The World Championship is always entertaining because it's made up of the best teams in the world bashing their heads together for a month straight. But it's also the only time a meta develops and changes so quickly wuthout the changing of a patch. Every game from start to finish is one patch, but the final best of five will look entirely different than the first day of Play-Ins.
In some ways in mirrors a single Bo5 series which sees it's own rapid adaptation to what and how the teams are playing. Except Worlds is between 24 teams, each with their own style, totaling around 100 games, not just five.
What often pushes teams over the edge of making it out of Groups is whether or not they can adapt fast enough. When Caitlyn blindsided the meta a couple years ago, Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi and C9 were the ones to add it to their arsenal and squeaked into the knockout phase, while the other NA teams, as we know, failed to make it out.
And that Ashe/Miss Fortune combo that gave us "The Longshot," was a meta adaptation to counter Zyra specifically. Perhaps Kayle will develop as a counter to Garen/Yuumi, or maybe teams will just beat it through lane swaps or jungle invades. The hardest question to answer is "Why does something work," because one single win doesn't always mean a counter has been found.
Wins against dominant champs may mean a team found a viable solution to that meta problem and used it successfully on stage, but it's always possible the win was jsut a fluke. Each team has to decide that for itself, and that affects the development of Picks and Bans and how each game is played moving forward.
The Champion Pick Bell Curve
Let's examine champ picks and trends. Every tournament is going to have a bell curve of champions picked. The middle of the bell curve are the champs that are strong, but not meta defining. They are the ones picked the most, banned with throwaway bans or when against a poocket picker, and usually have ~50% win rate.
Those champs are boring to look at. It usually comes down to "These five ADCs are the strongest, these five ADCs get picked the most." The more interesting champs are the ones on either side of the bell curve - the ones at or near 100% presence and near 15% - 20% presence.
NOTE: Weight pick rate higher than ban rate, since it provides a tangible result of champ strength.
The only champion at 100% presence so far is Pantheon, who has been banned in 60 games and been picked once (he won). The others near the Play-In Stage high end are Syndra, Qiyana, Xayah, Renekton, and LeBlanc. These are the champs that are either OP or strong flex picks that provide an edge in the draft phase specifically.
The low end of the bell curve represents a few things. Meta pick counters, failed champs, niche picks, and pocket picks (which we ignore). From the Play-Ins, failed picks are Ekko, Caitlyn, Skarner, and Camille, though it's hard to say what exactly emerged as a meta counter, when the meta wasn't even developed yet.
But once we reach the Group Stage, teams have three options for establishing the meta:
- Drop the failed picks altogether, increase others.
- Decide they are better able to utilize the failed picks and play them anyway.
- Move the failed picks into a niche counter pick situation.
So What Did Teams Learn from the Play-Ins?
The easy takeaway is changes on the high end of the curve, so I'll lay that out first. Pantheon is 100% banned, and Syndra and Qiyana held a steady presence as well. Xayah received a small drop after a sub 50% win rate in Play-Ins, with Kai'Sa receiving an equal sized bump-up to replace her.
Renekton (38% Play-In winrate) and LeBlanc (35%), however, received no percentage decrease. This moves them both into the second category, where teams have decided the champ is strong, but the previous teams were too weak to properly utilize it. Both should be monitored though, since it's still too early in the Group Stage to be meta defining.
The low end gets more complicated. Kayle, specifically, saw the highest degree of change, going from 23% to 72%. Most of her presence comes from bans, but her three games are all wins. It's clear teams with stronger laners and better macro see more from such an incredible late game champion.
The biggest question mark here though is where is Kennen? This champ had an 80% win rate in Play-Ins with only a 20% presence, and has yet to be picked or banned at all in the Group Stage.
Similarly, while Fiora only was picked once, she was absolutely dominant in her game. It's clear her multiple buffs made her an incredible split pusher. Why are the strong top laners in Groups not picking her up? The Finals are in France, Fiora needs to show up on that stage!
Lastly, the failed picks mentioned earlier all got dropped. Ekko, Caitlyn, and Skarner all have 0% presence in the Group Stage so far, and Camille was moved to niche counter. And other mid-bell curve picks with low win rates have also fallen off. Nocturne boasted a 25% win rate in the Play-Ins and has dropped to less than half his presence in Groups. Good job teams, you're learning!
Teams obviously still have a good bit of time to figure out what is being abused and how to counter it. Likely, there will be a second wave of champ priority coming as we enter the second round robin of Group stage.
Those days feature a minimum of three games from each team, meaning they will have to be quick to adapt. Also, since it's an elimination day, the teams will be pulling out all their hidden picks in efforts to advance to the knockout stage. These picks can shake up the current pacing, and will definitely change draft priority.
Maybe this is when Fiora finally makes her way on stage. Maybe this is when teams let Pantheon through in hopes to have a strong enough counter for it. Perhaps we will see more creative picks allow for more creative playstyles, like laneswaps, etc.
Until then, just keep your eyes on the champ priority and what teams do to counter the ones with the highest presence. And really, the most important question is, who will kill Yuumi once and for all?