Not only is the makeup of League of Legends teams drastically different compared to last season in both Europe and North America, but Riot Games has also implemented many changes to the game itself. Throughout the week, we’ve gone through the team changes affecting the professional game, but today the focus is gameplay changes and what it might mean for the players in the League of Legends Championship Series.
Masteries underwent an overhaul this season. Riot has stated its desire for masteries to have more forethought other than trying to make a lot of small statistical changes going into each game. Each game the masteries are supposed to be different for each champion, specifically focused on keystone masteries at the bottom of each mastery tee. The problem so far has been that the balancing of them hasn’t been good. There have been many changes already to the masteries since the start of the preseason, and now in the current patch, almost every champion is using the same exact mastery page due to the power of Thunder Lord’s Decree, the keystone mastery in the Cunning tree along side of the Precision mastery in the same tree. This shouldn’t be a problem for long, as Riot can easily make future changes to these masteries.
What’s disappointing about the mastery changes is that Riot seems to not identify a problem that has existed ever since it started changing masteries back in Season 2. While seemingly small, the masteries actually make a huge difference in the meta game. This trend has been a part of the game forever, and they have always caused problems that Riot had to address throughout the season. At the end of last season, the masteries were in a good spot, as no specific role or type of champion was dominating the meta based on masteries. The new changes seemed to be somewhat random, and really unnecessary. The changes have only caused more problems than they have actually solved.
This is supposedly the season for ADCs. Riot has changed many of the existing attack damage items along with adding a few more suited specifically for ADCs. To start, the most important change is probably the change to Essence Reaver. The new iteration of this item is shifting the power into champions that excel during the early game. This means that ADCs will not be confined to the role of farming and taking towers fast. They will now have a much bigger impact in early game team fights.
A trend that has been very common though League’s lifespan is that usually three champions rise to the top of the meta game as ADC. Right now, that’s Miss Fortune, Lucian, and Tristana. MF and Lucian, while already being dominant early game champions, directly benefit from the power of Essence Reaver alongside Thunder Lord’s decree. Tristana, on the other hand, received minimal changes over the new season, and her ability to take towers quickly is now even more heightened since the changes to the death timers being much longer at a much earlier time in the game and the overall weakness of towers. The changes to the death timers and towers are vastly important because it now stresses the power to be relevant early in the game, and these three champions are prime examples of this.
Bold prediction: MF will actually not be as popular as she is in the solo queue ladder, as the LCS teams will identify how important taking towers will be with the new death timers, especially in a lane swap scenario. Fans might actually see a good amount of Jinx because of this, but thanks to the minor nerf to her, Tristana will be the superior tower killing ADC.
Some of the other ADCs are worth mentioning. Riot made changes to every ADC, and it seems as though the fewer changes made, the better off the champion is. Kog’Maw is the best example, as his kit was drastically changed, and he’s easily the worst ADC at the moment. This is a huge change because the very potent,“Juggermaw” team composition was butchered.
Kalista, though still moderately powerful, had her passive changed, and is not as powerful as she once was. There was also changes to two of her core items, Blade of the Ruined King and Runaan’s Hurricane, making her a lot less effective as she was last season. She will see play still, but not as high a priority pick she was last year.
Another big change was to Graves. Alongside Kog’Maw, he had his kit totally reworked, and for no apparent reason. Due to heavy nerfs in the early preseason, Graves is in a dire spot. He now acts as basically a melee champion, and with his first ability, End of the Line, being very hard to hit, he seems pretty useless as a ADC pick.
Because towers die so fast, the importance of taking fast towers are now even more important. Isn’t that where ADCs were last season? All Riot did was seemingly replace those champions with a new set of champions — and not actually make the role overall more powerful.
The most important changes to support are the rework of Frost Queen’s claim and Thunder Lord’s Decree. Right now, the best champions are the ones that can abuse these two things. High-damage supports and mages are powerful at putting a lot of kill pressure in the bottom lane. Bard, Brand, and Morgana come to mind. The need to put a tank in the support slot isn’t as important as it was during end of last season’s meta where carry champions were put in the top lane to abuse their split pushing and dueling power while abusing the absurdity of Teleport.
Still, expect to see Alistar and Braum alongside newcomer Trundle being picked because of their ability to survive the high damage of the mage-type supports, bringing more utility other than pure damage.
While Thunder Lord’s Decree is the big mastery for this patch, other masteries that combine survivability and health regen have made Dr. Mundo possibly the most power champion in the entire game. Mundo can go in the top lane as well, but he really thrives in the jungle because of his fast clear time and the fact he doesn’t need to worry too much about having low health as he would against a lane opponent.
Other than Mundo, the other top champions are pretty much the same as the end of last season, except Gragas. Because of the Cunning tree, champions have a higher overall damage output. Because of this, Gragas is much more of a liability, as his damage and early game bulk isn’t up to par with the other top junglers in Lee Sin, Elise, and Kindred. Expect to see much more carry style champs coming out of the jungle this season.
Thanks to the overpowered state of Cinderhulk, tank champions in top lane became un-killable early last season. By year’s end, carry champions became a vital part of the meta game, as split pushing and dueling became very powerful. Even though top lane went from one side of the spectrum to the other, one thing remained constant: teams needed to revolve their strategy around the top lane. This was all thanks to the short cooldown of the summoner spell Teleport, as it had the ability to make a power impact on the entire map.
This season, Teleport has been nerfed, which means the bottom lane will be a lot less susceptible, and top lane less snowbally. Expect some different summoner spells going in, and expect a wide variety of champions that don’t only rely on Homeguard Teleport flanks. The other big change affecting top lane is the addition of the Rift Herald and the change to dragon. While the power of the buff that Rift Herald grants is still up to debate, it is certain that it is much more powerful than dragon. Because of the changes Riot made to towers and death timers, teams trying to force the winning condition of killing five dragons is pretty much useless, and will probably only be achieved in a tiny portion of games played. This doesn’t necessarily mean the duo lane will now go top, thanks to difficulty to kill the Rife Herald, but it might call for earlier than usual lane swaps, and a focus on killing the Herald.
The top lane might have to resort to champions that strive in a low economic state. Expect to see champions such as Malphite, that can become very tanky with low gold income, and can have high impact on team fights.
While on the topic of rift herald, it feels as though Riot has failed to achieve what it set out for. It implemented the rift herald to put more importance on top lane. The problem is the time in which a team actually kills the rift herald seems random, and not strategically planned out. This is due to the fact that the rift herald does so much damage and is very hard to take. The same can be said for dragon, as now teams are taking dragon when it is free, and not revolving strategies around forcing fights around the dragon pit because of the overall uselessness of the dragon’s buff.
Riot is planning changes for dragon, but this important part of the game — that Riot got so right during last season — has been disappointing.
Mid lane will be interesting to watch. Although a good amount of ability power items have been made more expensive, that doesn’t mean mages are going to be pushed out of the meta. The burst they can do now thanks to the Cunning tree is higher. We also might see the resurgence of some of the assassins like Zed, Fizz, and Talon. Because of the death timer changes, and the fact that games now don’t last as long, this is going to make the champions that go middle lane and dominate the early and mid game even better. Expect to see less Viktor and Azir in favor of champions who hit their power spike even quicker. Small skirmishes are much more common now, so don’t count out a champion like Twisted Fate either, despite the Sheen and Boots of Lucidity changes.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.