Friday, October 5, 2012

A Full Mug of Mead, League of Legends Bonus #3: Three Things to Take Away from the World Championship Play-offs

The excitement of Day One of the 2012 Season Two League of Legends World Championships is over, but the tournament rolls on. Before the quarterfinal matches begin today, I wanted to look at three trends/metagame considerations that emerged from the first twelve matches of the competition.

1) Lane Shifts Aren't Just a Strategy Any More -- Rather than a neat trick to pull off at the beginning of a match, lane shifts are commonplace now among competitive players. Recognizing the prevalence of playing Champions in different lanes among the professionals is key to understanding that this is going to start happening with increasing frequency in ranked play and possibly even Normal games as pre-made teams that don't want the pressure of playing ranked incorporate what they see from the pros into their everyday matches.

Overcoming a shift is about identifying it as fast as possible, which means that players will need to up their map awareness and mobility at early levels. One thing that doesn't happen enough in low Elo/high level normal play is adapting to the other team's strategy. If you are playing Irelia (more on this in a second) and you get matched up against a pokey/ranged Champion while the bottom lane contends with a strong bruising enemy carry, your team should recognize the benefits of having your ranged ADC head for top lane when they return to the Fountain to buy their first round of items.

Similarly, if your top lane is suddenly opposed by a support and carry combination, while your mid lane is harassed by a typical top lane capable of doling out massive damage to a squishy AP Champion, then you need to counter the shift as soon as possible. It's better to miss out on a level or two of experience and farm then give up too many early kills to 3 v 1 jungle ganks or similar aggressive moves.

To finish off this section, addressing how aggressive these pro teams are playing is critical to fighting against the inevitable adjustment of the ranked/normal metagame to this kind of push-first ask-questions-later strategy that is going to appear.

Both NaJin Sword and Azuba Frost claimed early and easy wins from their groups with hyper-aggressive play, looking to take down turrets as fast as possible while scaling to the late game through their team compositions.

2) Irelia in Top Lane, Shen in the Jungle-- The series of very unusual bans that has continued through the first round of the Play-offs has targeted junglers in many matches. Evelynn has been banned in nearly every game so far, which is something that hasn't been seen in top level play since before her nerfs when she was an auto-ban. With Twisted Fate relegated to a weaker tier by many teams, Shen has become the go-to Champion for global presence. As one of the shoutcasters noted during play, it seems as though teams have decided that they can adapt to Shen, taking him off their ban lists and either playing around him or with him depending on whether or not they get to first pick the Champion.

Karthus appears to have displaced Morgana as the go-to mid, especially with Orianna and Anivia frequently seeing bans of their own. Teams have been willing to give up the initiation of Soul Shackles from Morgana for the teamfight-ending power of Requiem.

Lastly, Irelia has seen a huge jump in play for this tournament, neatly coinciding with free Irelia week on the client. Unfortunately for those eager to give her a try, the results have not been that promising, with only one Irelia truly dominating a match, which involved a ridiculous number of early feeding ganks by her jungler, a move that probably isn't possible during normal/low Elo games.

Still, with more top lane pros selecting the Will of the Blades for the first time since the "Better Nerf Irelia" campaigns/memes/tongue-in-cheek references, the resurgence of everyone's favorite high-sustain/off-tank top lane is definitely a positive shift.

3) The Curse of the Riot Spotlight? -- Ocelote was tagged as "Europe's Rising Star" days before SK Gaming was unceremoniously booted from Season Two with one of the two 0-3 records in pool play. Team Dignitas certainly deserved its infamy from the ridiculous cheating/collusion affair at MLG Raleigh, but the attention from the fallout seemed to follow D to the other 0-3 disasterpiece while fighting in Group B.

Snoopeh managed to overcome the curse but CLG.EU got a bit lucky to face the Saigon Jokers for their Win and In. No disrespect intended to SJ, but they were clearly the model of "We Are Just Happy to Be Here" in every match except for their romp over the surprisingly weak Dignitas team.

Whether or not TSM manages to dispel my vague assertion of karmic comeuppance from Dyrus' Pro Player spotlight remains to be seen, but in the early going, this certainly has all the makings of an epic Madden cover controversy.

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