Shaking Up the Meta
A season in League of Legends is an arbitrary period of time of about one year. It begins with major changes to many aspects of the game (aside from the usual periodic patches) and ends with a gigantic worldwide tournament where dreams are crushed. The inbetween makes up the huge majority of the time that people are playing the game.
Riot’s intention for Season 3 was to “shake up the meta”, meaning that the choices most players made in regard to characters and builds were becoming stagnant, predictable. People were playing the same few characters, running the same few masteries/runes, and buying the same few items. They did this not out of lack of imagination but because it was what was automatically the most effective.
Attack damage carries were particularly bland in their options, going 21/9/0 with masteries and getting an Infinity Edge and Phantom Dancer and Last Whisper in every single game because it was objectively the best thing to do in the great majority of situations. AP players were rushing a Sorcerer’s Shoes and a Rabadon’s Deathcap because they were the best in nearly 100 percent of situations. Supports always got a Philosopher’s Stone and Heart of Gold because they needed to generate money for wards. The player’s skill was still the biggest factor in determining victors but things were definitely getting boring. The monotony was thick and the game’s creators were aware of the problem.
Builds were far too stale, as the best ones for nearly every character were discovered and tested many months ago. There was also the problem of passivity, particularly in the bottom lane. Players were afraid to push out of fear of ganks from the mid-laner or jungler, which led to the game becoming a rather bland exercise in farming minions for many players rather than the PvP murderfest that people signed up for.
Riot saw all of these problems and (instead of ignoring them and go back to counting their money) they deliberately decided to disrupt the “meta” by introducing big changes that either eliminated the safest choices or provided viable alternatives. Their proposed solution was a complete overhaul of masteries and a slew of new items, and it worked surprisingly well.
New Items Galore
The new season brought a whole slew of much-wanted items. Almost all of them are useful but not overpowered. Every champion niche gets something great to play with and there is a selection of new boot upgrades. And these are on top of the Twisted Treeline items released not too long ago. If you haven’t played League of Legends in some time and you’re hoping for something new, then you’re in luck. The new items may be overwhelming to new players, but they also provide more options to cover up potential weaknesses in characters or in the player’s gameplay.
AP casters got Liandry’s Torment, which I feared would be game-breakingly strong. Any champ can get Brand’s damage-over-time passive? How can this not wreck the game, I thought? It turns out that I was exaggerating as usual and my fears were unfounded. Liandry’s is a useful item, especially on manaless AP champs like Rumble and Vladimir, but occasionally poking an enemy for a small percentage of their health doesn’t mean much when your spells are already dealing a much larger amount on their own. Except on Teemo; death to Teemo.
AD casters got a fun new toy with the Ravenous Hydra, which gives an AOE attack as well as splash damage for auto-attacks, all of which procs lifesteal. Ranged AD characters get a similar item in Runaan’s Hurricane as well as the area-attack item Statikk Shiv to make up for the removed Ionic Spark (which was really only useful on Shen). This gave AD champions more opportunities to deal out AOE damage regardless of their innate abilities. Then there’s the infamous Black Cleaver.
It took about a week for players to discover that the reworked Black Cleaver was hilariously overpowered. It rendered enemy defenses worthless. Stacking Black Cleavers meant effectively dealing true damage with AD characters; for a short time Talon became top tier as he could demolish enemies in literally an instant. Fortunately, Riot noticed that every game was becoming a ridiculous race to get the most Black Cleavers, and they nerfed its numbers and made its armor-shredding ability unique so that stacking them had a significantly reduced effect.
I was pleased to see the love for supports. Many of the new items are designed to give supports more options than Shurelya’s Reverie/Aegis of the Legion. Mikael’s Crucible (mana regeneration plus an active heal/debuff remover), Twin Shadows (summons two ghosts to scout out nearby enemies), Banner of Command (replacing Promote), Runic Bulwark (magic resitance upgrade to Aegis of the Legion), a refillable health flask, and two ward-generating items? It has never been a better time to be a support. The only new support item that isn’t very good is Ohmwrecker (an anti-turret item) which is too underpowered, but it’s an interesting idea that could be easily reworked into something viable, and it’ll probably start seeing more use if it ever shows up in a tournament.
Supports have it good now. I love it. After two years of being regarded as pathetic but necessary hangers-on, now it’s the night of a thousand Sonas and I couldn’t be happier.
The boot upgrades are all too expensive to buy early game, but they still provide interesting utility. Lower the cooldowns of flash/ghost/teleport, instant health/mana restoration at base plus an 8-second move speed boost, a movement boost when striking enemies (perfect for assassins or AD carries), or the most fascinating of the bunch, the Captain bonus, which gives bonus movement speed to allies walking towards you and a flat bonus to minions besides. A great tool for tanks or other initiations, especially on ARAM or Dominion where you’ll be bunched up all the time anyway.
