There are two constants at the League of Legends World Championship: change and adaptation.
Every year since 2011, players from around the world have gathered to compete, and every year, the event has had a different look and feel, both on Summoner's Rift and away from the screen. The game almost never looks the same at the start of the tournament as it does at the end, in part thanks to the ever-evolving metagame of League of Legends and the emergence of new strategies and compositions during worlds.
With the 10th edition of the world championship beginning Friday, I took a look back on the nine previous world championships and analyzed the metas, from memorable to miserable, to see just how far the game and its players have come since Season 1.
Season 1: Welcome to the jungle
The League of Legends Season 1 Championship in 2011 wasn't planned as an event that was anything close to the scope of what we now know as worlds. It wasn't called a world championship at all and the game itself was in its competitive infancy. There were no leagues -- League of Legends' first league didn't come until 2012 with the Garena Premier League in Southeast Asia -- South Korea didn't have a native server, and Riot Games weren't yet running their own events. The open LoL competitive circuit consisted of a few ESL events and Intel Extreme Masters, with amateur tournaments like ESL's Go4LoL happening weekly and monthly.
At the time of Riot's first-ever championship at summer DreamHack in 2011, the metagame wasn't nearly as defined as it became even a year later in 2012. Champions were more consistently flexed between positions, not because they were "flex picks" as we think of in the current state of the game, but because the in-game roles themselves weren't particularly defined. Players frequently locked in champions not because of an overall team composition, but because they were simply good at them.
What did "meta" mean in Season 1?
In the first game of Team SoloMid versus Epik Gamer in the championship qualifiers -- two of the supposed best teams at that time -- TSM eschewed setting up jungler Brian "TheOddOne" Wyllie to jungle in favor of doing a five-man delayed invade onto Dan "Dan Dinh" Dinh's jungle Maokai pick at blue buff (he had already cleared wolves). After Dan Dinh died, then-Epik Gamer top laner Marcus "Dyrus" Hill said, "BRB can't see anything" according to caster David "Phreak" Turley, and disconnected from the game.
This should give a good idea of what the competitive landscape was like in Season 1. Even jungle, which was arguably the most defined role, was heavily dependent on what champion a particular player wanted to play. It should be noted that in this same game, Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng played Poppy bottom and Dyrus, on Taric, joined him after his disconnect with Epik Gamer. Jonathan "Westrice" Nguyen took over the top lane position with Corki, who at that time was more of an AD carry than anything else.
Throughout their time at the Season 1 Championship, EG experimented with swapping players from role-to-role. Dyrus went top as Singed one game while Doublelift played Janna and Westrice took Vayne to the bottom lane. Compositions were organized by damage type: mid lane grew to be called AP carry at this time since champions placed in the mid lane tended to deal damage with ability power rather than attack damage. Players, teams, and Riot themselves were all still figuring out what kind of a game League of Legends was going to be.
That isn't to say that there wasn't a loosely-defined meta. Even in their own experimentation with swapping players to different lanes and roles, top European teams at the time like Season 1 Championship finalists Against All Authority and Fnatic played compositions more in line with what the meta became: an attack damage carry in the bottom lane alongside a support champion, an ability power carry in mid, a jungle champion, and a tankier bruiser or fighter top.
Picks and bans
Even with such a loose metagame and a comparatively higher percentage of player-targeted bans than seasons to come, there was still one champion topping the ban list: Rumble. He only made it onto the Rift for two games -- although he wasn't 100% pick/ban at this tournament, which again is more of a nod to how there was less of a defined meta than years to come -- and won both of them.
Nunu was the most picked/banned champion overall at 96.4%, an indicator of how jungle was one of the more defined roles at this event (and in League of Legends as a whole at the time) alongside support. There were only nine total champions picked in the jungle all tournament: Nunu, Amumu, Warwick, Jarvan IV, Nocturne, Alistar, Trundle, Gangplank and Rammus. Support was even more restricted by champion choice with only five total champions played: Sona, Taric, Janna, Soraka and Alistar.
This is hardly odd to think of a limited champion pool for a role now in 2020 where roles are much more rigidly defined, but it stands out at this event because of how open teams were with their champion choices. By contrast, top lane was the most champion-diverse with 22 champions played over the tournament total of 28 games. Champions were commonly flexed between top and mid or bot and mid. Alistar was the main flex champion and was played in every role but that of a bottom lane carry.
Season 2: Role playing
The standard roles exemplified by European teams at the League of Legends Season 1 Championship took full hold of the pro scene in the game's second competitive year. This was the year that credits World Elite bot laner Gao "WeiXiao" Xue-Cheng for helping define the role of an AD carry in the bottom lane and credits junglers like Moscow Five's Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov and Azubu Frost's Lee "CloudTemplar" Hyung-woo for defining the jungle role.
More importantly, although tournaments generally fell along regional lines, the competitive landscape was still an open circuit and peppered at a variety of competitive esports events with third-party tournament organizers like Major League Gaming taking the lead. In Southeast Asia, Garena started the first-ever League of Legends competitive league with the Garena Premier League on May 5, 2012.
South Korea rose to prominence as arguably the strongest region -- at the very least, the one with the best infrastructure and most competitive tournaments -- and their Champions tournaments organized by OnGameNet (OGN) were attended by Chinese, European and North American teams. If the inaugural competitive season was a year of discovering just how the game itself was played, most of 2012 was defined by the game's rapid worldwide growth and teams from a variety of regions like WE, the two Maximum Impact Gaming-turned Azubu Frost and Blaze sister teams, Moscow Five, Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming rising to prominence as some of the best teams in the world.
