In a game largely defined by and closely tied to its competitive scene, playing 3.14's release without any professional guidance was rough. Vision was thrown to the wolves, junglers struggled to adapt, and supports had no idea what items to buy after Relic Shield was quickly balanced. Even at higher divisions, games were chaotic blood baths.
It felt a little like the sky was falling--and that's not surprising. Players had a lot to adjust to and no one to lead by example. It's not an easy task.
This morning's OGN, however, marked their first set of games on the 3.14 patch by top Korean teams. What emerged was a surprisingly calm and solid presentation of the preseason--one that illustrated the patch's strengths and why Riot was willing to risk it all for these changes.
In other words, it went really well. It also served as a great reminder that while solo queue and the competitive scene intersect at times, they are completely different arenas of play with different experiences.
The State of Vision
Although it felt pretty dire at first, all four teams that played at OGN today demonstrated the viability of Vision Wards while showing that no tears were shed over the loss of Oracle's Elixir. They even embraced trinkets. The end result was a very refreshing take on a longstanding problem League of Legends faced as a spectator sport: vision.
For all four matches, pink wards were being dropped left and right. Supports bought them early and entire teams bought them freely. Teams dropped pink wards at their blue to block a steal, a top laner threw one out in a bush to clear it out; the entire map was in a constant struggle for vision. Whenever an area went dark it quickly became a contested hotspot of conflict rather than a stalemate of caution as it was in prior patches. It even added a layer of tension in team fights, where people tried to clear wards before engaging and often got caught doing so.
Junglers armed themselves with Sweeping Lenses so they could clear wards while ganking and supports followed suit. Top laners and ADCs took the free ward route offered by the Warding Totem. So did most mids--barring the exception of Ryu who favored ward removal so he could apply gank pressure to a Syndra who otherwise would have bulled his Nidalee out of lane.
Of course, not everything was perfect. These changes really emphasized the fluidity required for the proper use of Vision Wards. They work really well with organized play, but complete strangers are anything but organized. Solo queue will likely have trouble adjusting for a while. Lower divisions might struggle even more.
Additionally, NaJin Black Sword proved that stealth can be surmounted by skill--but that doesn't mean it isn't really, really annoying to deal with. Running a Rengar, Evelynn, and a Twitch, they were quick to prove a point of how insufferable stealth can be if you're unable to counter it consistently and effectively. While they ultimately lost, they put up a very impressive fight in the last match with this comp, at times being ahead in gold and kills, and they would have probably won with it if the skill levels were equal between the two teams.
As such, solo queue will have a hard time adjusting to stealth champions, especially ones like Teemo with his shrooms--or Evelynn's particularly frustrating map presence. Twitch and Rengar definitely gained a bit of power as well. Riot will probably have to deal with these champions sooner rather than later, even if they probably won't affect the competitive scene too much in the start of the season.
Annie remained a top priority ban or pick along with Lucian, Sivir, Rengar, Evelynn, and Lee Sin. Annie simply scales too well in 3.14 and she already did well in season 3; with a low skill cap and an extremely high impact, she's a monster. Sivir is also stronger than before since supports generally rush Talisman of Ascension, giving her ultimate excellent synergy. Ultimately, none of the four teams wanted to see if they could actually outrun her, and until nerfs are made she will likely be 100% banned out in every game.
Orianna was picked in three of the four games as well which was unsurprising, given her status as a midlane terror for several seasons now. Zed was picked twice, too--while it first seemed to be a nerf when his ultimate was changed, it ended up becoming a buff as players learned how to use it to their advantage to make him even more slippery in team fights than before.
Not to be outdone, Syndra showed up in two games and made a display of her limitless potential. One of the best mids right now, Syndra has been known as OP for quite some time--most likely only narrowly dodging the nerfbat due to her high skill cap. Still, any champion that can make Orianna feel unsafe in lane phase is worth an examination.
Down in bot lane, both Wolf and SSONG made a convincing argument for Sona's value in 3.14. While she was likely picked both times only because Annie was banned and both team's composition required an AoE stun, the fact that she was picked at all shows her worth. Additionally, Soraka made an appearance as well along with Taric--both are two supports that had been missed in the competitive scene for a while. They're also both incredibly strong this patch, even if Riot begs to differ. In one game, SKT1's Taric started with his Shatter at level 1 and used it to clear creeps quickly, racing to level 2 then trying to all in the opposing Ezreal and Annie who were still level 1. While it ultimately failed as a play, it did nab a flash from Ezreal and Taric was able to heal up poke while forcing enemy laners to constantly worry about aggression. In 3.14, Taric is borderline broken; he enjoys his newfound riches this patch where he can build tanky quick and gain too much for it.
