Anthony Borrelli
Anthony Borrelli
Anthony has a master’s degree in Linguistics where he has experience analyzing and determining the most effective strategies to communicate ideas to groups of people. He has been an avid League of Legends Esports fan for the last 7 years, primarily following the LCS and LEC. Anthony enjoys debating League of Legends strategy and playing Teemo.

The Woeful State Of Drafting In League Of Legends Esports

League of Legends champions Braum, Warwick, Yasuo, Darius and Jinx stand ready for battle on a misty battlefield
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A meta analysis of competitive drafts in League of Legends shows how teams are failing in their choice of compositions and ability to punish their opponents.


Through the first half of the competitive spring split for League of Legends esports teams, many picks have become popular picks and bans in the draft phase. Champions like Gnar, Nidalee, Syndra, Kai’sa, and Rell are all champions that have some of the highest pick or ban rates. However, not all these champions are at the top of their tier. Many have specific punishable counters that go all too commonly unpunished in favor of the opposing team’s unwillingness, uncertainty, or lack of knowledge how to counter certain matchups. Even when picking counters, the player piloting the champion may not have the knowledge of how they can win the matchup.

For example, Gnar has very common pick or ban rates in the current meta. For patch 11.3 in competitive play across the top regions (LPL, LCK, NA, LCS, and LEC), he has been picked 43 times, banned 51 times, and has a 48.8%-win rate. While this win rate is not awful, the 72.3% of overall presence in the drafting phase seems unnecessary. The champion is not performing above average.

Teams pick Gnar primarily for the reason LS outlined in one of his recent casting of LCK games. “He makes top laners feel relevant because ranged champions can be oppressive early game and makes them think this early advantage is relevant”. While Gnar can oppress his early game to specific champions, he has a tough time converting early leads into anything meaningful for his team long-term.

League of Legends champion Gnar splash art, showing the furry creature on the ground with his hands around a small bit of light

 

What does Gnar do?

Gnar’s kit is also very deceptive. He is a harassing, poke-heavy top-lane champion who also provides tank stats and utility to team fights. Honestly, this may seem amazing in theory. But the unreliability of building up the rage bar is where the champion falls short. LS talked about this as well in comparison to a champion like Shyvana. If, like Shyvanna, Gnar could control when he went Mega and team fight then this would be a completely different story. Controlling when the champion wants to go in rather than being forced to go into this form really holds him back and makes him incredibly unreliable.

Champions like Rumble can control when his abilities will do more damage and has control over the underlying changes in his kit. Something like this would make Gnar a much more advantageous pick. Instead, Gnar has to stop auto-attacking or using any abilities to make his rage bar go down, which cannot always happen due to the champion needing to kill minions through auto attacks and abilities, limiting this champion even further.

This outlines the reason Gnar is not as viable or rewarding as players may think. Often, this is due to the players' inability of choosing when Gnar goes Mega or stays Mini. This unreliability of his Mega-Gnar form and having it available for the proper moment (I.e., team fights) limits the timing when teams can go in. Ultimately, this makes it extremely high variance.

How does Gnar compare to other champions?

Compared to his counterparts, Gnar does not have enough defensive stats in Mini form to offer much assistance when opponents wisely wait out his Mega form for team fights. His poke damage from his Q ability can be potent in the laning phase. But it really doesn't shine as much in team fights. When he does have Mega form in team fights, he has very telegraphed and easy to read engages. It's obvious Gnar is looking to pick a fight around his transformation to Mega every time. For team fights, the potency champions like Malphite, Wukong, Cho’Gath, Camille, and Irelia all create better opportunities for your teammates to follow up and are less predictable by finding different angles and opportunities for the team to engage.

If Gnar is not looking to team fight and instead wants to split push in the mid to late game, he does not do this more effectively than other champions such as Camille, Cho’Gath, Irelia, or Jax. These champions all scale better into the mid and late game. More importantly, they don't fall off the longer the game goes as Gnar does. While Gnar can disengage with his jump or stun and use his ultimate ability in his mega form, these other champions output more damage. They also can often 1v2 fights, requiring the enemy team to send more champions to stop them from split pushing. This ultimately gives their team more map pressure by split pushing.

Since other champions can out team fight Gnar due to not having the limitations of his forms, and can split push more efficiently, the purpose of picking Gnar on the basis that he can sometimes be oppressive early game is not enough to snowball a lead in most cases. Other champions snowball harder, can be more oppressive and most importantly get stronger rather than weaker as the game gets longer.

How should the draft address this issue?

A screenshot from the LCK broadcast showing the drafts of Gen.G vs Afreeca for Game Three with a Gen.G player in the middle of the screen.

While Gnar remains around the 50%-win rate mark, he is mostly going unpunished for this playstyle. Teams either don't picking counter matchups into him. Players shake hands and agree to farm rather than playing aggressive in-game. Or, assistance is given by the jungler to Gnar causing the enemy top laner to play passive or be under threat of dying.

However, when the opponent counters Gnar and understands the matchup and how to exploit him, the vulnerability clearly shows in a dramatic way. A great example of this happens in Game 3 of the LCK match between Generation Gaming and Afreeca Freecs. Here, Kim “Rascal” Kwang-hee of Generation Gaming on Gnar got heavily punished by Afreeca Freecs Kim “Kiin” Gi-in on Irelia. Kiin killed Gnar twice level two at only three minutes into the game. Now, this did not result in a win for Afreeca Freecs in the end. However, it showed the potential of a heavy counter matchup for this champion.

