Every year, the League of Legends community tricks itself into believing the professional scene will finally have unbelievable champion parity, where no champion is too strong or weak and the professional players will be allowed to play what they want as opposed to optimizing for the best possible team composition. Every year, this fails to be the case. It’s not like this is a bad thing, as with 150 champions it only takes 10 or so problematic champions to stagnate professional play, and beyond that teams are going to be drawn to the same champion year after year due to the utility that the champion can bring, regardless of their so-called “power level.”
With the first week completed in each of the four major professional regions of North America, Europe, China, and Korea, the 2022 meta has somewhat divulged itself to the viewers. With literally dozens of weeks to go, this is of course subject to change, especially within the context that League of Legends receives balance patches every two weeks. But what’s more important is picking out the themes that make a champion relevant and define the role it plays.
It’s always easiest to start off with the bot lane because the attack damage carry (or ADC) already has a smaller champion pool than the other roles. Most years, teams will narrow the ADC pool down to four or five champions based on who they think fits the meta. This year, four champions have maintained a presence (picks plus bans) of 50 percent or higher, with nearly a 30 percent drop to the next place. Caitlyn immediately established herself as too strong, being banned over 100 times so far, more than any other champion. Aphelios, Jinx, and Jhin round out the top four, marking the ADC meta as being long-range hypercarries. With the changes to teleports made over the offseason, top laners can no longer effectively influence the bot lane before 14 minutes. This reintroduced the chance for teams to use a win condition through their ADC that had somewhat fallen off over the last couple of years.
ADCs are traditionally played as a duo lane with supports, who enjoy a much wider pool. Thresh, who has been a professional mainstay since his release several years ago, continues to be the highest priority support, and viewers should never expect this to change. Leona and Nautilus round out the top three, lending credibility to the idea that engage supports are at the peak of the meta, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Enchanters have proven themselves perfectly viable, with Yuumi and Karma drawing more bans than any non-Thresh support. Lulu has also been played 25 times with a 56 percent win rate. Rakan falls somewhere in the middle of enchanter and engage support, which makes it perfectly fitting that he slots in right between the engage supports and the enchanters in terms of total presence percentage. Supports are experiencing a somewhat unprecedented state of champion parity, which has been particularly enjoyable to watch.
The 2022 jungle meta has established itself with champions that can skirmish well early on, promoting a gank-heavy style of play. Xin Zhao, Lee Sin, Jarvan IV, Viego, and Diana are all champions that can fight each other and assist their other lanes early on, with the latter two having an impeccable ability to scale into the late game. With the relatively long average game time across the world, it’s strange that Viego and Diana aren’t topping the list. The other three tend to become relatively tanky but don’t carry their damage potential into the later game. Most teams must rather rely on a stronger frontline instead of putting their junglers on carry-oriented champions.
This largely makes more sense when you consider the mid-lane meta. In years past, supportive champions like Galio and Twisted Fate have consistently arisen as premiere picks. As supportive champions, it made sense to see teams try and draw more damage from other roles, but that’s not needed as much this year. While Twisted Fate remains above all mid champions in terms of priority, the following champions are all carries in themselves: LeBlanc, Corki and Viktor all scale well into the late game and can deal insane amounts of damage. Corki in particular has emerged as a somewhat surprising staple of pro play right now with his ability to single-handedly sway the flow of the game.
In past years, top lane picks were generally uninteresting. It felt like the game was more often than not decided with little to no influence from the top lane picks, but the teleport change that prevented them from influencing the bot lane has opened up the opportunity for them to win their own lane. With top lane as a win condition, it should be no surprise that champions like Renekton, Gwen, Jayce, and Graves have emerged. This era of heavy-damage top laners has seemingly brought professional League of Legends into an era where all five roles carry sizable importance.
Of course, the pre-defined meta isn’t the end all be all. Gragas is an outstanding example of a champion who directly clashes with the other picks in its role. As a tanky top laner, he has the ability to stifle the kill threat of some other top lane champions. Talon in the jungle is substantially easier to kill than his counterparts in the role, but his mobility around the map makes him useful for applying consistent pressure in the early game. Some teams have brought Varus seemingly back from the dead, forcing him into their own style of play for better or worse.
The “meta” gets even more fun to look at when you continue to break it down between different regions, and even different players. Yuumi’s 35 percent of total presence is inflated to 91 percent when you isolate Korea’s statistics. China makes up eight of Kai’sa’s nine total appearances. Despite being picked or banned 52 times across the four major regions, Graves has one total appearance in Europe. In North America, Jinx has been utterly dominant while Aphelios has been useless. Even among less extreme examples, it’s fun to observe the trends among different regions regarding how they like to play the game. North America is still heavily into playing Syndra, who has a 60 percent presence in the region. Thresh takes a backseat to Leona as the most popular support in China. Notable about Europe is how much they like to diversify the meta, with several niche champions seeing professional play already this year. Korea has banned Renekton in every single game so far this year and has a really good Aphelios proficiency.
Of course, the definition of the meta gives way to the excitement that occurs when someone picks an off-meta champion. China’s Weibo Gaming locked in Zed jungle for SofM and put up potentially his best game of the season. Europe’s G2 Esports directly challenged the meta when they locked in two supports (Seraphine and Pyke) for their bot lane. Gen.G’s Lehends in Korea locked in the truly bizarre Singed support. TSM’s Yursan locked in Rell this week against Cloud9.
The intricacies of professional League of Legends will never cease to amaze me, and I’m excited to see who will be the first to find an alternative answer to the meta and change the scene as we know it.