Protect the AD Carry: The Surging Meta Undercurrent
Recently in competitive play, we’ve been seeing signs of what is often called protect the AD Carry team compositions re-surging back to prominence. Riot games’ and my personal choice for best team in the world right now, the GE Tigers in Korea have played this type of composition numerous times already this season. This strategy also showed itself in the first week of NA LCS when Team Liquid formed a protect the AD Carry composition around their (at the time) substitute player Keith. This style was not all that long ago dominating the competitive meta when Kog'maw and Tristana were two of the most powerful carries in the game. Protect the AD Carry is on the rise again, with a new face and on a different Summoner’s Rift, but what does that mean for the AD Carry players? I will attempt to give an overview of the strengths and merits of these compositions, their place in the current meta and how I think they could be used by many different teams of varying skill and strength to great success.
What exactly makes a protect the ADC comp?
Traditionally protect the AD Carry compositions are built around a very well scaling and high damage AD Carry. This in history has included Tristana, Kog'maw and Vayne primarily. These three champions will still be at the foreground of this type of composition though I will argue that there are one or two in the current patch and meta that can fulfill the role also. In the support role are traditionally highly protective champions like Nami in the distant past Soraka and now most popularly Janna. Beyond that are a larger variety of champions. Pivotally though, what brings these highly protective compositions built around carries with the most dps became extremely viable at the advent of Lulu as a laning champion. Lulu is the centerpiece of this compositional style. When Lulu can be played to great effect as a solo laner you get all the utility and protection of two supports without sacrificing the power of a good solo laner. A modern protect the AD Carry type composition and masterwork of the draft phase happened when the GE Tigers most recently faced KT Rolster in OGN’s LCK. GE Tigers in both games had Lulu and Kog Maw, blended with either Nami or Janna, a scaling mid laner and a solid peeling and early ganking jungler.
(KT Rolster on the left and GE Tigers on the right)
Credit to Esportspedia for the pick and ban images
This is what a protect the AD Carry composition looks like in the 2015 season both in draft and in play. OGN commentator Monte Cristo described GE Tigers AD Carry Pray’s play of Kog’Maw in this game as Jugger’Maw because there were so many shields and so much peel around him that Pray could basically play his squishy hypercarry as a frontline champion. This is the goal of the protect the AD Carry composition.
Protect the Current Meta
Since these types of composition were gone for some time (barring minor showings at different patches) why now are they resurging? There are a few reasons for this. The one to speak of first is certainly the new way gold works in the 2015 season. Because the Dragon objective no longer grants gold or really even immediate benefits of any kind, the amount of gold teams are getting is heavily reduced in the early game. Leads are often by one or two thousand gold as opposed to what we could see at the end of the 2014 season were five thousand or higher leads. What this means is that champions with abilities that rely the least on items are of extraordinary value in the earlier junctures of the game. In a protect the AD Carry composition having abilities such as Lulu’s “Wild Growth” , Janna’s “Eye of the Storm” (shield) and Kog’Maw’s “Bio-Arcane Barrage” mean that you can have rather powerful teammates without even needing items. These abilities provide large stat bonuses in both damage and safety that can be invaluable at both the earlier juncture of the game where gold is even and later when Kog’Maw becomes the hypercarry he known for, providing utterly unbreakable safety and damage. The high utility of these abilities, which don’t rely on having AP or AD items to be valuable, are even more valuable in the current gold starved meta.
Beyond this is the power of having this type of composition in your pocket for the draft phase. Currently we see primarily a couple different things come out of the draft phase and I mean “a couple” very seriously. The current live patch has a few things which have made certain styles very vulnerable or inapplicable outright. The shields on Tier 2 towers has made split pushing nearly impossible and the heightened emphasis on getting dragons and barons has made teamfighting compositions extremely valuable. Alongside the new intrinsic value of teamfighting in the game some of the best picks are incredible team fighters, Jarvan is just outright the best character in the new jungle and his team fighting is superb meanwhile Gnar has few discernible weaknesses and is almost always picked; despite his lack of weaknesses his clear biggest strength is his teamfighting. The second type of composition which has emerged is the highly long rage and disengage compositions that center around picks like Xerath, Janna and Corki. Most games have become a clash of these two styles, a headlong of engage versus range.
