EDward Gaming Head Coach Ji "Aaron" Xing will take a break from directly coaching EDG's League of Legends team, Aaron told Chinese E-sports Athletes magazine in an interview. The interview followed the EDward Gaming press conference in which Aaron re-signed with the organization and received a promotion to Managing Director and Head Coach of all titles.
The press conference occurred at 1:00 a.m. EST. EDward Gaming revealed their full starting team and reserve roster on stage and announced new additions to their coaching staff, including Jung "RapidStar" Minsung, previous mid laner for MiG/Azubu/CJ Entus Frost, and ex-LGD Gaming coach and analyst, Huang "FireFox" Tinghsiang. RapidStar confirmed his addition on Twitter.
Bok "Reapered" Hangyu was not included on EDG's list of coaching staff, corroborating the earlier statement by Ham "Lustboy" Jangsik that he is now a free agent. EDward Gaming went on to reveal they will collaborate with Qiang Shi media to produce an eSports Television drama.
Ming "Clearlove" Kai and Aaron took center stage for the main event, re-signing contracts with EDward Gaming. Manager Huang "San Shao" Cheng informed press conference attendees and those watching on the streamed broadcast that Aaron would be promoted to Managing Director and Head Coach of all EDward Gaming titles.
Following the press conference, the team dedicated time to 1-on-1 interviews with media. During the interview with Esports Athletes editor, Pijie, Aaron stated, "I just temporarily quit the coach position" for EDward Gaming's League of Legends team. Pijie clarified that Aaron will not serve as the onstage coach for EDG and that someone else will be taking over the position temporarily. Pijie and Aaron did not state whether or not this person would be RapidStar.
Aaron is one of the most accomplished and experienced coaches in League of Legends. He joined Team WE from in 2011 and guided the team through their six month period of dominance in 2012 and 2013. Aaron joined EDward Gaming when the organization formed at the end of 2013 and has served as EDG's Head Coach since, leading them to multiple domestic titles and victory at the Mid Season Invitational this year.
The new season of the League of Legends Pro League begins next week on Jan. 14. It is unclear if or when Aaron's temporary leave from his position will end.
Riot recently released a statement on impending changes to the game, targeting the frequency of lane swaps. As a prolific League of Legends writer, this game and its appeal to both viewers and the teams who play it competitively is important to me. I want to assess claims made in Riot’s original statement as well as community response, not to decide whether lane swaps are valuable, but to understand why Riot have decided this change and the timing of the change is necessary and gauge whether the changes they propose will provide the solution they want.
In Riot’s original statement, they made the following opening assumption:
“Laneswapping, while difficult to do successfully, is starting to feel pretty formulaic with few strategic tradeoffs. As it’s become more prevalent and teams do it more efficiently, it’s led to passive turret trading and less direct early conflict. When laneswapping becomes a default opener, it creates a non-interactive early game with [sic]. We’ll be making some changes in the upcoming patch to address this."
The key assumptions here are:
1) Lane swapping is formulaic with few strategic tradeoffs 2) Lane swapping is the “default opener” of games 3) There are fewer early direct conflicts in lane swaps
While the first point is more nuanced and will require a deeper discussion to address, Points 2 and 3 are somewhat easy to support or undermine statistically. Eike “Timbolt” Heimpel and Florian “Bridgeburner” Dorner run a website called League of Analytics looking to deepen the metrics available to people who want to analyze League of Legends. They’ve developed a metric for lane swaps that they believe captures 95 percent of all lane swaps in professional play. One can look at this metric to get a very comfortable sense for how frequently lane swaps currently occur in professional League of Legends in four of the five major regions.
According to their metric, lane swap games only account for 48.7 percent of total games played this split so far (up to the second day of the EU LCS Week 8), and only 17 pro teams in the NA LCS, EU LCS, LMS and LCK combined lane swap in 50 percent of more of their games. I counted the lane swaps in the fifth major region, the LPL, by hand. In this case, I count any instance where the number of players on one team differs from the number of players on the other team in top and bottom lanes at three minutes. My definition of lane swaps differs from theirs, so the data is kept separate. It is assumed that using either definition will give relatively comparable results Only one team — LGD Gaming — lane swaps in more than 50 percent of their games as of the end of LPL Week 7 with a total of 61 lane swap games in 156 games played (39 percent).
This suggests that the majority of professional games actually do not have lane swaps as the “default start.” Perhaps, instead, Riot Games intended to say that lane swaps are the “ideal start,” meaning that, at the highest level of play, teams will always choose to lane swap. The less than 50 percent lane swap rates only exist because not all teams are at a high enough level to know that they should be using swaps as their default start.
Looking at the list of teams that lane swap in more than 50 percent of their games, however, only three are ranked in the top three of their regions: Fnatic, G2 Esports and J Team. In fact, teams near the bottom of their regional ranking feature prominently in this list. Team ROCCAT has the highest lane swap rate in any of the five major leagues of 73.3 percent, and of the 18 teams in the five major regions that lane swap more than 50 percent of the time, 10 are actually in the bottom four of their respective regions.
While it does seem like, based on this information, lane swapping is not considered the “default” or “ideal start” by most teams in professional league of legends, it does seem that teams that lane swap with a high frequency are much more common in the West. Seven of the 18 teams are European, and five are North American, — 12 of all teams in the five major leagues that lane swap more than 50 percent of the time are western teams with only three Korean, two LMS and one LPL team lane swapping more than half the time.
