League of Legends: Return of the Playmaking Support

Overview

League of Legends has an ever-changing metagame. One of the more positive changes for summer split 2017 has been the rise of the playmaking support. What are they, why has it happened and what impact has it truly had on the game? To find out we need to dig deep into the stats for the Summer Split so far and the item changes that occurred in the mid-season.

The Playmaking Support

Let’s begin the analysis by identifying what a playmaking support within League of Legends really is. They’re a champion with the ability to change the status quo by setting up an offensive play. Sometimes a team that was playing overly defensive just moments before can now turn the situation around. Many supports are protection oriented or lane bullies, Karma is the obvious example of a lane bully. A few have the right kit to completely change the dynamics of a team fight and eventually the whole game, particularly if it’s close.

Blitzcrank

Blitz in many ways is the playmaking support with the more obvious abilities required to change situations. Imagine this scenario: You are 5v5 in the mid lane. A golem arm grabs the enemy mid laner and pulls them into the middle of your team. It’s now 5v1 and there are no tanks to stop the onslaught. The team fight is won. That’s playmaking.

Blitzcrank is also a lane bully and if the opposing duo can’t avoid his smash and grab, or grab and smash, then lane dominance is a given. To put things into perspective, during Spring Split Blitz played in just 4 games. He won one of them. This Summer he’s made an appearance in 33 games already with a win rate of over 60%.

Thresh

Thresh is the most popular playmaking champion of Summer Split. In his kit is a pull not quite as instant as Blitz’s but with a key difference; he can toss a lantern over a wall and bring in any champion on his team to make a 1v1 a 2v1 or a 2v2 a 3v2. What’s more, he has good defensive abilities as well. He offers a bonus shield, knock backs and an ultimate that is an effective area of effect slow. This changes fights dynamics instantly.

He is also similar to Blitz in lane but with an added level of defensive abilities. Not just a playmaker on the team fight stage, his hooks can grant the marksman lane dominance. Meanwhile his lantern also makes ganking bottom lane much easier. He’s been banned or picked in the LCK for 78% of all games this summer compared to 20% in the Spring. They also like to take ignite rather than exhaust with this support.

Bard

Another champion worth considering is Bard. During Spring Split he played just 28 games with a win rate below 45%. He’s made more appearances than that already and is another playmaker with a win rate above 60%. His ultimate can freeze an entire team if necessary and His Magical Journey ability can also allow his own team to reposition completely. Position is crucial in team fights and Bard ensures that his team can have the edge in this strategic field.

Imagine you’re a Jarvan running away from Fiora towards your inhibitor tower. Just as it looks like you will die a Bard ultimate lands cutting you off from a world of pain. Fiora turns to run away but Bard follows with a Magical Journey and then hits a flash stun on the other end to secure a kill on Fiora underneath another tower. That’s happened in Summer Split week 1 as Counter Logic Gaming played Team Liquid. That is the difference of a playmaker.

The Spring Split

Spring Split 2017 was full of one hit wonder mages and tanks that could remain tanky while also serving out a large amount of damage due to the changes affecting items like Sunfires Cape. Riot reworked armour penetration so that items now produced lethality instead, with the purpose of making the marksmen do more damage against tanks in the end game.

Collateral damage

Unfortunately, it had the unintended effect of making them much weaker in the early to mid game stage. Teams suddenly had to find damage from elsewhere and the marksmen transitioned to a utility role as can be seen by the number of picks for Ashe, Varus and Jhin across the League of Legends eSports spectrum. They played in 47%, 38% and 38% of games respectively. This, in turn, led to a surge in supports whose job it was to help win lane and keep the marksmen alive, not necessarily set up the team plays.

Karma was the most played support in the Spring Split. 3 players played her 19, 19 and 17 times respectively. Lulu was the second most frequent, followed by Zyra and Malzahar. The meta tipped so far against the traditional bot lane that SKT infamously played a Ziggs instead of the traditional ADC oriented marksmen. The playmaking support was nowhere to be seen.

As previously mentioned, these were unintended consequences. Riot held off making sweeping changes during the season because pro players have argued it can be difficult to train and adapt for major patches that occur in mid-split. The result was all these adjustments came in the 2017 preseason. Teams adapted and the playmaking support fell out of use.

The Summer Split

Why are things reversing in the Summer Split? Firstly, Doran’s Shield has been given some of the credit. The changes to Doran’s items gave marksmen a huge boost in lane sustainability and defensive stats. The shield just received a nerf though and playmaking supports are still being chosen. Item changes are still the main reason.

Phantom Dancer allows marksmen to make escaping from an assassin a little easier while also stacking crit. Guardian Angels is another example of an item change that has hugely benefited the marksmen and through that the support gameplay. It was needed. It previously offered no attack stats but now gives safety and damage.

Other Critical chance items were made cheaper or more powerful. Essence Reaver and Zeal being just two examples. This allowed champions like Caitlin to be chosen more and significantly increased the amount of damage she can put out in any given fight. Marksmen in general no longer need to wait quite so long into the game to buy the items necessary to make a difference in team fights and against tanks. Although Riot also changed the support items, adding mini-quests which give a bonus effect, these seem to have had minimal impact on the game.

One item, Talisman of Ascension, does work incredibly well with the new support champion Rakan. Combined with the champion’s ultimate it creates an almost unavoidable, ult, flash, taunt, knock up combination. As a brand new support he’s been chosen 59 times already. Rakan has longer range on his jumping ability in combination with the marksmen Xayah who also happens to do considerable amounts of damage. This is a playmaking support working hand in hand with a potential team fighting monster.

The Shift

These metagame developments have allowed a greater array of supports to be played and players like Aphromoo prefer to be making the shot calls rather than being defensive. Some of the increased variety in champion selection has come down to who is now viable. Given the aforementioned personal preferences, when all things are equal certain players are always going to choose a playmaker.

The Summer Split is far from over but so far the statistics show a telling story. Karma is still played but her win rate is down at 49.2%. Bard and Blitzcrank stand at 60% and 63% win rates respectively while Braum is at 54%. Looking at the LCK, Tahm Kench has rocketed from a 29% appearance rate to over 50% although his win rate is not quite as impressive.

Players have picked up on the definite shift that has taken place. Varus is still most often selected amongst the marksmen, but Caitlyn is back in the mix as are Xayah and even Kalista who had fallen from grace significantly in the last few splits. The utility marksmen are falling off as the supports with the flexible plays increase.

The Result

The Korean league is regularly the first to shift game style as the meta develops. Teams such as SK Telecom T1 have consistently been among the very best in the world, if not the best. Many leagues will watch Korea with interest, and their tactics are influenced by what they see develop there.

Week 4 statistics for the North American League show an even greater win rate for supports such as Bard and Blitz. Both were champions played in over 4 games and both saw win rates above 80%. This is much higher than many other champions played and shows a long-term consistent return to these playmakers is likely.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen Bard and Blitz being regularly banned out in the various leagues. I think this means that League games will be more exciting with more options on the table. Lanes that last split looked boring at times are becoming more central to team strategies, with a more diverse champion pool.

This is not to say teams won’t continue to adjust. Other lanes may suffer, but I think a return to teams selecting a roaming playmaking support, champions that can change the status quo of a match, and a move away from just babysitting the marksmen can only be a good thing for the competitive scene.

The Sources:

NA LCS Week 4 Stats Breakdown http://www.lolesports.com/en_US/articles/na-lcs-week-4-stats-breakdown

Summer And Spring Split 2017 Stats
Oracleselixir.com

Team Stats
Leagueofgraphs.com

Lol eSports Youtube Channel “The Dive” discuss meta changes.