Patch 3.14: A detailed analysis of Riot’s vast changes to the metagame for season 4

Any veteran League of Legends player isn’t a stranger to preseason madness–anyone played during the lull between the past two seasons still has flashbacks to the days of Black Cleaver and Warmog’s. But with a relatively calm lead up, featuring detailed explanations from Rioters on the game design team explaining every change and why they were happening, season 4 looked like it could work out for both the casual and competitive scene.

In fact, it even looked good.

When the preseason patch hit this week, however, it was a hot mess. Players are running around as blind as Lee Sin; a new meta sprouted up overnight thanks to Relic Shield; and no one knows what to do about Evelynn. There are even games taking place without junglers or ADCs, with many respected players in the scene saying it’s completely viable to have neither in this newly formed meta.

So let’s dive in and see if it’s as dire as it looks. After all, maybe we all need to just calm down, wait for the dust to settle, and grab the nearest targon from the item shop–right?

Too Much Gold: The Rise of the Carry Support

1525-post-28223-scrooge-mcduck-swimming-in-gol-6kjlLet’s call it like it is: there’s too much gold floating around. Gold was previously a precious resource in Summoner’s Rift, but now everyone is drowning in gold.

The thing is, Riot wanted this. In fact, several times it was explained how boring the meta was getting–supports in season 3 lived on a steady diet of Sightstones, wards, Philosopher’s Stone, and the occasional treat of an Oracle’s Elixir. There was little reason to build anything else and little need to either. Junglers were in the same boat, frequently finding themselves forced to get a Spirit of the Ancient Golem directly followed by a Locket of the Iron Solari without any deviation from the path.

Recognizing this, Riot changed the gold fluctuation of the game significantly to make it so everyone–even supports–could buy whatever they felt was needed.

The issue with this fact is that League of Legends is balanced tightly around gold income. Certain roles are meant to struggle through to late game where they dominate and others are meant to shine in the laning phase. It’s a large part of the strategy of the game. Previously, a good support and ADC decided the entire future of bot lane before level 6 using strategic exchanges to wear down the opposing laners. Early game was their definitive moment and the plays made–or not made–during this period affected the rest of the game’s outcome.

This is where it all gets a little sticky. Traditional supports such as Nami tend to stay the same over time; they don’t scale as well as other champions because they were designed not to for fear of being too powerful. They need this early game to shine or else they are irrelevant. Unfortunately, with the extra gold granted by Relic Shield and its subsequent upgrades, early game no longer exists for more than a couple of minutes.

In effect, this means traditional supports are second tier picks and effectively benched by top tier players. For example, picking Sona over an Annie is downright foolish–both have ultimates with the same functionality, but only one of them become a powerhouse of a carry in mid to late game.

1526-janjanTo make the situation even worse, Riot preemptively examined most traditional supports and made adjustments in anticipation of additional items. Janna is one that was hit particularly hard because they were afraid of her solo lane capabilities–something that actually happened several times during season 3. They knew she could do too much with too little if they didn’t adjust her kit to make up for the influx of gold so they slammed her Zephyr and Howling Gale with nerfs. Now she needs a lot of AP to get to where she previously was with her kit, effectively nerfing her early to mid game to the ground. Changes such as these only extend the invitation to AP carries to don supporting shoes since they have a stronger early game now while maintaining their stellar late game.

Expect to see mid lane champions like Karma, LeBlanc, Morgana, Lux, and Annie to have a blast in bot lane. More than likely, any mage with some form of CC will be tried out by experienced players. On the flip side, champions like Sona, Janna, and Nami will gradually fall into obscurity since their mage counterparts give just as much support and do even more damage.

Essentially, in patch 3.14, mages have arrived to the bot lane–and they really want to stay, if Riot will let them.