Looking only at Western teams, the EU LCS has a lane swap in 54.7 percent of games, and NA LCS has a lane swap in 51.9 percent of games. While these numbers are greater than 50 percent, it’s far from an overwhelming majority and not enough to refer to as a “default start.” The only region in which it could be argued that lane swapping is considered ideal is Europe, with more than 50 percent of teams lane swapping more than half the time, but even then G2 and Fnatic, two of the three top teams, only lane swap in 56.7 percent of their games. Still, given the likelihood Riot, as a western gaming company, look more at western regions, this could partly explain their assumption that lane swapping is the “default start” in competitive, though it's a slight stretch.
There are fewer early direct conflicts in lane swaps
If it turns out that lane swaps are not actually the “default start,” then it’s important to understand how they do impact strategic choices. Most have interpreted Riot's wording of "direct conflict" to mean skirmishes or kills. Some of those unhappy with the change in the community have expressed that they don’t believe that standard lanes are necessarily related to higher kill early games, as constantly moving around the map creates more opportunities for skirmishes and players getting caught out. Head Coach of top Brazilian team, INTZ, Alexander “Abaxial” Halibel, made a public statement on the League of Legends subreddit to this effect.
“Swaps create long lanes and greater risk for teams to handle. It's easier to chase people down or set up buff invades when outer turrets are down. Winning skirmishes in these situations is higher reward than standard lanes and* it's easier to avoid risks in standard lanes (as there is less pressure to make macro decisions).”
To try to better quantify the argument, I contacted the owners of the League of Analytics website to ask them for additional data on lane swap scenarios. They provided me with the timing of the first blood in and out of lane swaps for each region as well as the Combined Kills Per Minute (the total of all kills in a region divided by total minutes played in a region, inspired by OraclesElixir.com) in lane swap games versus non-lane swap games for each region.
Lane swap (Y/N)
Time of first blood (minutes)
CKPM (5-15 minutes)
Note: CKPM is not available for LPL games.
In all regions except Europe, there's at least a two minute difference in timing of first blood in lane swap. vs non-lane swap games with first blood occurring earlier in non-lane swap games. This implies that the action tends to start earlier in non-lane swap games.
Yet, this doesn't actually imply that early games have more conflict without lane swaps, just that first blood will happen earlier. This is why CKPM are inlcuded. Even Europe, which doesn't have an appreciably different first blood timing, has roughly .09 higher CKPM between 5 and 15 minutes of the game in standard lanes games. All four regions have about .10 higher CKPM in standard lane games, which does support the idea that there are more kills or conflicts in standard lane games.
This .10 only accounts for about one extra kill (for one team) in the span of ten minutes. So the answer is, yes, lane swaps do seem to be correlated with higher kill early games and earlier first bloods. As a result, this seems to be the more likely explanation for Riot deciding to take action to reduce the frequency of lane swaps than to prevent it from being the "default start" to games. One must now ask whether one extra kill in the span of ten minutes warrants radical changes to the game this close to playoffs and World Championship qualifiers.
The final assumption regarding strategic tradeoffs requires a more detailed examination and is much less clear-cut, so I'll cover it in a second article. Based on the data available, however, we can at least conclude that decision-making that goes into whether to lane swap or not isn't as straightforward as is implied by the initial statement. If no strategic tradeoffs are made, then teams would much more uniformly choose to lane swap or not.
Either way, so far we've learned that lane swaps are not the default or even the ideal start, and they are only the majority start in western regions. Even then, games where lane swaps occur or don't are close to 50 percent. Riot stated, "Our goal is not to eliminate laneswapping but to make it a strategic choice with actual tradeoffs." Considering how split the frequency of lane swapping is, it seems like that already exists.
But if Riot's goal is increasing the action in games, the data supports that there is a positive correlation between standard lane instances and combined kills per minute. The correlation only amounts to about one additional kill from five to fifteen minutes on average per game. Additional study would have to be done to determine causation.
The camera missed it the first time. Six minutes into the opening game of the semifinal best-of-three between GE Tigers and Team WE, Su “xiye” Hanwei’s Leblanc dove Lee "KurO" Seohaeng’s Ezreal and eliminated his health bar while spectators watched Peng “Aluka” Zhenming’s Maokai Teleport lazily back to lane. Shocked silence followed as viewers awaited the replay.
xiye continued to pressure GE’s KurO throughout the match, but WE didn’t win that first game — they just won the next two. The last place League of Legends Pro League team upset the first place League of Legends Champions Korea team in the most unexpected series in LoL history. Throughout the series, xiye received overwhelming praise from commentators for his gall and daring the first time on the international stage.
None of that mattered in the final against Team SoloMid. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and the rest of his team came prepared for xiye’s willful initiative and quelled his snowball before before it could coalesce. In the late game, WE’s lack of coordination in teamfights reflected on their mid laner, who relied too heavily on simple outplays to carry the new team to an international victory.
At the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, history repeated itself with another Chinese Leblanc player. Royal Never Give Up’s Li “xiaohu” Yuanhao took advantage of a seemingly cocky Lee "Faker" Sanghyeok lingering in lane with health below Leblanc's combo threshold. The stadium in Shanghai erupted as Royal Never Give Up carried the momentum to destabilize the best team in the world in SKT's first loss at MSI.