This growth was accompanied by a further understanding of roles within League of Legends and further defining them as positions that players making their way up various solo queue ladders would be slotted into.
Riot Games recognized the rapid growth of League of Legends as a global esport, especially in China and South Korea, and organized a true world championship to match. The Season 2 League of Legends World Championship was held in Los Angeles. Teams from Southeast Asia, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Europe and North America all had their own separate qualifiers to this new 12-team world championship.
What was meta in Season 2?
In-game roles were far more defined in 2012 than they had been in 2011, with pioneers across all major regions contributing their own additions to how the game was played. Counter-jungling was popularized by Moscow Five (previously Team Empire) and Diamondprox as they rose to become the strongest team in Europe and one of the strongest teams in the world at the time. Jungle had already been one of the more defined role positions by nature of the fact that it involved farming jungle camps rather than laning, but junglers like Diamondprox helped further delineate exactly what junglers could do. Similarly, WeiXiao did this for the AD carry position, actually using abilities like Ezreal's Trueshot Barrage to further control minion waves and the map at large, leading to a stronger understanding of not only how AD carry could be played, but League of Legends as a whole.
Teamfighting was a large part of League of Legends, but the game itself was generally slower-paced than even the slower games we see today. Turrets were significantly stronger than they are now, jungle camps gave less experience and everything in the game felt tankier and heavier, exemplified by popular meta jungle picks like Shen, Maokai, Dr. Mundo and Skarner. Most teams were content to freely farm until they could roll into each other in five-on-five engages later in the game. There still wasn't nearly as much of an objective focus, or objective setup knowledge, and these teamfights themselves, due to how mechanics of the game were evolving, visibly appear to be slow when compared to the teamfights of today.
Season 2 worlds was played on Patch 18.104.22.168 with a worlds-specific hotfix and newer champion additions Syndra, Rengar and Kha'Zix globally banned.
Picks and bans
Although this tournament is more fondly remembered for its variety of mid lane picks like Taipei Assassins' Lau "Toyz" Wai Kin's Orianna or Counter Logic Gaming Europe's Henrik "Froggen" Hansen's Anivia, one of the most important picks to highlight at the Season 2 World Championship is Shen.
Teams still didn't really know how to work around global abilities, and Shen flexed into two positions, top and jungle, giving teams additional map pressure by design at a time when teams weren't running Teleport as a default summoner's spell for top lane.
Season 2 worlds did see a few Teleport-heavy compositions, though: For example, Counter Logic Gaming played a triple-Teleport comp against SK Gaming in the group stage for a win. Teleport also became an important spell for Taipei Assassins top laner Wang "Stanley" June-Tsan in TPA's rise through this tournament to eventually win the entire event. However, most teams were content to focus more on laning spells like Ignite, Exhaust or Ghost paired with the ubiquitous Flash spell.
One thing that hasn't changed much since the early days is how Flash is a necessity. Although teams didn't know much about wave manipulation or wave management, laning was still a large portion of the metagame, which is reflected in popular carry champion choices like Ezreal (the strongest bot lane carry at the time and a favorite of WeiXiao) or mid lane Anivia and Karthus. Lengthy and relatively undisturbed laning phases, especially compared to League of Legends now, allowed champions like this to thrive.
The case of the Taipei Assassins
The Taipei Assassins and their impressive run to the Summoner's Cup are often forgotten. This is particularly unfortunate due to how unlikely their victory was -- not even TPA themselves thought they had a chance, according to multiple interviews with players from the 2012 championship team -- and the story of their in-game adjustments throughout the tournament.
Given that the metagame was rapidly evolving with players and teams furthering their understanding of League of Legends from game to game, it's no surprise that TPA's win came off of the back of multiple small adjustments they implemented to stay a step ahead of other teams.
Nidalee was not a hotly contested pick at this worlds or in the meta during regional qualifiers. On the worlds patch, though, she received a buff to her cougar form that increased her attack range to 125 from 100. She became a key component of TPA's title run, arguably just as important as Toyz's impressive Orianna play, with Stanley using Teleport for more map pressure. NaJin Sword top laner Yoon "MakNooN" Ha-woon used Teleport top-lane Nidalee for a win against CLG.EU in the group stage, but it was Stanley who forced Azubu Frost to ban it in the finals with his successful performances in their qualifying 2-1 semifinals win against Moscow Five. With only three available bans at the time, this also forced Frost into a tough position regarding spending a ban on Toyz's Orianna, which they decided to let through in favor of Jayce.
Season 3: All grown up
Season 3 marked the end of League of Legends' infancy. Whereas the game's alpha, beta, Season 1 and Season 2 competitive scenes all were loose, open circuits, Season 3 was split along regional lines. South Korea still had the OGN Champions tournament, which continued to showcase the best and most competitive League of Legends in the world.
The LoL Pro League was established in China, giving Chinese teams their own league similar to what Garena had done for Southeast Asian teams, and in the West, Riot Games introduced two League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) leagues, one for North America and one for Europe. At the time, this was widely thought of as a good thing that would allow North American and European teams to hone their skills regularly in their own events before meeting international competition at worlds. The regional breakdowns became a harbinger of what worlds would become: the end-all, be-all League of Legends event for the entire competitive year.
Defining metas and the rise of assassins
The Season 3 metagame was ushered in by the over-tuned Black Cleaver at the beginning of the year. The item was so powerful that nearly every champion picked would buy one. Jungle items changed, and the removal of Heart of Gold stopped some of the Season 2 gold-regeneration stacking that was popular. Riot settled into a patch system that helped further define roles rather than encourage players away from them, a continuation of their patching strategies in 2012. The developer still hadn't settled into the current patch system of two large patches and myriad smaller updates that came in later seasons, though, so patch effects still varied wildly regardless of when they were released, even if Riot tried to keep major changes to a preseason/beginning-of-season patch.
