Until recently, draft phases had become homogenized internationally. Watching a game in a given major league followed the same patterns. Spectators expressed irritation that "everyone was just copying Korea." That seems to have changed this summer, as teams within leagues and leagues themselves have begun to prioritize different picks. Looking at Patch 6.12 and the games that have been played on Patch 6.13 so far, a slight divergence in picks, even among the most contested, has started to appear as distinct regional methods of playing the game have emerged.
When or how this started is not within the scope of the investigation, but trying to understand champion pick priorities within regions and their top teams is important. When individuals judge coaches, they do so most commonly by examining the draft or composition construction. It's hard to do that without understanding different champion values in each meta.
The data comes from Patch 6.12 and Patch 6.13. In the case of League of Legends Champions Korea and League of Legends Masters Series, data from Patch 6.13 are limited or not available, but observing NA LCS and EU LCS for the first week of Patch 6.13, we can assume that pick priorities have not changed significantly. As such, data from both patches are used.
Only LPL data are used from Chinese teams. This does not include Demacia Cup, as such only data from Patch 6.13 in Week 6 are included. LMS has only played one half week on Patch 6.12, which includes eight games, meaning all LMS data are to be interpreted as a limited sample. In total, 70 NA LCS games, 60 EU LCS games, 21 LPL games, 37 LCK games (6.12 data and data form the first two days of Week 8 on Patch 6.13) and 8 LMS games are examined.
When examining the Top 5 champions most picked or banned within each league, there are clear differences. Aside from Vladimir being contested in every game included in the sample except three EU LCS games, no other pick is universally accepted as worthy of more than 75 percent pick or ban rate.
Comparison of contest rate of Top 5 contested picks in each region (%)
The LCK and the LMS have put a much higher priority on Shen in the top lane in 6.12 games for his ability to split push and Teleport on a shorter cast time. EU LCS, NA LCS and LPL have their own priorities in the top lane. LPL's high Trundle priority comes from their willingness to flex it more often in the support role, so it has been picked or banned in 100 percent of games on Patch 6.13. As such, LPL teams often favor Trundle as a split-pushing option. LPL teams also play the least amount of Gnar of any region, making Trundle more comfortable in a 1v1 scenario.
EU LCS will choose Gnar for his range more often as a potential bully, and the NA LCS has favored more carry-oriented tops to tanky supportive tops like Shen. NA has a 15 percent Fiora contest rate and is the only region to continue to pick Illaoi on 6.12 and 6.13.
Despite being a Top 5 contested pick in Europe, Olaf hardly sees play in the other four of the main regions. Olaf, like Trundle in the LPL, is also valued as more of a flexible pick in EU. The EU LCS and LCK's lower value of Rek'Sai seems to come from their higher Elise and Nidalee pick rate relative to the other three regions. Elise is picked in 67 and 57 percent of games in EU and LCK respectively, but is only picked or banned in 31 percent of NA games, 19 percent of LPL games and two of the eight LMS games.
Nidalee also has very high priority in Europe and Korea. Elise and Nidalee suggest more of an emphasis on poke or pick compositions, as opposed to taking advantage of Rek'Sai's tankiness and knockups in teamfights.
In the mid lane, Azir priority has declined significantly in the LPL in favor of picks like Leblanc, which enjoys a 62 percent pick or ban rate. LPL teams have also begun to choose more assassins like Zed or Yasuo due to peculiarities of mid laners known for these champions. LMS teams picked or banned Kassadin in seven of eight matches, but LMS mid laners often value the pick potential of assassins, and Leblanc has also been played more in the LMS than other regions.
Ryze priority has dropped significantly in the EU LCS and the LCK following nerfs, but other regions still value his ability to flank in late-game teamfights. Karma's increased use as a mid lane flex champion makes her more likely to be picked early in drafts in NA LCS, EU LCS and the LPL. Karma is used much less often as a mid laner in the LMS.
AD carries provide some of the widest diversity. LCK teams place massive priority on Sivir and Ashe to the exclusion of most other picks on the patch. NA LCS is the only region to pick Lucian in more than 40 percent of drafts, EU LCS uses Caitlyn more than 40 percent of the time, and LPL is the only region to prioritize Ezreal with high frequency. NA LCS teams prefer to use Lucian's laning phase, EU LCS look to stall through mid game for Caitlyn to scale, and LPL teams rely on Ezreal's ability to carry self-sufficiently and rush Sheen for burst while outplaying the early game.