Like xiye, xiaohu faltered in the last leg of his team’s run in the tournament. Faker took his own revenge in the MSI semifinal as xiaohu stubbornly attempted to brush with the game’s most celebrated player and fell to pieces on the rift.
Beyond dizzying heights and tragic slides on the international stage, xiye and xiaohu’s histories mirror each other in startling ways. From as far back as 2013 in particular for xiye, both players were pegged before they joined the LPL as heirs to the LPL mid laner legacy. In the last two years, they have had some of the best individual performances on the international stage, but also exposed prominent gaps that reflect the will-they-or-won’t-they sentiment that has encased their careers.
As the 2016 LPL Summer playoffs loom, the voices saying “they will” grow louder and louder. 2015’s gods, Yu “cool” Jiajun (from early spring), Heo “pawN” Wonseok, Wei “We1less” Zhen, Ceng “U” Long and Song “RooKie” Euijin, have all dropped to bottom teams or have spent the better part of the season sitting on the bench. 2016 Spring served as an incubation period, but xiye and xiaohu are out of time and out of excuses to take up the mantel. As they compete to lead the next generation, they don’t just compete against the reputations of last year’s gods, but shadows of their own making.
The Twisted Fate at the top of Ionia
Twisted Fate and topping the Chinese ranked ladder are two things synonymous with one of the greatest Korean what-ifs in the history of the game, Jeong “Apdo” Sanggil (also known as “Dopa”). But before Apdo joined Chinese servers, xiye spent the better part of 2013 through 2015 as a Twisted Fate main in the Top 10 of the Ionian solo queue ladder. His prowess tipped him off to WE, an organization well known for yet another Twisted Fate player, Yu “Misaya” Jingxi. He joined the organization’s Academy team in March of 2013.
The whirlwind of promises commenced. WE Academy became a living legend in third party tournaments featuring LPL and Tencent Games Arena teams in the wake of the flagship team’s turmoil and eventual split. WEA placed Top 4 in almost every offseason event between 2013 and 2014, including a victory in G League in which xiye outperformed cool as he subbed in for Young Glory, Invictus Gaming’s sister team.
WEA only placed third in the Tencent Games Arena that qualified LGD Gaming and Vici Gaming for the LPL qualifier that year. Ardent WEA fans considered this a fluke and instead watched WEA trounce other secondary teams in the first ever split of the League of Legends Secondary Pro League in 2014 Spring. WEA automatically qualified for the LPL, and xiye featured as a centerpiece. Capable of besting nearly any LSPL opponent on every champion and frequently drawing Twisted Fate bans, players already in the LPL even acknowledged him in their lists of top Chinese mids.
The freighter that carried excitement for xiye and the rest of WEA lurched to an abrupt halt as xiye eventually found himself replaced by Son "Mickey" Youngmin, a then-fresh-from-solo-queue mid lane Lee Sin main. xiye’s niche picks like Annie looked like spoiled cheese as WEA’s win-lane-win-game formula utterly failed to translate in the LPL.
Some of WEA’s fans blamed internal drama and the departure of support and Team Captain Liu “AhrI” Xudong at the start of the 2014 LPL Summer split. Regardless of the reason, xiye’s LPL debut hardly rippled, and with the exception of playing to keep WEA (later rebranded as Masters3) in the LPL in the 2015 Spring promotion, xiye would return to his roots as a fixture of Ionia’s Top 10 for nearly a year and transferred to Team WE as a mid lane substitute.
Except that the 2015 Team WE roster only experienced atrocious results in the LPL. Amid powerful Korean upgrades, WE’s thrown together group of legacies dragged to the bottom of the standings. They started to pick up two to three weeks before the Intel Extreme Masters World Championships, a tournament for which WE qualified with a different roster, but when scrim results improved with the addition of xiye and Korean AD carry, Jin “Mystic” Seongjun, Korean mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geonwoo allegedly asked management to bench him right before IEM.
xiye more than likely only joined the roster because Mystic represented a major upgrade over Qu “styz” Ziliang and the team couldn’t run more than two Korean players. Yet with Mystic, Lee “Spirit” Dayoon, and xiye, WE’s roster held the top three players on the Ionian ranked ladder, and polished individual outplays gave WE the largest upset win in the game’s history over GE Tigers. It was a lack of synergy and cohesive teamfighting that dropped them against Team SoloMid in the final.
Back home in the LPL, WE experienced modest success, narrowly qualifying for playoffs after spending most of the split in last place and dragging EDward Gaming to five games with their substitute mid laner. Even at their heights, the same problems were obvious. With more match wins, WE’s team play didn’t improve. They still played to crush lanes and snowball, but even midtier LPL teams could slide back into the game against them from a deficit.
One could distribute fault evenly throughout WE, but xiye’s apparently narrow pool of champions and his awkward cooldown timing in teamfights were made increasingly apparent when WE, after only a support player change, again tumbled to the bottom of the LPL standings in 2015 Summer. Their lack of coordination in team fights became almost embarrassing to watch as players on the team turned more and more to solo queue, streaming and isolation.
xiye’s 1v1 destruction of KurO, a player not even known particularly for his laning phase, looked increasingly like it would stand out as the highlight of an otherwise pockmarked career.
The Syndra who failed to qualify for the LSPL — more than once
xiaohu, like xiye, has spent a significant portion of his time in the LPL kissing the floor of the standings. Unlike xiye, xiaohu didn’t have to rub elbows with Ionia’s Top 10 to get noticed by a pro team. xiaohu had barely secured Diamond I on the sixth Chinese server before he joined his first esports club.
