Strange times have come to competitive League of Legends. Signs and wonders populate regions across the world, with new strategies testing the boundaries of play. Champions have broken out of their traditional assignments to inhabit new lanes. Iconic players have been benched in favor of soloqueue-grinding backups. We’re witnessing a great upheaval, and the dust hasn’t settled yet.
No role has seen more volatility than AD carry (though mid lane is a near second), with the crit marksman that dominated past seasons all but killed off, left behind by a meta that can’t wait around for them. Players with specialized AD carry skills, like positioning from range and orb walking, are now forced on to champions with completely different prerequisites, often rendering years of training irrelevant. Imagine Shaq playing point guard, Tom Brady as a strong safety, or Clayton Kershaw in the outfield. When bot lanes become Vladimir/Morgana versus Brand/Nautilus, we’ve gone through the looking-glass.
“AD carry was a heavy game impact role which could 1v9, carry the game completely,” said Golden Guardians’ AD carry Matthew “Deftly” Chen. “It’s also a lane you could easily play through. But now with the changes in champions, changes in the meta, it’s hard for me to find that same impact from last season or just before the patch. I think it’s possible to have the same game impact as before, but you have to be really smart.”
How exactly did this happen?
As Phreak details here, Riot’s patching since MSI 2018 introduced a host of small changes that, when combined, all served to make games end faster. The turtle meta of Spring 2018, when teams could defend against repeated Baron/Elder pushes ad infinitum, was dramatically dismantled by buffing Banner of Command, Baron, Elder, Rift Herald, and turret damage by AP champs, to name a few marquee adjustments.
After weeks of gentle ramp up, Patch 8.11 finally pushed the meta off a cliff. Released on May 31st—less than two weeks before the first major regions commenced their Summer Splits and 16 days before NA LCS resumed—Patch 8.11 included a series of marksmen stat changes and item reworks that pushed their scaling deeper into the game. In an increasingly high-tempo meta defined by snowballs off the slightest misplay, crit marksmen, who came online only after farming heavily for 25+ minutes, became a compositional liability. Items they relied on (Infinity Edge, Zeal) had become too expensive, meaning the game was decided well before any meaningful power spike. Until then, crit marksman served only as fuel for the enemy snowball.
“The build path for AD carries got slowed down,” said Counter Logic Gaming AD carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes. “Say you have two items at 19 minutes if you’re even. Now it’s 23-24, which is actually a really big deal. I don’t think any of those champs will be played anymore. It’s pretty clear that Riot didn’t know what they were doing… Right now, AD carry as a whole doesn’t have much impact on the game. It just feels like you’re kinda 50/50 whether your team does well or not, and you’re just kinda there for the ride. Before, it felt like you could teamfight really well, have a lot of pressure in teamfights, but now it’s awkward.”
Teams began to realize that the legacy position of AD carry—a hard-farming attack damage marksmen who could carry the game when given ample time and money—was no longer feasible, and strove to find solutions. The experimentation we’ve witnessed in bot lane has taken many forms across regions, with 36 different champions having been drafted bot after one week of play. Compare that to 13 that were chosen in the first week of Spring Split. Back then, the top six champions accounted for 87% of the AD carries picked, and were themselves all AD marksmen who relied on crit items. After this past weekend, that top-six number is 61%, and includes two AP mages (Vladimir and Ryze), a bruiser (Mordekaiser), and Kai’Sa, whose AP build reigns supreme.
While Lucian and Ezreal—two AD marksman—top the AD carry pick list, they now share the role with champions as diverse as Yasuo, Lulu, Heimerdinger, and Renekton. For a lot of AD carry players (or “bot laners” as we now must call them), adapting to this new reality has taken time.
“In the beginning, it was really tough,” said 100 Thieves bot laner Cody “Cody Sun” Sun. “If you’ve been playing a certain style of champion for 4-5 years, all of your instincts are towards that one sort of playstyle. You position really far back and try not to get CC’d, try not to die, try to do as much damage as you can. But with these bruisers or mages, you can play way more aggressively and not get punished as hard. You do need to find that balance where that’s something you’ve never really done before, and there’s only a limited amount of time to practice those kinds of playstyles. In this new meta, I still think bruisers and mages are probably better overall than AD carrys. It’s all going to depend on the player, what they want to play and what the team values.”
Different leagues have shown an affinity for different champions to satisfy their bot needs: Heimerdinger in EU LCS, Ryze and Mordekaiser in Korea, and Renekton in China. For NA LCS (and its sister Academy League), the champion-de-jour is Brand. The high-damage mage has been picked six times in NA while he’s completely ignored elsewhere. Cody Sun credits an unlikely source for Brand’s inclusion into the NA meta: CLG Academy bot laner Osama “Auto” Alkhalaileh.
“He’s the first one who tried [Brand],” said Cody Sun, “Spammed it really hard in soloqueue and pulled it out randomly in scrims. Apparently, it did pretty well, so everyone started trying it. It’s really strong right now, and pretty crazy when you think about it. He was playing it when people were still playing ADs and for some unknown reason the game’s meta changed drastically to where Brand is now a viable pick. It’s pretty troll, but that’s what happened.”