Unsurprisingly, Lee Sin was a popular pick and he showed up in the jungle and top lane. In addition to just being a staple of OGN and the KR region, his ability to reveal stealth and duel well helps a lot with 3.14's vision changes. He can handle early aggression, win early skirmishes, and uncover slippery stealth champions during a fight. Elise also crawled her way into three of the four games--she's as strong as ever, her ganks being even more deadly with the lack of vision in the early game.
Masteries seemed standard with the exception of Orianna favoring biscuits instead of Runic Affinity. Nidalee also chose this path. A quick peek into Korea's top solo queue players backed it up: a lot of midlaners are ditching an additional 20% to blue buff's duration in favor of baked goods.
Itemization: League of Talisman
Almost every support started with an Ancient Coin and a Stealth Ward; with its changes, Relic Shield is only viable on melee supports, and even then it's not always a must have. It was only bought two times in the four games--by Leona and Taric. Taric actually ended up selling his when he realized he needed to build Talisman of Ascension for its active.
In other words, welcome to the League of Talisman. (It's not as catchy, is it?)
With the exception of Evelynn, who started a blue pot for early damage, junglers stuck to machete starts and traditional jungle items were a standard build path. It's worth noting that Team NB's Lee Sin rushed Madred's Razor in the first game, hoping to do an early dragon with it, but he didn't bother to complete Wriggle's Lantern since the item is dead weight in 3.14. Elise also tended to go damage oriented after Spirit of the Ancient Golem, picking up an Abyssal Scepter and Haunting Guise.
Top laners clung to their Doran's Shield while midlaners focused on Doran's Ring--ADCs enjoyed the new combination of Doran's Blade and one health potion unless they laned with sustain, in which case they picked up a Long Sword instead.
Everyone's eyes were on supports' build paths as they progressed. They actually turned out to be practical with their purchases and still team oriented, unlike many recent solo queue purchases people have been making. In other words, there were no Deathcaps here. Supports rushed Talisman of Ascension generally first. They also finished Sightstone quickly after, demonstrating that the value it gives is too high to ignore. Lastly Chalice made a splash, showing that Mikael's Crucible is a great item that will be built frequently now that players actually have the income to afford it.
There weren't many surprises from ADCs, with the exception of game two where Team NB's Ezreal built a tear despite having issues in lane. He got destroyed by Lucian in result, not being able to respond to his harass. Another interesting moment was in game one where Bang chose to build Frozen Mallet on Vayne as her second item--it made sense and was a smart, if unexpected, pick up.
Overall: 3.14's Success
The first two games of OGN were one-sided: SK Telecom T1 S clearly outclassed Team NB by a longshot.
Luckily, the latter half had games that were much closer with deeper explorations of the meta. NaJin Black Sword and KT Rolster Bullets were more evenly matched; while KT walked away with two wins, they struggled in the second one before emerging victorious.
One thing noticeable was the lack of support and utility junglers. When arguing the jungle's new difficulty a few weeks back, I said some junglers failed while others blossomed. This is still the case and those junglers will need to be balanced. Some supports mentioned, such as Janna, still remain woefully underpowered and unsurprisingly didn't make an appearance. The jungle difficulty could still need some tuning as well; buffs were surprisingly hard and players seemed to be constantly forgetting this--at one point, Watch almost died to red buff as Evelynn, having to go get other objectives instead of finishing it.
Last but not least, it still feels like this patch is too hard for solo queue. More than anything, it's a patch that works well under a professional lens. The teams at OGN made it work because they are largely the best teams in the world right now. The vision changes and the extra income make unorganized play chaotic and sometimes too hectic, taking out a lot of strategy in exchange for an anything goes game pace.
Ultimately, though, little changed and a lot of 3.14's concerns were completely erased in the competitive arena. As a spectator sport, the game was more streamlined and natural. Thanks to the Relic Shield nerfs, supports embraced Ancient Coin and rushed to upgrade it into Talismans. All four teams showed everyone how to adapt to the new vision changes. Things people feared might go away such as lane swaps and 2v1s still happened; every team had a jungler; and overall everything went on as normal.
3.14 was a patch introduced to the masses to a hugely mixed reception. We even discussed it somewhat negatively here at OnGamers. As a retrospective, however, I'm willing to admit I was too negative. Thanks to Riot's quick response to Targon, it's progressing very well as an esport, even if the learning curve is initially overwhelming.
Additionally, by changing vision so drastically and at times bewilderingly, the game is now more fun to watch.
Now if only solo queue will catch up to the changes sometime soon and stop being less of a blood bath. I mean, a girl can dream, right?