As a friend to the staff of MD E-sports Club, xiaohu, the Diamond I Syndra one-trick-wonder joined the team as a substitute in 2013. With constant grinding, xiaohu eventually made himself into a fortuitous investment and started for MD with four other players who crested the top of the ladder.
Excited fans began to speculate that MD would qualify easily for LPL after a split in the LSPL, but MD failed to qualify for the League of Legends Secondary Pro League three times, dropping out as early as the TGA regional qualifiers twice. They still received an invitation to the 2014 Summer Demacia Cup where xiaohu, then known as AngelBeats, gained the most notoriety.
Gamtee bought the entirety of the MD E-sports Club roster in all of its uncoordinated glory, but only started xiaohu. xiaohu’s masterful Zed performance in World Game Master tournament debuting for Gamtee unhinged the then-imposing Team King, showing the first signs that King, like WEA, wouldn’t keep promises made by offseason tournament success.
As a 15-year-old at the start of the 2015 spring season, xiaohu watched his teammates struggle through the first two weeks of LPL before his 16th birthday when he donned the metaphorical Gamtee panda jersey (they had stopped wearing the jerseys at that point, but the suggestion lingered). xiaohu had a slightly more promising start than xiye, as in an early match against Masters3, he took advantage of Bae “dade” Eojin with Fizz into Azir.
That didn’t stop Gamtee’s bleeding. The young team went on a string of 1-1 splits, and when things looked most bleak and Gamtee had no chance of making playoffs, staff advised them to just have fun in their matches. xiaohu showed off a peculiar champion pool with picks like Lucian and Irelia. “I didn’t actually think we’d win those games,” xiaohu laughed, “but we did.”
A niche champion pool and 1-1s wouldn’t provide relief for Gamtee. Though they re-qualified for the LPL, xiaohu felt far from confident in his team, but when Royal bought the spot from Gamtee, they assured xiaohu he would have a place on Royal Never Give Up.
Despite condensing some of the best Chinese talent from Gamtee and Team King into Royal Never Give Up’s roster, RNG’s LPL Summer was just as disappointing as Gamtee’s LPL Spring. xiaohu took the blame for his team’s poor results, saying he believed that even if he didn’t practice, Royal would still do well.
Royal played the promotion tournament, and xiaohu again narrowly helped his team requalify. A second near-relegation from LPL for xiaohu marked a turning point in his attitude. His practice ethic improved rapidly, and over the course of 2016, with the help of new team captain Cho "Mata" Sehyeong, xiaohu would begin to think more critically about his own performances in-game.
The absence of gods
While xiye and xiaohu sunk lower and lower in the LPL standings in 2015, League's leading mid laners wrote their own ballads in the blood of their opponents. Oh My God’s cool built high damage assassins to start the year, blowing through competition until Oh My God splintered critically and dropped near the bottom.
After a spring of absence, U jump-started Snake eSports and nearly pulled them to the World Championship with consistent and safe play in the mid lane and game-turning late game team fighting. pawN’s boldness provided the ultimate diversion for EDward Gaming’s carries to get ahead in the laning phase. RooKie and We1less became figureheads of the league, headlining with mesmerizing duels and risky plays they could force with an alarmingly high success rate.
xiye’s 15 minutes of fame against KurO at IEM Katowice, and xiaohu’s occasional domestic flash of brilliance barely registered on the scale of what the LPL’s most prominent mid laners could achieve. Throughout the year, both were repeatedly outshone and outdone, settling in their bottom tier teams with, at best, mid-tier performances.
In a near systematic unraveling of the LPL’s top mid laners, however, xiaohu and xiye slowly gained minimal recognition in 2016 LPL Spring. cool’s form dropped off irreparably with the exception of the occasional game-winning Twisted Fate play. U’s style conflicted with the team identity Snake wanted to project, so he found himself benched again, this time for Park “TANK” Danwon.
At the 2016 LPL spring final, pawN looked more like a liability than a world-class mid laner, hampering himself in lane and failing to hold waves or time his split-pushing well. He reacted poorly to xiaohu’s all-ins and spent the better part of the summer in Korea seeking medical treatment for persistent back problems.
We1less’ descent is perhaps the most tragic, as he never seemed to be able to pick himself up fully following a humiliating run at the 2015 World Championship. Also citing health reasons, he has taken all of 2016 LPL Summer off.
Things appeared truly dire in Week 6 of the LPL Summer when RooKie switched to AD carry for Invictus Gaming’s series against I May. For that week, all of LPL’s 2015 mid lane giants had vanished entirely. Even with RooKie back to the mid lane, he had one of his worst weeks in recent memory in Week 7, and iG remain out of contention for playoffs for the time being. Who will carry the mantel of LPL’s mid lane legacy? Two names finally leapt to mind, but far from the same way that cool, pawN, RooKie and We1less in particular did in 2015.
