How too much Variety Makes the Game all the Same

 

A lot of the large changes in the early part of Preseason 3 have had one goal: to increase the variety of options available to players. The penetration changes and the new AD Caster items were aimed to make AD Casters more viable. The jungle changes were aimed to make more junglers than just tanks viable. The starting item changes were aimed at allowing both different item starts and different champions to lane (in the same way that Wriggle's allowed a lot of top laners who may not otherwise have seen play). The support item changes were aimed at giving supports actual options, item-wise. So who came out on top? Well, support benefited in the short run, although I'm not entirely convinced that, once the novelty of the new items wears off, supports won't end up in a low-item state, simply because of gold efficiency. The ambient gold increase and sightstone have helped to alleviate certain of their problems, but the simple fact of the matter remains that stat multiplicativity is king.

So what effect have these changes had?

 

The New Meta

First, we can look at what these changes have ACTUALLY done, although note that this is a combination of what I have observed largely in solo queue, both my own and that of high-Elo streamers.

AD Casters

Black Cleaver
When the Preseason patch first came out, the name of the game was Black Cleaver; stacking it gave you health, CDR, let you stack your % Pen almost instantaneously, and gave you enough Flat Pen to eat through squishies and tanks almost equally quickly. This led many people to declare that the AP Carry mid was dead. Every game I played held comments like 'I can't wait until Black Cleaver is nerfed, and these scrubs drop to their real Elo' or 'play a real champion' or 'Talon OP'. While I think comments like those are unprofessional and silly, I could at least sympathize with them, having never learned AD Casters, and assuming I wouldn't have the time to learn them before the nerfs to BC went through.

Safer Starts
Many AD Casters suffer from weak laning, even more suffer from gank susceptibility. This is less a problem with AD bruisers, but still a problem on account of their being melee. Many new item combinations (especially the potions + wards + Flask start I have been increasingly seeing) allow you some small gank immunity even early on. Assuming you know your jungle timers, an early ward can protect you from a level 2 ganking jungler until 5 minutes into the game, and later-ganking junglers until even later. This actually does double duty for AD Casters. They are weak laners, so any jungle disruption sets them farther behind. But they also tend to be very all-in, making them susceptible to ganks.

Junglers

New Items
The new jungle items are pretty good, but the problem they suffer from is giving stats that you want to get from other, more crucial items. Sure, no jungle tank is going to complain about Armor/Health, but that same jungler may benefit more from Glacial Shroud. Sure, no jungle tank is going to complain about Mana Regen and Health Regen, but it seems a bit gratuitous on top of Philo Stone.

One Start
Pretty much every jungle (Mundo and Amumu come to mind as notable exceptions) has to start with Machete and 5 pots now. Combined with the ease of early warding, early ganks have lost a lot of their appeal.

No Heart of Gold
The lack of HoG leaves some junglers with no reasonable GP5 options. Philosopher's Stone are still around, and I've been seeing a lot of Kage's Lucky Pick/Avarice Blade builds.

Anti-Tank

It seemed like everywhere you looked in Season 2, you saw somebody bemoaning the 'all tank' meta. When Trinity Force + tank items became the top meta, it was the 'meta golem'. When champions like Cho and Galio and Rumble and Vlad became common, it was the 'AP Bruiser'. When Ahri started getting Abyssal Scepter (and then everybody followed suit), people complained that even the AP Carry was 'building tank'. In response, we started seeing a lot of anti-tank mechanics: %Health (albeit current) stats on items such as Blade of the Ruined King and Liandry's Torment, and earlier, reworked % health items like Deathfire Grasp. As well, bruisers and tanks were pushed more into health than resistances, both by the change to penetration (%Pen applying before Flat Pen), and by changes in costs of stats.

Too Much of a Good Thing

So what's wrong with all of this? One set of champions (I guess the tanky ones?) was the dominant class for a given lane for awhile, and that set of champions is changing. Shouldn't we welcome this change?

First, there were a lot of changes aimed at AD Casters. AD Casters had previously been strong early game mid (against AP casters), but didn't scale into the mid and late game well. And top, they had been weak early game (against bruisers), but with a better late game. Penetration changes and itemization fixed their weak late game, and early sustain (flask) helped their weak early game (against bruisers). So now top is a battle between the same AP Bruisers that have always been there (rumble/Vlad), AD Bruisers, and AD Casters. And mid is a battle between AD Casters and AP Casters (and the occasional AD/AP Bruiser). So yes, there is more variation as to what champion you can play WITHIN a lane. But we didn't need the flexibility to play AD Bruisers mid, we were already playing them top and in the jungle (and mid already, if you were ahead of the curve with Lee Sin)! So we gained the flexibility to play AD Bruisers everywhere!

