The League of Legends World Championship 2017, the biggest tournament ever, has been providing China with world festival-like matchups and spectacles. With the support from their fans providing fuel for the flame, the LPL teams are burning with an ambition for victory that is brighter than ever. Meanwhile, the LCK fans are watching the matchups against other regional teams with apprehension, asserting that regardless of their efforts, ‘victory belongs to KR’. Amongst all of this fervor, the NA and EU LCS fans - two eternal rival regions - continue to discuss which team is better.
And here is the weapon of choice - ‘Ardent Censer.’ Ardent Censer, an item that was OP even before the beginning of Worlds, is a support item that dramatically boosts the abilities of allies. Ardent Censer has great synergy, especially with ADCs who can use the item’s unique ability to melt targets. It will be difficult for opponents to kill them since Ardent Censer will give them lifesteal as well in the the current tournament builds.
The teams playing in Worlds likely won’t be able to resist the allure of Ardent Censer, since it can provide a shortcut to victory. Ardent Censer has been used in 59 matchups out of the total 63 matchups from the Play-in Stage up to the 1st week of the Group Stage. It would be 60 if we include the game where Ardent Censer was not completed due to the game being finishing too early. The overwhelming presence and power of this item has brought many KR league fans to start using it as an action, with “We Ardent-Censered them,” becoming a common phrase.
However, some feel that it is not accurate to say the item is absolutely required. After all, it is still a fact that whichever team plays better wins, given that both supports from each team builds Ardent Censer. And there always has been some sort of trend in Worlds, and it would be presumptuous to claim that whatever is trending is the only way to win. If we were to compare the items with 1st-tier champions, these items do not go through any kind of ban phase, but since all items are the same, no conditions are needed. Ardent Censer is not an item you choose to get, but instead is an item you are required to get.
■ The absolute item meta that has never existed before- “Janna, don’t mind me and take my CS.”
Going back to 2012, the strategies and tactics used then were very vivid and colorful. There were unique aspects to them, such as Junglers without Smite, or supports picking Blitzcrank to cause early game skirmishes with their Teleports. It could be said that this was when the comps and fights were very intense. There were times they’d use 3 Teleports depending on the situation, but comps specialized in team fights were most common.
2013 and 2014 had something in common- it is hard to describe in a single sentence, but those years generally involved teams trying to fight for the lead through lane swapping macro plays and countless wards. Joining team fights got more intense as the Top laners’ spell of choice was essentially locked in as Teleport. Most of the time, everyone in the team was actively controlling jungle objectives based on better vision control after destroying the first turret together. In this process, the ADCs got time to farm by themselves, and the supports and jungles helped counter opponent turret dives in the top lane while focusing on vision control.
Afterwards, the torch of the meta was passed on to the top laner; Darius became the main pick for his capabilities in both attack and defense, as well as his macromanagement aspect in 2015. At the same time, mid laners added depth to the team comp with a variety of different champions. For example, there was a team that chose to play LeBlanc-Kassadin, or the game would be made up of those that chose to focus on defense or late game with champions like Viktor and Azir. Back then, ADC players chose champions that were powerful in late game like Tristana, Sivir, or Jinx at the front.
Then in 2016, back when the junglers’ plays tended to catch the spotlight, the bottom duo’s lead in the game became very important, as 2-2 fights were often held in the top lanes. Lane swaps were no longer done, and the laning phase became more important; the games were usually centered around fights between Jhin and Ezreal. If either one lost against the other, it greatly influenced the team’s macromanagement. That is why whichever team in the lead would try 5-man turret dives; in those instances, the ADC’s mobility played a big role unlike before. Because of this, Ashe was considered a 1st-tier champion for a rather long time.
That was why many bot duos were bitter - the game would reach a point where the ADC would have difficulty performing as a real damage dealer, and their supports seemed rather insufficient in their eyes. However, the performance of bot duos began to improve as Ardent Censer began to rise. Of course, there was a huge difference between this ADC meta and the previous one, since the game was mainly about to what degree Ardent Censer synergized with them.
Tristana, Kog’Maw, and Twitch were the main picks. Kalista may have been popular, but was an exception since she was naturally banned. Add in either a Janna or Lulu, and the combo was complete. ADCs would actually yield their precious CS to their support if they were just a few gold away from building Ardent Censer. Gold-generating runes, which were once neglected, and Ancient Coin started to gain popularity as the starting items for supports.
The influence that Ardent Censer had on the bot lane was indeed great- it actually gave rise to the 2-2 phase. Bot duos would use Barrier and Heal since they couldn’t offer to give away any kills, and the primary task for bot lane was building Ardent Censer before their opponents do.
There was less risk of getting ganked since both bot duos were doing the same thing, and they had supports that were suited to saving their ADCs, which caused the Sightstone build to lose priority. Basically, ally junglers no longer had to waste their jungle routes on ganking defensive lanes that cannot effectively play up to ally ganks.
■ The true power drive, Ardent Censer. Let everything go its way…
As previously mentioned, the influence that Ardent Censer had was indeed great, yet it wasn’t restricted only to the bot lane. Sacrifices from other lanes were required since the bot duos had no choice but play defensive; tanky top laners and junglers were preferred, and they needed to have tankiness and CC abilities to protect their ADCs and initiate teamfights. The main tanks were Gragas, Sejuani, and Maokai.
Of course, offensive champions were played as well, but aside from Jarvan IV, they had no apparent success in the games. Also, there had been changes to the roles of mid laners. As the supremely mobile Taliyah was put on the banlist, Ryze began to rise. Syndra was also on the call list. These champions continued to either poke at enemies or sometimes managed to score a kill by successfully hitting the enemy ADC with their skills. However, it was difficult for them to play offensively if they failed to hit the target, as they were likely to get killed by the enemy’s counter attacks.
