Disclaimer: No champion is entirely useless. In the right hands every champion can be used effectively. Unicorns of Love made waves when they played Yorick in the jungle. This allowed their Cassiopeia to wreak damage for ten more seconds after she died and Yorick’s ultimate brought her back to life.
Creativity is often a rare sight in competitive play, with teams preferring to use tried and tested methods of domination. So now I pose a question: what makes a champion the best option to be picked for professional play? Does a champion that’s overpowered on a patch, beat a tried and true classic?
Overpowered champions will always have priority in picks and bans. If you gave your opponent Kassadin during the height of his strength, you would be lucky if you only got backdoored by Xpeke. For a good portion of his existence, Kassadin was a god among champions. His q could silence the enemy, and his ultimate let him jump wherever he pleased. When I first started playing in season 3, I had no idea what Kassadin even did because he was always banned. To counter this, Kassadin has been slammed so many times by Riot’s Nerf hammer that he now wears his mask to cover up his busted face. He’s slowly starting to climb his way back into play, but he’s no longer the god he once was.
In order for a champion has to be considered a competitive choice, it has to do its job the best. I mean, that no other champion can perform its role better. For example, Ziggs is a great poke mage. You would usually want to craft a poke comp around him, having champions that can protect and peel for the yordle bomber. Ziggs was good at one point, but when Riot nerfed the cooldown on his ultimate, he was no longer the best option. Champions like Nidalee, Jayce, and Xerath all do his job but bring more to their team. Nidalee not only pokes, she assassinates squishy enemies and has great roaming potential.
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A team will always to try to have as many champions that can fill as many roles while still meshing well together. Taric will forever be my favorite champion, but I would never play him in his current state if I want to win. There are better tank supports, like Alistar. The mad cow can knock enemies away, roam well, and become a super tank for six seconds. Taric can briefly stun you and give you slightly more armor. It’s not a fair contest.
It’s one of the reasons why, unlike Ziggs, Lee Sin will always be useful. His early game aggression and high mobility allows him to adapt to any role he needs to fill. Lee Sin is the jack of all trades of League of Legends. Play him in the jungle, top or support, it barely matters. Though his damage falls off late game, his utility never does. A good Lee Sin can do almost anything, C9 Rush has climbed the Korean and North American solo que ladders to challenger with the blind monk and Nidalee.
At IEM Cologne last weekend, we saw our second tournament of the preseason. The teams playing had more time to adapt to the newly forming meta. We saw some expected picks like Dr. Mundo, Gangplank and Lucian, all considered overpowered, while a few others managed to pop up. The one that surprised me was Lissandra, a champion that hadn’t really been popular since before the tank meta. She was played either instead of or alongside Ryze, a champion that has slowly been growing in popularity since Worlds.
League of Legends has a tendency to follow a predictable pattern: Riot creates the best option, everyone tries to play the best option, and players try to find ways to counter that option. With the ADC reworks and new items, Riot has created a very bot lane marksmen centered meta. With games not lasting as long as they used to, tanks no longer have the time to stack up insane amounts of health and armor to outlive their trigger happy enemies.
This is where Lissandra steps in. She had been losing out to other control mages like Orianna and Veigar. Those mages both need to aim their crowd control, allowing some form of escape. Lissandra doesn’t, she has the best single target crowd control in the game. You simply click on an enemy and they are entombed in ice, removing them from the fight. She is one of the best counters to Kalista, one of the most popular ADCs for a while. Lissandra was never a bad champion, but with tanks like Maokai to protect pivotal damage dealers, she wasn’t able to do the job she needed to.
Right now there are 128 different champions in the game. Not all of them can be played when we only use ten at a time. If you really want to see Galio being played competently, you’re going to have to wait for his rework. Still, you never know. Breaking out a clutch pick your opponent doesn’t expect can win you the game. It’s one of the reasons competitive League of Legends is so interesting to watch, you never know what you are going to get.