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League of Legends’ new, weird meta could be exactly what the game needs

It’s the wild west out there, and that means one thing: surprises!!!

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Years ago, when I was but a teenager playing League of Legends from my makeshift desk of an Ikea cabinet propped on its side, I vividly remember chatting with friends about something the Europeans had come up with. In those days, Europe was the best region in the game, and the fact that they had come up with this strategy was enough for us foolish North American Bronze players to sit up and take notice.

“It’s like this,” I said, carefully balancing a slice of pizza in one hand while I locked in Soraka with the other. “So you take Ashe -”

“Right,” said my friend, who was very proud of his mid lane Ashe. He had been the one to teach us all that if you took Teleport on Ashe instead of Ignite, you could cross map snipe for insanely long stuns, teleport in and get the kill.

“No, no, you don’t take her mid!” I said. “You take her bot! Then, you put a support down with her, and the support just heals her and keeps her alive while she farms and gets huge. They call it the Eurolane.”

Those were simpler days, a time where League of Legends was all about wild experimentation. Who went bot? Whoever wanted to go bot. You could throw Singed down there and it worked out just fine. The community had weird, internal rules — if someone was working on chipping a minion down, it was considered foul play to take the last hit from them. The idea of funneling last hits into a marksman only gained popularity after the Eurolane spread like wildfire, and since then, we’ve been locked into that meta.

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Sure, there have been some changes to the way things worked overall: different flavors of ADC have come and gone, with Caitlyn and Tristana ebbing away to be replaced with Graves or Vayne, to eventually be replaced by another strong set of marksmen. Twitch and Quinn have left the bot lane for other roles, and Kindred was designed as a marksman who lived in the jungle. Supports have turned from passive ward droppers to more active and engaged characters, up to and including being active assassins. The details have shifted, but the general shape remains the same: you send an ADC bot, and a support takes care of them.

There have been brief glimpses of alternatives to this set up, like the Leona and Jarvan IV murder lane, but they never quite escaped the realm of cheese ... Until now. With marksmen in a very weak spot, high level players are throwing bruisers into the bot lane. There’s been a knee-jerk response of anger — that’s not where bruisers go! Marksmen go bot! The community is debating whether there’s room for a metagame where the roles fundamentally shift so dramatically, Riot is promising to monitor the situation and other roles are chiding ADC mains for not adapting to the meta. Amidst the hullabaloo of it all, I find myself experiencing the strange emotion known as hope.

The truth is, I miss those experimental days where you could take anyone anywhere and people would nod. I remember the days when you’d send two people would go top instead of putting someone in the jungle, and this was seen a strategic choice to roll with and not a declaration of war from a teammate with evil intentions. I remember roaring with laughter as my Teleport-Ashe-loving friend engineered a six Phantom Dancer Jungle Janna strategy that literally run circles around our opponents while pelting them with painful auto attacks and absorbing everything they could throw back.

By contrast, today’s League of Legends is almost painfully stiff. Discovery is tied to the release of new champions and reworks, and if anything is uncertain, you’re expected to Google it on your own time. If you’re curious about how something works, your teammates don’t want you to figure it out in game. They want you to show up prepared. Learning about the game has the sense of doing homework, not discovering an unexpected wrinkle to an experience you love.

About a year ago, I took an extended break from the game after two matches in a row. I went bot and picked Quinn. We lost, albeit in a close and competitive match. As our Nexus exploded, our mid chided me: “Quinn goes top, that’s why we lost.”

So, I locked in Quinn top next game, and as I headed top, our jungle sighed, “Idiot. Quinn goes bot.”

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I hope the current experimental patches tear these walls down. There are generations of players who have picked up the game, played their fill, and left never knowing the early wild west of picking a lane and learning a champion. It’s time to reintroduce that element to League, if only for a little while. I want someone to run into Singed and Veigar in bot and have to learn how to maneuver around a totally new combo. I want Quinn in the mid lane. I want every champion to go anywhere, and for players to learn how the game works beyond just one metagame with slight variations.

If that comes about from the marksman item rework, then I hope Riot’s balance team can find a middle ground that keeps ADC champions feeling fun without forcing everyone out from the brave new world of a varied bot lane.

Once League of Legends is solved, the game is over. Sometimes, in order to unlock new strategic avenues, you have to just throw the whole chessboard over. While many fans are angry, I’m enjoying the chaos of the recent patches. I just hope once the dust settles, we see lots of new champions and combos shine.