2016 LPL hasn’t been about turning xiaohu and xiye into mid lane monsters, but filling some of their greatest chasms: making them consistent team players. Both xiaohu and xiye have been obviously talented since they started playing competitively, but only watching a selection of their games wouldn’t necessarily convey that before 2016. This year, almost any VOD of xiaohu or xiye — with the exception of the latter’s wilting at the hands of the greatest player to ever touch the game in the MSI semifinal — will give the viewer an impression that this player knows how to influence the game positively for his team.
xiaohu’s sense for engagement makes him capable of splitting the opposing team with Azir or Taliyah, looking for an opening to assassinate the enemy with Leblanc, or positioning Lissandra into a choke point. Royal Never Give Up allocates the lowest percentage of team gold to mid lane of any team in the LPL, but xiaohu performs best when he leads the charge in fights and coordinates engagements with Cho “Mata” Sehyeong.
xiye has shored up his teamfighting weaknesses considerably, excels when he’s rotating around the map as a distraction, split-pushing with Teleport or holding the mid lane while jungler Xiang “Condi” Renjie farms. He still receives consistent Twisted Fate bans, and he holds down most of WE’s early game. When he cannot facilitate mid lane control on his own, WE fall apart, but he can still use his teamfighting and split-push pressure to help the team back into the game.
Both xiye and xiaohu have finally hit the right notes of consistency and team play after many of their supporters had given up, but there’s one major knock against them — they still aren’t the horrifying threats last year’s mid laners were.
Part of this comes from the fact that RNG and WE feel well-rounded as teams, and both focus much more on their junglers and bottom laners as threats. Jian “Uzi” Zihao receiving the lion share of RNG’s gold and much of WE’s extended laning phase existing to facilitate Condi’s farming don’t necessarily make xiaohu and xiye less impressive, but there’s less pressure on them to pull out the game-winning outplay, so they do it less often than their forebears.
LGD and iG both made conscious decisions in the past to funnel gold onto their mid laners. We1less faltered when attention shifted from him. RooKie doesn’t have the luxury of sharing the burden. cool similarly struggled sharing the limelight after years as OMG’s main damage threat. pawN’s very function is to draw attention by making ostentatious plays.
If xiye or xiaohu simply tried to outplay for extra flair, they could jeopardize their teams with a misstep. Much more well-rounded units can find success with conservative strategy rather than relying on their midlaner to outplay. That seems to be the formula RNG and WE have looked for this split, aligning xiye and xiaohu much more with U, a mid laner who seldom received his deserved recognition as one of the greatest LPL mids during his time as a starter for both EDG and Snake.
xiaohu and xiye aren’t the only mid laners in the running to lead LPL’s new generation. Game Talents’ Bong “RepubliC” Geuntae is more than worthy of recognition with a much more central role as a threat. RepubliC’s impressive laning phase from 2016 LPL Spring has persisted this Summer, but he’s evolved more facets of his play to carry Game Talents to wins they shouldn’t have achieved. He receives most of his team’s resources and turns fights both in early and late game with his team fighting.
Depending on one’s perspective, this is a massive slight against xiye and xiaohu, but there are others that are more severe. Without a champion that obviously takes advantages of opening for flanks, xiaohu doesn’t have as strong of an impact. When he selects Viktor, RNG can struggle to find an engagement and over-force fights. This also makes it much harder for the team to close if xiaohu doesn’t snowball on these picks.
WE’s strategy relies on xiye to hold mid lane and follow up Condi’s invades, but xiye doesn’t always predict the enemy jungler’s advancement, and he appears to get cold feet and exert less pressure in games WE lose. While xiye’s team fighting has improved considerably, it still doesn’t rival some of the greatest mids of the region, and while his strength is splitting map pressure, he doesn’t always abuse this fully.
But xiye and xiaohu have regained momentum. They’ve finally cashed in on some of the expectations from 2013 and 2014. One can see the development of these players from game-to-game, and xiye’s perseverance and growth in particular has been truly miraculous this year after three disappointing near bottom LPL finishes in a row. xiaohu’s commitment to practice has remained from the end of last year, and he recently procured first on the Korean ladder as a result.
Even with iG slipping more permanently toward the bottom of Group A, RooKie will likely retain the title of best mid laner of the LPL for at least a little longer. pawN's return may also rejuvenate the talent pool if he's regained his form from last spring. But for xiye and xiaohu, the abrupt mid lane talent vacuum of 2016 has served as a nested training ground to prepare them to finally start hitting the ceilings they hinted at for so long.
With last year’s altars of the greats all but empty, time has run out for xiye and xiaohu. By the end of the year we’ll know if they’re finally ready to fill them.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports who spent 2015 railing against xiaohu and xiye hype only to eat her words in 2016. You can follow her on Twitter.
A basic comparison of champion select trends across five major regions
Until recently, draft phases had become homogenized internationally. Watching a game in a given major league followed the same patterns. Spectators expressed irritation that "everyone was just copying Korea." That seems to have changed this summer, as teams within leagues and leagues themselves have begun to prioritize different picks. Looking at Patch 6.12 and the games that have been played on Patch 6.13 so far, a slight divergence in picks, even among the most contested, has started to appear as distinct regional methods of playing the game have emerged.
When or how this started is not within the scope of the investigation, but trying to understand champion pick priorities within regions and their top teams is important. When individuals judge coaches, they do so most commonly by examining the draft or composition construction. It's hard to do that without understanding different champion values in each meta.
The data comes from Patch 6.12 and Patch 6.13. In the case of League of Legends Champions Korea and League of Legends Masters Series, data from Patch 6.13 are limited or not available, but observing NA LCS and EU LCS for the first week of Patch 6.13, we can assume that pick priorities have not changed significantly. As such, data from both patches are used.
