Assessing the effects of Patch 6.15

by theScore Staff Aug 24 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore esports

When Riot announced its plans for the 6.15 patch, designed to neuter the tower-trading lane swaps that had become so commonplace in professional play, there were a range of reactions. The lane swap appreciation club, consisting mostly of analysts, writers and other professionals, expressed their discontent, but it was clear to most that something needed to change. The move to lock in standard lane matchups was always intended for the less-hardcore parts of the esports audience, anyways, so Riot pressed on and put the changes into place, after toning them down with some compromises.

Riot’s main goal was to make the early game more exciting to watch, with more champion interaction. Underlying that goal was the desire for professional play to look more similar to the 1v1/2v2 lanes that the average player finds when they queue up to play at home.

There have now been 101 games played on patch 6.15 across the five major pro leagues, and while there have been some negative consequences to the loss of lane swaps, Riot has overall seen its goals come to fruition.

Early-Game Action

LPL data is not available.

While professional viewers and the most hardcore fans may miss the strategic depth of lane swaps, patch 6.15 is paying dividends when it comes to early-game combat. Patch 6.15 has seen noticeable increases in kills during the first 10 to 15 minutes of games, especially in the LCK.

Overall, there has been a six percent increase in the number of kills before the 10-minute mark, and a nine percent increase at 15 minutes. The trends have been consistently upwards across the major regions, but with the number of games played per region still being relatively low, each league has seen some variation in the time periods in which its kills are coming in.

Increase in kills at 10 mins 11% 24% 16% 0%
Increase in kills at 15 mins 9% 4% 37% 13%

For what it’s worth, the action is kicking off at similar times pre- and post-6.15, when it comes to First Blood. First Blood has been arriving only a few seconds later, overall, at 7:14 on 6.15 compared to 7:07 previously. That’s tied to much earlier FBs in the LCK (6:27 compared to 7:09), but later FBs in the NA LCS (7:10 compared to 6:43).

Beyond the numbers, there has been a different feel to many early games, a greater sense of impending action. Some of that is perception rather than measureable reality, but the perception itself is what Riot was looking for. The feeling of higher-paced action is probably tied to the fact that the viewer spends more time watching the top and duo lanes interact in lane, trading damage with one another. Head-to-head laning at least allows for the possibility of fights and kills, so the viewer can experience some element of anticipation that lane swaps don’t allow. In standard lanes, there is also more opportunity for the junglers to attempt ganks, which adds to the viewer’s suspense as we wait to see which jungler will pull the trigger first.

A firm increase in early-game kills is good for the average viewer, but the suspense and anticipation that come from more direct player interaction in lane has been even more important in helping patch 6.15 reach its entertainment-value goals.

The Value of the First Tower

Among some parts of the fan base, the perception seems to be that 6.15’s addition of bonus gold for killing the first tower has created an overwhelming advantage that produces imbalanced snowballs, deciding games too early on.

That perception doesn’t match reality. First tower has always been a valuable objective, even during the days of lane swaps when the “first tower” was often traded immediately back by the opposing team. Prior to patch 6.15, the team that took the first tower won the game more than 60 percent of the time. On 6.15, that win rate has increased by four percentage points, a noteworthy number but not an astounding one.

The huge surge in first tower win rate in the EU LCS playoffs is offset by a drop in the NA LCS, where, for example, TSM recently took down CLG 3-0 while only taking the first tower in one of three games.

In fact, across the major regions so far on patch 6.15, the first tower has only been slightly more valuable than first blood. Taking down the first dragon is by far the best predictor of success.

It’s worth noting that the first dragon is a bit harder to come by on patch 6.15, since there are no lane swaps that used to sometimes allow one team to get a tempo advantage and use that to grab a free dragon at six or seven minutes into the game. In standard lanes, the team that takes the first dragon often has an advantage already, whether they’ve just won a teamfight, or have mid and bot lane shoved, or have maybe even just taken a tower to gain map control.

Overall, the first tower is a very important objective, but its importance hasn’t grown that much compared to previous patches. The gold bonus was added as an anti-incentive to prevent lane swapping, and the stats seem to show that it is achieving that goal without creating too much early-game snowballing.

Champion Diversity

Increased champion diversity in pro play is a value Riot has strived towards in the past, and unfortunately their push to encourage standard lanes has taken its toll in this area. When laning-phase counterpicks can’t be avoided by lane swapping, some champions become very difficult to draft safely. This was one of the feared consequences of the 6.15 patch, and the fears are being realized.

There have been 64 different champions played across the 101 patch 6.15 games so far, with 52 of those champions played more than once. That feels like a big decrease from the 107 champions played at least once throughout the regular season, 94 of which saw two or more games.

It’s more accurate, of course, to draw comparisons across patches, when the number of games played is more similar.

Patch Games Champions Played Champs Played 2+ Times
6.10 178 74 60
6.11 199 79 68
6.12 148 73 62
6.13 222 83 64
6.14 193 85 70
6.15 101 64 52

Reflects 2016 summer regular season, spring promotion tournaments, and playoffs, in the NA and EU LCS, LCK, LPL and LMS.

Patch 6.15 hasn’t yet reached the game count of the previous summer patches, but even so, it’s clear that the unique champion count is lagging behind. To reach similar diversity levels to what we saw in the regular season, the remaining LCS and LPL playoff matches will need to feature 10 or more new champions that haven’t featured in the playoffs so far. That’s very unlikely to happen.

With a few small patches still to come between now and the World Championships, there will be opportunities for Riot to hopefully nudge some additional champions into the meta. We aren’t going to see the kind of diversity we might have wanted, but let’s be honest — as long as Mordekaiser isn’t around, we won’t have that much to complain about.

The Blues: Map Side Imbalance

The move towards standard lanes had some analysts declaring that the red side of the map would be heavily favored, since the last pick of the draft could be used to secure preferred lane matchups. The opposite has proven to be true, with blue side seeing its win rate in the five major leagues skyrocket from 53.1 percent pre-6.15 up to 60.4 percent on 6.15.

The biggest part of that increase has come from the LPL, where the team on the blue side has won 81.5 percent of the time on this patch. That’s a shocking number, compared to the LPL’s 56.5 percent blue side win rate on previous patches this split.

The reasons behind this imbalance, both overall and for the LPL outlier, are complex, and don’t just come down to simple draft order. I’ll leave it to others to dig in to the topic in greater depth, but it’s something Riot will need to keep an eye on in the lead up to Worlds.

Audience Appreciation

It’s unfortunate that champion diversity has been somewhat reduced, and that the blue side of the map is seeing greater advantages — for now, at least — but there have been plenty of reasons to appreciate the new balance Riot has struck. Overall the audience seems to be enjoying what they’re seeing.

Early returns suggest that patch 6.15 is achieving its goal of making the early game more exciting for the average fan to watch, with more interaction within the lanes. Meanwhile, the added first tower bonus gold has given the teams some incentive to be proactive in the early game, without resulting in the unstoppable snowballs that some people feared.

The outcome of changes like this aren’t as simple as “success” or “failure,” but the hope is that every time Riot shifts the game’s foundations, it results in progress rather than regression. That can never be fully known until we have the benefit of hindsight. The LCS and LPL finals, the regional tournaments and the World Championships will all have bearing on whether Riot stays its course with the enforcement of standard lanes, or whether they loosen their grip on the meta game heading into the offseason and the next year of competitive play.

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.