In competitive League of Legends, push is king. Have a pushing advantage and you will find yourself able to rotate freely and unpunished through the map, reaching conflicts first and comfortably warding while the enemy is stuck farming. Get pushed, and you or your turret will get poked down, and your teammates left alone against enemy rotations.
Arguably, wave control is the single biggest factor determining whether a certain champion can be a successful laner in competitive play. With wave control, professional player will set up solid lines of vision that will enable them to safely dive or chip turrets, while simultaneously avoiding enemy ganks themselves.
These advantages are far formed being minutiae, and can be snowballed into victories reliably at the highest level of competition. Drafting three lanes that get pushed in is often considered a death sentence, and remarkable playmaking such as Royal’s against Fnatic is needed to secure a proper win condition in such drafts.
Thorough season 7, Riot has been nerfing champions with strong push left and right: Galio, Taliyah, Leblanc, Caitlyn, Karma, Zyra, Varus… The list goes on, yet most of these champions have remained relevant elements of the competitive metagame.
The problem lies not on the champion themselves, but rather the underlying mechanics that make push incredibly oppressive. The champions are just a symptom of a bigger problem, which just so happen to have kits with naturally strong wave control.
Instead, we need to think about the recovery mechanisms that allow pros to punish pushing lanes. That is, scaling and ganking.
Scaling is very tricky. It is, in theory, a recovery mechanism, but it’s one that feels incredibly dull to watch and gives no outplay satisfaction. It’s very easy for matches that should be exciting to end up feeling like a PVE endeavor, where it becomes a question of properly closing for the early game team and one of waiting for the one outscaling.
When balancing issues that regard the competitive scene, keeping the game engaging and fun to watch should be at the forefront of priorities. Both from a perspective of entertainment and actual competition, ganking looks like the main mechanic that should be encouraged to punish pushing lanes.
What this means is that we must be looking at how the jungle works when we look to balance the strength of pushing champions. While other alterations of the game will work to create better ganking efficiency, such as rewarding roaming champions or lowering the cooldown on Teleport, the jungle is both a bigger force of ganking and also one that is non meta dependent.
In this context, it becomes apparent how tone-deaf the design of Zombie Ward is to the problems of competitive play. Zombie Ward rewards pushing champions, who were already “overpowered” under Riot’s perception, as it can be seen from their nerfing choices. It makes jungle control much easier and cheaper to have, diminishing further the risk of getting ganked when overextended.
Denying vision is easier the more pushing lanes you have, thanks to gold advantages that enable buying more pink wards, and the extra time laners have to roam with their jungler and properly clear.
Not only is Zombie ward giving an advantage in terms of buffing vision denial, but it heavily impairs the ability of the jungler to effectively gank.
As a jungler, even if you correctly read where and when the enemy has used their trinket ward, you will still have to devote your time to clear it. This is a double threat, both taking time that you could be using ganking or farming and revealing you more often to the opponent.
Because a Zombie Ward might have a duration of up to triple that of a regular ward, there simply is no other choice for junglers. It’s either clear wards or grant the enemy constant information about their position.
In the Spanish LVP, Mad Lion’s support Jesus “Falco” Pérez and his ADC Jesper “Jesklaa” Klarin would invade the enemy jungle to ward both the opposing Red buff and the raptor brush.
By using “only” two trinkets, Mad Lions would have complete information of the botside jungle up until the five minute mark, with both wards lasting the full four minutes.
Jakob “Cinkrof” Rokicki, famous for his topside early aggression, would remain inactive up until past the eighth minute, relegated to farming and waiting for Mad Lion’s jungle control to fade. Even if Falco’s squad had no vision of his Jarvan, the fact that he was not spotted botside was enough to keep Mad Lion’s sololaners on their toes, helping them avoid certain death.
There is a case for Movistar Riders, and Cinkrof in particular, to have had a bad pathing adaptation, where a Blue buff start could have potentially allowed him to check the warded bushes without barely investing any time. However, since MRDS had no way of knowing where these wards were placed, even this choice would have substantially hindered his early game.
Keep in mind that, because catch up experience was removed as well, Cinkrof’s time spent clearing his own jungle would potentially have an impact delaying his level 6 powerspike, making the choice harder.
Despite the fact that metagame evolution is incredibly hard to predict, it’s hard to see how this buff to vision control and spotting the enemy jungler will not result in an even bigger commitment to pushing lanes.
Cinkrof’s team was punished on the back of a weird invade choice, yet a similar result could have been achieved with Mad Lion’s pushing botlane and a stronger jungling duelist, where the roaming from Falco would be very hard to punish.
It can only be concluded that, in the aforementioned scenario of drafting three pushing lanes, the consequences would be direr than ever before for the enemy team. By nerfing the main counterplay to shoving waves under the turret, Riot has tilted the metagame further in favor of the very champions they were nerfing.
Once the major leagues start again, or perhaps before, there will be nerfed to Zombie Ward’s broken design. Or at least to whomever pushes the hardest.
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Disclaimer: The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.