Many players have different opinions regarding supports. Korean pro gamers pick Janna as the best support, although they don’t say that she has the best abilities. Many say that there would be no real reason to play Janna/Lulu if it wasn’t for Ardent Censer. This means that they are only good because of their great synergy with Ardent Censer, not because they are outstanding champions. This led some people to say that it is such a waste to use their bans on these champions. It would just be better to say that Ardent Censer has pulled them out of the darkness into the light, instead of saying that they were champions in the spotlight in the first place.
Eventually, it’s Ardent Censer that decides how the lanes will go. Even if it isn’t ‘Ardent Censer supports’, players use jungle champions like Nidalee or Ivern to put the buff in effect. On rare occasions, mid Karma would use Ardent Censer, as many believed that using Ardent Censer’s effect on allies, through even unconventional means, is the road to victory.
■ Ardent Censer burns up all the fun, regional teams shake their heads
There are players that agree it’s no fun since everyone is going for Ardent Censer. There’s even people that say “Some teams practice stalling for time in order to get Ardent Censer.” Players are complaining that the current meta has dramatically changed; rather than fighting, teams will try to hold out and farm just for Ardent Censer. Someone related to a pro team commented that “No matter how much of an advantage your team has, the game can be turned around by just one mistake once both teams have completed their Ardent Censer build in the later phase. Not all games may be like this, but I’m disappointed that the current meta seems to disregard the process it takes to get there.”
However, another LCK team said, “It could be fun for fans who are waiting for the result since no one will know which team will win if our teams manage to withstand. But for us, it’s like a lotto.” They also complained that “It becomes futile if we don’t have our comps based on Ardent Censer. Even if we try to come up with a strategy to destroy such a comp, we’d be playing with a time limit. Not only do we have a time limit; the time at which our opponents complete their builds became important as well.”
The LPL teams who are benefitting from this meta reacted differently. “Frankly, the current meta has a high possibility of making the game run into a late phase, which gives enough room for foreign teams to make a reversal against Korean teams.” And they also showed their neutral view of this by saying, “In order to make an enemy Ardent Censer useless, you got to have the lead in the game and end it quickly; yet, except for Korean teams, people are not used to snowballing. Even if someone wants to propose guides on it, it’s a huge bother, so instead they just go on playing the current meta.”
The NA LCS teams’ answers were simple- “It is just OP. All you need to describe 2017 is Ardent Censer.” And the EU LCS teams assessed that “It is unfortunate that the game seems to revolve around certain lanes instead of being balanced. I personally think that top, mid, and jungle is okay, but it gets less interesting for the bot lanes since bot lane plays are not flexible and always go the same way.”
Overall, each team's reactions were more negative than positive. Many wonder why the patch for it has not come, especially since there is no solution for the Ardent Censer meta, which has essentially become the standard at Worlds. They also did not deny that they can play against the Korean teams, who were once seemingly unbeatable, to some degree.
※ The content above is based on opinions of the coaches and players in the LCK, EU LCS, NA LCS, and LPL pieced together, but their names will not be shown as they wished to be quoted anonymously.
■ Checking the facts - no problem with the match time or champion variety
The league fans may have different reactions from the pro gamers, the ones actually playing in the matchups. People just have different preferences when it comes to say what is fun and what is not just based on how the game appears on the surface. Some may enjoy the fact that no one can predict how the game will turn out in prolonged games, and if any team that a fan supports manages to turn the game around and win, that will also be very thrilling.
It is still too early to assume that most of the teams will play for the later phase and that the current meta is bizarre. We have just went through the 1st week of the Group Stage, and there’s a high possibility of someone coming up with a new strategy during the remaining matchups. Before that, there’s a need to see if Ardent Censer really causes the game to prolong.
Looking at the average time for the 24 matchups held around the same time of the year, Worlds 2017’s average match time was 37 minutes, which is 1 minute shorter compared to the average of last year. It also has a one minute difference compared to the Worlds held in 2014 and 2015. There were only 8 games that went over 40 minutes while Worlds in 2014 and 2016 had 9.
Frankly, the problem regarding variety of champions is not clear. The champions played may lean towards certain champions, yet the champions that were played in the 1st week of the 1st round is 51. It certainly is not a low number compared to previous years: 46 in 2016, 58 in 2015, and 49 in 2014.
Meanwhile, only 14 champions were picked in the bot lane at this year’s Worlds, which is lower than that of previous seasons. Janna got picked 15 times, Lulu 14 times, and Tristana 13 times, and more than 6 champions that were picked last year did not get picked this year.
■ All is equal in front of Ardent Censer.
It is incorrect to consider Ardent Censer as the problem only based on visible data. All teams having the same items, and macro plays may naturally seem boring, yet there are clearly people trying put an end to this meta even if they are going along with it; SKT T1 managed to turn the game around with their extreme team fight comps with Jarvan IV, Orianna, and Rakan; RNG used critically swift attacks against SSG, and GIGABYTE Marines made use of some shocking macro plays.
There will be more studies on the ban-picks from now on, and there could be teams that manage to come up with a new meta in the remaining days of the tournament. They could ban Janna and Lulu to diminish the effect of Ardent Censer, or it’s possible that people will play a similar champion with great mobility similar to Taliyah.
Anyhow, the big centerpiece for the current meta is Ardent Censer, based on the results we have gotten so far. And the only way to fight against it is to build Ardent Censer as well. It may be interesting to see which team will come up with something new, but one cannot be forced to try it for fun. Perhaps the butterfly effect of Ardent Censer has been too great. We as league fans can look forward to Worlds, wherein the result is more interesting than the process, and the battles are growing ever harder to predict.