An important meta shift occurred with the addition and tuning of jungle items alongside the fact that junglers could clear quickly to Level 3 and still have large amounts of health. This precipitated a faster jungle that looked completely different from the Shens and Maokais of Season 2. Elise, Lee Sin, and Jarvan IV all rose to prominence, and junglers were in lanes much earlier. Assassins like Zed and Ahri also became popular in the mid lane, especially with Twisted Fate and his global ultimate near-permanently banned, and mid/jungle synergy was the most important it had ever been up to this point in time.
Season 3 had a faster game tempo, too, as players gained a better understanding of League. Bot lanes like Caitlyn/Nami helped teams push turrets faster, while teams opted into two-on-one situations to control lanes. Teams like CJ Entus Blaze helped pioneer the "sixth man" strategy, which used freezing minion waves to build them up and effectively use them to control side lanes. All of these have long since become fundamentals of League of Legends as a game.
More importantly, metas began to diverge on regional lines. A cursory glance at the most hotly contested picks in China's LPL reveals a top four of Twitch (56% pick/ban rate), Vayne (54.8%) and Thresh and Nami tied at 50%. South Korea's Champions league favored Elise (95%), Lee Sin (93.8%) and Thresh (90%) while Europe favored Shen (94.9%), Thresh (93.2%) and Twisted Fate (84.7%). North America followed South Korea's lead, picking or banning Elise (95.6%), Thresh (85%) and Jayce/Twisted Fate (73.5%). Based on pick/ban rates, China had the most variance in meta from team-to-team, something that persists in the region to this day with Chinese teams tending to stick to specific team-based playstyles.
Picks and bans
Given the rise of assassins throughout the year, it's no surprise that Zed topped the pick/ban percentage of all champions with a 100% rate at the Season 3 World Championship with Ahri not too far behind at 82.5%.
Assassins had a strong presence in high-profile competitive matches like the 2013 OGN Champions Summer Finals between KT Rolster Bullets and SK Telecom T1, which gave a large stage to Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok in his legendary blind-pick Zed one-on-one outplay of Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook. Old worlds friend Shen made plenty of appearances, and Corki with Triforce became a bot staple. However the worlds-defining meta shift happened in the mid lane with the rise of Gragas and Fizz, the third- and fourth-most-picked champions.
Another interesting pick to point out over the course of the Season 3 worlds metagame was support Annie, who was brought out by Royal Club support Wong "Tabe" Pak Kan and subsequently banned in all three of Royal Club's finals games against SK Telecom T1.
The case of Samsung Galaxy Ozone (formerly MVP Ozone)
The Season 3 world championship wasn't the first time that a meta shift affected the outcome of an international event. Even in the significantly less-sophisticated metagame of Season 2 worlds, there was a definitive adaptation by the 2012 winners, Taipei Assassins, and their top laner Stanley on Teleport top-lane Nidalee for poke over the more popular Jayce.
But Samsung Galaxy Ozone's failure at Season 3 worlds is equal parts meta and hubris, which makes it stand out as one of the more interesting worlds flops of all time. Ozone were a top team in South Korea and were widely-regarded as a tournament favorite alongside up-and-coming SK Telecom T1. Even those who favored SKT as a worlds winner acknowledged the prowess and ability of Ozone.
Ozone famously did not prepare for international opponents. Multiple players in interviews indicated that they thought they were better than the rest of the world (in fairness, South Korea was significantly better with a more defined and sophisticated metagame). Enter mid laner Bae "dade" Eo-jin, who struggled to adjust to the mid lane's meta shift to the likes of Gragas at worlds and looked shaky even on champions that he had previously excelled with like Twisted Fate. By contrast, NaJin Black Sword mid laner Kim "Nagne" Sang-moon's stock rose significantly at this worlds due to his Gragas prowess and easy adjustment that made NaJin formidable opponents for eventual worlds victors, SK Telecom T1.
Samsung's embarrassment in this tournament was a large part of their 2014 redemption narrative, which we have coming up next.
2014: South Korea takes control
Further regional segmentation and more rigid metas defined League of Legends in 2014. Meta shifts and a few key picks that saw play at the Season 3 world championship persisted into the next year, particularly support Annie in the bottom lane, which became a staple meta pick.
With Season 3 separating teams by region, third-party tournaments began to fall off. The worlds qualification system became more rigid, and major region teams were less willing to risk missing an opportunity to qualify from their own Riot-hosted tournament, which in many cases was more competitive than the few international events that remained like Intel Extreme Masters. An easy 2014 example is that of the KT Rolster Bullets, who went undefeated at the 2014 IEM World Championship in Katowice but only made it to the quarterfinals of 2014 OGN Champions Spring.
Worlds 2014 was a testament to how much League of Legends had grown from Season 3. Riot Games implemented a roadshow system for the tournament where teams traveled and played games in multiple Asian countries -- Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea -- as part of the international worlds experience. Every successive world championship has used this multi-city or multi-country format, with the exception of the upcoming League of Legends World Championship in China, which will play out entirely in Shanghai due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The roadshow culminated in a blockbuster finals series at the World Cup Stadium in Mapo-gu, Seoul, including a concert as part of the headlining event, and set the pace for world championship tournaments to come.
Stagnant or perfect?
The competitive year in 2014 was segmented into a few key meta shifts (double jungling, fast-pushing as four in side lanes) over the course of the year. Season 4 is remembered fondly by many, along with Season 3, as a year where Riot changed comparatively little over the course of a split or even the entire season, giving breathing room for teams to find answers or perfect the current compositional metagame.
