In patch 8.11, many of the items used by the marksman were adjusted or increased in price. In addition, mages were in a strong state. This combination allowed for a large disruption in strategy surrounding the bottom (bot) lane. Where marksman traditionally dominate, mages like Heimerdinger, Brand, and Vladimir were seeing high play and win rates.
In addition, this patch added early-level bonus experience to the jungle. This enabled less conventional jungling strategies — namely the “funnel” strategy, where a mid laner is accompanied by a “support” and both the mid laner and bot laner take smite and jungle early to get an experience advantage and farm until the funnel recipient is so far ahead they can hard carry the game. These changes were controversial to say the least. Professionals actively spoke out against the changes and even stopped playing. So are these players right? Is the meta shift drastically changing the game, or do the conventional strategies still work?
I thought I would look for the answers to these questions in the Rift Rivals tournament (played on patch 8.13). I attempted to extract the team composition and strategy data from the match history pages on the LoL Esports website, but I realized that these were only available for the NA/EU games, not the LCK/LPL/LMS games. So I decided to just look at the youtube replays that were linked for each match and judge by eye what their composition was. I settled on 3 classifications for the strategies used in this tournament, “marksman bot”, “mage bot”, and “funnel”. These missed some of the small variations like smite mid, but I tried to add notes to the raw data that I manually tagged.
There are 33 games split between the 2 main region Rift Rivals tournaments. I decided to focus on these games to reduce the amount of tagging I had to do, in addition these are the best and most heavily supported regions. Each of these tournaments featured a group stage and a finals stage. I hypothesized that teams were testing out which strategies worked well in the group stage, and then picked a dominant or single strategy as they reached the finals. However, this appears not to be the case, as the amount of games played on each strategy stayed almost exactly the same between group stage and finals. In addition, having a marksman in the bot lane was still the strategy most teams chose (just over half of all games).
I figured there would also be some variability among the regions. As Jatt, Azael, and Kobe bring up in this episode of The Dive, the American teams failed to adapt to strategies countering Heimerdinger in the bot lane or Aatrox top. EU did play more mage bot games than NA, who stuck more with the marksman bot strategy (Doublelift played exclusively marksman this tournament). Across the ocean, the LCK had the most diverse strategies, using funnel more than any other region. The LPL had the least variability of any region, with only one game of mage bot (this was the Rouge Warrirors with a surprising Karthus bot with smite pick). This region also has arguably the best ADC in the world, so it makes sense that they would stick to what they are good at.
Given the anecdotal strengths and weaknesses between strategies I thought it would be interesting to look at the head-to-head record for each pair. In this tournament, mage bot lanes beat marksman bot lanes 57% of the time. Also both mage bot and marksman bot beat the funnel strategy more often than not. So although the sample size is small, based on the results from this tournament, it appears that mage bot should have been prioritized over marksman bot, and both won out over funnel.
Somewhat expectedly, NA lost to EU, who focused mostly on mage bot, with a knockout stage record of 1–3. By contrast the LPL, which focused almost exclusively on marksman bot, ended the knockout stage 3–2 against the LCK (you can see the results here).
It appears that mage bot, while possibly stronger, is not the only current winnable strategy in professional League of Legends. Riot has already attempted to eliminate some of the funneling strategies in patch 8.14. Balancing a game as complex as League of Legends for beginners and pros alike is no easy task. In my opinion, multiple viable strategies adds to the viewing experience. As Aphromoo mentions, maybe players and teams just need to adapt. Although this comes at expense to the pros who now have to put in even more time when they are already expected to be playing for 10–12 hours per day. Teams should select strategies that play to their individual players’ strengths — and at the very least, know how to counter popular strategies with their chosen play style.