Understanding a Metagame

Hello and welcome to A DIFFerent View. Today I am going to go over the concept of a Metagame, how it is created, and how it evolves. A lot of people talk about the shifting of League of Legends and how new content or even players picking up old content can change the metagame. Even though this can effect the metagame, this is not the only factor. Before League of Legends I didn't play other competitive video games, but I did play and judge the card game known as Magic: The Gathering (MTG). During my time of being involved with MTG, I learned a lot about the concept of metagames, and probably the biggest thing I learned was that a metagame evolves to counter the current metagame.

The Ever-Shifting Problem


So if the metagame changes in order to counter itself, you would think it would change faster than it does currently. The issue with that idea is that so many factors are involved in League of Legends, that when you want to change just one champion on your team composition, you will likely need to make other changes for that to work. 

Let's take a recent example such as the popularity increase of Malphite. It makes sense that he became popular, he has a great ability to initiate, he can (at the time he surged in popularity) slow attack speed by 50%, he has an armor and attack damage steroid, and overall he is a strong champion. As he became popular people wanted to find ways to deal with him. So then people started playing Rumble, a well known counter to Malphite. But in order to pick Rumble competitively that involved some adjustments from the team. Dual AP teams are known to be strong, but it is almost always accompanied with a tank jungler with good means of initiating. Picking junglers like Nautilus, Maokai, or Malphite (ironically enough) isn't too big of a deal, they have respectable clear times and can offer decent ganks. But like every champion, they have their own weaknesses which teams will attempt to counter. 

Now I can go on and list these junglers' counters, and their counters' counters, and their counters' counters' counters, but that is my point, everything in this game has some sort of counter, whether it is a specific champion, or a strategy based on a team composition. 

Picking the Stronger Champion


It's hard to keep balance in any game that continually adds new content. League of Legends has champions that are known to be stronger than others, MTG has cards that are stronger than others, and even Pokemon has certain options that are superior to the rest. Out of the 101 champions currently in League of Legends, I'd say about 50-75 of them are considered as potential picks in the minds of professional teams, and a much smaller amount are considered as top picks and bans. Champions like Shen, Urgot, or Alistar are picked due to a combination of having strong numbers and high utility. Even if you counter something like jungle Alistar with safe laners, high warding, or jungle invasion, he will still offer a strong amount of crowd control along with his damage reducing ultimate. His power means that unless he experiences some major nerfs or reworks, he will still be considered a top pick and a valuable asset to any team composition. 

In addition to these stronger champions there are just champions that can fit into many different types of team compositions. For example let's look at Gragas. AP Gragas has been a somewhat common pick in competitive play as he can do a lot for a team. He can poke, he can engage, he can disengage, and he can burst squishy targets from full to zero. However, Gragas also has a couple big weaknesses, the first of which is that his spells are all skillshots meaning he could potentially deal 0 damage in a fight if either he is bad at landing spells or his opponents are good at dodging them.

The second weakness was one that was a bit more noticeable, his kiting skills aren't as strong as other AP mids such as Ahri or Anivia. In previous tournaments such as IPL or MLG, you may have noticed Gragas wasn't too popular. I believe this was because competitive play was in a metagame based around kiting. Why was it based around kiting? Probably because before that champions like Galio, Dr. Mundo, or Udyr were popular, and kiting is an effective way to keep those champions from winning. 

The hilarity of it all is that people notice which strategies are getting countered faster than they find ways to counter the new strategy (Hopefully this is because they take time to practice more champions, and not because they can't think of any quick enough). This means it only takes a small amount of time before teams stop playing such easily kited champions, but then rather than pick what seems like the obvious choice of champions that are hard to kite, teams also pick champions that are good at kiting. So then these almost mirror-matched games are created. A few months ago I remember often seeing two kiting based teams playing against each-other and you would rarely see an actual ace, just people escaping at low health, and the enemy team forcing objectives off the 30 seconds it takes for them to recall, heal, and walk back. But now in more recent tournaments, I see people playing champions with hard engages to beat these kiting teams (This leads back to Malphite and Gragas becoming popular). 

The point is that these stronger champions will always exist, and they will always be a determining factor in the current metagame, but that strength isn't always based on high amounts of damage or unique abilities, it can mostly be determined on how well a champion can fit into different scenarios. 

The Original Basis


For a long time there has been an outline of what a team comp should look like. Most teams have a tank jungler, a somewhat tanky top laner, an AP mid, and an AD carry along with a support bottom lane. This composition has become very popular simply because it is likely the best way things could be sorted. 

This set-up is primarily focused around the team's AD carry, as AD carries are rather ridiculous. There is actually a champion in this game that can attack you from range that a lot of other champions can't even cast a spell in, then if someone manages to get close to her she can jump away from them, and then if she really needs to close more distance she can knock them away from her, and then if she gets kills or assists she can continue to keep jumping away from other threats. In case you didn't figure it out by now, this champion is Tristana, and she is not the only champion to have such strength. AD carries have the potential to deal more damage than anyone else due to the combination of how Attack Damage based builds work in League of Legends, and their ability to utilize that damage from a strong range. 

If you compare AD carries to AP carries, they aren't too different. They can both deal damage from a respectable range, Attack Damage or Ability Power can be built to increase their damage, Attack Speed or CDR can be built to increase how often that damage can be dealt, but AD carries have another advantage over AP carries, Critical Strike. Critical Strike multiplies a champions damage output. Most carries will build Infinity Edge and have the Lethality mastery, bringing their Critical Damage to 260%. The ability to multiply your damage from your ranged autoattacks by 260% is incredible, and is the reason why the metagame is so focused on AD carries, whether you're protecting your team's carry, or killing the enemy's. Sometimes you will see a team pick Kog'Maw and then pick almost no other high damage sources beyond an AP carry, who will end up building tanky items like Rylai's Crystal Scepter and Zhonya's Hourglass. 

Not only do these AD carries get to deal multiplied damage at a fast rate from a high range, but then they also get access to Last Whisper and Weapon Expertise, which combined give them 46% Armor Penetration. This means that they can ignore almost half of your Armor in the late game, which would be the reason why a well protected AD carry can easily be the only damage a team needs.

Unless some major changes happen to a lot of champions, I don't see much changing from the support + AD bottom lane, it is simply the safest way to keep your team's carry farming. The biggest change we've seen to this meta was Urgot picks, who doesn't exactly classify as an AD carry, but more of a tanky, high-range anti-carry. I was really glad to see Urgot picks as it makes such a big difference in team comps, you would see it teamed up with AP hyper-carries like Karthus or Ryze, or a champion like Jax in the jungle or top lane. 

Conclusion


Metagames aren't determined completely by the content of the game, but rather by the combination of what has always remained strong while trying to counter the current strategy of team comps. My experience from playing MTG didn't give me very many skills to help my game mechanics, but it did help me understand more easily that people will pick what they see is successful for other people, and then what later becomes successful is a counter to the previous pick. From what I'm seeing in the IPL stream, AD carries are actually building less damage, such as Corkis or Ezreals building Trinity Force into Guardian Angel. This change is likely to prevent death when ulted by Malphite or combo'd by Alistar, and it makes sense. You can have a team dedicated to protecting their carries, but you can also have carries that are better at surviving at the cost of lowering their damage, this will result in more long drawn out fights with higher damage is they continue. I've already seen a fight that had 4 Guardian Angels in it, which resulted in 13 deaths before 1 team was finally aced while the other only had 1 survivor. This could result in nerfs to Guardian Angel, or maybe teams will start to find ways to counter these tanky, reviving teams. Either way, it will change soon enough. Thanks for reading.

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