These buffs have made teams of 4 physical damage champions highly viable. On top of that, with the way penetration and reduction now works, the typical response of stacking armor isn't always enough, especially when these champions get ahead. What this creates is, in my opinion, a toxic situation where you basically have an arms race for damage.

As a result, we lost the flexibility to play a lot of tanks (Skarner fell to tier 4 despite no nerfs, for example).

Why spend all of your money to get a bunch of health when %health damage exists? Why spend all of your money to get a bunch of armor when % Pen exists? You could argue the same in reverse: why spend money to get a bunch of physical damage when armor stacking exists? But the differences is simple: Damage is a one -> many function, whereas tankiness is a many -> one function. What do I mean by this? If you have a bunch of damage, and one target gets tanky, you can pick another target. If you have a bunch of tankiness, and one target gets penetration, you can't just choose not to take his damage (without failing in your job to tank).

Before, there already was interesting counterplay: If you started to lose lane, you bought a defensive item, you played a bit passively, and you weren't worried about getting repeatedly shit on in lane.

But Gentleman Gustaf, it's unfair that a 1650 item (BF Sword) gets countered by a 700 gold item (Chain Vest)!

The difference is, when you get to team fights, you've got damage to throw down on the other team, and the other guy doesn't.

This is what makes Darius so frustrating to lane against. When he gets ahead, he has the damage to just combo you to 0; no counterplay whatsoever. There is no room to make plays because you just die instantly. Ever gank a fed Darius? Darius is probably getting a kill anyway (even if you kill him). If he kills the laner, your gank just set the lane back, even though you got the kill. And if he kills you, the laner stays even, because Darius just got gold, too. And your jungle is set behind. The tankiness changes just moved everybody a bit closer to Darius, which I think we can all agree is a sad thing.

The Poor Carries

Which brings us to carries. They get less and less peel from fewer and fewer tanks (luckily, supports are picking up more CC now, but that's only forcing the peel-light supports to the background), plus Assassins (being AD Casters) are scarier now, making it a rough time to be an AD Carry, especially without a gap closer. All I have to say is 'thank god for Barrier'

Tankiness is its own counterplay

Essentially, the idea that we need loads of counterplay to tankiness is simply false. The counter to tankiness is inherent in tankiness itself: if you build tanky, you do significantly less damage. This counter-play is what makes the team-based aspect of LoL interesting. You have a squishy damage dealer who needs protection. You have a defensive tank protecting them. You have an AoE mage who wants to just lay down pain everywhere. You have an offensive tank initiating for them. These create an interesting interaction. There is no real interesting interaction between a team of damage dealers; they just all do damage.

Positives

Of course, the changes have not all been negative; the best jungler I know reports that "AP JUNGLERS (Elise/Amumu) ARE OP" because they can stack Philo + Kage's and still farm the jungle hard.

EDIT: I'm supposed to plug champions who can get Philo + Avarice, too.

And it is interesting to see these AD Casters fit into the meta. It's just less interesting to see the world revolve only around champions with auto attacks.

Takeaway

So what am I saying (because I often say a lot)? I'm not saying that change is bad, or that AD Casters take no skill to play, or bruisers are less cool than tanks. And I'm only a little biased by the fact that as a top/jungler lover, and an AD main (for my team), I love tanks a lot. What I'm saying is that I'm ok with roles and lanes being relatively locked together; with junglers being tanks and tops being bruisers and mids being casters (AP or AD) and with bot being bot lane. But I'm less ok with one role seeing such ubiquitous strength in every lane, because it reduces the number of potential combinations of strategies we could see. A team with 2 bruisers plays much like a team with 1 bruiser, but for having an extra one. But a team with a bruiser and a tank has a multitude of strategies available to it that are interesting, fun to watch, and conducive to evolving gameplay.

So restraining lanes by roles isn't really all that restrictive; why? Because those champions and those roles still have a place in the game. But not doing so opens the game up to strateges that, while they may be new, are not interesting or novel.

 


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