Instead of prioritizing Ashe, LPL teams heavily prioritize Jhin, while EU LCS, NA LCS and the LMS regions prefer a mix of both AD carries for long range catch. LCK teams have also gotten good at punishing and piling onto Jhin, while Ashe can enjoy even longer range engage with strong vision control and roaming supports.
It also reflects regional preferences for AD carries historically. EU LCS has players who favor Caitlyn, while the LPL is home to many well-known Ezreals. Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng's position as both an avid Lucian player and the AD carry of the NA LCS' top team puts him in a good position to heavily influence the NA playstyle. The Tigers' Kim "PraY" Jongin will play Ashe even when it's out of meta.
Braum and Karma (with the exception of the LMS) appear to be universally the highest priority support picks. Braum is a safe early pick, and Karma has flex options in the mid lane. Bard remains popular in EU and NA LCS moreso than in the Asian regions, and Thresh appears to be an alternative catch support regaining popularity in LMS and LPL, while LCK teams pick or ban Alistar in more than 50 percent of their games. Aside from Karma, Asian regions appear to go for more engage supports. With Alistar's nerfs, he can only really be used in single catch scenarios, showing a slight difference between LCK and LPL and LMS.
Below, you can see the red (1) cells represent regions where a pick is contested in more than 75 percent of games. Yellow (2) cells show in which regions picks are contested in more than 50 percent of games, but in less in than 75 percent of games. Green (3) cells represent champions contested in 40-50 percent of games in a region.
To understand champion priorities, one must also examine at which phase in the draft the different roles often pick their champions. Some picks are valued as flex picks or as counter picks. Certain regions will value the ability to counterpick the mid lane more often.
Champions most chosen as last ban, most first picked, most picked as first rotation red side or most last picked
|Region||Last ban||First Pick||First rotation red side||Last pick|
|EU||Nidalee; Vladimir||Karma||Karma||Zilean; Irelia; Trundle|
|NA||Ryze||Karma||Rek'Sai||Irelia; Zilean; Cassiopeia|
|LPL||Ryze||Trundle||Braum||Malzahar; Rumble; Swain; Viktor; Zed|
LMS data was not sufficient on the patch to be included.
Last banned champions usually serve as picks teams want blue side to ban or otherwise risk leaving open if other equally strong picks exist for a trade. Vladimir is a frequent last ban in EU LCS and LCK, while Ryze is more frequently last banned in LPL and NA LCS. Teams in NA LCS and LPL will often leave Vladimir and Ryze for last bans, since both are still highly valued. Blue side will ban one as the third ban, leaving red side to ban the other. EU LCS and LCK teams ban Vladimir last, likely hoping blue side teams will ban it first.
As expected, Karma is chosen most often as a first pick in EU and NA LCS, while LPL most often first picks Trundle for the perceived utility as a strong flex. Korean teams have become increasingly willing to leave Vladimir open for first pick because they can play around it well with counters or avoiding teamfights. Vladimir still has a high win rate in the league, making it first pickable, but not necessarily a must-ban.
Jungle, support, and AD carry picks often come out on red side first rotation. NA LCS highly values Rek'Sai, but will value first picking Karma more often. Other regions will choose preferred bottom lane picks.
Finally, last picks usually are reserved for solo lane counter picking. Unlike the LPL, EU LCS teams reserve their Trundle picks for last for fear of a ranged Gnar counter. NA LCS teams have picked up more Cassiopeia picks as a counter to the likes of Ryze. LCK teams have picked Gangplank as a top lane counter pick to the Shen menace more often, and LPL teams overwhelmingly prefer to counter pick mid lane to counterpicking the top lane, though Rumble has gained popularity, especially for Saint Gaming and LGD Gaming.
Each region looks to choose certain roles as a first pick. Often, these roles will start as flex picks, so the data can be misleading. If a team picks Trundle, and during the draft, the enemy team picks a top laner that counters Trundle, he'll end up as a support, though he may not have been initially picked as one. One should keep this in mind when examining the data.
For the most part, there's a wide spread of roles chosen as first pick. Likely because of Vladimir and Karma, first picking mid lane appears most common, especially in the NA LCS. Karma occupies a large majority of NA LCS first picks with 22 Karma first picks in total.
LPL teams first pick their top laners most often of any of the regions, which is a huge departure from LCK and LCS regions that will only pick their top laner first third most often in the draft. Top laners feature very rarely in priority as a result of the more jungle and bottom lane-centric playstyle in the LPL. LPL teams favoring things like Maokai may seem weird, but Maokai's ability to stay safe and Teleport, even from behind, makes him relatively valuable. That said, Shen and Trundle were most often first picked among top lane choices in LPL on Patch 6.13.