Deftly was one of the NA LCS Brand players last weekend, losing his opening day match against scrim-buddies OpTic Gaming.
“I think now that AD carries got a lot of their resists reduced, Brand is just absolutely broken,” said Deftly. “His base damages are really high, so you can just build magic pen on him and he’ll just shred through the entire team. Not only that, he’s kind of the Illaoi of bot lane. He can 2v3, and if you have him in a 2v2 lane, he’ll win really hard. You put him with any support that has CC, the enemy bot lane is dead. You saw it in our game; Rakan R-W’d on to Ezreal and he just got one-shot, nothing he could do, no counterplay. It’s just really dumb.”
There’s a hint of frustration in Deftly’s response, likely born out of an offseason preparing for one meta and being delivered another. Over the mid-season break, Deftly spent close to three weeks bootcamping in South Korea with friends, training for matchups he’ll no longer see. The sudden switch to mages and bruisers caught him off-guard.
“At first, I thought it was kinda fun,” said Deftly. “It was nice experimenting with all these different champions, but I kind of miss the old marksmen in the game. I feel like that’s a part of me that will never change. I only got into League because I liked playing those ranged carry champions. And now that they kind of suck… I definitely don’t like it, and I do hope that marksmen do come back.”
By contrast, Stixxay and Cody Sun have enjoyed the bot lane’s new variety.
“I think it’s actually really good to shake up the meta,” said Stixxay. “I don’t mind if there are bruiser bot lanes and stuff…I think it’s pretty fun actually. I was always kind of jealous of my solo laners always getting to play these new champions, literally play any champion they want mid or top, and I’m always playing the same three champs bot. Now you can mix it up.”
“I was actually kind of in denial where I was like, ‘I’m just going to keep picking AD carries no matter what,’” said Cody Sun. “But after a few games, as I got more comfortable with these non-meta picks in the past—but they’re meta now—I started to enjoy this patch a lot more. Now in the current position, even though I just lost to a standard comp, I still really like this meta, and I’m going to keep playing what I think are the best picks in the meta. There’s a bunch of crazy picks that I still have. I still want to keep trying them in scrims, and pull them out when the time is right.”
It’s still early days, and the players know it. Of the bot laners I spoke to, all cautioned against knee-jerk hotfixes to meta. No one knows what’s good yet, and that levels the playing field for now.
“Hopefully Riot doesn’t do a change where we’re all back to standard meta,” said Cody Sun. “That would be really troll, because I literally practiced so much for this crazy new meta and we’re going back to standard right away. But if they give if they gave it a couple of weeks, maybe a month or two, see what happens. If the majority of the player base feels like this meta is not for League, it’s too chaotic and we still haven’t figured anything out over a longer time period, then maybe we can go back to standard meta. Right now, it’s way too new. I would like the game to be as it is, see on a longer timeline what to change and how the meta develops right now.”
One proposed change that did seem intriguing was a suggestion from Clutch Gaming bot laner Apollo “Apollo” Price: Increase the time in champion select. If Riot is going to promote a meta with a deep champion pool and incredible role flexibility, shouldn’t teams have more time to come up with appropriate compositions?
“It just feels like it would be more fun to have more time to think about everything,” said Apollo. “If someone picks Vlad, you don’t know if it’s going top, mid or bot right now. They choose a champion, and then you figure out oh, they’re doing this. Now you have 20 seconds to figure out what you’re doing against this Vlad top, or this Vlad bot. You have to be more proactive with your coach to figure out what picks you have. Luckily, we have scrims to figure out what’s good versus what. But it’s a little more thinking and proactiveness in draft.”
Apollo admits it’s unlikely that Riot will make such a change. Adding a “reserve time” mechanic similar to Dota 2’s drafting system would be a bridge too far, and most of the time unnecessary. “It doesn’t have to be that extreme, because [Dota 2 pros] have a ton of time,” said Apollo. “But if that’s the direction they want to go, that is the reason why Dota has that, because they have all these champions that can be played in a lot of different roles, at least as far as I know. I like that style, but we’ll see. A lot of times it could be just wrong. You could pick a champion and not need that much time.”
While it’s easy to be blinded by the sight of mages and bruisers in the bot lane, the truth is that we haven’t drifted too far away from standard play. Some marksmen remain viable and atop tier lists. Despite their 8.11 hotfix nerfs, Kai’Sa and Ezreal still see plenty of play when left open. Xayah continues to pop up here and there, especially when teams can nab Rakan too. Once relegated to a top lane pocket pick, Lucian has returned to the bot meta due to his synergy with the reworked Essence Reaver. If you’re a marksman whose build path isn’t reliant on crit items, chances are you’ll see some play. Hell, everything else is.
“They’re still playable, just niche,” said Deftly. “Marksmen are niche now.”