As XDG sit alone at the bottom of LCS NA, following a top two finish in the regular portion of the previous split, the LoL world is provided an opportune moment in which to ponder the efficacy of the role swap in competitive League of Legends. Many players have tried to swap roles, only a rare few have succeeded in the long term or in the context of their team.
The role swap is a trickier manoeuvre to successfully pull off than some may initially appreciate. It requires not only that the player in question can play the role to a high level, but that his replacement be someone of similar capability or perhaps better at the role he is vacating and finally that the end result of the role swap means more overall success for his team. Few role swaps have fulfilled all of those critera, so there are a number of angles to come at the problem from in ranking the best role swaps in LoL history.
Each swap does not have to meet all three, but it must meet one. As a result some famous examples have been excluded, but more on that as we proceed to the top 10 role swaps in LoL history.
10. WildTurtle (Top laner to AD Carry)
Jason 'WildTurtle' Tran began his competitive career playing in the Top lane for Monomaniac Dominatus. His offline breakout came substituting at AP Carry for Team LegioN at the IPL Face Off: San Francisco Showdown, helping the team to a surprising Cinderella run to third place. With wins over World Elite and Curse, LgN and WildTurtle had exceeded all expectations for the event, especially with a player playing a different role.
Less than two weeks later he was in action as a substitute again, but this time as AP mid for CLG.Black. The team would not crack the top four, beating LgN but falling to Team Dynamic, his first team. Despite these results, it was not playing any of these roles which earned WildTurtle a spot on this list. The role for which Turtle is known the world over now is at AD Carry.
WildTurtle played the role for Orbit Gaming and then Quantic Gaming/Cloud9, but his opportunity to shine in the botlane came thanks to TSM's issues with Chaox. When the NA powerhouse decided to bench their long-time ADC for behaviourial reasons, WildTurtle came in as the substitute for that week's LCS play and quickly impressed with a pentakill against compLexity. Since then he has established himself as not only perhaps the best AD Carry in North America, helping his team to back-to-back top two finishes in the LCS playoffs, but also proved a strong ADC at the S3 World Championship.
WildTurtle's play at ADC has clearly been of a significantly higher level than his play at any of his previous positions, seeing him now established as one of the best in the world, but has also been the catalyst for the revival of a TSM side which had fallen since their glory days of Season 2, when they had dominated seemingly every LAN in NA. With Reginald no longer the solo star carrying the game outright, TSM have been able to rely on spectacular play from their ADC, whether ahead or behind, to give them a chance to win games.
It is also no coincidence that the arrival of the play-making WildTurtle has seen Xpecial's stock as a star Support rise to an all-time high, finally acknowledged as an elite Support player. WildTurtle has brought the more aggressive side out of the famously labeled 'passive-aggressive Support'.
9. Chauster (AD Carry to Support)
Steve 'Chauster' Chau is known for a career filled with role swaps, some literally position swaps and some dictated by meta-game shifts, but none moreso than his decision to move to the Support position for Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). Chauster had been known as a good AD Carry, some will tell you perhaps the best in North America, and after the removal of Support Elementz it initially could have been the case that CLG moving HotshotGG down to Support would have been their answer. Instead, they finally settled on recruiting AD Carry Doublelift, who himself had role swapped from Support some months prior, to play the position Chauster vacated to take up Support.
The impact of this decision can hardly be overstated, as AD Carry went on to become arguably the most important role in Season 2, capable of literally carrying games if his team facilitated it. With CLG's old strengths leaving them one by one, as HotshotGG's Top lane impact faded; Saintvicious was removed as Jungler and bigfatlp declined, the newly emergent force they had at the botlane allowed CLG to still remain one of NA's elite teams and a potential world contender for a while longer.
Chauster's swap to Support not only saw him playing well at his new role, but also gave him the opportunity to directly influence the development of Doublelift. Teaching the team's new AD Carry how to play, as well as directly giving him direction in games, saw the youngster emerge as the team's new star player and perhaps the best player in North America entirely. That first period playing with Chauster still stands as CLG's star player's peak for performance.