Only LPL data are used from Chinese teams. This does not include Demacia Cup, as such only data from Patch 6.13 in Week 6 are included. LMS has only played one half week on Patch 6.12, which includes eight games, meaning all LMS data are to be interpreted as a limited sample. In total, 70 NA LCS games, 60 EU LCS games, 21 LPL games, 37 LCK games (6.12 data and data form the first two days of Week 8 on Patch 6.13) and 8 LMS games are examined.
When examining the Top 5 champions most picked or banned within each league, there are clear differences. Aside from Vladimir being contested in every game included in the sample except three EU LCS games, no other pick is universally accepted as worthy of more than 75 percent pick or ban rate.
Comparison of contest rate of Top 5 contested picks in each region (%)
The LCK and the LMS have put a much higher priority on Shen in the top lane in 6.12 games for his ability to split push and Teleport on a shorter cast time. EU LCS, NA LCS and LPL have their own priorities in the top lane. LPL's high Trundle priority comes from their willingness to flex it more often in the support role, so it has been picked or banned in 100 percent of games on Patch 6.13. As such, LPL teams often favor Trundle as a split-pushing option. LPL teams also play the least amount of Gnar of any region, making Trundle more comfortable in a 1v1 scenario.
EU LCS will choose Gnar for his range more often as a potential bully, and the NA LCS has favored more carry-oriented tops to tanky supportive tops like Shen. NA has a 15 percent Fiora contest rate and is the only region to continue to pick Illaoi on 6.12 and 6.13.
Despite being a Top 5 contested pick in Europe, Olaf hardly sees play in the other four of the main regions. Olaf, like Trundle in the LPL, is also valued as more of a flexible pick in EU. The EU LCS and LCK's lower value of Rek'Sai seems to come from their higher Elise and Nidalee pick rate relative to the other three regions. Elise is picked in 67 and 57 percent of games in EU and LCK respectively, but is only picked or banned in 31 percent of NA games, 19 percent of LPL games and two of the eight LMS games.
Nidalee also has very high priority in Europe and Korea. Elise and Nidalee suggest more of an emphasis on poke or pick compositions, as opposed to taking advantage of Rek'Sai's tankiness and knockups in teamfights.
In the mid lane, Azir priority has declined significantly in the LPL in favor of picks like Leblanc, which enjoys a 62 percent pick or ban rate. LPL teams have also begun to choose more assassins like Zed or Yasuo due to peculiarities of mid laners known for these champions. LMS teams picked or banned Kassadin in seven of eight matches, but LMS mid laners often value the pick potential of assassins, and Leblanc has also been played more in the LMS than other regions.
Ryze priority has dropped significantly in the EU LCS and the LCK following nerfs, but other regions still value his ability to flank in late-game teamfights. Karma's increased use as a mid lane flex champion makes her more likely to be picked early in drafts in NA LCS, EU LCS and the LPL. Karma is used much less often as a mid laner in the LMS.
AD carries provide some of the widest diversity. LCK teams place massive priority on Sivir and Ashe to the exclusion of most other picks on the patch. NA LCS is the only region to pick Lucian in more than 40 percent of drafts, EU LCS uses Caitlyn more than 40 percent of the time, and LPL is the only region to prioritize Ezreal with high frequency. NA LCS teams prefer to use Lucian's laning phase, EU LCS look to stall through mid game for Caitlyn to scale, and LPL teams rely on Ezreal's ability to carry self-sufficiently and rush Sheen for burst while outplaying the early game.
Instead of prioritizing Ashe, LPL teams heavily prioritize Jhin, while EU LCS, NA LCS and the LMS regions prefer a mix of both AD carries for long range catch. LCK teams have also gotten good at punishing and piling onto Jhin, while Ashe can enjoy even longer range engage with strong vision control and roaming supports.
It also reflects regional preferences for AD carries historically. EU LCS has players who favor Caitlyn, while the LPL is home to many well-known Ezreals. Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng's position as both an avid Lucian player and the AD carry of the NA LCS' top team puts him in a good position to heavily influence the NA playstyle. The Tigers' Kim "PraY" Jongin will play Ashe even when it's out of meta.
Braum and Karma (with the exception of the LMS) appear to be universally the highest priority support picks. Braum is a safe early pick, and Karma has flex options in the mid lane. Bard remains popular in EU and NA LCS moreso than in the Asian regions, and Thresh appears to be an alternative catch support regaining popularity in LMS and LPL, while LCK teams pick or ban Alistar in more than 50 percent of their games. Aside from Karma, Asian regions appear to go for more engage supports. With Alistar's nerfs, he can only really be used in single catch scenarios, showing a slight difference between LCK and LPL and LMS.
Below, you can see the red (1) cells represent regions where a pick is contested in more than 75 percent of games. Yellow (2) cells show in which regions picks are contested in more than 50 percent of games, but in less in than 75 percent of games. Green (3) cells represent champions contested in 40-50 percent of games in a region.
To understand champion priorities, one must also examine at which phase in the draft the different roles often pick their champions. Some picks are valued as flex picks or as counter picks. Certain regions will value the ability to counterpick the mid lane more often.
Champions most chosen as last ban, most first picked, most picked as first rotation red side or most last picked
First rotation red side
Zilean; Irelia; Trundle
Irelia; Zilean; Cassiopeia
Malzahar; Rumble; Swain; Viktor; Zed
LMS data was not sufficient on the patch to be included.
