I am relatively new to the game, the first time I ever saw a game played was the 2012 World Championship between TPA and Azubu Frost. I had no idea what was going on, but I was there because of the CSL. Some of my fellow admins were trying to explain what was happening but I didn't understand much. It wasn't until February that I really started playing the game actively. I have watched some of the World Championships this year and one thing that struck me was that I would see the same champions played over and over and over and over again. I would rate myself a casual fan of the game, and I thought to myself that seeing the same pool of champions played continuously was pretty boring. This isn't meant to be a negative post mind you, but I want to address the issue of diversity in champions and take a look at why so few champions are being played, what this says about the game, and think of some solutions.
Again, I'll be using data from 2013 LCS World's, taken from Leaguepedia as well as my own personal compilation of statistics I made from the 2012 World's.
Examining 2013 World's
According to Leaguepedia, a total of 66 games were played at World's this year [an important side note, especially as I've seen a lot of complaints about the format and games on Reddit: this is more than double the amount of games (31) played at 2012 World's] and 69 total champions. That's 60% of the 115 total champions. However, if we exclude some of the 'troll' picks that happened in some of the later group stage games when teams had already been eliminated from contention, we whittle the pool down to roughly 55, or about 48% of total champions. Note that this is slightly subjective; I'll include the list of champions I thought were 'troll picks' at the end of the article. For all intents and purposes though, we can conclude that about 50% of the champions available were played.
Whether you think this is a good or bad thing depends largely on your perspective, whether you view the glass half full or half empty. Taking a slightly deeper look however reveals something that I consider to be problematic.
Looking at the percentage a champion was picked or banned shows us that while 55 champions were played at World's this year, a much much smaller number were seen repeatedly. only 23 champions were picked or banned at least 25% of the time, with Zed topping the list with a 100% pick/ban rate. The other 33 champions were picked about 10% of the time or less.
In total there were 660 picks at World's, the 23 champions comprised almost 75% of all picks, meaning 3/4 of the time we saw the same champions getting played, or not if you like Zed, he was literally banned 55 times. The conclusion I draw from this is that in the current state of the game, there are roughly 20-25 champions that are "viable" in competitive play, viable enough that is, for them to be played on the biggest stage. While it may be fun to see Anivia top or Yorick or Poppy, they're simply not good enough to be played with millions of dollars on the line.
To me, this represents a problem. If the game continues this way, the spectating experience will become stale. Adding new champions to the game won't matter if competitive play stagnates around the same 20-25 champions.
Before looking at why I think this is the case, let me briefly compare numbers to 2012.
Examining 2012 World's
The first note is that this year there are 115 available champions. Last year there were just 104 champions from which to choose (I didn't include Kha'Zix who was released just a week before the championship, so I'm assuming he was unavailable for competitive play at the time). In 2012, there were 54 total champions played at World's, or about 52% of the total champions. Because of the nature of the tournament, with just a round robin group stage and simple bracket, I postulate that there weren't any 'troll' picks similar to this year, because fewer games inherently means each one is valued more highly, decreasing the likelihood of a team intentionally using strange champions for the sake of fun.
The overall percentage is roughly the same, 52% last year vs 50% this year. Last year's sample size is smaller however, so just take that into consideration. The Zed of last year was definitely Ezreal, who was picked in 77% of all games (I didn't calculate bans but I'm sure he's close to the 100% rate of Zed). This year we saw 23 champions with at least a 25% pick/ban rate, last year there were only 13.
At first when I was looking at the champions from 2012 it seemed that the champion pool was larger, we see roughly the same trend. About half the champions are played, and a still smaller selection of champions (about 20) are "competitively viable," which I define as being played at least 20-25% of the time at World's.
If you're interested in checking out the data, look below:
+ Show Spoiler +
Let's look at champions: 2013
Based on the data from 2013 World's, we can make pretty poignant observations about the way the game is played today. While most people may think these points are common knowledge, I find it interesting to examine. After comparing the type of champions played this year and last year, I'll briefly think about what this means for next year's LCS as well as the game as a whole. Personally, I don't think it's good that 75% of the champions made aren't viable competitively!
In the mid lane.... assassins
Zed, Fizz, Kassadin, Ahri were played almost every game in mid. 56 of 69 actually. All these champions have similar characteristics: they can dash in, deal an incredible amount of burst damage, and dash out of a fight. They're relatively squishy, but each has enough mobility to combat it, with Fizz's E (making him briefly untargetable) possibly being the strongest.