Other champions like Nidalee, Skarner and Renekton all have similar issues. They have telegraphed playstyles or are not as good of picks that pro teams think. They're easily punished by players who know how to exploit the champions instead of agreeing to not attack the others.

How do other champions suffer similar problems?

Nidalee used to have a faster jungle clear than other champions. But after many nerfs, she doesn't have the same clear speed as other top picks such as Udyr, Skarner, Nunu and Olaf. She offers minimal utility compared to other junglers such as Lillia, Fiddlesticks, Sejuani or Kindred. And she lacks the burst damage and backline disruption compared to Evelynn or Fiddlesticks. While Nidalee can scale terrain, has a relatively fast clear speed, and can offer a sub-par heal, there is nothing she can offer her team that other junglers can already do better. Indeed, she can get a lead and snowball herself to early advantages. But this does not produce substantial leads for the rest of her team. As the game goes longer, she becomes less of a threat and teams can take advantage of her.

Countering Skarner is as simple as buying the item Quicksilver Sash, as well as by Sylas who can steal his ultimate ability which completely counters the threat of the pick by the opposing team.

Renekton offers a lot of early game damage and can provide a simple point-and-click stun that can snowball early leads. However, if teams have a lot of ranged champions and Renekton cannot reliably get on top of them without another type of engage champion on his team. He makes for an easily kiteable and vulnerable front-line champion once the dash from his E is on cooldown. If Renekton so much as fumbles his dash and cannot reach the enemy he’s targeting, all he can do is walk away. This is much easier for mobile champions like Lucian or Tristana who have dashes built into their kits. In fact, it's easier than ever for any ADC champions in general. The purchase of Galeforce gives them a free dash away to reposition.

Recent matches can identify when drafts have faltered

Another example of drafting these champions and getting punished was in the Week 4 Day 3 LCS match between Team Dignitas vs. Counter Logic Gaming. Team Dignitas chose both Renekton for Aaron “FakeGod” Lee and Nidalee for Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett.

Nidalee got a triple kill at four minutes and 30 seconds, and then a fourth kill at six minutes and 40 seconds. Renekton likewise captured his third assist at this point of the game. Renekton was also the beneficiary of first turret gold at 11 minutes and 40 seconds into the game. Nidalee would find one more assist as well, giving huge advantages to these two champions. 12 minutes into the game, Nidalee had 5,300 gold and Renekton had 5,000 gold. In comparison, their opponents Olaf had 4,000 gold and Kled had 3,400 gold at this time. Technically this should've rendered them useless for much of this game.

A screenshot from an LCS broadcast showing an ongoing game of League of Legends between Dignitas and CLG, with a graph shown showing the amount of gold earned by each champion on the left

As the game progressed through the next 24 minutes, Nidalee would finish only getting one more kill, three more assists, and dying twice. Renekton would get one kill, three more assists, and dying three times. Not the stats that would bolster their team to victory in comparison to Kled and Olaf. Kled was set decently far back with zero kills, two deaths, and zero assists at this point However, he would take the next 24 minutes to achieve two kills, only one additional death and 10 assists. Olaf had positive stats as well as he was only one kill and one death at 12 minutes. He would go on to finish the game with three more kills, six assists and only dying once.

This happened due to Kled’s reliable mid to late game engages with his ultimate ability. Alongside Olaf running through any crowd control and destroying Team Dignitas’ backline with his ultimate ability. This allows their team's other champions to output more damage than Team Dignitas could deal with. Inevitably, it resulted in Counter Logic Gaming getting the win.

Draft errors are due to unwillingness or inability to learn

There is much improvement to be had in the draft phase. Specifically where teams are unwilling or unable to determine how to efficiently counter picks and adjust their playstyle accordingly, instead of going on comfort picks that have high variance on whether they will be effective. This is a problem for the current state of drafts. It shows teams are not instinctively punishing their opponents. This can be due to uncertainty or lack of knowledge associated with punishing their opponents. Instead, they leave it up to chance that one team will snowball the game over the other. Rather than a more consistent draft with more variables with which to work.

LoL analyst Nick "LS" De Cesare leans on his arm in a cafe while talking to someone

While personalities such as LS and IWD have addressed these poor picks, analyzing these games are good examples of how teams can pick and play champions differently to show the weaknesses of some of the popular picks by all the League of Legends teams. These drafts are, in the words of LS, “sinning out of their mind”, by picking some of these champions. Their clear weakness in the provided examples proves how lackluster some of these popular picks are.

It is not a specific team, region, or anyone specifically who are not addressing this issue. It is everyone in the professional scene who seems to not realize that these champions are actually weak picks. Especially given the other options available. Furthermore, its a systematic issue of being able to analyze what is going wrong in the games. And the unwillingness or inability to clearly define the problems that are happening in the game. Doing meta analyses like this can give players, coaches and analysts the proper insights into why their teams lose instead of living by the definition of insanity and “repeatedly making the same mistakes and expecting different results”.

Conclusion

Hopefully, we will start to see more teams like Afreeca Freecs take advantage of picks that can be highly punished. This could result in a change of play and awareness of the goal each player and champion is trying to accomplish. Additionally, teams should look at the Team Dignitas vs. Counter Logic Gaming match to see even when weaker mid to late game champions get insanely ahead of their opponents, they cannot withstand the onslaught of superior champions.

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