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Evaluating the champion choices and meta evolution from Worlds 2016

Champion diversity was low, but could the tournament’s meta development lead to future gains?

Riot Games

The 2016 League of Legends World Championships had the lowest champion diversity of any Championship since Season 2. The tournament’s champion pool featured 57 champions that were either picked or banned. Of those 11 were only played in one game with one — Kassadin — only showing up as a ban in one game. There were also five champions that were played two or three times. This means that by and large, the tournament was dominated by about 40 champions. That’s about 31% of the game’s 133 champions.

Of course, just saying that isn’t quite fair to Riot. After all, the nature of League of Legends’ balance is that some champions are strong and some are not. It’s the foundation on which the game is built.

As the competitive scene continues to grow and the difference in skill between players shrink, the role of those tasked with determining which picks are strong and which are not becomes more and more important. Between coaches and analysts and even players themselves, the act of finding a new champion that could shift the way a series is played has the potential to help teams who may face a mechanical disadvantage get an upper hand on the opposition.

In this respect, this was far and away the most interesting World Championship we have seen. In Week 1 picks covered a large field — which makes sense given the larger number of participants — but it seemed that teams had a consensus on the top 5 or 10 champions. In that week, Nidalee was picked or banned the most with Syndra at a close second. Meanwhile, Rumble was the king of top lane, Cassiopeia was the most common mid lane pick with Ezreal and Nami making up the most common AD Carries and Supports respectively.

Flash forward to the quarterfinals and a few things look a little different. Lee Sin is now a meaningful competitor in the jungle, while Olaf sees the majority of play. Meanwhile, Ezreal takes a backseat to champions like Jhin and Caitlyn, who offer their teams slightly longer range and an earlier power spike. Nami and Alistar — numbers 1 and 3 in week 1 — are hardly played at all, while Karma — number 2 in week 1 — takes over the top spot at support.

Perhaps the most surprising addition would be that of Zyra in support. During the quarterfinals, she was the second most played and second most banned support, while she wasn’t picked or banned in week 1. The week after in the semifinals, something similar happened, when the ROX Tigers picked up Miss Fortune support which helped them best SK Telecom twice in that series, before SKT banned it in the final two games.

While champion pools throughout Worlds have grown in the past, there’s never quite been anything like this. Two champions not played at all in the first week of group stages turned out to be two of the most influential support picks in the tournament.

What this means for the future of League of Legends, and the health of patches in general, is that we know a single patch can evolve a variety of metas. That isn’t to say, necessarily, that had the tournament gone on for two more weeks that we would have reached a new meta completely. But, what did happen is that teams organically found new strong champions through the course of the tournament, which forced their opposition to adapt their play style or pick and ban phase.

In its own small way, this is sort of a landmark step for League of Legends as a game. A sign that the game has, once again, taken a step forward from pure mechanics. The first time it happened, we saw that shot calling and team play could beat out individual excellence. Now, we know that a team can make up for short comings through smart planning and practice outside of the game. In other words, even during a Worlds that saw a low percentage of champions being used frequently, the champion pool for competitive League of Legends got even bigger.