The reason I believe these assassin types have dominated the game this year is because this year's crop of players are far superior mechanically. This highlights a general trend of a growing game, and can be similarly found in the development of Brood War. As players got stronger mechanically, they began to take more bases and multi-task more effectively. This is the League of Legends equivalent, the mid trend exemplifies the evolving nature of the game that rewards players who are able to execute many different moves quickly.
In the jungle.... the mighty jungle
Elise, Jarvan, Vi, Zac, Lee Sin were picked a total of 97 times. Again, all these junglers share the same basic characteristic that is also the same as the mid assassins previously mentioned. Each of the junglers has a "dash in," or gap closer. Zac has his jump, Elise has her E, Jarvan his spear, and Lee Sin does his dive thing. This quality is especially important to have for a jungle, as it makes ganking more powerful. The second characteristic they share is a sort of knock up/stun.
All of these junglers dart into a battle (or as a gank), stun their opponent, do damage, and dart back into the jungle. This is also why I believe the assassin mid laners are so popular this year, because mid lane has the easiest access to the rest of the map and allows an effective mid laner the ability to gank other lanes. One can do this much more effectively with a gap closer like Zed's W than on Malzahar or Karthus for example.
Thinking about a marksmen (or ADC)
Corki, Caitlyn, Ezreal, Vayne were picked a total of 91 times. The characteristic that these adc's have that are also shared by both the junglers and mid laners are their gap closers. Caitlyn and Corki can essentially rocket themselves, and Ezreal and Vayne have flashes. The notable exception here is Varus, who was picked 17 times despite not having any gap closer or escape. I believe this is because of his powerful ult, which is a single/multi target stun.
Without being repetitive, I believe this highlights a very clear pattern in how the game is currently being played.
Are top lanes the same? Yep
Shen, Aatrox, Renekton, Jax (I'm aware that Aatrox can be played in both jungle and top lane). Add in Kennen top as well. Again all of these characters have gap closers. Shen is especially deadly at this level of play because of his global ult. This allows him to always be a part of the team even when he is physically in another location. His strength lies in the versatility this brings, as well as his ability to shield an ally with his ult.
In addition, Aatrox, Renekton, and Jax are all very powerful duelists. If they are left to free farm in their lane or get fed early, they become almost impossible to shut down. Top in my opinion, seems to be a snowball lane; with champions that command attention lest they snowball and become unkillable. These champions in particular, perhaps even more so than the mid assassins because the top champions are also tanks and can initiate fights.
The lonely supports. If you can't grab or stun, gtfo
Zyra, Sona, or Thresh... or Leona. Basically the support's role is to stun enemies, or grab ahold of them. The role of support however, hasn't changed since last year. I believe this is the primary reason the community has been so vocal about the role of support over the past few months.
While every other role has had a noticeable shift in 'what's viable,' the support role has been the same for the past two years. This, to me, says stagnancy is bad. This is also why I believe the current state of the game is potentially problematic. Before going into that, I briefly want to examine the champions played in 2012.
Let's look at champions: 2012
In the mid lane...
Karthus, Oriana, and Anivia were particularly dominant in the mid lane last year. We also saw champions such as Morgana and Cassiopia get playing time. The very clear trend was: burst damage, and slows/stuns. The mid lane was not mobile, but packed a punch. Their utility came in the fact that they were AP carry's: they would stand back in a fight, deal a ton of burst damage, and have AoE stuns or slows that were highly effective both in team fights and in lane.
Variety in the jungle... I like it
Last year, Nunu was definitely king of the jungle. Maokai was also highly popular in the jungle. Despite the fact that Nunu and Maokai were really popular, we saw a lot more jungle variety last year: Skarner, Shyvana, Udyr, Malphite, Xin Zhao, Evelyn, Amumu, Nocturne all got playing time. There weren't as many "go to" junglers. It should be noted that neither Zac, Elise, or Vi existed last year!
Either Riot, or the players themselves, hadn't quite figured out the jungle role in 2012. In this sense, we can look at this year as the defining of the jungle playstyle.
Ezreal, Corki, and Kog Maw represented the holy trinity of ADC's. Graves also got a lot of playing time last year. I've already discussed Ezreal and Corki; but Kog Maw and Graves both have very different play styles. Interestingly Vayne wasn't played very much last year.
Top laners; oh it's just Shen
Shen was once again an incredibly popular pick. He's way too useful to not be picked. Jayce, Vladimir, and Irelia were also very popular picks in the top lane. Vladimir did see some play this year, but not nearly as much as last year. Also my boy Mundo was picked more than a few times, but his pick seems to be more of a specialized style choice than anything else.