Because of the LCK's fondness for two AD carries in particular, it seems they are more likely to first pick an AD carry than teams in any other region. Depending on the choice, Ashe or Sivir can dictate the way in which an LCK team composition is built, so picking the champion early becomes more important.
Obviously the LMS only having a sample size of eight games will heavily influence the result, but half of the first picks were either Braum or Thresh. Hong Kong Esports' Kim "Olleh" Joosung seemed the biggest offender, with Thresh once first picked against him and once banned against him to deny it — and he first picked it the other time. The results in this case are influenced by a single team or player.
Following the choosing of valuable first picks (either really strong champions or flex picks), League of Legends teams often look for jungle or support champions that dictate game pace, but are least affected by head-to-head matchups due to roaming. AD carries also can become a priority, as with a 2v2 in place, a support may have more influence on the lane matchup.
This appears relatively consistent across all five of the major regions. LPL is the only region that, again, appears more willing to early pick a top laner over an AD carry. AD carries are the most frequently picked champions on the first rotation on red side in the LCK to lock down the highly valued of the two most frequently picked AD carries in Ashe or Sivir.
As expected, solo lane champions are by far the most last picked. NA and EU LCS teams appear slightly more in favor of counter-picking the top lane, while LPL and LCK teams seem to strongly favor last picking mid lane, especially the LPL where the percentage of mid lane last picks more than double those of top lane last picks.
This can also explain some of the increased assassin priority in the LPL, as if mid lane has counterpick reserved for him much more often, that opens up the possible champions he can play just for a counterpick scenario considerably. With Shen priority in the LCK, Shen can also be chosen relatively early in draft, as many of his matchups are based around skill or power spikes.
LMS last picks are again heavily influenced by a small sample, as they only last picked AD carries twice. But a slightly higher AD carry last pick priority does exist in the LPL. Since the LMS playstyle of favoring the bottom side more than the top side is similar to that of the LPL, one might expect a higher AD carry last pick rate in the LMS in general.
NA LCS teams have a lot more emphasis on carry top lane picks, giving them more value for top lane counterpicks. Meanwhile, EU LCS teams have a somewhat smaller pool of picks, but still seem to favor direct counters, especially in the case of Irelia, Gnar, and Trundle, champions that seem to have a triangular counter-matchup relationship with Gnar countering Trundle, Trundle countering Irelia and Irelia contering Gnar.
Based on champion pick and draft priorities observed so far, one can notice that the EU LCS emphasizes a mix of scaling AD carry picks (Caitlyn), more pick and poke-oriented junglers, and safer top lane picks within a more limited pool than some other regions. This makes them suited to finding picks and using long death timers to end games or get objectives. Yet EU feels less specialized than the other regions, either pointing to a less defined playstyle or a wide variety of individual playstyles.
NA LCS has slightly more of a focus on team fights, but also laning phase strengths using top laners and AD carries. This allows them to snowball well, but also pick up team fight oriented jungle picks. They also seem more willing to let power mid lane champions through for first pick and experiment with counterpicks later in draft than the EU LCS.
LCK teams have a limited number of AD carry picks they favor between Ashe and Sivir on Patch 6.12 (and two best of threes on 6.13). This can dictate a lot of how their compositions are built, but in general they trend more away from the pure 5v5 style with high priority on Nidalee and Elise. Some of their top lane picks like Shen and Gangplank suggest value for globals and split-pushing. LCK's value for Ashe at the expense of Jhin means they look to take more advantage of vision in long range engages.
As anticipated, LPL teams favor 5v5s, but are more than willing to sacrifice top lane matchups for better mid lane ones. Top laners are valued more for their safety than for matchups. High Jhin and Ezreal priority suggest that LPL teams are willing to take games long to have their bottom lanes carry. They also favor Graves more than other regions, pointing to jungle farming and damage dealing.
It's hard to make a defined conclusion about the LMS region with limited data, but what is available suggests that, like the LPL, LMS teams value mid lane assassins more. Though Kassadin often gets crushed when early picked in other regions, LMS teams will make multiple sacrifices to ensure their Kassadin gets ahead, like grouping mid early. This could also explain Braum popularity, as gathering Braum in the mid lane can counteract early pushes.
These are only basic speculations made from combining data observations with watching games in each region. Additional investigation should look at the drafting and play of specific teams to break down how regional playstyles are driven. A wider investigation on more patches can also be done, but patch changes should be accounted for.
One thing that can be concluded, however, is that not all regional pick priorities can be created equal. Different playstyles will make different picks more important, and this should be considered when one looks at draft priority in another region.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.