For a good example, look no further than the top lane meta of Champions Spring, where teams picked Renekton and Shyvana 53 times each. The next most-picked top lane champion was Dr. Mundo with 18. With 85 total games in that tournament, this meant that 62% of all top lane picks were one of these two champions. Players like Najin White Shield top laner Baek "Save" Young-jin made a name for themselves prior to worlds while primarily only playing on one champion; in Save's case, that was Shyvana, although he was also known for his Ryze.
South Korea's Champions tournaments are our main example from this time period because the rest of the world generally looked toward the region as meta innovators. South Korea was still significantly ahead of the rest of the world, buoyed by a sister team setup that allowed organizations to scrimmage and develop strategies in-house. Regional variances still existed, especially when looking towards China's LoL Pro League, but most of the world recognized South Korea as the best region, even with fewer opportunities to test South Korean teams at international events.
Patch 4.12 and onward
Changes to Alistar on Patch 4.12 brought him to the forefront of the meta just in time for the 2014 world championship. A cursory look across regional qualifiers reveals a fairly strong diversity in qualifying metas as patches leading up to worlds shook up some of the stagnancy that had defined the competitive year of 2014. Once again, South Korea had a very set metagame with six champions (Maokai, Twitch, Alistar, Lee Sin, Thresh and Zed) all played an equal 13 times and with a 100% pick/ban rate. The LPL, which until this point had generally been a bit looser and more team-specific, had their own metagame focus on Lucian and Zilean, the latter of which was played in the support role and was also seen in Europe and North America's summer playoff qualifiers.
Picks and bans
Alistar was the highest-priority ban of this worlds, cementing the trend of every world championship having at least one heavily-focused ban if not multiple. He had a 100% pick/ban rate and was played only five times for an 80% win rate as one of the strongest top laners at the tournament. Janna reappeared as a support priority with Zilean banned 83% of the time (96.2% overall pick/ban rate), and the jungle was dominated by Kha'Zix and Lee Sin. Ryze, Maokai and Rumble took over the top lane while Corki made another resurgence bot, joining Lucian, Tristana and Twitch.
Samsung Galaxy White: an ode to sister teams
If fans or community members remember one thing about the 2014 League of Legends competitive season, it's Samsung Galaxy White's world championship victory. This was not only a crowning achievement for South Korean esports because Samsung White lifted the Summoner's Cup on home soil, but because the internal duel between Samsung Galaxy White and Samsung Galaxy Blue, which became the headlining narrative in League of Legends esports.
Even with Season 3 winner SK Telecom T1 K falling off when double-jungling and fast-pushing side lanes in four-vs.-one laneswaps became the norm, the success of Blue and White and how they adapted to each other was fascinating to watch. In 2014 Champions Spring and Summer, White were stymied by their sister team Blue in the semifinals.
Worlds was White's opportunity to have their revenge in a meta that favored support Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong's vision adaptations across 2014. The meta also shifted away from as rigid of an emphasis on five-on-five teamfighting, allowing White to play as fast and loose as they wanted, taking advantage of the sheer mechanical prowess of players like Choi "DanDy' In-kyu and Gu "Imp" Seung-bin.
2015: The rise of the Juggernauts
If teams can have rebuilding seasons, in both the literal and memetic message-board sense, then League of Legends esports had a rebuilding year in 2015. The 2014 League of Legends World Championship ended on a massive high with the first-ever worlds traveling roadshow from Taipei to Singapore to Busan and finally the World Cup Stadium in Seoul. This next year had to be bigger and better, with Riot deciding that 2015 worlds would be another country-to-country tour, this time in Europe from Paris to London to Brussels to Berlin.
To answer the growing ire at a lack of important international events as Riot continued to move away from the DreamHacks and Intel Extreme Masters and more toward the entirety of League of Legends esports being cultivated in-house, Riot created a new international event: the Mid-Season Invitational.
But 2015 wasn't just a larger version of what Riot had already started with the 2014 roadshow. The season began with one of the most impactful offseasons in esports with a mass exodus of South Korean professional players to China's LoL Pro League. The players were drawn in by massive salaries that were banked by Chinese streaming companies who wanted new, marketable faces for their platforms in addition to talented players that would win the LPL a world championship.
This was coupled with a complete restructuring of South Korea's Champions circuit as well. Previously a tournament created by OGN, South Korea was reorganized in an eight-team league format called LoL Champions Korea. Later expanded to 10 teams, the LCK also marked the first season that South Korean organizations were not allowed to have sister teams, or more than one team per organization.
The effects of the 2014-15 offseason restructuring and so-called South Korean Exodus are still felt in League of Legends esports today and have helped influence how other leagues have shaped their own regional policies, let alone how League of Legends itself was affected for years to come. This was the breakout of League of Legends as a global phenomenon on multiple levels.
The year also ended with one of the largest and most influential patches in League of Legends history: patch 5.16.
The Juggernaut patch (5.16)
No other patch is as remembered in the public consciousness of players and esports fans alike as 5.16. Released on Aug. 20, "the juggernaut patch" brought with it massive meta shifts a month and a half before the 2015 League of Legends World Championship began on Oct. 1.
A month and a half sounds like it would be enough time, but with regional qualifiers ongoing and less-uniform patching from region to region at the time, 5.16 not only somewhat affected who qualified but also wreaked havoc on teams' preparation for the main event. This was a patch with entire champion updates to Mordekaiser, Skarner, Darius and Garen (all re-classified as juggernauts) that included the addition of Skarner's crystal spires and Mordekaiser's career as a dragon trainer with the ghost of the slain dragon following Mordekaiser around, able to tank turret damage and help siege.