The “Protect the AD Carry” style composition comes in as a sort of undercurrent or uppercut in my eyes to that two style meta which has formed. The modern iteration of the composition has sort of found a way to fight against both prevalent styles and, when played and drafted correctly, at times nullify them both altogether. This is accomplished in a curious way, which is most effectively displayed by, again, the GE Tigers. In both of their games against KT, the Tigers drafted a mostly traditional composition around their hypercarry AD but in a way changed the midlane formula outright. They did not pick Orianna or a character with immense peal like Syndra or Lissandra. Instead they picked Kassadin in game one and Ezreal in game two. Threats on their own, these characters provided backline damage, and a distraction for the hypercarry. By the time they were done dealing with Ezreal or Kassadin, they were all but depleted by the high range Kog’Maw sitting untouched in the backline.
That particular variation of this style finds itself well suited to deal with both prominent composition styles. It has the depth of range and damage to prevent the poke based, range priority compositions from effectively dealing with the backline and it has the spread, disengage and resilience to handle the teamfighting compositions. To give an example of what this means for the draft phase of the game, SK Telecom banned Lulu in every single game of the recent Bo3 set between them and the GE Tigers. This composition is feared by their opponents. It gives them an advantage in draft that is rivaled only by the presence of Faker on SK Telecom in their region.
Protect the Keith or Protect the West
Since the focus of this article has mostly been on the GE Tigers and therefore Korea, I want to talk about how the things discussed here, and the example set by the Tigers can be applied in places like the west and talk about some striking examples of its use there.
At a glance, not a single team in the west has truly utilized this compositional goldmine in the current season. Europe finds itself heavily focused on the laning phase, and North American teams seem to be more possessed with teamfighting, even when it doesn't make sense, than any other region. Very scarcely has this powerful composition even made an attempt at showing up, indeed when Lulu has been picked it has mostly been by nRated from SK gaming as part of their current laneswap strategy.
Based on the way this composition can interact with current meta strategies it should be seen as an underplayed style that could be giving western teams an utterly immense upper hand in the draft phase of the game and give them the beginnings of diversity which can lead to international success. And here is where I might start to sound crazy. For the GE Tigers, running a protect the AD Carry style team composition works around their best performing player being indeed their AD Carry Pray. But when Team Liquid ran a protect the Kog’Maw comp for their substitute Keith in the first week of NA LCS it was because you can actually hide the weakness of your bottom lane by running these comps.
Keith positioned poorly in this fight and still lived the whole thing (SHIELDS)
Protect the AD Carry provides the best AD players a plateau to show why they are the best, but even the greatest AD performance in this format is only marginally better than the average performance. When you create a composition like this, you are investing the resources and skill of the entire team into making sure that the AD can do damage. In essence, standing back and right clicking is enough to be an outstanding AD in this style of play. The teams at the bottom of the LCS or teams that can identify their weak points in the AD position can cover up that sore spot by running compositions like this. They will surprise their opponents, defy their draft phases and begin to find their niche in the meta. Teams like Coast Gaming and Roccat who have both tended to play more passive of late (yes I know that is antithetical to old Roccat but watch their games they aren’t being very aggressive) can find a way to diversify and cover up their biggest weakness in their current state. This makes protect the AD Carry, I believe, the integral breaking point for the western meta as it stands.
As we see this old style return in the world’s strongest League of Legends region, one can imagine that it will only be so long until it surges in the rest of the world. Protect the AD Carry is a style of play that has an incredible place in the way League of Legends works right now, filling a middle niche between the two stylistic Goliaths in the current meta. Its place and the theory that drives it is expanding and the modern adaptation might yet be the strongest ever. This is a current meta style that has not yet been fully explored, and I hope to have laid the groundwork for understanding its expansion in the meta as time goes on.
My Name is Ben "Bave Denvis" Davis and you can follow me at the following links