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Two years ago*1, the most comprehensive strategies in the League of Legends metagame consisted of sending high damage dealers to a solo lane and hoping they could out-farm the enemy carries in a mechanical display of skill. Team compositions were simply a mash up of the individual’s special champion (Hotshot’s Nidalee, Salce’s Vladimir, etc.) and counter-jungling was virtually nonexistent. It is hard to fathom that, two years after the development of those simplistic approaches, League of Legends has been refined to timing blue buffs down to the exact second, strategically counter picking every lane, and choosing specific strategies and team compositions to obtain victory.
League of Legends has experienced a vast change in its metagame, including: AD carries holding solo lanes, split pushing, intensive roaming, gp/10 stacking, utilizing triple wriggles, obtaining early buff control, and lane swapping. Although the metagame will continue to evolve, an equilibrium appears to have been reached within the professional and playerbase community.
Aggression, Aggression, Aggression
Since the introduction of the Asian scene to League of Legends, aggression has taken on a new meaning. It became clear early on that aggression was the key factor to winning games and the Asian teams revolutionized what TSM and M5 had introduced. From these Asian teams, I have identified five key types of aggression: Turret pushing, lane dominance, objective control, early teamfighting, and roaming.
Being a massive presence in a lane opens the door to the other four topics of aggression. Lane dominance is fundamentally the most important part of an aggressive strategy, as it can begin a snowball effect. If you lose the lane, then by default you will not be able to turret push, roam, teamfight, have objective control, or have lane dominance. You can achieve lane dominance by winning exchanges, poking, or even killing your opponents.*2 Normal players may refer to this as “winning your lane”. But imposing dominance over a lane may not necessarily be the same as “winning” that lane. For example, Ashe = 141 cs. 1/0/1. Ezreal = 130cs. 0/1/0. However, Ezreal may still control that lane by constantly harassing, poking, and pushing Ashe into her turret. This asserts dominance which makes the enemy jungler pay attention to bot lane, which in turn opens up options for Ezreal’s team.
Pushing refers to shoving out your lane by killing all the minions within that lane. Pushing often leads to turret pushing which involves taking out the opponent’s towers. This accomplishes a few things. First, the aggressor lane takes control by becoming a presence. It forces the enemy carry to adopt a passive mindset and farm under the turret. This allows for the aggressor to harass the enemy carry and wear down the enemy tower. You will notice that the aggressive carry will almost always be ahead in creep score. Second, the annihilation of turrets results in global gold for the team which ultimately complements the aggressive snowball metagame. Third, taking turrets permits massive map control. The pushed team is at the mercy of their opponents and must assume a responsive position. They can no longer act; they must react. You can see from this picture that the purple team would surrender control of the blue buff and dragon by losing that turret. This goes for any turret in the game.
Global objectives around the map are where teamfights tend to start and players have a tendency to congregate around these areas. The major objectives include Blue Golem Buff, Red Lizard Buff, Turrets, Dragon, and Baron. Sending five people mid will cause the enemy to respond because the turret will be under siege. Committing to Baron will force the enemy to respond to your team’s attempt to take Baron. Without major objectives, there can never be a proper teamfight - there are merely ganks and skirmishes. If you are the stronger team, the only way to force a teamfight would be through the use of major objectives.
Controlling major objectives directly affects the mindset and morale of all players in the game. It is psychological warfare at its finest. A jungler that just lost his red buff will tend to adopt a passive gameplan while the jungler that counterjungled will continue to counterjungle and be assertive in his decisions. The team that loses Baron will be forced to turtle and play defensively. The team controlling the objectives will essentially control the pace of the game.
In the later phase of the game, teamfighting will come naturally as both teams will try to jostle for Baron and turrets. However, choosing proper teamfights early can trigger a snowball for your team (don’t forget you must involve major objectives to force a fight). There are three major ways you can do this.
1) Complete major items, especially aura items
Once the jungler completes an Aegis of the Legion or the top lane completes a Frozen Heart, this is the prime time to engage in a teamfight. An early Shurelias from the support or Hourglass from the AP carry can completely swing a fight in your favor.
2) Understand that your team excels at team fighting
If your lineup consists of Morgana, Amumu, Ezreal, Sona, and Vladimir, you should absolutely look to engage in battles as early as possible. But if your team composition is Nidalee, Shaco, Draven, Eve, and Taric, you should try and avoid a full 5 v 5 teamfight at all costs. Evaluate and understand your team’s strengths and compare with that of the enemy's.
3) Isolate an enemy and engage a 5 v 4
Call for your top laner and fight at dragon. This will force a 5 v 4 or you’ll end up with a free dragon. If you are around baron and the enemy sends one member to clear bot lane, startup Baron and force a 5 v 4. If your team catches out an enemy, he will either be dead or too low to re-engage. Initiate a team fight while you have the upper hand.
Roaming is arguably the hardest tactic to execute properly in our current meta game. This form of aggression is the most effective way to snowball the game, but it can also devastate the roamer if not done properly. It can result in a successful 4-man dive. But it could also result in a dive-gone-wrong*3 and set your team back tremendously. So what’s the recipe for a successful roam?
- Always push out your lane.
Force the enemy laner to choose between the creeps and you. Lose 6 creeps or follow your roam. If you just roam without attending to your lane, you may find yourself behind in creep score, experience, and a turret.
- Roam from a recall or when the enemy recalls
If you recall or the enemy recalls, people generally tend to forget to call “mia”. This is the sweet ingredient in roaming. You can also ask your jungler to hold the lane. This will open your options to roam without losing your lane and the other laner may not call "mia".
- Coordinate with your jungler
If you are playing a character like Eve, Kassadin, or Twisted Fate, you MUST roam when you hit 6. You can ask your jungler to gank top or bottom with you for proper coordination. This can result in a kill, turret, buff, and/or dragon. This coordinated gank between mid lane and the jungler is the most responsible for initiating a snowball.
All these tactics and strategies sum up the current metagame: Aggression. Almost every professional team has adopted this mentality and solo queue has followed suit. Will the metagame change? Most likely. We could adapt to a slower paced game favored by CLG.eu. But as of now, the winners have spoken.
*1WCG 2010 US finals
*2Azubu Frost vs TPA game 1 World finals
*3Azubu vs TSM Roaming gone wrong for TSM 21:25 and roaming gone right for Azubu 24:00