Does Riot stunt innovative strategies? The player banned for playing support Nunu thinks so

by Daniel Rosen Mar 4 2017
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Imagine that you've just won a game of League of Legends. You're basking in the glory of victory, but both your teammates and your opponents all tell you that they're going to report you because, instead of playing a meta support, you abandoned your AD carry to go roam and counter-jungle as a support Nunu.

This was Levi "Take the Draw" Moreno's reality, and on Feb. 22 Riot Games handed him a a 14-day ban after he'd been reported several times for offenses that included failing to communicate and role-stealing — a player support representatives told him that the "community deemed this behavior unacceptable." But Take the Draw wasn't throwing games, he wasn't intentionally feeding, and he wasn't being particularly toxic in chat. No, Take the Draw was reported and banned because he played 317 games as a support Nunu.

Riot did rescind the ban a few days after handing it out, but the situation has raised some bigger concerns, specifically with regards to finding new ways to win. Players are reported for no particular reason all the time, even if they do help the team win, but, in this particular case, Riot's ban speaks volumes to how they think League of Legends should be played and could in-turn discourage players who want to innovate and evolve the game.

Take the Draw says he's been a Nunu one-trick for a long time, and was forced to develop a unique strategy to deal with the fact that Nunu's jungling ability had been heavily nerfed over the past couple of patches. Essentially, Take the Draw's strategy involves leaving the AD carry alone in the bot lane while he roams around the enemy jungle, counter-jungling the enemy jungler. To be able to do this effectively, he takes Smite and Bond of Stone and plays the game as if he's supporting his jungler, not his AD carry.

The problem with this strategy is not in its execution, but from the fact that his teammates, specifically the AD carries he matches up with, don't like the fact that the bot lane essentially becomes a 1v2 matchup. But Take the Draw points out that his AD carry is generally pretty safe in his lane because the enemy jungler is neutralized by his Nunu's counter-jungling and any attempted dives from the enemy bot lane would lead to easy kills for him and his team's jungler. Nevertheless, it still doesn't get around the fact that laning 1v2 isn't very fun.

"I enable the jungler in ways that most junglers never thought possible. Most of the time, the jungler gets a leash in the first three seconds of the game, and then they're just totally on their own," Take the Draw told theScore esports. "I'm like, soloing dragons and doing drive-by clears on their camps where I'll basically do 80 percent of the damage to the camp and leave it for them to kill, so they get farmed and can gank. As much as I'm disabling the bot lane, I'm enabling the jungle, and that seems like a wash."

But it wasn't just AD carries who reported him. Take the Draw says that even in games where his team won, players would report him just for playing something off meta — often with messages that said they were reporting him out of spite.

"I just got reported all the time, they said 50 percent, which is pretty much what I expected, because you know, you're going to lose around 50 percent of games," he said. "Anytime I make a mistake, the whole team pounces on it. Anytime they make a mistake it's because I tilted them, so any time anything at all goes bad, it's always the Nunu's fault. If I was a Janna just sitting in bot lane in a bush, the top laner wouldn't blame me for dying 1v1 to his lane opponent.

"But if I'm Nunu, I tilted him or distracted him or I was in his lane for too long and maybe stole some experience, I don't know, they'll try to find something. It makes for an easy scapegoat, and there's some people who just go into the game with a bad attitude."

Riot's stance has always been that players should try to experiment in flex queue, and it's what Riot representatives told Take the Draw when he was banned. In a response to Take the Draw's initial post on the League of Legends forums, Riot's player support lead for player behavior, WookieeCookie, wrote that while Take the Draw had a 53 percent win rate, he was reported in 50 percent of games.

"Winning is not the end all be all of League," Wookieecookie wrote. "We want players to have fun but not at the expense of teammates. Ideally this means players will coordinate among themselves in a given match and react to the unique circumstances they end up in. If a player is consistently forcing 'their vision' on the rest of the team and refusing to adapt to their needs we reserve the right to intervene."

Wookieecookie later posted on a Reddit thread about Take the Draw, where he stated that he'd been un-banned, and said that Riot is going back to take another look at the case. Riot's only rules regarding this issue are from a document so old that it uses pictures of a pre-Season 4 UI.

There is some precedent, as a case came up late last year when a player was banned for using a similar strategy to Take the Draw, but with Singed instead of Nunu. Take the Draw says he's been playing support Nunu for a while now, but only got banned when, ironically, the reports led his account history to be analyzed by the same person who analyzed the support Singed case.

Take the Draw says that a lot of the issues come from the fact that solo queue is the only viable place to experiment with off-meta picks like this. If, for example, Team SoloMid's Vincent "Biofrost" Wang were to play jungle support Nunu in an NA LCS game this weekend and it worked, solo queue would be flooded with it until Riot decided to nerf the strategy. But that's only if a pro player does it, and they only have so many hours in a day to experiment with off-meta picks.

"If they expect me to innovate in flex queue because people will be outside their comfort zone, can't those people who are outside their comfort zone go to flex queue where they don't have to play with the support roaming Nunu," Take the Draw said. "I feel like this should be a fundamental characteristic of solo queue. Individually people can do what they want, and as long as their intention is to win, then the matchmaking is going to sort out whether or not their strategy is good or bad. Maybe roaming support Nunu is the world's dumbest strategy and I should be in Bronze 3. Then I'll get to Bronze 3."

The issue is that whatever statement Riot will make can't please everybody. The fact remains that the AD carry is not going to have a ton of fun soloing bot lane, and a statement saying that experimenting in solo queue is okay isn't going to magically make people not report players who test off-meta picks. If Riot doesn't explicitly state that experimenting in solo queue is encouraged, people won't experiment, but if they do, then there will be plenty of people who aren't having fun because their games will be plagued with picks that would never work. Take the Draw says he's not sure exactly what he wants to hear, but he knows one thing for sure — he's glad he's not the one making the call.

"I don't envy Riot's position here. In a way, I almost think it's infrequent enough that Riot can do it on a case by case basis, because it doesn't seem like there's enough people innovating for this to be a regular thing," he said. "But as far as creating some sort of blanket rule, I don't know what I'd expect. Clearly the line has to be drawn somewhere.

"I don't think solo queue should be some sort of homogenized restriction where we can only play what was in LCS in the past three months, but I also don't think it should just be people randomly doing things for the hell of it and hurting their team's chances of winning. There has to be something in between, but where you draw that line, I don't know."

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.