely powerful in the early levels, where his passive makes him an impressive duelist. And he’s really dangerous when he gets access to his ultimate ability at level six, which gives him the ability to run right through CC to bury opponents in a hail of axes.
The numbers back that up. Across the last 100 games that Olaf has been played this summer, his average game time in losses is one minute, eight seconds longer than wins. That means that the longer the game goes, the more likely it is that Olaf loses.
A minute doesn’t sound like a huge gap. But just look at Ryze, one of the hardest-scaling late-game carries in League. His differential is one minute, 25 seconds in the other direction. Over 100 games, seemingly small differences in average game time matter.
We’ve established that Olaf needs to snowball quickly to win. And the easiest way for him to do that is via mid lane.
A common mistake teams have made at Worlds is pairing their jungle Olaf with a mid laner that can’t pressure the lane and can’t run with him. Champions like Aatrox, Urgot, Irelia, and Akali love to dive with their jungler, making them great combinations with Olaf. All of those champions can run at the enemy just like Olaf. Immobile mages like Vel’Koz and Lissandra can’t.
So far this tournament, per data from League stats site Games of Legends, Olaf has won 38 percent of games with a mid laner who can run with him. His win rate on those that want to stay back and need peel? Twenty-two percent. This disparity has existed longer than just this one tournament. At the end of the summer, on Patch 8.17, the last patch before Worlds that included the LMS playoffs, LCK promotions, and EU Masters, Olaf’s win rate with divers was 70 percent compared to 36 percent with mids who need peel.
These numbers don’t tell the whole story. There are ways to craft winning Olaf comps with the likes of Ryze and Cassiopeia in the mid lane. One easy solution is to put a dive champion in the top lane and win via split push. But that creates a tremendous amount of pressure on a team’s top laner to win his matchup and create pressure. It is also a strategy that is telegraphed to the enemy team in the draft phase. That doesn’t mean it won’t work, but it requires more creativity.
So far, we haven’t seen enough of that creativity, and when the Olaf is shut down, things go bad, fast. In Fnatic’s match today vs. Invictus Gaming, Fnatic mid laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther lost mid priority as Fnatic were thoroughly out-jungled. Earlier in the day, MAD Team picked Olaf with a mid lane Lissandra that generated no pressure.
The funny thing is, Fnatic ran an Olaf composition a day ago with mid lane Irelia and dominated 100 Thieves with it. They had constant river vision and jungle control. It didn’t matter that they were heavily over-indexed to AD damage—the game was over before that mattered.
Teams at Worlds need to stop playing Olaf wrong. Pair him with a powerful mid laner and let him run at the other side. If they do it fast enough, they might just make it to the enemy Nexus in time.