Picking With Purpose: The most popular and most effective bot lane champion pairings

by theScore Staff Jul 28 2016

There’s no “action,” no bloodshed, no flashy outplays, but even so, the champion draft at the start of each game of League of Legends can be one of the most exciting parts. Fans cheer for the out-of-left-field choices, the Yasuo, the Urgot, the accidental Teemo. Analysts get excited by clever use of flex picks and the thrust and parry of choosing which OPs or “overpowered champions,” to ban, and which to pick early at the risk of being countered.

At the end of it all, both teams land five champions, including an AD carry and support pairing. In the 2016 summer regular season, those pairings have featured certain faces far more often than others. The mid lane and jungle have demanded more attention in the ban phase, often leaving the AD carry and support pools relatively untouched. As a result, the duo lane has seen heavy play from certain champion pairings.

But are the most popular AD carry + support pairings actually the most effective? Not necessarily. Just because each champion is perceived as individually strong does not mean that they will work well together and produce good results, as a look at the numbers will show.

Note: All of the statistics that follow are based on the 2016 summer regular season across the NA LCS, EU LCS, LCK, LPL, and LMS, and include matches completed as of July 24 To explore the data yourself, visit Oracle’s Elixir’s ADC/Support Champion Duos page.

The Cool Kids

This split, the AD carry popularity contest has been led by Sivir, Lucian and Ashe, with Karma, Braum and Bard leading the way from support. Here are the 10 duo lane pairings played the most this season in the five major pro leagues, as of July 24.

Pairing  Games Played  Win Rate
Sivir + Braum  87  52%
Sivir + Karma  84  60%
Lucian + Braum  79  43%
Ashe + Braum  72  49%
Lucian + Karma  62  36%
Ezreal + Braum  60  47%
Ezreal + Karma  55  49%
Sivir + Bard  55  46%
Jhin + Braum  51  55%
Sivir + Alistar  44  52%

Despite their popularity, it’s interesting to note that only four of the top ten pairings have a win rate over 50 percent, and three of those winning duos feature Sivir (much to Kelsey Moser’s delight).

There are good reasons for the repetition we see across the AD carry and support sides of the pairings. Certain champions individually rise to the top of the tier lists, and deservedly so.

There’s Something About Sivir

As has so often been the case in recent seasons, Sivir has taken the lead as the most contested AD carry pick in the game, appearing as a pick or ban in more than two-thirds (67%) of major-region matches. Her combination of utility and damage is unmatched, from her wave clear and tower-taking speed to her initiation-boosting ultimate and late-game teamfighting. Sivir is more threatening than Ashe, more useful than Lucian, more flexible than Jhin.

Sivir can’t necessarily claim that she’s the best AD carry of summer, though: Ashe has been picked or banned in just 40 perecent of games, but has a much higher win rate, at 58 percent compared to Sivir’s 53 percent. Even so, Sivir seems to have found a role in a wider range of team compositions, playing alongside a broader spread of support champions.

All Aboard the Karma Train

From the support side of the equation, Karma has been a steady presence, featuring alongside Sivir in the Gotta Go Fast lane, where their speed boosts synergize so smoothly, but also putting in 40 or more games alongside Lucian, Ezreal and Ashe. Karma’s wide spread of win rates in different pairings is evidence, though, that even professional teams don’t always think through the synergy of their compositions. Three of Karma’s frequent duo lane partners have produced sub-40 percent win rates.

ADC + Support Pairing  Games Played  Win Rate
Sivir + Karma  84  60%
Ashe + Karma  42  60%
Ezreal + Karma  55  49%
Jhin + Karma  27  37%
Lucian + Karma  62  36%
Caitlyn + Karma  27  33%

Karma’s low win rates while playing with Jhin, Lucian, and Caitlyn suggest that teams sometimes put more thought into Karma’s value as a top-tier flex pick, rather than the role they intend her to play in their team composition. It can seem appealing to first-pick Karma, giving yourself the option to put her into mid or support depending on how the rest of the draft goes, but if the rest of the draft leads to an AD carry pick that matches poorly with Karma, then it doesn’t matter where she is flexed to: the team comp will still be ill-constructed.

In fact, when Karma is flexed to mid lane, her strongest pairings have been much weaker, and her weak pairings have still failed to consistently win.

ADC + Mid Pairing  Games Played  Win Rate
Sivir + Karma 19  32%
Ashe + Karma  10  30%
Ezreal + Karma  11  55%
Jhin + Karma  19  47%
Lucian + Karma  19  37%

Stand Behind Braum

Next to Karma, there’s Braum. His 64 percent pick/ban rate is marginally lower than Karma’s 68 percent, but that gap is easily narrowed by the fact that Karma is a flex pick. Braum has paired up with all of the popular AD carries, and has helped most of them to good win rates. One surprising standout, though, is the weak results of the Lucian/Braum combo, which has been played 79 times but only achieved a 43 percent win rate.

