Top lane attitude:
For anyone who has played a match on the Summoner’s Rift, they would agree that the top lane role could be rather stressful. You are sent to the top side of the battlefield for the first half of the game and are given very little support. Some players embrace this as the most intense form of one versus one action on the rift while others might find themselves bored and feeling left out. This situation leads to two different types of top-laners: those who run ignite and those who run teleport. Those who run teleport patiently farm until there is action on the bottom half of the map. At this point they hope finally step into the spotlight with their teleport and try to make the plays. On the other hand, those top-laners running ignite have their eyes set on two things, first blood and your top lane inhibitor.
In the 2015 competitive season, teams all across the globe sent tanks up to the top lane to support their other lanes in team fights and in objectives. Their job was to farm, defend their tower and take damage in team fights. By the end of the season and during Worlds, top-lane became the focus of the meta. They were expected to destroy their opponents, take their lane’s towers and carry their team to victory. Regardless of where it was in the meta, the top lane was always required to travel to the bottom of the map to participate in early game action. Besides getting ahead of their lane through jungle ganks, there was absolutely no reason to be on the top side of the map before 20 minutes.
In an attempt to remedy this, Riot is introducing the Rift Herald. The Rift Herald spawns in the Baron pit at four minutes, respawns five minutes after death and despawns at 19:45. He can been taken down a maximum of four times in a single game if a team really works around the timer. Your team will receive 50 gold per player and a unique buff to the champion who gets the killing blow. The engagement requires a minimum of two people due to the difficulty of the fight. The idea behind the Rift Herald is that the team has a reason to shift towards top lane rather than leaving them in isolation.
The Dragon vs. Rift Herald Compromise:
In the perfect match, either team would secure all Rift Heralds and all Dragons leading up to Baron. For the average summoner its hard to even secure more than three dragons in the same match. The Rift Herald provides more options in a single match but they might not all result in Riot’s desired outcomes. Ideally, both teams will send their top lane and jungle roles to the Rift Herald shortly after he spawns and create friction in the top half of the map from the beginning. Following the death of the Rift Herald, attention might shift to the bottom half of the map where where teams will take a fight with the Dragon. If individual players are willing to participate in these objectives from the start, games will become far more interactive for top lanes and for teams overall.
Alternatively, making an attempt on either objective leaves the opposite objective ripe for the taking. On a macro scale, taking dragon as soon as possible is still the best option since acquiring the fifth stack is typically a win condition for the team that gets it. From a micro perspective, the Rift Herald is a far more appetizing choice. Killing the Rift Herald not only gives your team a small gold boost, it gives a buff that provides 10% increased damage, 40 additional move speed and empowers nearby minions. The buff can supercharge a team’s jungler for the duration and provide a bit more global pressure. So what is the better objective to take first?
If your team is ahead and decides to move in on an objective then most likely the opposing team will initiate the opposite objective. It makes little economic sense to contest an objective at a disadvantage while there is another objective open entirely. Each objective does require different resources from a team (top lane vs. bottom lane) but each object should have the jungler present to smite. So this leads to a scenario where your team has to make a compromise, do we take Dragon at the cost of the Rift Herald?
Answering these questions depends entirely on the individual’s ideas of what is important and for competitive teams their answers will be dependent on their overall strategy.
Impact on the Summoner’s Rift and Competitive League:
On the Summoner’s Rift the Dragon acts as a timer that counts down until the end of the game. If the opposing team gets five stacks they should be able to come out victorious. Before 20 minutes, taking the dragon is generally a very meaningful move, your team gains a small buff and is one step closer to victory. As a consequence of taking dragon your team might lose one tower somewhere on the map but from a macro perspective, its a very small price to pay. With the introduction of Rift Herald, taking a dragon might be far more costly because it will cost you a slight gold disadvantage, perhaps a tower and due to the buff provided possibly a second tower. With so much risk involved the question becomes whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs.
On the topic of risk, many competitive teams place emphasis on reducing risk and making very calculated moves on objectives. We could take a handful of games from the 2015 NA LCS and observe as teams move from tower to tower and only occasionally create friction at Baron engagements and many teams would often leave dragon uncontested because the risk was too high. As mentioned before, the existence of the Rift Herald creates risk when taking dragon and this could result in a delay of dragon engagements entirely. If this is the case then competitive matches might be dragged our or might never see five dragon stacks in games shorter than 45 minutes. But with any change in the meta, teams likely will be able to adapt and incorporate the Rift Herald into their new strategies. This begins with creating safe objectives for themselves.
To create safe objectives, each lane needs to be aggressively warding, it will be key to know where the enemy jungler is at all times. This means high in-game coordination from each lane and intense communication from the very start. The player feeling the most pressure will be each team’s jungler. In top or bottom lane, one failed gank will result in safe objectives for the other team. Additionally, either team should be actively hunting the opposing jungler because doing so is the only way to make certain that objectives are not traded one for one. The whole concept of safe objectives depends entirely on the team having the goal of securing all objectives with minimum risk. What if teams change their ideas entirely and decide that the rift herald buff and location suits their siege composition just right? Or what if they have no desire to entertain the importance of the Rift Herald and would prefer the free farm in lane?
To say the least, the Rift Herald definitely provides more options in early game strategy of which will require some participation from top lane. If the Herald makes it through the PBE it will be exciting to see how teams adapt to his presence on the Rift.