Isaac "Azael" Cummings Bentley is one of the top analytical minds in all of League of Legends. The former professional World of Warcraft player joined Riot Games as part of the playtest team in 2015. Since joining the NA LCS broadcast as a color caster at the end of March 2016, Azael has solidified himself as one of the leading voices in documenting LoL Esports' biggest moments.
Azael joined Inven Global's Nick Geracie during week 2 of the 2019 LCS Summer Split to share his perspective on the optimal way to play League of Legends, Yuumi's effect on competitive play, and the anomaly of G2 Esports Bot Laner Luka "Perkz" Perković.
I'm joined by Riot Games color caster Azael. As one of the top analytical minds in the LoL Esports scene, I'm interested in what you think about the shift in the meta over the past six months. Do we need to re-define what is optimal League of Legends play at a competitive level?
To me, it's still arguable what the optimal playstyle is. I know everyone is talking about G2 Esports' style being definitively the most optimal, but you can also look at SK Telecom T1 who is very much on the other end of the stylistic spectrum. They play a much slower style and are much more risk-averse than a team like G2 is generally.
In the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational Semifinals, I feel like SKT threw two games against G2. That was an incredibly competitive series with two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of playstyle. SKT's Baron throw in that series was one of the worst that I can remember. I was absolutely shocked to see a team like SKT make that move.
That being said, I think that aggressive styles are being rewarded more due to changes in the state of the game that directly impacts the meta. Things like Turret Plating brought a lot more gold into the game. If you're playing a dominant laning style, you're getting a lot more reward from that. Rift Herald is essentially worth a champion kill of gold, even just from the two plates on its initial charge. Lane advantages can lead to early dragons, and the first dragon gives more stats than seasons prior.
All of these factors are rewarding players with early game skill. I also think that aggression and going for high-risk plays are rewarded more heavily now because of vision has been taken out of the game. We don't have double Sightstone metas anymore, for example. Teams don't have perfect information, so they have to be willing to make plays without it that depend more on your mechanics and individual skill.
That's something I think teams like G2 and Invictus Gaming have in spades. They're so amazing on an individual level that they trust in the fact that a 50/50 play on paper will be in their favor because they are the better players.
I'm glad you brought up SKT and its risk-averse style. However, in the games where SKT won, it felt that Kim "Clid" Tae-min was absolutely carrying the early game from the Jungle. Is the age of full map scaling over in League of Legends?
Yeah, I think you have to have some type of aggressive focal point to be able to win games, even if you're focused on scaling overall. Without Tracker's Knife, you can't just see everything that the other team is doing, and I think that's why you need some measure of aggression. We've seen teams get punished very heavily for playing too much scaling.
If you're just trying to sit back and scale everywhere, you might be able to get to that 35-40 minute teamfight against a team that is not very good and get a free win. However, against a team like G2 or IG, you're going to lose 15 turret plates and be down 5k gold, and then they'll take the Baron and the game is over. You don't get to play full scaling anymore because there is not enough vision to prevent aggressive teams from making plays, so you need a balance.
A team like Misfits, for example, should be really good on paper but isn't always striking that balance correctly. On the other hand, a team like G2 just goes all-in on aggression and has everyone play the same style. I think you can have a team that goes full aggression, but I think a team like SKT who has a player like Clid to bridge the gap with their overall passive playstyle is also viable.
Also, in drafting, even if you're not going to have a player go crazy in the early game, still having some type of early game advantage. For example, SKT putting Kim "Khan" Dong-ha on Jayce in the Top Lane allows you to have some power in the early game to then allow Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok to scale up on a mid lane champion like Corki or Azir to take over the late game.
One of the biggest changes in the meta overall is how the AD Carry role is played. Is there still a place in the meta for heavy scaling hyper carries like Jinx, Tristana, and Kog'maw?
I think picks like that have to be situational. Those type of picks can be often punished if you're choosing them in a blind pick scenario. We did see a lot of teams in NA last spring have success with Jinx, but that's not always the peak level of competition. You don't see G2, IG, and SKT playing champions like that.
Echo Fox AD Carry Apollo "Apollo" Price and FlyQuest AD Carry Jason "Wildturtle" Tran started playing hyperscaling champions last spring, and they can be extremely successful if your opponents can't close out the game before your point of relevance. To ensure that, a team either has to draft towards the early game elsewhere in its composition to bridge the gap, or the pick has to be playing into something that is not going able to punish you early.
A lot of people try to dominate the early game against a Sona/Taric lane, for example, but I think there's a possibility for playing something like Jinx or Kog'maw into that and be okay with going even in the laning phase and match power in the late game with a potentially better teamfight. Right now, because the game pace is faster and game duration is lower, those type of champions aren't really getting to the items they want to be able to take over the game before it ends.
It feels as if a lot of the original fundamentals that made the marksman role what it is are now secondary. Perkz has had a lot of success in the role playing almost entirely casters, mages, and utility picks with the occasional Draven snowball thrown into the mix. Do you think the core values of Bot Lane need to be revisited and redefined by veteran marksmen?
It's hard to say. When you look at a lot of the marksmen who were successful at MSI, a lot of those guys are still playing the role in a much more standard fashion. Guys like Team Liquid's Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng and SKT's Park "Teddy" Jin-seong are very standard marksmen, and they still had a lot of success.
I do think there's an element of overadjustment in the role. Just because Perkz can play Zoe Bot Lane does not mean everyone else needs to drop everything and play Zoe Bot Lane. Sometimes, you go too far in the other direction. What works for G2 works because they had a top 5 Mid Laner in the world swap to another role.
I think Perkz is such a rarity that emulating it will not necessarily equal success for someone like Doublelift and Teddy because Perkz has such a unique skillset when compared to his role peers. In addition, most of the stuff that Perkz plays is still fairly standard. Throughout the 2019 LEC Spring Split and Playoffs he played maybe five mage games. Mostly, he's on Kai'Sa and Xayah.
Perkz is an incredible player who can put his own unique spin to the role, but I don't think that it means everyone has to re-invent the wheel.
Is there a pick that you haven't seen in LCS that you're looking forward to seeing that might be flying under the radar as far as strong champions go in the current meta?
That's a tough question. Honestly, I think we should be seeing more enchantress Supports. I think with Yuumi coming into the meta, we're seeing these sorts of styles become effective. It opens the door for teams by showing them you can play things like Janna who are great at counter engage and teamfighting.
There's a lot of melee champions and flex picks being played that I think Janna could be very effective against. Janna is really strong against champions like Akali, Aatrox, and Irelia. We saw Zyra from Counter Logic Gaming Support Vincent "Biofrost" Wang earlier this split, which was also really cool to see.
The traditional argument is that while enchantress Supports are great in lane, you can't get vision safely with them in the mid game. However, people are finding that Yuumi is allowing them to have success in that area, and teams are finding out in scrims that going for mid game vision is not as dangerous as they initially thought. I'm hoping that opens the door for more variety in the Support position, because it has felt that the role has been entirely tanks and engage for quite some time.
Circling back to what we were talking about earlier, do you think Yuumi could benefit the scaling hypercarry marksmen who have fallen out of favor?
I think Yuumi can work well with that type of champion, but she works better with something like Ezreal. Yuumi is very poke heavy and oppressive, especially once you get enough of an HP lead where the opposing duo can't all-in. You have such an easy time hitting your Qs and poking people under turret. Peeling is the enabler for hypercarries, and Yuumi only has peel on her ultimate. She's more of a poke-centric champion who's not going to be entirely focused on keeping you safe in late game teamfights when compared to a Janna or a Lulu.