Darius has been a dominating solo queue pick, but can he work in pro?
League of Legends' top lane champion pool in professional matches has been shrinking as players stick to the traditional picks of Gnar, Sion and more. While these picks usually scale into the late-game well and function as the team's beefy front-line, many bruisers don't get the spotlight even when they are good in the current meta. Therefore, when played into the right composition, many champions like Darius could be very dangerous for the opponents.
Any LoL player will have had the experience of playing against a fed Darius who obliterates your team. The Noxian fighter has seen a ton of bans and insta-locks on the ranked ladder. As such, many players are very afraid of this champion. In addition, with the Season 11 item overhaul, Mythic items like Stridebreaker make it easier for Darius to close the gap on enemies and secure kills.
Darius has been a sleeper pick until now, as many regions haven’t discovered the strengths he can have in pro in a melee or tank match-up. However, Schalke 04’s BrokenBlade showed how strong the pick and be against G2 Esports. Here, he pulled it out and devastated Wunder's Sion pick in multiple games.
What makes Darius so good?
While he's known for being a low-ELO stomper, Darius can have a good time in higher echelons of play too. Specifically, Darius becomes a force to be reckoned with when played into enemy team compositions with very little CC and poke damage. When he completes his core items, he can take on multiple enemy members and manage to win bad, outnumbered fights.
Darius has the potential to be a great counter pick in the current meta because top laners usually opt for tanky melee champions. His passive acts as a great tool to punish tanks and can help players damage the enemy frontline heavily before the team fight starts. His laning phase is strong, which gives top side priority to Darius' team and easy Rift Heralds if played around correctly.
Having top-side priority and a fed Darius is recipe for disaster for enemy teams. The champion is comfortable split pushing with a lead and can force enemy carries to answer to him on a side lane. If they do, Darius’ team can secure other objectives on the map while he draws attention. If the enemy team ignores Darius, it can be disastrous. He'll knock their Inhibitor down and grow his lead more with all the gold he gained from split pushing in his pocket. Even if they do respond to him, Darius is always a champion that has the potential to win 1v2s and even 1v3s.
He also benefitted from the item changes this season. First and foremost, Stridebreaker gives Darius a dash to get onto enemies easier. Which is something Darius has always had problems with. Plus, options like Sterak's Gauge, Deadman's Plate and Force of Nature all give Darius stats he loves.
LEC 2021: Broken Blade's Darius vs G2 Esports
— LoL Esports (@lolesports) March 27, 2021
In the first round of the LEC playoffs, G2 Esports was up one game on Schalke 04. But during the second match's draft, S04 picked up Darius for Broken Blade out of nowhere. The Hand of Noxus quickly justified his presence by dominating all of the matches in the series, even getting a Pentakill in one of the games. Interestingly, the top laner’s summoner spells included Teleport and Flash. Many popular solo queue builds usually have the addition of Ghost and Flash to further close the gap on enemies. Although this choice makes sense, as Teleport is a very important spell to have in pro play. Especially if you are split pusher like Darius.
Playing into G2 Wunder’s Sion pick, it was expected that Darius would have lane priority. And he certainly did. He gained a massive tempo advantage from the lane and set it up for very easy ganks and tower dives. Moreover, he helped his team secure top lane objectives when all Sion could do was farm under tower. While the Sion was farming, BrokenBlade looked to make plays outside of his lane.
This was critical, as he escalated his gold lead even further and aided the team’s fights in the process. It showed that if Broken Blade's Darius was not focused and burst out in team fights, he can single-handedly take down multiple opponents with the help of his Noxian Guillotine. Furthermore, Wunder’s Sion pick was completely nullified by the Darius pick. In almost every team fight, Broken Blade used him to stack up his passive. Then, he got access to the backline and was able to dish out huge damage. G2 Esports, with their main tank set so far behind, fell victim to many team fight losses. Of course, this put them at a significant disadvantage when the matches moved into the late-game.
Broken Blade's thoughts on Darius
In an interview with Ashley Kang of Korizon Esports, Broken Blade, when asked about his Darius performance, said, "You know I actually hate this champion. I hate it with all my heart. Not to play it, but to play against it. In solo queue, I just get solo killed and it doesn't matter if the player who is playing him is Bronze 5. I like to ban it as well, as he is very annoying." This further showcases the menace that Darius has been in solo queue. And his potency in higher ELO as well.
