One of the fun things about watching international circuits is playing that classic childhood game of spotting the differences. Regional preferences color their interpretation of the patch meta, and individual players have their own favorites and strengths to affect picks and bans. In the LoL Master Series, the Flash Wolves in particular had to crack down on the development of their top lane strategies as former Flash Wolves Junior trainee Shen "Rins" Po-Ju replaces Chou "Steak" Lu-Hsi as the team's top lane starter.
The two of them have mostly done so by scouting other regions.
"I think our team plays similar to some of the Korean teams, so we basically just watch what they pick and try it in scrims," said Steak, now an analyst for the Flash Wolves. In fact, the champion pool overlap among Asiatic top laners is pretty noticeable: Poppy and Trundle are a constant menace, among a diversity of other threats.
Not Quinn, though. Even as Quinn's regularly showed up in China's LPL, she's failed to cross the Taiwan Strait — an artifact of both player and regional preferences. "It's a champion that needs a lot of practice and good map concepts," said Rins. "In the LMS, top laners are easier to gank and die, so Quinn doesn't fit [the region]."
Steak thinks it's simpler than that. Rather than an outcome of the LMS metagame, "Taiwan pro players just don't know how to play Quinn."
They do, however, know how to play Gnar. But that may be more a legacy of the prior season's metagame than an actual statement of the current patch's strengths. "Quinn and Gnar are overrated," said Rins. "You may think they are strong, but they're actually not. It's too much of a gamble. I would suggest everybody play Fiora and Lissandra more — Fiora's good at fighting duels, and Lissandra is good at initiating."
Nautilus, too, is a favored initiating pick among Taiwanese teams — mostly because of how easy he is to use. "Nautilus is similar to Maokai," said Rins. "The champion can be played more easily than others, and seldom makes mistakes."
As much as they're looking to their regional neighbors for inspiration, the western metagame's mostly ignored. Picks like Shen may be popular in the NA LCS, but the Flash Wolves see too many problems with its strategic implementation.
"I prefer Nautilus over Shen," said Rins. "I don't think Shen is a good choice in this meta: he's weak in joining team fights and pushing lanes by himself. The only advantage he has is that he ganks bottom lane easier in the early game."
In contrast, the entire region's too scared of Gangplank to let each other play him. The pirate is banned by the red side in almost every single game. "It's very scary if you get [Gangplank] on top lane," said Rins. "Gangplanks in mid lane will lose towers easier, but he doesn't have an enemy in top lane. You can farm by shooting [barrels] and join fights with just his ultimate."
"Gangplank's late game impact is way too high," complained Steak. "But he's fixed after the barrel nerf, so I think we'll be seeing him in some games."
Technically, the Flash Wolves run two top laners on the team. But alternate player Yau "MMD" Li-Hung hasn't seen the stage recently as a result of the team's strategic preferences. "The champion pools are different between MMD and I," explained Rins. "He prefers Poppy and Rumble, and I prefer warrior and tanky champion styles, such as Fiora." While Poppy is certainly a meta-relevant pick at the moment, the low safety margins afforded to her and Rumble don't currently fit with the Flash Wolves' overall strategy.
To put it simply, "I think top lane is too easily ganked," said Steak. "Top lane should be a bit harder to kill." Without Gangplank's instantaneous waveclear to passively farm with, or Nautilus's sheer bulk allowing him to safely waddle under the turret even when outnumbered, or even Sight wards in the shop to scout out the approaches, a lot of top lane picks become easy fodder for the jungler to pad their KDA with. Thus why Rins is getting the majority of the games halfway through the LMS.
But Steak has an idea to help shake things up a bit more for the team. "I wish more people played Graves top," he said. "I think Graves top is a lot better than jungle Graves." The former bot lane marksman's kit overhaul's made him more like an assassin than traditional carry, featuring huge burst and high mobility. The combination of Quickdraw and Smokescreen gives him a potential out even when ganked, while his immense area-of-effect damage gives the pushing power sought after by the Flash Wolves.
With the junglers of every other team in the region calling dibs on Graves, however, his theory remains untested.
James Chen is a freelance writer seen on PC Gamer, LoLesports, theScore eSports and elsewhere. There isn't a bigger LMS fanboy anywhere. We've looked. You can follow him on Twitter.