It’s amusing to think how much the landscape of League of Legends has shifted since those regional playoffs so long ago. So much has entered the game in such a powerful state that red side bans can be predicted by the tournament. The recent KeSPA Cup in Korea saw five champions hit contention rates above 80%.
As the game is on 5.21 coming into IEM, there are three champions I want to consider for contention coming into League of Legends’ final international showing before the preseason changes come through.
Kindred: The Eternal Hunters
Kindred was the only champion in the KeSPA Cup to receive 100% contention. In not a single game were the Eternal Hunters not considered and every time she was taken it was for the jungle. Only Brazil has shown Kindred as a strong AD Carry pick in the CBLoL 2015 Post-Season tournament to some effect as a strict abuser of her early game dueling capabilities.
So why has Kindred seen so much jungle play? In short she fits in perfectly with the protect meta vs. prevalent hard engage. Her ultimate Lambs Respite is the perfect anti-dive tool for such compositions. Should teams place her in the jungle, where she is already perfectly situated to stack her passive and given great sustain by Wolf’s Frenz, teams can free up their ADC position for low mobility hypercarries like Kog’Maw or Jinx. A strong kiting composition can come out of this with Kindred serving as part of these long-range hypercarries’ protection.
This also solves Kindred’s range issue. Much like Darius, Kindred would much prefer for you to come to her and serving as part of a protect composition will have the same zoning effect as a juggernaut. Dive if you dare, but Kindred has the kit to turn it around and deal significant damage thereafter. Her damage output is incredibly high in the optimal circumstances and combined with her utility you can see why Korea valued her so. Her objective control is the last defining feature. Her ability to shred neutral objectives combined with her roll makes her a prominent purple side pick.
She is not without her faults. Strong displacement champions like Gragas can negate the effects of her Lambs Respite with Explosive Cask, tossing the opposing team out of the zone and it’s benefits. Kindred can be vulnerable in the early game too. A well pathed Elise can make use of Mark of the Kindred to setup favourable duels. A Red Buff Lee Sin would also present much in the form of early danger - but minus the Red Buff he too would have to rely on Mark of the Kindred pathing to set up favourably. Should he though so, he can theoretically displace her out of her ultimate. Regardless, expect both purple and blue side Kalista bans and pairings with the similarly tuned Kalista for the ultimate protect composition.
Gangplank: The Saltwater Scourge
Remember that annoying as heck Season 4 meta where Ziggs and Xerath were played every darn game and stadiums were subjected to 50 minute wave clearing sessions? Gangplank is the 5.21 equivalent of that. With an insane Worlds contention rate of 100% it appears that many other teams remember this too. Gangplank has seen little success in his actual 5.21 usage though, finding only two victories out of ten games prior to the Grand Finals of the KeSPA Cup.
Why is this? Well, Gangplank emphasizes all of the positives of his former wave clearing champions and all of the negatives at the same time. He is a late game scaling champion that takes three items (Trinity Force, Infinity Edge and YouMuu’s Ghostblade) to even start being relevant. He has the wave clear power to reach that point - but being AD and True Damage based he can even ignore the resistance buff of a Baron if he has to.
This safety net of a secure ranged waveclear that is effective against Baron Buff and Banner of Command empowered minions has led to many Korean teams opting to take the first rotation Gangplank risk. Korean teams aren’t the most aggressive outside of their Samsung White/SK Telecom dominators. While regions like China look to force errors through sheer aggression, Korean teams are certain that if they be like a rock their opponents will eventually make the error to capitalize on. For Gangplank, that capitalization comes in the form of a single barrel.
Dare you risk over that one single barrel? It took Ever to the finals over the World Champion SK Telecom T1, but teams have been effective against The Saltwater Scourge with early-scaling counterpicks like Lissandra and Renekton, or effective turret pushers like Azir. Ryze (the last champion on this list) also doesn’t care about the effects of the low-cooldown cleanse Remove Scurvy - multiple Arcane Mastery Rune Prisons will see to that. Gangplank is a mighty risk on the outset but the effects have seen potentially the greatest upset of the season. Whether teams want to roll the die again is a different matter.
Ryze: The Rogue Mage
Ryze came out of nowhere at the World Championships as Faker went back to one of the two champions he famously said every mid lane player should master. Ryze was out of meta when the long range poke of Azir/Viktor was dominant. Range was always one of Ryze’s caveats and this meta was very much against his other: wave clear. Ryze’s early wave clear leaves him game to champions like this. It like he was tried a few times in scrims but struggled in lane too much and was dropped. SKT, however, kept at it.
Ryze’s time truly arrived when the double teleport meta was in full force. The Rogue Mage was the perfect fit for this LPL-borne (or xPeke/sOAZ’s well nurtured) trend. Instant targeted CC in the form of Rune Prison makes him a terrifying global threat, something Faker proved to devastating effect in the final stages of their World Championship climax against the KOO Tigers where he locked down everybody he could across the map with slick combos to follow up.
He destroys enough champions on his own. The rise (hah!) of Rod of Ages benefited other traditional TP champions like Kassadin but Ryze has never had to fear these. Vegar cannot control the lane against him either, another Worlds power pick that has since fallen off. Even the dreaded Gangplank struggles, or the high priority Kalista lack few answers to Ryze’s lockdown and burst potential.
There are champions who do. Twisted Fate has more global pressure and an easier time shoving in the wave early with similar targeted lockdown. He can do what Ryze does but better. In fact the new Rod of Ages build for Twisted Fate works favourably against Ryze’s burst potential too. Vel’Koz was a counter brought out by Sbenu Sonicboom that not even Faker could out-last. Able to shove the wave in early, Vel’Koz can bully Ryze under the turret and throughout the laning phase like few can with immense kiting potential. However, he will still be vulnerable to a Flash - Rune Prison into jungle gank.
Honourable OP Mentions: Olaf, Fiora, Elise, Tahm Kench, Lulu, Kalista, Alistar
Michael “Veteran” Archer watched more League of Legends than is probably healthy, but writes about it as his profession so it pays for his health. You can follow him on Twitter