Additionally, some teams are even starting to shy away from AD carries in addition to supports due to these changes. While this is rarer, two mages can do more than a marksman and support duo if the early game is erased and mid game becomes the focus–which it is, thanks again to Relic Shield and increased gold income. Much like the double bruiser meta touched on in past seasons, different champions in bot lane has always been hard for an ADC to deal with. Due to the vision changes, brush control is easier than ever to obtain and AP carries can bully squishy targets out of lane before they have a chance to react.

ADCs are also the definitive heroes of late game. But with all the gold changes, games are starting to be shorter since snowballing happens more frequently and games are easier to run away with. If a game is decided in a handful of team fights by the twenty minute mark, what champion and item combination would you rather have: a Deathfire Grasp LeBlanc and Death Cap Annie or a Blade of the Runed King Tristana and Sightstone Sona?

The answer is probably clear–the duo of mages do much more damage, eliminate targets quicker, and are more effective at turning the tide of a team fight. AP carries are much more burst oriented than an AD carry let alone when compared to their support.

Ultimately the solution is equally as clear. By nerfing the income generated by Relic Shield and other supporting items, it can put both ADC and traditional supports back on the map even if it takes some gold out of their hands. The question is just how attached Riot is to Relic Shield.

Another potential solution could be reworking all supports to have scale well with gold. Riot attempted this, but it was largely too cautious. They went from potentially overpowered to woefully underpowered, so much so that they have little to no role in the current metagame.

Carry Me, Please: The State of the Jungle

Riot also examined and worked on the jungle in patch 3.14 pretty heavily. The results were mixed–once again, they were skewed heavily in favor of carries. Much like how standard supports are having a tough time bot lane, supporting junglers aren’t having the easiest of times in the new jungle.

1527-shyshyWith slow jungle clears and heavier hitting camps, junglers like Amumu and Nautilus now find themselves sequestered away in the trees for the first ten minutes of the game simply trying to farm as much as they can. Ganking is rarely an option: they emerge with too little health to make effective ganks early on. Additionally, almost everyone picks up the brand new ward trinket, making the jungler not only responsible for ganking but for knowing when a ward was placed and what angle to come from so they don’t waste their time. It’s usually worth more to farm than to take the risk of a failed gank.

Several junglers have started to migrate to mid or top lane to pick up extra experience and gold, opting to just start with a Relic Shield and do their buff camps before resigning to a fate of farming in lane with a buddy until objectives spawn again.

Meanwhile, carry junglers are having a field day. If their clear is fast, the world is full of riches–with an extra camp that spawns and a lower cooldown on Smite, they have tons of options. Shyvana, Vi, Olaf, and Nocturne are all excellent examples of junglers that benefit tremendously from the reworked jungle. Lee Sin benefits in his own way as well: with a ward trinket free at the start, he can do amazing ganks that he previously had to have Sightstone for.

Likewise, Evelynn benefits a lot from the lack of Oracle’s and new changes to Vision Wards–however, it’s worth noting she was also hit a little by the Spirit of the Elder Lizard’s changes to proc only off physical attacks, given that a large part of her power came from its damage as her first item.

At the end of the day, the jungle is a now an uninhabitable place for many champions whose sole purpose was jungling. They have nowhere viable to go; as such, they’ll fall off, never to be seen in this season’s higher tiers of play until fixes are made. Riot needs to balance the jungle so that all kinds of junglers can thrive in it. They also need to make changes so that lanes aren’t more appealing to them.

After all, Amumu may really just want some friends and a couple of hugs, but we all know his place is meant to be alone in the jungle–not hanging out with another champion top lane while their two targons proc in tandem, even if the sound effect Relic Shield makes isreally cool.

I Can’t See You: Vision Changes

All of these changes wouldn’t be anything, however, without the vision overhaul.

League of Legends has always had issues with sight. This is largely because vision isn’t a fun mechanic even if it is a strategic one. Knowing where an enemy is and what they are doing is the most valuable information any team can have, but it decreases the quality of the game experience immensely. Riot has struggled with this conundrum in competitive play for the greater half of two seasons–from a Dr. Mundo with Oracle’s Elixir removing vision left and right in season 2 to the crowd cheering at World’s every time a ward was nuked in season 3, what players see has been on the forefront of Riot’s mind for a while.