This version of Mordekaiser was 100% picked or banned at 2015 worlds because he was generally over-tuned and the dragon offered unparalleled sieging power.
On top of all of this, Gragas was removed mid-tournament due to a bug that affected his Q, causing a remake in a match between Fnatic and EDward Gaming.
Worlds was played on 5.18, two patches later, but the amount of changes that 5.16 brought so close to the world championship makes it one of the most-remembered patches in League of Legends esports history. It also became a prime example of how not to patch before a world championship, and following the juggernaut debacle, Riot set more of a standard pattern of two large updates a year (preseason and midseason). Thank you juggernauts.
Picks and bans
At worlds, there's always a champion that's near-permanently on the ban list but the juggernaut patch was so sweeping in its changes that there were several. Both Mordekaiser and Gangplank made it through draft four times apiece, for a 100% win rate. Gangplank was a key champion in the regional qualifiers and continued to be one at worlds, while Mordekaiser's aforementioned dragon ghost offered sieging power that couldn't be beaten. The necessity of banning both of these champions messed with drafts throughout worlds while allowing other potentially powerful picks like Lulu (who was also the third most-banned champion behind Mordekaiser and Gangplank) and Elise or Rek'Sai to go through.
EDward Gaming and the LPL collapse
When it comes to how much this patch affected teams going into worlds as compared to their season performance, EDward Gaming immediately comes to mind. EDG were China's top team for the majority of 2015 and were part of a supposed post-Korean Exodus triple-threat that was going to take worlds by storm, bringing the Summoner's Cup to China for the first time.
All three Chinese teams failed on the 2015 worlds stage, but only EDG's particular failure was meta-specific, offering a microcosm of what teams had to go through in adjusting to this patch.
Top laner Tong "Koro1" Yang was EDG's team captain and a driving force behind their 2015 success as well as their inaugural MSI victory. Known for his prowess on champions like Gnar, Rumble and Maokai, Koro1 helped control and set up teamfights for former Samsung Galaxy Blue bot laner Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu to clean up. When the meta shifted, EDG decided to start Shek "AmazingJ" Wai Ho over Koro1 due to his Darius proficiency and different champion pool. AmazingJ had started for EDG a bit in the LPL's summer split and played in all of EDG's regional qualifier matches on the 5.16 patch.
This top-lane juggernaut meta did not suit EDG at all, regardless of the AmazingJ substitution. Jungler Ming "Clearlove" Kai and the rest of the team had already established more of a bot-lane focus all year with mid laner Heo "PawN" Won-seok running distraction on champions like LeBlanc or Twisted Fate while Deft and support Tian "Meiko" Ye would try to kill the bot turret as fast as possible. It wasn't AmazingJ's fault, but the team also looked significantly less-coordinated and lost with him in the top lane, and EDG seemed to lose the skirmishing and teamfighting abilities that had made them such a threat in the LPL.
Even with Koro1 returning for worlds quarterfinals, EDG's season ended with a 3-0 sweep at the hands of Fnatic. Deft played bot lane Jayce in Game 1, and while that doesn't seem all that odd now, it has been cited as yet another example of how EDG were unable to adapt and looked lost with the sudden meta shift.
2016: The end of the laneswap
After SK Telecom T1 ran through the 2015 League of Legends World Championship and all three of China's LoL Pro League teams failed to make it past quarterfinals, the South Korean dynasty monikers were in full swing. They only continued after SK Telecom T1 won the Mid-Season Invitational in the middle of Season 6.
Worlds itself continued to evolve as Riot Games built upon their 2015 trend of giving minor regions a bit more involvement with the International Wildcard Invitational and International Wildcard Qualifier. These continued in 2016 and qualified the most successful (based on results) minor region team in the Commonwealth of Independent States' Albus NoX Luna, who made it to 2016 worlds quarterfinals.
The 2016 League of Legends World Championship took place in North America and visited the cities of San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
The worlds-shaping effects of patch 6.15
Laneswaps existed before 2014, but 2014 was really where they gathered steam and disrupted teams' understanding of how the game could be played. The ubiquitous double-jungling strategy, where the top laner would join their jungler in pathing and then the team would group for a laneswap to push out a side lane, became another game staple that was refined over the next two years. By 2016, nearly every team was laneswapping, and laneswaps became a defining part of competitive League of Legends.
While 2015 worlds and its juggernaut patch are an easy target for the most disruptive patch to affect a world championship, Patch 6.15 was sneakily worse. It didn't have the champion reworks and complete compositional shifts that Juggernauts did, but it similarly changed the entire game during regional qualifiers, affecting which teams qualified while also forcing qualified teams to effectively re-learn how the entire game was played.
According to the patch notes themselves, Riot's ultimate goal was to increase First Blood percentages and early interactions in lanes. The developer tried to facilitate this by adding first turret gold rewards, decreasing gold share for outer turret kills and increasing turret health while making it so that fortification duration no longer applied to bot lane turrets. The adjustments essentially made what would have been an equal trade for swapping lanes uneven.
Picks and bans
One of the effects of this game-changing patch was that champion diversity was bound to take a tumble with laneswaps being designed to aid champions with poor laning phases. Without laneswaps, teams defaulted to more champions with strong laning matchups, particularly in bot lane, because they couldn't swap to compensate for a poor matchup. It actively decreased champion diversity by design, especially with teams having to quickly adjust to a major change before the largest tournament of the year.
