Adaptation is vital in pro play. Whether you’re talking about a team tailoring its playstyle to the current state of the meta or a player fine-tuning his champion pool to fit his role on the above-mentioned team, it’s generally accepted that adaptation should be a key part of their skill sets. After all, League of Legends is an ever-evolving game and everyone who wants to play it competitively has to keep up with the times.
But what if that was no longer the case? What if the most important part of season 8 actually punished teams who tried to adapt while rewarding everyone who decided to wait out the storm playstyle? To anyone that follows competitive League of Legends, this scenario would seem absurd. And yet, that’s exactly what happened in the 2018 Summer Split.
There’s no denying that season 8 introduced the biggest balance shake-up to date. The scuttle crab and jungle experience changes gave birth to gold funnel compositions and altered the way junglers and mid laners had to approach the game. But it’s really the massive AD carry nerfs that overhauled the competitive meta. Unlike junglers and mid laners, AD carries spent eight years playing the same set of bot lane champions and they were ill-equipped to deal with the influx of mages and bruisers.
To make matters worse, these changes hit the competitive scene right at the beginning of the 2018 Summer Split, and many teams had to adapt on the fly. Still, some found more success than others. The meta was a natural fit for G2 Esports as the EU LCS team embraced gold funnels and the new bot lane direction. Not only did Perkz make full use of the extra resources in the mid lane, but Hjarnan looked way more convincing on mages in the bot lane. With that, G2 managed to shore up their most glaring weakness while emphasizing their biggest strength.
A similar narrative took place in North America, albeit with a less notable team. Inspired by Hjarnan’s example, Golden Guardians’ Deftly went an extra mile to learn the ins and outs of Heimerdinger. The pocket pick became the main strength of the GGS bot lane. In fact, Deftly’s laning was so oppressive that many teams chose to ban Heimer against them, which gave Golden Guardians more breathing room in the draft.
At the time, it seemed like G2 and GGS were ahead of the curve. Even if the days of gold funnels were numbered, Riot Games already confirmed they wanted to open up the bot lane to other classes, so it seemed like the new meta was here to stay. But as we know now, that wasn’t what ended up happening.
The second half of the 2018 Summer Split introduced a different narrative. At the time, a large part of the League of Legends community called out the balance team for introducing too many changes to the game. But instead of waiting out the storm, Riot decided to backpedal. Within a few patches, gold funnels were removed from the game and AD carries regained control of the bot lane. The meta was back to normal. And the strategies G2 Esports and Golden Guardians worked so hard to master were made obsolete.
With that, G2 Esports experienced a dizzying fall from grace. Despite starting the season as a top-3 team in Europe, they failed to secure a playoffs bye, and suffered a disappointing 3-0 loss in the quarterfinals against Misfits Gaming. As for Golden Guardians, their decline was even harder and they ended the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split in last place. Meanwhile, teams that barely made any attempts to adjust to the meta started picking up wins left, right, and center. So, not only were G2 and GGS not rewarded for keeping up with the balance changes, but they might’ve been better off if they didn’t try to adapt at all.
Of course, you could make an argument that if G2 Esports and Golden Guardians were so great, they would just “adapt back” to the regular meta. But in the end, there’s a limited number of hours a player can devote to the game. And once you spent most of your time honing new strategies, it’s very difficult to go back to your old playstyle—especially if you have to catch up with teams who were playing it from the get-go.
A dangerous precedent
It’s not uncommon for the League of Legends meta to go through changes. But most of these happen in the off-season. Meanwhile, season 8 set a dangerous precedent by introducing major balance shifts right in the middle of the competitive season.
Many teams that tried to keep up with the changes were left in the dust.
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