In League of Legends, winning teams share many core characteristics, from their individual skills levels to their ability to function as a team. But one attribute that drives some teams ahead of others is their ability to recognize the best win conditions in the current balance environment and shape their play to achieve those conditions. This is measurably true for the start of the 2017 spring split: the biggest overachievers right now, teams like FlyQuest, Echo Fox, and the Misfits, are doing the best job of distributing carry responsibilities across their jungle, mid lane, and top lane roles.
The value of early-game gold leads
Early gold leads have always been incredibly important. The Oracle’s Elixir early-game rating (EGR) model estimates how well teams set themselves up to win based on game state at the 15-minute mark, and gold difference at 15 minutes is one of the key inputs. As you can see below, having a lead of 1,000 or 2,000 gold at 15 minutes can have a huge role in determining who wins the game, though the current meta seems a bit less snowbally than some recent metas have been.
Beyond the simple truism that being in the lead helps you win, what’s more interesting is how teams generate those leads, and on what roles. It’s obviously great if you can have gold leads on all five players, but junglers can only gank or countergank one lane at a time, and it’s rarely possible to draft winning lane matchups in every single role.
The hypothesis here is that prioritizing certain roles over others can lead to more success, if that prioritization matches the shape of the current meta. To test the difference in the value of early gold leads on different roles, we can run correlations between gold differences and game outcomes (where a win is 1 and a loss is 0).
Here’s how those correlations come out for gold differences at 10 and 15 minutes based on the first four weeks of the 2017 spring split.
The standout finding from these correlations is the huge value of having a gold lead on the top half of the map. Right now, junglers and top laners are actually the most valuable roles to get ahead in the first 10 minutes, with mid laners taking over by 15 minutes. Meanwhile, it doesn’t matter nearly as much whether your duo lane is producing a lead.
In an era of carry junglers like Kha’zix, Graves, and Rengar, the value of gold on the jungler is obviously high. Even if you’re playing a supportive jungler like Ivern, you’re probably facing a carry jungler on the other side, so denying gold from the enemy remains important.
Note on Supports
One of the fascinating numbers here is that having a gold lead on your support at 15 minutes is actually more correlated with victory than having a lead on your ADC! Some of this might be tied to the carry value of supports, with Zyra, Malzahar, and others dealing plenty of damage. But the bigger explanation is more to do with team gold: when your support has a gold lead, it’s probably because your team is generating global gold by killing early towers, or because the support is picking up kills and assists (which will usually lead to early towers and big snowballs if you’re doing it right!).
Since there is virtually no situation in which a team would intentionally funnel gold into their support or deny gold from the enemy support, other than through global gains, we can’t interpret their correlation coefficients the same way as the other roles. As a result, they won’t be included in the rest of this analysis.
How unique is this meta?
From a comparison of correlations over the past four splits, we can see that after three splits of almost identical coefficients, the value of early-game gold on AD carries has suddenly dropped in this meta.
Even though ADCs have rarely been at the top of the early-game food chain (since they’re a scaling role), they’ve usually been within reach of the other roles. In the current meta, though, they’ve become the fourth priority for the first time in four splits, and a distant fourth, at that. This is happening because of the two attributes most valued on ADCs right now, which are utility (long-range crowd control) and the ability to make good use of the lethality stat. With good utility, ADCs can be useful whether or not they have any gold. And with good use of lethality, ADCs can reach the top of their power curves in the mid game instead of needing to be accelerated through a mid-game power trough and into late-game status as quickly as possible.
By comparison, ADC value peaked—relative to the other positions—in spring 2016, when champions like Lucian, Kalista, Ezreal, and Sivir were patrolling the bottom lane. It’s no coincidence that the correlation between team gold leads and victory were low then, as well, since the goal was to scale hardest, rather than scale first.
On a more positive note, we’re seeing high value across the board for top laners, junglers, and mid laners. Across those three positions, this is the most role parity we’ve seen in recent memory. All three of those roles can carry, in whatever combination you choose to draft.
The takeaway seems clear: the most successful teams in the current meta will be the ones that can get carry-style play from their top, jungle, and mid trio. That means both generating gold leads for those positions, and making effective use of those gold leads.
Who gets it?
To test our takeaway, we can look at the teams currently topping the standings. Let’s peek in on the NA LCS, EU LCS, and LCK.
Across the top teams in these three leagues, there are some consistent trends. First, most of these teams are getting standout carry performances from their junglers. NA LCS fans know what Moon, Contractz, and Akaadian have been doing, the EU LCS features Trick and Jankos, and the LCK boasts Score and Peanut at the top. In some other cases, junglers are excelling by limiting their opponents: for example, Trick and Kakao have kept opposing junglers to the lowest DPMs in the EU LCS, and Moon, Contractz, Score, and Peanut are all doing well in this area, too. Most of these teams also boast significant strength in their solo lanes, especially the teams that have less to boast about in their jungler’s stat lines (like TSM and Samsung).
To create success, most of these teams are fitting the profile we’ve just explored, i.e. generating gold leads for their top-side trio of top/jungle/mid, whether or not they’re doing the same for their AD carry.
There are some exceptions (C9, G2, KT, and LZ), and the exceptions are noteworthy because of the players they represent: we’re looking at KT’s Deft and Mata, G2’s Zven and mithy, Longzhu’s PraY and GorillA, and Cloud9’s Sneaky and Smoothie. These are certainly the strongest bot lane duos in their own leagues, and among the best in the entire world.
Beyond those world-class duo lanes, though, we can see how teams like Echo Fox, the Misfits, FlyQuest, and others are overcoming perceived deficits in skill or experience and vaulting themselves ahead of their competitors. These teams understand that the best way to allocate early-game resources in the current meta is to focus on the top half of the map and play through their junglers and solo laners.
As always, all of these teams will need to pivot when the next meaningful meta change comes along. Teams with greater skill and experience levels—your KT Rolster and G2 Esports—always seem to maintain their momentum, but it’s the teams who really lean into the optimal ways of playing who rise above our expectations.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/lolesports.com