Raw champion diversity was at its lowest point since Season 2 at 2016 worlds, but that isn't necessarily an indicator of a stagnant or visually boring metagame. By contrast, the 2015 world championship featured some of the highest champion diversity that worlds had ever seen with a whopping 74 unique champion picks over 73 games. This means that there was nearly an average of one wholly unique champion per game for the entirety of 2015 worlds.
However, as any juggernaut hate will tell you, unique champions and champion diversity doesn't mean an interesting metagame. The juggernaut patch wreaked havoc on regional qualifiers and worlds-qualified teams, forcing teams to change their playstyle.
Patch 6.15 also saw some interesting bot lane adaptations mid-tournament for extra laning prowess. The ROX Tigers' Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon was the first player to trot out Miss Fortune as a support pick alongside Kim "PraY" Jong-in's Ashe into Ezreal/Zyra but later credited the innovation to Samsung Galaxy's bot-laner-turned-support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in.
Samsung thrive on patch 6.15
Samsung Galaxy arguably would not have qualified for this world championship, let alone made it all the way to one game away from beating SK Telecom T1 in the 2016 worlds final, if it hadn't been for Patch 6.15.
This was the year that mid-laner-turned-jungler Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong came into his own. While Cinderhulk effectively made learning the position a bit easier during his initial role-swap on CJ Entus in 2015, 2016 was where Ambition thrived, thanks in large part to support Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min. Wraith was a jungler's support; he roamed with Ambition and synchronized his pathing while placing key vision so Ambition could farm more freely.
For the majority of 2016, Wraith was Samsung's starting support, but the team swapped to CoreJJ post-Patch 6.15 due to the renewed emphasis on laning. CoreJJ was a stronger support in the bot lane two-on-two and showcased his laning prowess alongside then-rookie bot laner Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk. Thanks to the patch change, Samsung razed through the LCK regional qualifier and quietly made their way to the 2016 worlds finals with a good meta for their solo laners, Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin and Lee "Crown" Min-ho, with champions like Kennen and Viktor at the forefront of top and mid lane champion picks.
2017: All hail Ardent Censer
The largest format change from 2016 to 2017 was the restructuring of the world championship itself.
For Season 7, Riot expanded the event to include minor regions and lower seeds from major regions North America, Europe and China to the tournament. Rather than the International Wildcard Qualifier or the previous Gamescom and PAX qualifiers of 2013 and 2014, all minor region teams sent one champion to a play-in stage.
Play-ins were seeded by major region first, then minor based on prior worlds results. Twelve total teams were placed into a single-game group stage and organized into four groups. The top two teams from each group made it to a bracket stage where they were re-seeded based on their group stage performance. These four teams were then placed in the main stage along with the top-seeded teams from all major regions. At the time, this also included Taiwan's LoL Master Series and Vietnam's Gigabyte Marines, who had qualified for Southeast Asia based on their Mid-Season Invitational performance and were one of the only teams confident enough to regularly try laneswapping and loose roleswapping in a post-Patch 6.15 world.
Following the roadshow format of every worlds since 2014, the 2017 League of Legends World Championship took place in China and visited Wuhan, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. The finals took place in the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, which was built for the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.
Jungle Ezreal? Jungle Ezreal.
One of the more unique picks to come out of regional qualifiers was Ezreal in the jungle, as opposed to his usual home in the bottom lane and occasional mid lane appearance. Jungle Ez was first played at a professional level by then-Team WE jungler Xiang "Condi" Ren-Jie, who lost to Invictus Gaming with it on Patch 7.16.
The patch number is important because with China occasionally being a bit behind in the timing of patches compared to the rest of the world, players would often try out champions ahead of their actual buffs, knowing what's to come. It appears Condi's first Jungle Ezreal pick was a case of that preparation: Patch 7.17, which buffed the attack damage of Ezreal's Mystic Shot from 1.1 to 1.25, wasn't live in China during that match against iG but would be when Team WE got to the worlds stage.
Condi played jungle Ezreal in the play-ins against Lyon Gaming and Young Generation, winning with it both times. Cloud9 jungler Juan "Contractz" Garcia, Immortals jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero and Samsung Galaxy jungler Kang "Haru" Min-seung all picked it up with varying degrees of success. Jungle Ezreal was phased out after the group stage, though, with Sejuani, Jarvan IV and Gragas dominating the worlds jungle meta.
Picks and bans: play-ins vs. the main event
The worlds play-in stage offered a more concise look at how a worlds meta evolves. The play-in stage was where Jungle Ezreal had his short time in the spotlight and also where teams were figuring out what they wanted to play in the bottom lane, especially with Kalista banned more than any other champion.
The Ardent Censer item was buffed toward the beginning of 2017 with bonus attack speed on heals and shields increased as well as an increase to on-hit health drain. It was already a powerful item but rose to further prominence at this worlds, where it was seemingly a necessity in every game. The prominence of Ardent Censer affected the bot lane meta and further gave strength to not only attack damage carries like Xayah in the bottom lane, but the likes of Corki in mid. Worlds 2017 was a remarkably bot-lane-heavy meta with Kalista, Xayah and Tristana (and later in the main event, Varus and Twitch) as the primary carries. Ardent Censer effectively gave carries a full attack-speed item, which made rushing it a necessity. Bot laners picked up Relic Shield themselves to help the rush.
Many of the same culprits from play-ins appear as the most picked and banned champions during the main event. Kalista enjoyed a 100% ban rate, furthering Xayah and Tristana's dominion over the bottom lane alongside Kog'Maw and Twitch. All those picks were hyper-carries that scaled late and benefited greatly from Ardent Censer's heals, shields and added attack speed.