CLG may not have converted Chauster's move into any offline titles, but one can only imagine the problems they would likely have faced had the move not occured.
8. Doublelift (Support to AD Carry)
Yiliang 'Doublelift' Peng is one of the most famous players in the world and one of the most identifiable players at his position of AD Carry. Yet once upon a time Doublelift was the Support player known for his Blitzcrank and face-checking the brush. DTG player and Epik Gamer team-mate Westrice even told me Doublelift was a player he never expected to be very good, since despite good mechanics he suffered in trying too often to make plays as the Support.
After a fairly uneventful period playing AD Carry for Curse Gaming, it was a high profile move to Counter Logic Gaming that changed everything for Doublelift. Under the tutelage of Chauster, the aforementioned role swap specialist and former AD Carry himself, Doublelift's mechanical excellence was honed into becoming a more complete all-around player. The newly born ADC star did not even have to suffer the consequences of decision-making holding him back as often, with Chauster there to direct the action and issue the commands he could execute flawlessly.
For a time they were considered the world's best botlane and kept CLG relevant and afloat as a top team. Doublelift is still largely known today for the peak his play hit during that period in time, not matching a similar level of in-game performance with any consistency, barring a brief re-emergence at the All-Star tournament, since then.
7. Impact (Support to Top laner)
When a player role swaps and successfully becomes a member of the most dominant team in LoL history then it's pretty straight-forward that he would make this list. Jung 'Impact' Eon-yeong could be seen in 2012 playing with Xenics Storm as their Support player, never registering on anyone's list as a dangerous Support with a bright future ahead of him. In the era of MadLife and Lustboy few even saw Impact amongst the pack following behind those MiG/Azubu names. A move to Top lane changed everything for Impact.
SK Telecom T1 (SKT) was built as a vehicle for solo queue prodigy Faker, who was considered by many to be the next potential star of competitive play. With the first SKT team hand-picked by Blaze Top lane legend Reapered, and achieving the earlier success with an IEM win, many looked at the second SKT team as Faker and the four Fakerettes. Getting stopped by Ozone in their debut season together, with Faker's highlight plays the only moment most remember of their games that season, it was the following season which introduced the world to the rest of SKT.
SKT winning OGN Summer, the S3 World Championship and OGN Winter, has seen the other members of the team all step forwards as top players at their positions, earning their own time in the spotlight. For Impact he has not quite experienced the same boost as some of the others, most of whom are considered 1a or 1b at their positions in Korean LoL, but he has been firmly shunted into the discussion for the best Top laners in the world.
He may not be Flame, a player capable of carrying or performing consistently despite the quality of his team's play, but the former Xenics man has taken to the Top lane meta of the last nine months and excelled. Playing in a team with so many players capable of drawing bans is a boon to any player's individual game, but Top lane has also not been a position of too many surprises the last few OGN seasons, so Impact has performed consistently well to ensure SKT has no holes in their collective game.
Success has carried him this high on the list, but it's difficult to gauge the individual play of this player in light of how overwhelmingly good his team is and some of his team-mates are, so he goes no higher.
6. inSec (Jungler to Top laner)
Choi 'inSec' In-seok is the only Jungle player in LoL history who has ever looked like legitimately challenging Gambit's Diamondprox for the position of the world's best Jungler. Others may have had a good tournament, a great game or a nice series of plays, but none could stand up to the sheer brilliance of the Russian. Then along came inSec, this Korean beast with monstrous mechanics who both embodied the modern day carry jungler and could make plays with such mastery Shakespeare would have shed a tear. Yes, inSec's decision-making could sometimes be questioned, but here was a Jungler with the mechanics of an elite solo laner.
With CJ Entus, inSec made a name as a rising star, then with KT B he seemed destined to reach the upper echelon of Korean LoL. Had Ozone not shocked the world in OGN Spring, perhaps he would have reached the finals that season, instead that result inadvertently saw his Jungle time come to an end. With Ozone being a team predicated upon scouting and coaching that season, they were able to help engineer situations from which the highly skilled Jungler was caught out in key moments, even his mechanics unable to save him. The result was a quarter-final finish and a move to the top lane for our man.
