The first week of the LCS has passed, and we learned a lot, specifically about how the meta will play out going forward. North American and European teams played only two games, and though there might be some early trends, it is too early to tell how exactly what everything means.
What we learned: Champion picks
Most of the new metagame changes this season have affected the bottom lane. The change to teleport actually affects bottom lane more than top lane because the duo lane can now pick aggressive champions as well as play aggressively more often. As mentioned in last week’s preview, people who played solo queue this season already knew the early-game champions that could abuse Thunderlord’s Decree would shine in the new patch.
The least surprising new pick was support Poppy. She showed up early in some of the Asian leagues, but the most important part about the Poppy pick isn’t what Poppy actually does in game, but more of how teams use her in the draft. The fact she is a very good top laner and support, and even a decent jungler, makes her one of the best flex picks. Support and ADC are usually early picks during the draft, and having a versatile flex pick such as Poppy that early in the draft is extremely valuable.
Poppy is a direct factor in the absence of Tristana. Poppy is so effective against Tristana that teams can no longer early-pick Tristana as an ADC, which I thought going into the week would be a very contested pick. She also might be the best answer to Fiora, a popular champion last week.
The most surprising Week 1 pick was Janna, which was facilitated by an unexpectedly high amount of lane swapping. She is extremely weak against any support that can fully utilize Thunderlord’s and Frost Queen’s claim — like Bard — but because she doesn’t need to directly lane against someone like Bard, her team fighting prowess alongside her mobility made her much more popular than expected. She also does well against Alistar, the best support champion in the game.
Rounding out the bottom lane is Ezreal. While I gave him an “honorable mention” going into this week, he hardly deserves better. Although Ezreal is still a good ADC, most of the teams picked him too hastily. Hitting a one-item power spike is a huge part of the meta for ADCs, but Ezreal and his Iceborn Gauntlet is not as good as Lucian and his Essence Reaver. The time needed to build up Tear stacks takes too long, and the only time Ezreal looked impressive was when he was in the middle lane. Ezreal can definitely be a good pick, but teams need to be wary of a power trough coming from their adc during the later parts of the mid game.
The next big champion pick has to go to Graves. Abandoned as an ADC, Graves is now a powerful pick for jungle or even top lane. While not all of the teams understand how to fully utilize a ADC in the jungle, the teams that did showed how great Graves can actually be.
Early flex picks in the draft seems to be a trend so far, making certain picks, like the aforementioned Poppy, being even more popular. On the other hand, Lissandra, Graves, and Ezreal require a much more cohesive strategy going into a game. Although all three champions are very powerful, in a competitive environment such as the LCS, teams need to be careful not to have tunnel vision when going into a draft. The best example was Thursday’s Origen/Fnatic game. Origen really focused on making early flex picks such as Lissandra and Trundle, but Fnatic perfectly drafted around them simply by picking better champions.
New patch changes and the overall meta game
There should have been an obvious trend to anyone that watched multiple games over the weekend: Across all the regions, lane swapping was extremely popular. While playing a lane swap takes away from a lot of the small intricacies in laning, these things should only be felt by the players themselves and not the spectators. From the spectator’s point of view and a strategical point of view, lane swapping is one of the best features that differentiates League of Legends from other esports. There are so many different possibilities during a lane swap, and it’s good to see it become the norm in high-level competitive play.
With that said, most of the changes that Riot has made to Summoner’s Rift are unsatisfactory. It is hard to pinpoint a specific mechanic, but the games are playing out in a very strange fashion. The side lanes are being pushed back and forth, and most of the players on both teams keep heading mid, making small progress in taking the middle Tier 1 tower. This leads to boring play with both teams dancing in mid lane, almost like an ARAM game. It’s due more to multiple changes to trinkets, warding, towers, and death timers.
This is especially bad for the future of the game as an esport, as the watchability of any sport is the most important part of the game for it to thrive. Riot will be making many changes over the course of this season, so hopefully this will be an improvement.
Best-of-one is super detrimental to League of Legends esports. Thankfully, this is the last 10 weeks of its existence. It makes the job of an analyst extremely difficult because the sample size of games just isn’t enough. Not only is it bad for analysts or any type of team analysis, but it’s worse for the players. Sweeping generalizations are made during the LCS season, and judging a player and a team in this terrible format is problematic. It specifically hurts NA and EU as teams play less games than other regions heading into international competitions.
With that said, here are a few general thoughts:
Teams that went 2–0 definitely have some synergy. For NA, NRG and Immortals looked good in both games, and they will continue to do well throughout the entire split. G2, Unicorns Of Love, and H2K for Europe all had strong players going into this season with seemingly good cohesion already with their new rosters.
The teams that went 1–1 don’t have much reason to worry right now, but some small things need to be straightened out. Team SoloMid, while having huge expectations going in, are still an entirely new team. Cloud 9 is a good team but needs to understand its strengths better (which seemed to be much better in Sunday’s win against Team Liquid). The same can apply to the new teams for NA, Renegades and Echo Fox. They have solid players, but because being either new to the professional stage, or not being together as a team for too long, are yet to figure out their strengths and weaknesses..
The same holds true in Europe for Fnatic. After out-drafting Origen on Thursday and looking like it did last year, with Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin taking over the Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon carry position. But that coordination lagged the next day, and Fnatic fell into predictable picks and lost when its top laner was being targeted out.
Counter Logic Gaming is a little different than the other 1–1 teams and might be a victim to the best-of-one format. It has a great understanding of the early game, specifically the lane swap, but tends to make later execution or communication mistakes, such as Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun being caught out by globals multiple times. Because CLG understands the early-game lane swap much better than most teams, the one-game format holds the team back because of the variance that comes with a new roster. If this was best-of-three, CLG would be undefeated right now.
The teams that went 0–2 have something that has the potential to hold them back all season. TiP’s situation is easily the worst, and there’s just not much to say about it.
Another victim to the bad LCS format is Giants. Despite going 0–2, Giants had a difficult first week, and did pretty well against the H2K. Giants shouldn’t be too worried even though they didn’t squeeze out a win during the first week.
Team Liquid has roster problems, but sadly, it isn’t even due to outside factors such as visa issues. I say “sadly” because the decision of having a 10-man roster is just bad, and it’s difficult to figure out how nobody on the Team Liquid staff could see this. When a team has strong mechanical players such as Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Fenix” Jae-hoon, how does it seem that everything always goes wrong at the last minute? Again, making too much of one week is problematic, but it just seems that Team Liquid really needs to get its act together.
Origen had an underwhelming performance. It looks as if the team had too much tunnel vision during the drafts. Origen had such a great understanding of the final patch in Season 5, and there’s hope it can regain that level soon. Origen is a good team that just fell victim to some variance. The team understood where to be on the map when certain plays were being made, but due to early-game gold deficits, its good map movements and rotations were just undone.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.