Regardless of his feelings toward the champion, the Darius pick was a major reason Schalke 04 was able to keep G2 on the ropes for so long. In fact, G2 Esports had to ban Darius to stop the champion's influence in the last game of the series and ended up winning it 3-2.
Best situations for Darius in pro
Darius pairs well with aggressive, early-game junglers. He also loves crowd control on his team, as it makes it easier for him to stack his passive. Therefore, jungle champions like Udyr, Olaf and Hecarim are excellent pairings for him. They can all gank for Darius in the early game and secure the kills need to snowball him. The junglers have decent CC in their kits too, which makes it easier for Darius to fit into different team compositions.
Darius has many great, or at least decent, matchups in the top lane. First of all, there are tanks like Ornn, Sion, and Malphite. These are the dream matchups for Darius. These types of champions are easy for Darius to bully early on. They don't have many sustain tools or enough damage to trade back. If Darius Apprehends them, he can get off a lot of damage and either force the opponent to base or die. Because of this, into these types of lanes, Darius has real potential to shine, especially in pro play.
Next up, there are bruisers like Sett and Renekton. Depending on the champion, they have enough sustain and mobility in their kit to kite out Darius. These types of matchups are largely skill-based though. So, jungle intervention can be truly game-changing. Darius can roll other bruisers if he has a lead. But he can be put in the dirt if he doesn't have support. As a result, teams have to have a strong, top-lane-focused strategy when picking Darius into this type of lane.
Risks with picking Darius
Though he loves playing with early game junglers, he is very susceptible to early game pressure. Usually, Darius wants to push lane and pressure the enemy's tower. Many early game junglers can punish his aggressive laning phase and set him behind. If they do, Darius quickly falls off in relative power to other picks. However, they still do have to be careful around him, as rushing at a Darius can give him a winnable 1v2 opportunity.
It's important to keep the overall team composition in mind too when considering drafting Darius. He offers little CC, but a lot of damage. So, having engage-oriented supports and mid laners with some sort of CC is optimal. This allows the team to team fight effectively, seeing as Darius needs setup to navigate 5v5s effectively. As mentioned before, it's very important to get a lead for Darius, so having a jungler that can play around top side is just as crucial.
Last, but certainly not least, there are ranged top laners like Quinn and Jayce who see pro play from time to time. They're often exclusively counter picks to certain melee top laners, as they love to poke opponents down. Seeing as in pro play, Darius would likely choose Teleport over Ghost, these matchups would be near unwinnable for him. Champions like this have abilities in their kit that allow them to outspace and take good trades with Darius. Teams have to be careful about when they draft Darius, because picking him into one of these matchups could make him more of a liability than anything.
Will Darius have a place in the competitive meta?
Darius surely has the potential to dominate the top lane meta. But as mentioned above, higher ELO players know how to adequately deal with this champion. Despite being a nuisance, if the champion is shut down in the early game, he has very little to contribute in the late game. Especially against teams with high CC and/or burst. These types of compositions have all the tools in the world to shut him down at every stage of the game.
But, as showcased by S04 BrokenBlade, he has the potential to be good in some circumstances. Specifically, he should be picked as a counter to enemy tanks. His powerful laning phase makes it difficult for even the best players in the world to farm and scale.
The strengths of Darius make him a seemingly strong counter-pick option. In the same vein, he should only be considered as a counter pick, because of the potential of dreadful matchups. Darius is never an insta-lock champion. However, if players have mastered him, then they can take opponents by surprise. Therefore, he could potentially rise as an underdog champion who comes as a surprise fourth or fifth pick in competitive matches. But all in all, there has to be clear intent for drafting Darius and certain conditions in both team compositions met.
So far, no other major region team has picked up on him besides S04. But with the Mid-Season Invitational coming up soon, that could change. Some underdog teams might want to surprise their opponents, and a Darius pick would be a great way to do so. For now though, it seems like Darius' potential will be confined to solo queue.