Last banned champions usually serve as picks teams want blue side to ban or otherwise risk leaving open if other equally strong picks exist for a trade. Vladimir is a frequent last ban in EU LCS and LCK, while Ryze is more frequently last banned in LPL and NA LCS. Teams in NA LCS and LPL will often leave Vladimir and Ryze for last bans, since both are still highly valued. Blue side will ban one as the third ban, leaving red side to ban the other. EU LCS and LCK teams ban Vladimir last, likely hoping blue side teams will ban it first.
As expected, Karma is chosen most often as a first pick in EU and NA LCS, while LPL most often first picks Trundle for the perceived utility as a strong flex. Korean teams have become increasingly willing to leave Vladimir open for first pick because they can play around it well with counters or avoiding teamfights. Vladimir still has a high win rate in the league, making it first pickable, but not necessarily a must-ban.
Jungle, support, and AD carry picks often come out on red side first rotation. NA LCS highly values Rek'Sai, but will value first picking Karma more often. Other regions will choose preferred bottom lane picks.
Finally, last picks usually are reserved for solo lane counter picking. Unlike the LPL, EU LCS teams reserve their Trundle picks for last for fear of a ranged Gnar counter. NA LCS teams have picked up more Cassiopeia picks as a counter to the likes of Ryze. LCK teams have picked Gangplank as a top lane counter pick to the Shen menace more often, and LPL teams overwhelmingly prefer to counter pick mid lane to counterpicking the top lane, though Rumble has gained popularity, especially for Saint Gaming and LGD Gaming.
Each region looks to choose certain roles as a first pick. Often, these roles will start as flex picks, so the data can be misleading. If a team picks Trundle, and during the draft, the enemy team picks a top laner that counters Trundle, he'll end up as a support, though he may not have been initially picked as one. One should keep this in mind when examining the data.
For the most part, there's a wide spread of roles chosen as first pick. Likely because of Vladimir and Karma, first picking mid lane appears most common, especially in the NA LCS. Karma occupies a large majority of NA LCS first picks with 22 Karma first picks in total.
LPL teams first pick their top laners most often of any of the regions, which is a huge departure from LCK and LCS regions that will only pick their top laner first third most often in the draft. Top laners feature very rarely in priority as a result of the more jungle and bottom lane-centric playstyle in the LPL. LPL teams favoring things like Maokai may seem weird, but Maokai's ability to stay safe and Teleport, even from behind, makes him relatively valuable. That said, Shen and Trundle were most often first picked among top lane choices in LPL on Patch 6.13.
Because of the LCK's fondness for two AD carries in particular, it seems they are more likely to first pick an AD carry than teams in any other region. Depending on the choice, Ashe or Sivir can dictate the way in which an LCK team composition is built, so picking the champion early becomes more important.
Obviously the LMS only having a sample size of eight games will heavily influence the result, but half of the first picks were either Braum or Thresh. Hong Kong Esports' Kim "Olleh" Joosung seemed the biggest offender, with Thresh once first picked against him and once banned against him to deny it — and he first picked it the other time. The results in this case are influenced by a single team or player.
Following the choosing of valuable first picks (either really strong champions or flex picks), League of Legends teams often look for jungle or support champions that dictate game pace, but are least affected by head-to-head matchups due to roaming. AD carries also can become a priority, as with a 2v2 in place, a support may have more influence on the lane matchup.
This appears relatively consistent across all five of the major regions. LPL is the only region that, again, appears more willing to early pick a top laner over an AD carry. AD carries are the most frequently picked champions on the first rotation on red side in the LCK to lock down the highly valued of the two most frequently picked AD carries in Ashe or Sivir.
As expected, solo lane champions are by far the most last picked. NA and EU LCS teams appear slightly more in favor of counter-picking the top lane, while LPL and LCK teams seem to strongly favor last picking mid lane, especially the LPL where the percentage of mid lane last picks more than double those of top lane last picks.
This can also explain some of the increased assassin priority in the LPL, as if mid lane has counterpick reserved for him much more often, that opens up the possible champions he can play just for a counterpick scenario considerably. With Shen priority in the LCK, Shen can also be chosen relatively early in draft, as many of his matchups are based around skill or power spikes.
LMS last picks are again heavily influenced by a small sample, as they only last picked AD carries twice. But a slightly higher AD carry last pick priority does exist in the LPL. Since the LMS playstyle of favoring the bottom side more than the top side is similar to that of the LPL, one might expect a higher AD carry last pick rate in the LMS in general.
NA LCS teams have a lot more emphasis on carry top lane picks, giving them more value for top lane counterpicks. Meanwhile, EU LCS teams have a somewhat smaller pool of picks, but still seem to favor direct counters, especially in the case of Irelia, Gnar, and Trundle, champions that seem to have a triangular counter-matchup relationship with Gnar countering Trundle, Trundle countering Irelia and Irelia contering Gnar.
Based on champion pick and draft priorities observed so far, one can notice that the EU LCS emphasizes a mix of scaling AD carry picks (Caitlyn), more pick and poke-oriented junglers, and safer top lane picks within a more limited pool than some other regions. This makes them suited to finding picks and using long death timers to end games or get objectives. Yet EU feels less specialized than the other regions, either pointing to a less defined playstyle or a wide variety of individual playstyles.
NA LCS has slightly more of a focus on team fights, but also laning phase strengths using top laners and AD carries. This allows them to snowball well, but also pick up team fight oriented jungle picks. They also seem more willing to let power mid lane champions through for first pick and experiment with counterpicks later in draft than the EU LCS.
