Fundamental Game Shifts Lie at the Center of LoL’s Top Lane Debate

If you’ve kept track of the major current events in League of Legends (or if you’ve visited the community’s subreddit even once in the past four days), you’re probably familiar with this video in which former Master/Challenger streamer Hashinshin gives his… um, shall we say, colorful take on the current state of game balance, especially from the toplaner’s perspective. He expanded on these ideas in a separate, more calm video that you may not have seen, but it’s that first one that grabbed everyone’s attention, from the average bronze player, to other popular streamers like Neace and Tyler1, to pro players and even (more productively) a few Rioters.

Funny antics and drama aside, just about everyone has formed an opinion regarding the matter, and it’s pretty sharply divided the community. It can be easy to simply dismiss these complaints as whining, but is there some truth to it? Is it the overreaction of someone who has seen the game change on a fundamental level over the years? And more importantly, even if that change has been substantial, is that necessarily a bad thing?

 

Let’s Get Off This Island

Long-time players of the game will remember a time when the Rift looked much different. During this time, bruisers meant nearly a certain snowball, the pit in the north river stayed empty for the first 15 minutes, and top-lane was sarcastically, yet accurately, described as “an island”. It was termed as such due to two major factors: the lack of a major objective nearby, and significantly shorter jungle camp respawn timers (meaning junglers had little time for early ganks). This is the era Hashinshin came from, and like many players, he enjoyed the often skill-based matchups where the winner was determined almost solely by mechanical skill.

But many things have changed since then. Riot has added an early major objective to draw junglers and even mid laners to the top side of the map. More positions are making use of teleport. Farming junglers saw a golden era that prompted two items’ removals (and the 50 second increase in respawn timers), so that ganking junglers would have the chance to be useful when they were strong. And of course there is the significant impact of team gold for kills, rather than only solo gold for individual snowballing.  All of these have succeeded in taking away the island and bringing more strategy to its players, which was Riot’s own admitted goal.

At some level, this is the crux of Hashinshin’s arguments. It’s much broader than small details like item cost and jungle respawn timers. Rather, they come from a fundamental shift in the game. The difference is simply whether you feel it has been a net positive or net negative for the game. Another specifically mentioned issue is the idea that these issues are universal unless you’re one of the players that’s been “battered” into learning/following the meta. It raises the question: should adapting to the changing tides of a game be necessary to find success? Or should casual players and pros alike expect some degree of consistency, with minor number changes at best, unlike the major shifts we see between seasons? It is your answer to these two questions that likely determines on which side of the fence you stand.

Seriously, it’s hard to remember even seeing this in-game.

 

Where the Logic Falls Flat

The game being more macro-focused means there are more things to keep track of, and more options for how to go about doing that. But this goes both ways many times. It can be easy to say that junglers have too much power to influence the game early by being able to visit lanes sooner, but it’s just as easy to point out that a smart toplaner has the ability to shut down two enemies at once by tracking the jungler and blocking their ability to get ahead early.

Saying you have to itemize a specific way against champions like Fiora can be flipped to say that certain champions can be countered with one item (sure enough, Hashinshin’s point that Fiora is broken doesn’t stand up to her 50.18% win rate, or his own assertion six months ago that bruisers like her were rendered useless by certain items). Players also have the option to alter their playstyle rather than altering their itemization, if they choose to play it that way. This is a tactic commonly used by the pros, as there are strategies beyond “look for fights with your lane opponent.” And though bruisers’ core itemization tends to be more expensive than those of other classes, they also tend to be more gold efficient, which means they offer more stats than most items for the same relative amount of gold.

Almost every aspect that one could argue is out of control can be flipped in this way. The idea that excessive cooldown reduction is bad for top laners leaves out the countless ways that toplaners can access the same level of it. The same goes for the amount of defensive choices in the game, such as shields, tenacity, and crowd control. The primary difference is that, with these things more commonly introduced into the game, players have to think more about how they can leverage these resources better than their opponents, rather than having better muscle memory and becoming unstoppable ten minutes in.

 

Method to the Madness

With all of these things being said, it is important to give credit where credit is due. Hashinshin and the fellow streamers who have discussed these points publicly have brought attention to some more, very legitimate issues. For example, he’s correct in saying that the new rune system has left bruisers behind. The Precision tree does not give stats that these champions want, and the Keystone runes provided tended to synergize more with ADCs than toplaners (hence the nerfs that negatively affect both). And it can feel bad to have to take the tree meant for mages, while the Resolve tree works for tanks no matter where they go.

Bugfixes are becoming all too rare for the game’s biggest class, and the longer the list of bugs for a given champion gets, the lower the likelihood is that they will ever be fixed (see: Mordekaiser). These two oversights could understandably make a player feel like their favorite class has been forgotten.

There are other valid griefs as well: the early availability of stopwatch, the safety of ADCs due to the gold now afforded to supports, potentially leaving junglers a little too much time to both farm and gank, rather than forcing them to make a choice. These are the things being discussed more prominently now. And also to his credit, some changes are being made already, with an upcoming change to AP itemization being planned which makes Morellonomicon’s grievous wounds more expensive and takes away the ability to waveclear and stall as easily with it’s cheap Lost Chapter component. And I firmly believe we can expect some rune changes as well.

As I write this, there is a front page Reddit post roasting Hashinshin for that video. I won’t lie — some memes were definitely born that day. But it’s major scenes like this that get the people talking. And there is no better catalyst for change than mass discussion. It’s the main reason Reddit has become the de facto “official” forum for the game. An observer might be pretty overwhelmed by the sheer levels of passion that exist in these discussions. So it’s important to remember the valid points with the ridiculous.

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Mr Fidori

Obsesses over League of Legends a little too much. Writes for Break the Game. In that order.