Power Shift: Where the Meta’s Been & What’s in Store

The League of Legends 2017 Ranked Season is upon us, and after such a short preseason, it’s easy to find yourself wondering where exactly the game is headed, and more importantly, what is the most effective strategy to climb amidst all the changes. Of course, the solo queue experience is largely left up to personal skill and decision-making, and to a certain extent, being able to be consistently good at these things and carry in the process will prove just fine, even on a small pool of champions. But if you’re looking for something deeper than that, to understand the trends and the reasons behind them (they are trends for a reason after all), or to go into flex queue with a larger group, then a bit of meta knowledge may be necessary.

Of course nobody has a crystal ball, and the future of the season depends heavily on changes made by Riot, and what the imaginations of high-elo players end up doing with those changes. But before jumping ahead to the future, it’s important to look at where we have been recently and what has led us to this point. If we do this, then we can reasonably begin to think about the patterns that may follow. The shifts of 2016 can be largely boiled down to the class updates that preceded them, and as such the large changes were split up among the Marksman, Mage, and Assassin Updates.

The Marksman Update

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The Marksman Update saw widespread changes to the class that made just about every marksman serve a unique purpose, and made some marksman more suited for role outside of ADC: Corki became a dual-type damage threat for mid-laners, Quinn became a duelist whose speed through the jungle was unrivaled, and Graves became a beefy high-damage threat in the top lane. From a game experience and champion diversity standpoint, it could’ve easily been a dream come true. But you may not have such fond memories of this time. Having marksmen everywhere made life tough for tanks and bruisers, who now were easily countered by the corresponding marksman item options. And there certainly were options — choices for extended critical strike chance, for near-cap cooldown reduction, for dueling and split-pushing, and of course for shredding tanks and everyone else (prompting the later reworking of armor penetration).

Changes to Summoner’s Rift and the mastery system also created a separate woe. With Thunderlord’s Decree far outclassing the other new keystone masteries and turrets being severely underwhelming, the average game time dropped significantly at every level, making life tough for certain hypercarries such as Jinx and Vayne. This time period featured many steps in the right direction, such as an epic monster to draw attention to the top side of the map early, but fixing the flaws from the preseason took very nearly until the next major update.

The Mage Update

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The Mage Update itself was actually pretty solid, with most champs like Malzahar, Vladimir, and Cassiopeia coming out of it as newly competitive picks. But because the update didn’t possess quite the large scope that the previous update had, and wasn’t accompanied by the sweeping changes that are characteristic of the preseason, it took a bit of time for the positive effects to really kick in for players. Mid-laners were seriously reinvigorated, with immobile mages now reaping the benefits of meaningful kits with unique purposes (much like had been done with the marksmen), alongside new items to abuse that minimized the impact of immobility.
Map changes once again heavily influenced the meta at most levels, creating a need for movement-heavy team compositions that could capitalize on the new elemental drakes (which coincided with the recent releases of Aurelion Sol and Taliyah), and either carry junglers or top-laners so that someone could utilize the new Rift Herald buff effectively. This in turn created a split-pushing threat that was met with rampant waveclear in most lanes. Many of these champions are still popular today. And there remained a class that didn’t really meet of these criteria, which brings us to this preseason.

The Assassin Update

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The most recent preseason worked a little differently than the other two, insofar that the previous two buffed classes that in turn prompted the buffing of a class that counters it (marksman buff prompted mage buff to counteract it, and the same with mages to assassins). However, we’ve come to a point where the assassin’s got buffed while the tanks that counter them are in a reasonably decent spot. And while it’s hard to talk about the present as concretely as the past, it’s reasonably clear that the “League of Assassins” isn’t exactly here, though those champions affected did largely benefit from the enhancements to their respective kits. But with tanks already doing what they do pretty well, and with reworked armor penetration and Courage of the Colossus to allow safe trades, they seem like the obvious choice. And through the preseason, the champions with the most success are in fact those who can abuse the new keystone, such as Vi, Hecarim, and Rammus.

It seems that the more impactful change wasn’t actually the assassin changes themselves, but the changes to stealth, as Twitch and Vayne have skyrocketed in win rate alongside the supports that can build Redemption and babysit them with either tankiness or sustain (Janna, Taric, etc). With nerfs coming to Rylai’s, reliable crowd control will be essential. The corresponding champions will be pretty safe with lethality meaning so little early on, and this will be the case for awhile.

The Future of Season 7

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So now for the speculation. The way I see it, the near future could go one of two ways. It could go the way of the assassins if Courage of the Colossus gets overnerfed and carry champions retain the impact they had at the end of this season. But what may be more likely is that tanks or bruisers stay strong and burst becomes less prevalent as it becomes more risky, a worrying trend for those assassins. As the season progresses, games will grow a bit longer than the snowballs of last year, and waveclear and control mages will continue to be important to fight against the late game (think maybe Taliyah).

But remember that bit about the junglers above who have found strong and sudden success? This may be the big part. Over the past year, mages and assassins now have been buffed, marksmen strengthened and then brought back into line, allowing tanks to be consistent. With most everyone that goes in a lane being reasonably useful, the variable role (not class) is the jungler, which has seen a not-so-shy shift from power farming to early ganking. And while most players are still adjusting to the class changes, high-level and professional players are already seeing the potential jungler impact resulting from these changes and the jungle changes, many steps ahead of us, as discussed on Beyond the Rift, by solo players, and by professionals. Moving forward, the most prominent trends could be that:

  1. Junglers become the most prominent role for the whole season, and changes will be made to make sure this happens, with the Warwick rework forthcoming (and maybe more to others — like Udyr?).
  2. Late games become more common, and in turn so do comebacks.
  3. Splitpushing and sieging give way to teamfights, and those who excel at doing so prosper.

Of course, as players it is all of our individual duties to ourselves to draw our own conclusions about what may come. Make your considerations quickly, and best of luck in the upcoming season!

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Mr Fidori

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

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