Supports haven't changed, they've only gotten more efficient
The general idea of supports were the same (note: Thresh wasn't around last year). Sona was the queen and was picked over 50% of the time. Also very popular were Taric, Leona, Blitzcrank, and Zyra. For some reason, Taric fell out of favor in 2013, and Blitzcrank was replaced by Thresh. Again - the problem here is the support role and champions have essentially remained the same.
Where'd That Champ Go?
I want to interrupt this pseudo seriosu article to play a little game: where he go? If you're a fan of the NBA, you've likely seen this mini show on Inside the NBA called Who he play for. It's hilarious.
This is just a series of shoutouts and random thoughts about champions that were here yesterday and are gone today. This may be a stupid section because last year I didn't play the game and there may be some obvious answers I just don't know.
Maokai : Literally played in 50% of every game at 2012 World's and not only was he not picked or banned once this year, I don't think he appeared in all of the LCS. What happened?
Irelia : I never really understood Irelia, Riven, and Fiora. They seem like the same champion to me (kind of how Katy Perry, Pink, and Miley Cyrus all sound the same to me). They also seem to fit the mold of today's trend in that they're "dash-y" champions, except I guess they aren't beefy enough for top lane. Either way, what happened to Irelia?
Anivia and Graves : A pretty popular mid laner and pretty popular adc in 2012 that couldn't even get a single pick or ban this year.
Jayce : Jayce was an incredibly popular and powerful champion in 2012. Aside from one troll pick, he was nonexistent this year. Actually in general, "poke" compositions seem to be out of favor, which I believe is why champions like Lux, Jayce, and Nidalee aren't popular anymore. This brings up the question: why did poke compositions fall out of favor and mobility compositions become so wildly popular. I believe the answer lies in mechanics, but this is very open to debate.
The problem with stale gameplay
There has been a very clear shift in the way the game is played from 2012 to 2013. This shift is reflected in the choice of champions: players today favor highly mobile champions that can do tremendous burst damage. Supports are still supports. My primary belief is that the increasing mechanical ability of players lends itself to playing increasingly mobile champions. The problem lies in the fact that I don't believe this trend will change unless there are changes to the game design overall.
Why would a team siege a turret when 3 of the champions can dive in, score a kill, and dive back out before the turret does fatal damage? Why would anyone play a slow mid laner when they can play one who can more easily gank other lanes. Why would one play a jungler who slowly lumbers from the bush to a lane for a gank when you can dive in quicker than the opponent can react? These are very important questions because it highlights the superiority of the small group of champions currently being played.
There are dozens of amazing champions, but they are just not as useful as "the select few." So what's the problem?
Variety helps build and maintain interest. To put it more practically: there are viewers who may be turned off from watching competitive matches in which their favorite champions are never played. I love playing Viktor and in two years I haven't seen him play in a competitive match. Or let's say I love Viktor, Poppy, Talon, LeBlanc, and Galio. In two years of World's these five champions have never once been picked or banned.
This year in the finals we saw a situation in which, Jarvan and Lee Sin were swapped by the teams, SKT picked him one game, then Royal picked him the next. This is boring. It takes the fun out of the champion selection process because it kills the excitement and anticipation. "I wonder what champion they're going to use" becomes "I wonder which team will pick J4 this game." Jarvan, Sona, and Jax were played in every single finals game. Aside from the fact that the games were one sided, we saw the same one sided game happen 3 times.
What are some counter arguments and why are they wrong
- On the biggest stage you only want to play your best champion, and pro players can only reasonably master a small number of champions which leads to a small pool being used in the finals. This is true! However, part of the fun is in preparing for a match. How well a team can adapt to an unfavorable situation is much more exciting for viewers and speaks more about the true value of the team. If for example, a team was forced to improvise or play without their top champions it would create more uncertainty and lead to more exciting result. I'm NOT advocating for randomness in these matches, my possible solutions will come later.
- It's really hard to balance the game and the fact that they even have 50 different champions seeing playing time is pretty impressive! Again this is true, but I argue that Riot's goal should always be to increase the number. For the last two years it has hovered around 50% of champions. Think about it from a business perspective: Riot has an interest in having the greatest number of champions played at the World Finals as possible because that way they can attract fans who play the greatest number of champions. There are many different levels of fan, and some may only be interested in watching competitive matches in which his/her champion are played. If half the champions never see the light of day at World's, then Riot is essentially losing out on a large number of potential viewers.
TL;DR of issues
- The small variety of champions almost all have the same basic gameplay elements. This makes the games play out the same way, causing redundancy that shouldn't exist in a game that has so many different heroes and team compositions.
- The small amount of diversity creates a stale viewing experience
- Potential viewers (customers) are not able to get as much enjoyment because half the champions are not being played
How can these issues be fixed?