LCK teams have a limited number of AD carry picks they favor between Ashe and Sivir on Patch 6.12 (and two best of threes on 6.13). This can dictate a lot of how their compositions are built, but in general they trend more away from the pure 5v5 style with high priority on Nidalee and Elise. Some of their top lane picks like Shen and Gangplank suggest value for globals and split-pushing. LCK's value for Ashe at the expense of Jhin means they look to take more advantage of vision in long range engages.
As anticipated, LPL teams favor 5v5s, but are more than willing to sacrifice top lane matchups for better mid lane ones. Top laners are valued more for their safety than for matchups. High Jhin and Ezreal priority suggest that LPL teams are willing to take games long to have their bottom lanes carry. They also favor Graves more than other regions, pointing to jungle farming and damage dealing.
It's hard to make a defined conclusion about the LMS region with limited data, but what is available suggests that, like the LPL, LMS teams value mid lane assassins more. Though Kassadin often gets crushed when early picked in other regions, LMS teams will make multiple sacrifices to ensure their Kassadin gets ahead, like grouping mid early. This could also explain Braum popularity, as gathering Braum in the mid lane can counteract early pushes.
These are only basic speculations made from combining data observations with watching games in each region. Additional investigation should look at the drafting and play of specific teams to break down how regional playstyles are driven. A wider investigation on more patches can also be done, but patch changes should be accounted for.
One thing that can be concluded, however, is that not all regional pick priorities can be created equal. Different playstyles will make different picks more important, and this should be considered when one looks at draft priority in another region.
Rand: CLG are coming together at the right time — immediately before playoffs. Their rise has been coupled with inconsistent performances from Team EnVyUs, Apex Gaming, and even Cloud9. Against Team Liquid, CLG have a chance to prove that they're a top team in North America once more. I can see either team taking it, although I'm siding with CLG, since they seem to have figured out their team dynamic again. More than anything, I'm looking forward to the jungle matchup between Dardoch and Xmithie — both have been key components in their respective teams' successes.
Moser: This is actually somewhat difficult given some slight upticks CLG displayed last week. Still, I'm not convinced that a CLG win is a reliable expectation since some of their successes relied on specific champions like Aurelion Sol, and though Team Liquid have had some growing pains, they still feel like the better team for now.
Sevenhuysen: CLG are finally beating teams above them in the standings, but both EnVyUs and Cloud9 were slumping before CLG beat them, so there’s still plenty of room for doubt. Fenix vs. Huhi is a big mismatch in Team Liquid’s favor in the laning phase — Fenix has been the best 1v1 mid in NA this split — so CLG will need to look to their team play, and maybe try to snowball Stixxay. Darshan vs. Lourlo is another intriguing head to head, and Lourlo may have the edge. Imagine writing that sentence last split! I’m expecting a close series and a 2-1 victory for TL.
Team SoloMid vs. EnVyUs
Rand: We'll likely have to wait for Week 9 to see if Immortals can take down TSM. Team Liquid seemed like a fairly strong bet until TSM swept them last week, and nV have looked disorganized as of late. They started off the season with a strong understanding of the meta and team dynamic, but have failed to improve since.
Moser: EnVy are no longer enviable. A drop to NRG exposed even more issues in keeping the jungle in check as NRG played much more strongly around neutrals. Though Team SoloMid had a few hiccups against EFX in Game 1, their assertiveness should easily set NV on the back foot.
Sevenhuysen: EnVyUs barely outlasted Apex last week. There were some signs that they may be getting back on track, but realistically, it would be surprising if they took a game off TSM. With Biofrost showing off an impressive Alistar against Team Liquid, any lingering questions about his versatility should be put to rest. TSM’s list of potential weaknesses keeps getting shorter.
EnVyUs vs. Cloud 9
Rand: This is the series I had the most trouble picking this week, and am still unsure of who will win. I chose C9 because I think their talent is more prone to individual outplays that can eventually carry a game, but both teams have looked messy in recent series. These will not be clean games unless one or both of these teams have made significant improvements in the past week during practice.
Moser: Cloud9's largest problems are playing outside standard lane scenarios. While I do think C9's shirking of the top lane could be an advantage Seraph can exploit, I don't think NV have enough coordination at the moment to fully take advantage of C9's lane swap weaknesses.
Sevenhuysen: Cloud9 have some big issues lately, making mistakes across the board, from their rotations to their lane assignments to their game planning. Impact gets starved too often, and Sneaky has been faltering. That leaves Jensen to do most of the work, and he’s had inconsistencies of his own. Cloud9 are capable of 2-0ing the series if they’ve practiced efficiently this week, but EnVyUs will win if they maintain the controlled, intentional play they started to bring back against Apex, if they keep their drafts clean and if Procxin flies under the radar. Neither team has been consistent enough lately, so I’m predicting a 2-1, but I’m slightly favoring Cloud9.
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Pastrytime on the NA LCS region: 'I don’t know if they can challenge the strong Asian teams just yet'
William "scarra" Li
This season, the NA LCS's caster desk welcomed a new face: Julian "Pastrytime" Carr.
theScore esports' William "scarra" Li got the chance to catch up with the Australian play-by-play caster to discuss why his move to North America took longer than originally planned, his strengths as a caster and how he thinks the NA LCS teams stack up against the international scene.
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