The meta shifted to even more of a bot-lane-carry meta in the main event as teams learned from studying the play-in meta, scrimming other teams and adapting accordingly. Longzhu Gaming became a casualty of the bot-lane meta shift, which suited Samsung and carry Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk more than it did Longzhu's Kim "PraY" Jong-in. Longzhu top laner Kim "Khan" Dong-ha also struggled to adjust from his more carry-oriented and forward top-lane style. Samsung bested Longzhu with Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin on Shen for global pressure and his signature Kennen pick.
Samsung Galaxy's secret weapon
Samsung Galaxy and SK Telecom T1 met again in the 2017 worlds final, with Samsung exacting their revenge on SKT for 2016 by sweeping them 3-0. In multiple interviews at this tournament, Samsung credited none other than Chinese team Royal Never Give Up for helping them learn the meta and better their five-on-five teamfighting. Samsung similarly credited RNG for their improved performance at 2016 worlds. The South Korean team's testimonial to its scrim partners and in-game adjustments started a more visible trend of worlds meta shifts based on scrim partners. This was coupled with a general trend over the past few worlds of teams playing slightly less aggressively than they did in scrims on the worlds stage defaulting to more of a bot-lane-focused five-on-five teamfighting playstyle.
Season 8: The game opens up
Royal Never Give Up ascended from the team that helped Samsung Galaxy learn how to teamfight better at two world championships to the team that everyone feared in 2018. RNG won nearly every event that year with the glaring exception of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship.
It was an odd and tumultuous time for teams and players. The bot lane meta underwent a massive transformation that saw non-traditional carries like Yasuo and Swain making their way to the bottom lane. Meanwhile, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao finally won his first domestic title. He and RNG followed this up by winning the Mid-Season Invitational over LoL Champions Korea favorite Kingzone DragonX and a 2018 Asian Games medal over the South Korean team. These victories were a harbinger of what was to come at 2018 worlds: the collapse of South Korea's dominion over League of Legends esports.
The 2018 League of Legends World Championship returned to South Korea, this time for an entire South Korea city tour from Seoul to Busan to Gwangju to Incheon.
From AD carries to bot laners
One of the most important meta shifts to happen prior to the 2018 League of Legends World Championship happened before the summer split even began with the release of Patch 8.11. This patch brought sweeping changes to attack damage carries as a whole with blanket nerfs to their health regeneration and base attack damage while increasing the cost of staple items like Statikk Shiv, Rapidfire Cannon, Runaan's Hurricane and Phantom Dancer. It seemed a direct response to complaints that bot laners had it too easy throughout spring split and lingering memories of the Ardent Censer-dominated meta that shaped the 2017 world championship. The general community response was that the game was too slow and boring.
Post-Patch 8.11, traditional AD carries were very susceptible to early ganks and not worth picking for how slowly they now scaled. This heralded the arrival of Vladimir, Swain, Yasuo and Mordekaiser in the bottom lane. Teemo was even played bot in LoL Champions Korea by Griffin bot laner Park "Viper" Do-hyeon.
It was a massive shift that continued to affect teams during the summer split. Traditional AD carries were still present; Ezreal and Ashe were high-priority picks in the LCK summer split, while the LPL favored Varus and Kai'Sa above the more popular bot lane additions like Swain and Vladimir. In fact, the LPL was the most standard of the major regions when it came to bot lane picks, with the caveat that Kai'Sa built AP items rather than AD, allowing her earlier power spikes than some of her traditional bot lane counterparts.
Non-traditional carries played a part in the large meta shift that later came to worlds, but more importantly, their inclusion in bot lane made teams more willing to try out other flex picks between different lanes and roles. It wasn't a complete return to the wild days of 2011 or 2012 where teams and players didn't always know how the game should be played or what their role was, but a more educated and arguably sophisticated one, given how much the game fundamentals alone had evolved over the six years in between.
The other major meta shift in 2018 occurred in the jungle with the removal of Tracker's Knife. Tracker's Knife was an advanced jungle item with a warding active that allowed junglers a large amount of vision control. The loss of vision meant that teams who relied on a slower-pace and punishing solely through their vision net were suddenly lost in an increased amount of Fog of War. The loss of Tracker's Knife is often solely credited with the demise of South Korean teams during the 2018 season at MSI and worlds. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but it did hurt the slower-paced style exemplified by teams like SK Telecom T1, who had been one of Korea's top teams for the previous three years.
Picks and bans: play-ins vs. the main event
Urgot and Aatrox took over the top lane meta as early as play-ins and were the most sought-after champions along with Akali. When Urgot and/or Aatrox were banned, Sion and Ornn became their go-to replacements if Akali was also unavailable. The important context of all three of these champions (Urgot, Aatrox and Akali) is that they were all flexed between the top and mid lanes, a harbinger of the meta shift that was to come.
Team Vitality coach Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi was the unofficial spokesperson for this change, telling teams to play their own style and play their own game after a rousing broadcast interview and speech. Vitality shocked many in the group stage with two wins over Gen.G and a win over RNG. The group of then-reigning world champions Samsung Galaxy, Vitality, North American third-seed Cloud9 and Royal Never Give Up was a supposed lock for Samsung and RNG.
The "play your style" plea was a bit of a specious argument; RNG arguably played their style, doubled down on it when it wasn't working, and lost. YamatoCannon can't be solely credited for this, since teams like G2 Esports and Invictus Gaming were already focusing more on their solo lanes, which ended up being the defining meta shift of this worlds. The picks and bans continue to reflect this solo-lane trend with Urgot, Aatrox, Akali and Irelia.