There’s a downside, though. The increase in every champ’s base movement speed combined with a nerf to the stats of basic boots means that you are no longer obligated to start games with boots plus three health potions. The downside to everyone moving faster in the early levels is that ganking is much harder now. I can’t even gank well post-6 as jungle Skarner, which used to be easier than a Super PAC buying votes. Maybe that’s just my lack of skill presenting itself, as I wasn’t good at the jungle even in Seasons 1 and 2.
The three “Spirit of the…” items for junglers are absolutely fantastic, though. Yes, you’ll be getting Ancient Golem the huge majority of the time, but it’s great that they threw junglers a bone when they didn’t have to. Junglers also get good mileage out of Sightstone, the ward-generating item. And with the new tougher jungle, old sustain-heavy junglers like Warwick and Trundle are making a comeback. I always like it when previously neglected characters get some love.
In Season 3 masteries got a total renovation, as they did in November 2011. Builds were getting far too predictable, so Riot shook things up by making changes like shifting around some of the obvious must-have choices such as lifesteal into the utility tree. To make up for the nerfs to armor (gonna get that next), the Defense part of the mastery trees is easily the best. You can put all 30 points into it and not feel a single one was wasted. It’s tantalizing how good the masteries in that tree are.
Unfortunately, armor has received a fourfold nerf: the best defensive items being removed (Force of Nature) or weakened (Randuin’s Omen, Frozen Heart, Warmog’s Armor); armor becoming more expensive overall; bruisers getting an amazingly strong new armor penetration item (the aforementioned Black Cleaver); and the math for armor penetration being reworked to make it slightly better. This was probably Riot’s way of making the game less passive in their minds, but in my experience, it did little but make it easier than ever to die when playing a tank. If you’re as unskilled as I am, you’ll spend a lot of time dead.
The new Offense section of the masteries is underwhelming. Everything is equal or weaker compared to Season 2’s masteries of the same sort. The only interesting new thing about it is the addition of a mastery that adds a percentage of the user’s AP to their auto-attacks, but that one is pretty underpowered for how deep in the tree it is.
Utility and Defense get all the fun stuff. CC reduction, regeneration, spell vamp and lifesteal, starting with decent items. I’m fine with all that, but doesn’t it go against Riot’s goal of making the game less passive by encouraging players to get into combat more frequently?
It’s not a completely different game now, but it is a slightly more complex and interesting one. Builds are much less static and item choices are much more diverse, though not to the ridiculous extent of something like DOTA2. You have to actually choose what item you need for the current situation rather than going through the same motions when pressing P.
I love having all the new options but I must say that I miss Force of Nature. Singed without that blue armor is like Queen without Freddie Mercury. After teamfights I used to be able to run around a bit to recover, but now his health regeneration is simply too low when he doesn’t have his ultimate up. There is no longer a decent magic resistance item unless you count Runic Bulwark. This combined with the Liandry’s Torment means Singed isn’t what he used to be. He does make good use of it himself, especially when combined with Rylai’s Crystal Scepter, but it’s still better to build tanky so he doesn’t die quickly. Maybe they could make Spirit Visage build into a stronger magic resistance item?
However, there is one other unimaginable horror to be found with the cool new stuff. Teemo, the irritating hamster mascot of the game, didn’t just get more options but a bunch of free win items. Teemo has become more annoying than ever, and that’s akin to hating Jews so much that Mel Gibson tells you to dial it back a bit. He benefits from everything: AD, AP, attack speed, movement speed, on-hit effects. You can build just about anything and be crazy strong with him, especially on Twisted Treeline, Dominion, and Proving Grounds, where enemies tend to bunch up and wards aren’t available.
Teemo’s stupid poison darts proc all of the new on-hit items for auto-attacks as well as spells (as far as I know), so Liandry’s Torment or Runaan’s Hurricane can just slaughter enemies, and he’s still fantastic with items like Frozen Mallet and Wit’s End. It’s absolutely no fun playing against this obnoxious little turd, and “delete Teemo from the game” has become a meme amongst people sick of that stupid rat. Riot will never remake him because all of his abilities are so iconic, so we’re probably stuck with his irritation forever. Protip: ban Teemo if you’re not playing Summoner’s Rift.
Riot should be commended for stepping outside of their comfort zone and instituting changes to intentionally shake things up. They could have easily rested on their laurels and been yet another lazy game company that does nothing new because it’s easier and usually more profitable, but they had courage. If they didn’t handle the Season 3 changes properly, they could have completely ruined things and made armies of players flee the game like a non-World of Warcraft MMO a month after it launches, and I would have been first in line to point and laugh. But Riot revamped the game and saw good results.
There were a few missteps such as a couple underpowered or overpowered items as well as the removal of my beloved Force of Nature, but overall I am pleased with these changes. Riot has done some stupid things in the past, but I’m impressed with Season 3. Let’s hope that there aren’t any more Black Cleaver situations, that all of the quitters and jerks will be banned by tribunal, and Teemo will be devoured by Warwick.