The League of Legends World Championship is special for many reasons. It’s a tournament that pits the best teams in the world against each other, and every single team that makes the field had to earn its way.
Arguably the thing that makes it most special, however, is it’s one of the only tournaments in the competitive League season (and certainly the longest) without patch changes.
This allows the tournament meta to evolve organically, one of the most thrilling things to watch as a spectator. Instead of Riot’s balance changes dictating which champions are popular, it’s up to the teams to figure out the right answers to the problems presented by other teams over the previous games.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in Friday’s thrilling SK Telecom T1 vs. ROX Tigers semifinal. Let’s quickly run through the development of the support meta in the tournament, which led to a surprise pick in the series.
In the first week of the tournament, Nami and Karma dominated the support role, with the occasional Alistar and Braum. While Karma had spent most of the season as a top-tier pick in competitive play due to her ability to play either support or mid and win most support matchups, Nami emerged because it was one of the picks that could beat Karma in lane in a meta that has placed more and more importance on lane dominance.
Week 2 saw Nami fall off in favor of Alistar, as many teams (especially those below the top-tier) started to gear more towards later team fights. Alistar is also a pick that can heavily punish squishy supports like Nami. Karma stayed relevant, as usual.
Week 3 is where things really started getting interesting. Alistar basically completely fell off the radar, as Zyra began to emerge as the top-tier pick in the bottom lane, especially when paired with Caitlyn. With lane-dominance paramount, a punishing, damage-heavy pick like Zyra became the obvious choice for many teams.
As you can see by the green-to-red ratio (which represents wins vs. losses), Zyra wasn’t just a popular pick, it was an extraordinarily successful one.
So at this point, you have a pick that wasn’t chosen a single time in the first week of the tournament that has now clearly become the dominant pick at the position, despite nothing changing about her or any other champions. How cool is that?
Even cooler is the adaptation that followed in SKT vs. ROX. SKT won Game 1 of the tournament with the Zyra pick, and showed it was going to value it early. ROX responded with one of the most innovative counter picks ever seen on the competitive level, and that’s how you end up with this:
Your eyes do not deceive you. That is Miss Fortune support, sitting undefeated at Worlds after two wins Friday. While MF support was a niche pick in solo queue at the beginning of the season before nerfs to Thunderlord’s Decree and her E, you never expect to see an AD Carry in a support role in a competitive setting.
But it actually made sense! Miss Fortune support is a pick that only works in basically one specific circumstance: with a CC-heavy AD Carry like Ashe or Jhin and against Zyra. The crowd control from her bottom lane partner helps make up for her lack of real supportive abilities (and helps set up a wicked combo with her ultimate ability), and her E clears Zyra’s plants, taking away much of her laning power.
ROX paired Miss Fortune with PraY’s excellent Ashe two games in a row, and dominated Zyra in lane en route to two victories.
If there had been a mid-tournament nerf to Zyra or buffs to other supports, we would have likely never seen this. There is nothing better in League than watching the best teams in the world adapt to the meta, in my opinion, and especially so when they are doing it without the assistance of patch changes.
Riot keeps international tournaments like Worlds and MSI on single patches, allowing the meta to evolve over time. It’s time to consider doing the same for the domestic seasons as well: too many times we’ve seen strong teams fall out of contention after struggling to adjust to a sudden patch change towards the end of the season. And as ROX showed Friday, you don’t need patch changes for new picks to suddenly appear.