1528-wardsIn particular, the somewhat stale meta in Summoner’s Rift was compounded problematically with the availability of Sight Wards, Vision Wards, and Oracle’s Elixirs. Entire builds in season 3 were decided around both gaining and denying vision. This largely wasn’t fun to watch as an esport.

It also wasn’t fun to go through as a player. Many games became nothing more than players chasing down wards in an attempt to gain extra intel on what their opponents are up to while playing passively until they are absolutely certain they can have an advantage in a fight.

These tremendous vision changes are a direct response to this problem. Riot essentially decided to make everyone blind overnight to combat vision creep. Players are only able to place three wards at a tim and, as it turns out, the average player would rather give it up vision than work for it. This isn’t just because they’re lazy, either: due to the addition of trinkets, it’s punishing and prohibitive to buy wards. Players can just pick up the lens trinket which has an active that removes wards and go along with their day, punishing the time a player may have invested in both buying and putting down a ward without any penalty of their own.

Additionally, Oracle’s Elixir was killed and Vision Wards were gutted. Ther’s no reason to drop a pink ward unless you’re trying to go for an objective like Baron Nashor. There’s also no real way to deny enemies vision either; where a Vision Ward used to serve the purpose, it now just becomes an expensive investment with no possible payout. Spending 100 gold is too much for players when trinket wards exist. Even if a player manages to successfully remove a ward, the enemy will kill their pink ward then places a new ward in its stead, wasting the entire effort.

The end result is chaos. The situation lacks strategy and seems to reward playing blind over making an effort to control vision. Wards aren’t able to be reliably removed and this hurts the metagame immensely. It especially deals a hard blow to the competitive scene where often the superior teams were the ones who macroed vision perfectly, making sure to use Oracle’s and Vision Wards to gain an advantage and start impeccably timed team fights, catching their opponents out at the worst moment.

Riot went overboard by neutering ward removal. It’s almost bad enough where something needs to be done to maintain League of Legends top tier spot as an esport. Right now, players are in the dark. It’s possible that making pink wards invisible again after a certain time frame–say ten to fifteen seconds after being placed–would be a small fix that could help, if Riot’s not willing to revert them back to their old state.

Conclusion: The Good, the Bad, and the Really Ugly

1529-sadRiot’s patch was overly ambitious–but this is the Riot we know and admittedly love. In all honesty, Riot wouldn’t be Riot if they didn’t aim a little too high.

Unfortunately, by targeting so many aspects of the metagame at the same time Riot bit off more than they can handle. It would be one thing to rework masteries and add some new items, but Riot has completely overhauled vision along with the gold flow of the game as well. That’s where they messed up. That’s where they’ve damaged their game.

Going forward, it was announced this weekend that they are already adjusting and nerfing the Relic Shield by upping its CD to 60 seconds from 30. It also will no longer proc its execute from ranged attacks. Unfortunately, though, this offers very little comfort to the recently exiled support junglers. It doesn’t touch on the role of traditional supports and their complete lack of a late game, even with items. It also does nothing to discourage the current very frustrating and very real vision problems.

Still, throughout this all, it’s important to remember that the sky isn’t falling. It’s preseason and, as Jinx says, rules are made to broken–much like metas. There’s a lot of things worse than having mages appear bot lane and junglers sometimes going the way of a dinosaur.

All in all, there just needs to be a viable solution to incorporate all styles of play and make sure champions aren’t too displaced. It would be a huge shame, after all, to see traditional and tank supports completely alienated from any realm of viability in the pro circuit. It would be almost as bad to see no counterplay to vision existing and Vision Wards remain useless.

But it’s early yet and there’s a lot of changes still to come. The players have spoken, Riot. Now it’s your move again.