As a top laner it's hard to say inSec has necessarily been as good or better than his time in the Jungle, but his team has been more successful. Moving to Top lane allowed KaKAO to come over into the role he vacated, the former KT A player proving himself a contender for best Korean Jungler himself. The combination of both playing at a high level, with some of the other talent around the map, has seen KT B emerged as the second best team in Korean LoL over the last seven months or so.
Losing only to the SKT team who may well be the best single line-up in LoL history, inSec's time at the top lane has been about as close to an OGN title as any player has been without winning one. It seems unlikely he will ever be the best Top laner, but perhaps he can one day be in Korea's best team. PoohManDu's forced inactivity certain opens the door for a better chance to knock off SKT next time around.
5. YellOwStaR (AD Carry to Support)
Bora 'YellOwStaR' Kim has long been heralded as one of the underrated AD Carries in European LoL. His play for aAa saw them head to the S1 Championship final and with SK Gaming they unexpectedly qualified for the S2 World Championship in second place at the European Regional, famously taking down the mighty CLG.EU in the semi-finals. That YellOwStaR played a shot-calling role while playing AD Carry in the S2 meta is worthy of credit in itself. When he joined fnatic, though, it was expected that no matter his level of success he would eventually be put to one side for the arrival of the 17 year old Rekkles.
Indeed, Rekkles did arrive into the line-up after S3 and once his age met the requirement to compete in the LCS, but it did not cost YellOwStaR his starting position on fnatic. The team did not last until the Rekkles birthday to make a change, they removed Support nRated, swapped YellOwStaR over to his position and then brought in temporary AD Carry stand-in puszu. puszu got his own share of praise for his play at the S3 World Championship, but YellOwStaR was the real revelation of the tournament amongst European players.
Quickly transitioning to Support, he seemingly made Leona his own in a matter of weeks. By the end of the tournament, with fnatic reaching as far as the semi-finals, the Frenchman could be considered one of the best Support players in attendance. As LCS EU continues, so does his high level play at the position, suggesting that YellOwStaR is not only here to stay at Support, but may yet exceed his own success at AD Carry.
4. LoveLin (Support to Jungler)
When OMG emerged as the new force in Chinese LoL, ending the reign of the overwhelmingly dominant World Elite, LoveLin stood as the player accruing the most emphatic overtures for his play. The Support player had exerted such an impact on the game that some, including a number of expert level thinkers, had him a close second to the then untouchable god of the position: MadLife. With his team continuing to be successful, few could have imagined he would attempt a role swap or that it would yield a favourable result.
LoveLin moved over to Jungler and his aggressive approach not only turned OMG's tower diving style up to 11, it also had him establish himself as a top Jungler in his own right. At the S3 World Championship, his team would be halted by domestic rivals and banes Royal Club, but not before LoveLin had impressed the audience in his group stage campaign that even saw a victory over SKT. The highlight match for the man from China was against TSM, as his mobility boots Volibear tore through the North American team with terrifying ferocity.
There are players who have gone from being good at one position to better at another. There are players who have been amazing at one position and moved to another and performed adequately. Examples of a player being truly world class at one position, moving to another and being world class there in his own right are very rare. LoveLin stands out as the prime example of that being possible, if very unlikely.
3. Alex Ich (Jungler to Mid laner)
This entry is one which may initially seem like cheating, so it will require extra emphasis on the context. Alexey 'Alex Ich' Ichetovkin is known now as one of the most successful mid laners of all time, almost indisputably the most prior to the arrival of Faker. Back before the birth of Team Empire, though, Alex Ich was the jungler of Meritorious: The Gathering (MTG), where he played along with current long-time team-mates Darien and Genja. This was the era before GoSu Pepper (Edward) and Diamondprox came into the picture. Back then, the mid lane player for MTG was Irugat.