Lucian and Braum have been best friends for a long time, perhaps because Braum’s kind, protective heart soothes Lucian’s vengeance-fueled, caustic spirit. Or maybe it’s because Lucian’s double-tap passive synergizes so well with Braum’s Concussive Blows. Who can say? The summer split has not been kind to this pairing, though, perhaps because there have been fewer opportunities to get into 2v2 matchups and secure stuns and kills. Change is coming, and Lucian and Braum may find back some of their former glory, but for now they’re near the bottom of the list for effectiveness.

The Real Winners

Popular champions and popular pairings are at the top of the pick/ban lists for a reason, but as win rates suggest, it’s not always optimal to simply draft to the meta, picking from a tier list and expecting the “best champions” to give you the best chance of winning. The real winners are found in the harmonious marriage of their strengths and weaknesses, choosing for the strength of the pairing rather than the strength of the individuals.

Where the “most popular pairings” list was all about meta picks, the list of duo lanes with the highest win rates screams “synergy!”

Pairing  Games Played  Win Rate
Ashe + Thresh  16  81%
Sivir + Taric  13  77%
Kalista + Braum  12  67%
Sivir + Thresh  12  67%
Lucian + Bard  31  65%
Jhin + Trundle  19  63%
Ashe + Alistar  32  63%
Ashe + Nami  15  60%
Caitlyn + Alistar  10  60%
Sivir + Karma  84  60%

Unlike some of the more popular but less successful pairings, each of these duos has a clear role within a defined game plan. Ashe/Thresh is all about landing overlapping crowd control, the backbone of an incredibly powerful pick comp, and Ashe/Alistar and Ashe/Nami fill a similar niche. Sivir/Taric, a more recent development, is a terrifying deathball in team fights. Kalista/Braum, a throwback to earlier in the split, has amazing utility and control because of their area-of-effect knock-ups and how quickly they can proc Concussive Blows on multiple targets. Trundle can use his Pillar of Ice to set up Jhin’s long-range skill shots. Caitlyn and Alistar can siege down turrets with range, disengage and dive threat. The synergy between Sivir and Karma is obvious.

The fact that some of these high-win-rate duos are on the edge of the meta game, made up of second- or third-tier picks like Thresh and Caitlyn, shows how much value there is in drafting with purpose, rather than just drafting from a tier list. Purposeful drafts are more difficult to pull off, because they require clear recognition of what the enemy is drafting, and some disguise of your own game plan, so that the enemy team doesn’t see your win condition too early and counter-pick it — grabbing a Tahm Kench or a Zilean to neutralize your Ashe/Thresh pick comp, for example — but the rewards for straying slightly outside the lines can be significant.

Because of the greater challenge in drafting outside the lines, there is a balance to be found. Fnatic is an example of a team that is willing to draft from the fringe-meta, finding some success with picks like Kalista and Kha’zix but also finding failure by straying a bit too far off the beaten path (hi there, Zac and Jarvan IV), or staying too long in the fringes and losing the element of surprise. That can allow opponents to predict and counter, either by drafting specific tools or using in-game tactics that deny the sometimes predictable win conditions of the fringe picks or pairings.

As is always the case, the teams that put the most work and creative thinking into their drafts will reap the greatest rewards, by having a better understanding of when and where to stick to the defined meta game, and when and where to diverge from it, pulling out a Tahm Kench or a Tristana in the perfect time and place.

Visions of the Future

Every patch brings about some shifts in popularity. Recent trends have seen Alistar re-ascending the tier lists, and the situational emergence of Tahm Kench and Taric. Patch 6.14 has brought Sona into the fold, as well, though her record of 3-5 in NA and EU hasn’t exactly cemented her status as a rising star, and the live server has already seen hotfixed nerfs that could prevent her from seeing too much more play. Among AD carries, Lucian went through a mid-split lull but is threatening to overtake Ashe and Jhin as the go-to picks when Sivir is not available, although the LCK and LPL haven’t yet played on 6.14, and their preferences may bring some shifts to those numbers.

The real specter on the horizon is Patch 6.15, which promises to curtail the popularity of lane swaps by removing the early bonus defenses on bot lane towers and offering bonus gold to the team that kills the game’s first tower. If standard 2v2 matchups take over, we’ll likely see a spike in popularity among strong laning picks like Caitlyn and Lucian, or even Kalista. AD carries who can shove waves quickly and take down the first tower will still have their place, so Sivir probably won’t go anywhere, and Tristana may find a wider niche. Among supports, Karma should remain popular with her poke in lane and her ability to shove the wave and chip the tower. Ranged supports in general should take hold, because of their ability to harass and sustain in 2v2s. Then again, in some cases, teams will pick melee supports like Braum, Alistar, and Taric because of their ability to receive ganks with crowd control, providing more kill threat.

The cycle of picks and counter-picks will continue. Tier lists will be made and remade. Pick/ban rates will fluctuate as everyone tries to identify the new OPs.

And some teams, the smart ones, will find creative ways to subvert those tier lists, drafting not for popularity, but for synergy, applying more intention and design to their team compositions. The winners, as always, will be the teams that pick with purpose.

Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.