It's no coincidence that the two teams that made the finals, Invictus Gaming and Fnatic, both looked to their mid and top laners as primary playmakers.
The demise of RNG and Flash Wolves
This look at 2018 worlds began with a description of how dominant RNG were throughout the 2018 season, and will end with their unfortunate crumbling in the worlds quarterfinals to upstart G2 Esports. G2's aforementioned solo lane focus was a key component of their victory, and RNG's refusal to adapt was a key component of their loss. Even with RNG having shown a good understanding of 1-3-1 split compositions earlier in the year, they doubled down on a more bot lane-heavy five-on-five teamfight look that ended up costing them their quarterfinals series. Their main scrim partners were Flash Wolves, who similarly doubled down on this playstyle and failed to make it out of their group despite the struggles of Afreeca Freecs and a shaky-looking G2 that still hadn't found their footing yet.
When G2 hit their stride, they did so by placing bot laner Petter "Hjarnan" Freyschuss on his signature Heimerdinger when it was available, ensuring that he could maintain a push on the bottom of the map while G2 played toward mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković and top laner Martin "Wunder" Nordahl Hansen.
2019: China builds a dynasty
In previous years, especially the years of South Korean dominance from 2013 to 2017-18, world championship victors were looked at as meta trendsetters. This phenomenon was less noticeable in the years that South Korea was automatically accepted as the best region in the world and therefore far and away the most innovative region to watch. For years, South Korean teams, particularly SK Telecom T1, dictated how the rest of the world aspired to play.
This trend continued in 2019, but what was most interesting is that after their unlikely semifinals performance at the 2018 League of Legends World Championship and their 2019 Mid-Season Invitational victory, G2 Esports took over the global meta conversation. G2's solo-lane-focused approach was expanded in 2019 with the arrival of Rasmus "Caps" Winther to the G2 mid lane and former mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković taking over as the team's bot laner.
Bot lane continued to expand from the Vladimirs and Swains of 2018 as teams decided whether they wanted to play traditional attack damage carries or opt for multiple draft flexes. G2 were the kings of this. At one point in 2019, every single member of G2 played Pyke in a different lane or role (shout-out to Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski's Pyke jungle at the 2019 NA-EU Rift Rivals event). They wanted to be the most flexible team not only in draft but in the way they approached meta roles. No team had pushed these same boundaries as much as G2 did that year since the early heyday of League of Legends, and they, rather than 2018 worlds winner Invictus Gaming, set the meta tone going into 2019 worlds.
The 2019 League of Legends World Championship took place in Europe and spanned three countries with visits to Berlin, Madrid and Paris.
Who came first: Doinb or the meta?
FunPlus Phoenix mid laner Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang's playstyle was a known quantity by 2018. Doinb first appeared on the international radar as part of Qiao Gu Reapers.
Doinb's main focus was not his lane, but the team's side lanes. He would regularly eschew multiple waves in mid after pushing the wave to turret in order to roam to his side lanes, especially on champions like Nautilus, Ryze and Galio. Doinb also built all of his champions generally tankier than the most efficient itemization would suggest, earning both ire and praise from various members of the League of Legends community. Whether Doinb was a "good" mid laner was a contentious point of discussion throughout worlds, especially after instant reactions to FPX's group stage loss against J Team.
Arguably, all Doinb had needed for years was a team and a meta that would suit him. That team was FunPlus Phoenix, who approached Doinb and convinced him to play another year rather than retire by detailing just how they were going to build around him. With the perfect jungle and support partners in Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang and Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song, along with a meta that favored the way Doinb played and flexing picks in multiple roles on the map, Doinb thrived en route to a worlds title.
Picks and bans: play-ins vs. the main event
Doinb fans were surely sad to see his Pantheon, which he was playing prior to Pantheon's Patch 9.16 update that skyrocketed the champion up the pick/ban list, placed on a near-permanent ban throughout the play-in stage. Only MEGA and mid laner Nuttapong "G4" Menkasikan were able to get their hands on Pantheon in a match against Lowkey Esports, and it ended up being MEGA's one victory all group stage.
Pantheon didn't make it through to a single game in the entire 2019 worlds main event, too. Meanwhile, Renekton rose in priority alongside Gangplank to become one of the most-picked and most successful top lane picks.
Another meta note of interest is that many expected Yuumi and the likes of Garen or other non-traditional bot lane pairings to dominate the metagame, but come group stage, Fnatic were really the only team sticking with it, and subsequently were beaten by FunPlus Phoenix in the quarterfinals without FPX showing any concern or priority on banning it because they could best it. This isn't to say that non-traditional bot lane picks didn't make an appearance, but Xayah, Varus, Kai'Sa and Ezreal took over the bot lane by semifinals. G2 and Perkz were one of the only teams to stick to the likes of Yasuo bot later in the tournament, although T1's Park "Teddy" Jin-seong also played Yasuo bot against G2 in T1's one semifinals game win.
Fly, Phoenix, fly
Doinb helped dictate how FunPlus Phoenix played, but Tian and Crisp were the two key players of FPX's early game, aiding Doinb in his quests for side lane pressure. Tian frequently reset Doinb's wave mid so the experience loss and lack of minion control wouldn't hurt FPX's overall gameplan. Although FPX didn't flex roles and champions like G2, they had a remarkably strong early game that highlighted their skirmishing strengths. The trick of FPX was that you never knew who was waiting for you in Fog of War. It could be Doinb alone on a rotation to bot, or it could be Tian, Doinb, and Crisp together. The metagame of 2019 worlds, which ended up favoring more traditional AD carry picks for Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang also allowed FPX to get him farmed up early and contribute to mid game skirmishes and teamfights.