Irugat had personal differences with some of the other MTG players and left the line-up. After some further roster moves of key players, Team Empire would eventually be born and soon become Moscow Five. That team's success was monumental, losing only a single map over their first two tournaments and taking four of their first five offline events. Never placing below fourth at an event with that line-up, M5/Gambit is still known as one of the greatest LoL teams ever.
As the star carry of those line-ups, Alex Ich can well be considered one of the most successful players at his position ever. Diamondprox may exert incredible influence over the map and the success of the laners, but Alex Ich is the tip of the Gambit spear and when it comes to carrying the game winning tournaments, it has always fallen on the back of the man in the mid lane.
2. CaoMei (AD Carry to Top laner)
Wei 'CaoMei' Handong sets the tone for the final two placings on this list, as a player who wasn't necessarily more successful individually at his role, but swapping role allowed his team to be significantly more successful overall. He also provides an opportunity to discuss a name which may appear absent from this list, team-mate WeiXiao. WeiXiao would be cited by many as a great example for this list, since it is often mentioned that he went from playing Top lane to playing AD Carry, where he established himself as perhaps the best player of all time at that position.
In reality that is not quite the entire story. WeiXiao had originally been the AD Carry for WE, even winning IEM VI Guangzhou with them. It was the arrival of CaoMei which sparked a change in position for WeiXiao, as the AD Carry shifted up to the top lane to allow CaoMei to take the ADC spot. Eventually it was decided that WeiXiao was better down in the botlane and the two swapped roles.
For WeiXiao this proved a very good move, going to be one of the best ever, as previously mentioned, but for CaoMei he was known to be very streaky at Top. The joke that CaoMei feeding first blood to enemy was the spark for World Elite winning games certainly has some truth to it, the Chinese Top laners style was based around being willing to take risks. Still, there have been times where it has paid off to WE's credit, from their IPL5 late-game win over CLG.EU to their dominance domestically.
The latter is the true key to the importance of this role swap. CaoMei moving to Top lane not only allowed WeiXiao to be the best he could be, which had a huge impact on adding a world class star to the team, but also put World Elite in position to become the world's best team. Winning IPL5 and managing an astonishing five or so months undefeated domestically, World Elite staked their claim as one of the most dominant teams ever, something which seems pretty unlikely to have occured without this role swap.
1. Woong (Top laner to AD Carry)
Factors outside of the server, such as his infamous split with Ring Troll and his name being easily transformed into an equivalent for "wrong", have led Jang 'Woong' Gun-woong to often become the target for public derision, yet the context of his career is of significant importance to the Korean scene. Few modern day fans will understand that once upon a time Woong was one of the best players at his position. Going under the name rjsdndgod, Woong would become the Top laner for the MiG Frost team which won the OGN LoL Invitational in February of 2012.
Going into OGN Spring, the first real OGN season, the team were considered favourites for the title and the best team in Korea. That potential would not be truly manifest, as they lost to sister team Blaze in the final in a sweep. Internal issues led them to part ways with their AD Carry, Locodoco. Rather than acquire a direct replacement, it was decided that Woong would swap down to ADC and they ended up picking up amateur player Shy, who had no legitimate competitive experience at the time.
Shy managed, in a matter of months, to transform himself into the best Top laner in the world. Down at ADC, Woong had some good games and some bad games, but his synergy with MadLife was worthy of note, especially in the wake of his departure and more skilled ADCs struggling to work as well with the god of Support. Woong leaving has also shown the impact he had on ensuring the team's pick/ban phase was at an elite level, Frost has never looked the same in this regard since he left them.
While Woong played ADC for Frost, not only did Shy emerge as an elite replacement and player at that position, the team were able to rack up an OGN title, two OGN finals appearances, a runner-up finish at the S2 World Championship and a second place at the IEM VII World Championship. During his tenure they never failed to finish below fourth place at an offline event. Woong's play in ADC, individually considered alone, would never put him in position to truly be one of the best, but the sum total of the impact of his swap put this as the most significant role swap in the game's competitive history.
Photo credits: AZUBU, Riot, LoLesports, SK Gaming, Moscow Five, ThisIsGame