Increase the number of bans
The first possible solution is simple: increase the number of bans to 5-6. Increasing the number of bans will force players to expand their champion pool. Currently there are a finite number of "dash" type champions that dominate competitive play. Increasing the number of bans will create a situation where a team will have to experiment with different team compositions. Furthermore, an additional bonus to increasing the number of bans to 5 is that a team can then opt to ban an entire team composition. This adds another layer of intrigue to the pick/ban stage.
If bans are made for entire team compositions rather than individual champions (I.E. Annie is banned against Royal because their Annie support is incredibly difficult) it will not only make players expand their champion pool, but entire teams will have to come to a tournament with multiple different play styles and game plans.
Create a "competitive pool"
Each year, or each split, Riot can create an overall pool of champions available for competitive play. This way every year or split or however, the pool will be different (much like the free champion rotation) and viewers will always be treated to some variety in competitive matches. This also will force players to learn different champions based on the pool, rather than sticking with a smaller handful of champions they are most comfortable with and using them in every situation.
As long as Riot picks the pool carefully in order to keep it balanced, and the pool is standardized across regions so every region plays with the same pool, this could alleviate the issues.
Buff less mobile champions
This is a much more difficult change because it involves actual game play. Current competitive play shows that high mobile champions who have dashes/gap closers/escapes are undoubtedly stronger than champions without the mobility advantage. If less mobile champions are buffed to make them viable in different ways so that picking a mobile champion isn't always a no brainer, the problem can be alleviated.
Unfortunately, my precise knowledge about League of Legends and game design are not sufficient enough to offer more detailed advice here. I will think out loud for a moment.
Thought experiment: Viktor vs Kassadin
Kassadin is great, he's an assassin. Let's say I'm doing well in my lane and I decide to gank top. Let's assume the opposing top lane doesn't have an escape (i.e. someone like Cho Gath or Sion). I can walk up top, hide in the bush, rift walk to Sion, use my Q W E, ignite. At this point Sion is running to his tower. I rift walk again under the tower, Q W E and Sion is dead. I rift walk a 3rd time out of tower range and TP back home.
The key here is the 2nd volley. If I don't kill him with my first combo, I can safely get a 2nd combo and still escape.
Now let's think about Viktor: same situation, I'm reasonably fed and doing well in lane and want to gank top. I walk up top, hide in the bush, drop my W and hopefully stun him. I throw my ult down right after my W, then Q, then E. After the stun Sion starts running to his tower. From there, maybe I flash in for another combo but then the tower kills me.
I can get the kill in this situation, but only if I sacrifice flash and my own life. Kassadin does neither, gets the kill, and lives.
As Viktor in this case, I need to be way more fed than the opposing player and kill him with my first volley. This is more or less possible depending on the specific champion (I.E. maybe Malzahar has more kill potential than Viktor because of his suppress ult), but the point is the same. Without the gap closer, I don't have as much kill potential in a 1v1 or any situation unless it's a team fight and I'm very protected.
Thought experiment: Resolving Kassadin vs Viktor
This is a tricky situation. One possible solution is to buff all Viktor's spells. For example, make his W stun more quickly and make the stun last longer. Reduce the cooldowns so I can get 2 combos off before a champ has a chance to run out of my range. Or edit the W so that if you successfully stun the target it decreases the cooldown substantially so you have the potential of double stunning, essentially forcing them to use an escape spell or Flash to get out.
This is really tricky because buffing Viktor's spells may make him way too powerful in lane and allow him to snowball much more quickly (if you're super fed/snowballed it doesn't matter if you have escapes, gank slowly, or not... you'll get kills easily).
Or maybe make the base move speed of mage casters higher, which will make them more mobile when they get boots, or add some sort of move speed multiplier for boots rather than just a flat rate so that mages get extra speed for getting boots. This helps them escape and also allows them to gank more successfully without having them play exactly as assassins.
Where do we go from here
2012 World's set records for concurrent online viewership of a video gaming tournament. 2013 World's set records for largest single event attendance in North America; Riot rented out the Staples Center which officially put video game players on the same floor as professional athletes. These are all amazing things.
No empire however, is resistant to collapse. I'm not arguing that this problem is significant enough to destroy the game, but I do believe it represents a potentially troubling trend. Two years in a row with a 50% usage rate of champions, and this year game play is becoming even more standardized.
I've outlined three possible ideas for what Riot can do to alleviate and solve the issues (in my opinion!), and I'm sure there are others. Personally, I think League of Legends is an amazingly deep and complex game and I happen to love playing it. Even if the problems aren't solved I hope that people can at least think about them and try to find new creative ways to keep the games and most importantly... the viewing experience as new and exciting as possible.
Thanks for reading!