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Death of a Marksman?

The times are changing for marksmen

IN 2009, DWIGHT HOWARD LED THE ORLANDO MAGIC to the NBA Finals, which they lost, but it was seemingly a declaration to the world that he would succeed Shaquille O’Neal as the big man of our generation. But injuries and a shift in how the game was played would put a stamp on that — for decades, the league had been dominated by big men, but it would be no more. Since then, as the game has evolved to be smaller and more reliant on speed and 3-point shooting, we are seeing many of the classic style of big men take a seat on the bench in crunch time. This is what I am reminded of when I see star ADCs like Rekkles sitting out games. Like so many people displaced by the shifts in culture or technology, he is now caught in a situation where he is outdated.
It’s not the first time this has happened in League of Legends either. It’s just the first time it’s happened to so many players at the same time. And it’s specifically happening to just ADCs (though I suspect some supports who can’t adapt to a duo mage lane will find themselves out, too). ADCs also happen to be some of the biggest stars in the esport — it makes sense given the nature of the role to be a late-game hyper carry. They had the most chances to shine when the game was on the line. For years, the whole point of the meta was for the support champion to — wait for it — funnel gold into the carry. But now teams have decided there are more effective or consistent ways to win.
But to anyone who has followed the scene since its roots can tell you that plenty of players have come and go. And not just players but whole teams have won a split only to look like rookies the next split — this in spite of practice upon practice. That’s just the nature of this game — longevity rewards those who are generalists, but stars are defined by specific moments which favors whoever specializes in that particular moment or game or tournament. There are tons of examples across all the other roles of changes forcing people out of their jobs.
Leading all the way into Season 3, Teleport actually wasn’t the standard spell to take in top lane. Before that, you’d see a lot of bruisers smashing into each other with ignite. Players like Hotshotgg and Maknoon thrived in that type of environment. There were countless solo-queue legends who took it a step further — the likes of Silsol in NA would run Heal and Ignite, even. But playstyles like this were ushered out in favor of Teleport, which has been absolutely central to every team composition since. It’s not uncommon for even three champions on your team to take it in today’s meta. And if you couldn’t teleport or didn’t want to run it, then you were quick to find yourself without a job. In cases like Maknoon, he went from one of the top players in the world to being completely irrelevant in the span of a year.
In addition to being a difficult ability to use properly (think of all the miscues we’ve seen from teleporting or not teleporting over the years), Teleport also shrunk the champion pool. Why pick a high skill ceiling champion like Riven when you can just pick a tank? Why pick anything when you can just pick a tank? Why not just pick five tanks? Honestly, we’ve seen plenty of carries sift in and out of top lane, but they come with much more risk. A Fiora or a Jax that’s behind isn’t going to do much to affect the game, but someone like Malphite or Ornn? They still provide a ton of CC. Teleport makes it safe for those champions because even if they get bullied early in lane, they can just teleport back. So champions like Riven can’t snowball as effectively.
But when you’re a pro player who happened to be scouted at the start of the split when carry champions were in, you’re just kind of hoping you can adapt. But that’s not how you learned to play the game and it’s not what you’re best attuned to. It’s like asking a 3&D player to suddenly drive to the hoop more in basketball. That’s not what brought them success. Think back to how Licorice started last split or Huni whenever it’s in-meta to play carry top laners. They fell off a bit towards the end when the meta shifted back towards tanks.
The reality of it is most top laners just want the junglers to be AFK so they can duke it out in a brawl. Some fake show of machismo where they can shake hands at the end and compare muscles. But instead they’ve had to adapt their styles to fit the professional meta, which can often be completely opposite of what helped them get noticed in the first place. For years, top laners have had to juggle this. They specialize in tanks and get flamed when they can’t play duelists. Or vice versa. The reality, probably, is teams need to be able to weave in substitutes more freely depending on the meta as opposed to forcing players to become a catch-all containing affinities they might not be naturally suited towards.
Then there are roles like jungle where the entirety of the position is reliant on a player’s ability to adapt to evolving situations in game. Outside of the game, I think this role also takes on the brunt of the blame both in Solo Queue and at the professional level. Whenever there is inaction in the early game, it seems it must be the jungler’s fault.
So I like to imagine that all junglers, but especially pro junglers, attend regular group therapy sessions. Maybe it is in a run-down warehouse somewhere with small leaks in the roof they need to catch with buckets. There’s free coffee. There are old pamphlets from previous season with quick notes on the changes — all of which are now, of course, outdated.
And the pro jungler group therapy session is like the scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker walks in and offers to kill the Batman. And the Joker is a mid laner who comes in and tells them about the funnel strategy. They all laugh at first, but by the end they are crying. Such is the life of a jungle main these past years — adapt to the massive changes each season or move on.
The jungle has continuously seen the most changes throughout the course of the game — more-so than any individual lane — and yet even in pro play they are frequently the focus of the blame. I don’t know the statistic on this, but I would guess this is the role that has seen the most turnover through the years. Learning new things every single season is a difficult endeavor. To me, this is why a lot of the big name carry-oriented junglers have fallen to the wayside. They caught the public eye in the right meta (as junglers do when carry junglers are in) and then fell off with the meta. Only a handful have endured across the world, and most of them are more supportive in style.
Junglers, then, probably just laugh at the ADCs who voice dissent about the changes to the role and the philosophy behind the new bot lane. I don’t think the ADCs are necessarily wrong to complain — their very livelihoods are on the line, and the ADC was as surefire a role and need as there was in the past six or seven years. It makes sense that people specialized in that position where by-and-large the champion pool didn’t greatly affect the style. At the end of the day, the role was a heavily auto-attack reliant position. And now they’re being asked to adapt to something new, which is not an expectation they’ve really had to wrestle with before.
But to junglers who’ve continuously adapted, I can’t imagine there’s much sympathy. A player like MikeYeung who first became famous for his Lee Sin and Nidalee play can only ride the bench until those champions swing back into the meta — and by then, who’s to say he hasn’t lost the necessary touch? Before him there was Rush, and even Bengi had trouble keeping up with metas while he was a World Champion. And for as far back as I can remember, the most dominant solo queue junglers have never really been seen as good professional prospects because they didn’t support the laners enough — very few teams even entertained the idea of playing around a carry jungler.
And then Levi and Vietnam happened last year, and suddenly some of us started to question that assumption a little more. Was it actually true that focusing all the resources into the ADC was the best way to win the game? For a long time, probably yes, that was true. But we started seeing that it wasn’t the only way, and that it wasn’t the most effective way for every team.
What we get with this new meta that forces people to change up the way they approach the draft is teams orienting their compositions and styles around what their players are capable of playing. And the level of play they are capable of reaching. That’s what excites me as a spectator for this meta. I understand it can be super frustrating for players, but change always comes with uncertainty.
At the end of the day, this is just another meta shift — even if it heavily targets marksmen players. Other lanes have dealt with this before, too — people have always and will continue to lose their jobs as the meta shifts in their favor or against. Even in mid lane, we’ve seen assassin mains take a backseat for years now. A guy like Hai, for example, has never excelled on backline mages and once assassins fell out of the meta, you saw people blast his poor mechanics, though that may have just been his poor mechanics on specific types of champions. We’ve seen spells of tanks like Sion and Galio in mid. ADCs have been played mid. We’ve had an Ardent Sensor meta that required supports to just exist and press their shield button. And always, some players adapt, and some fall out of favor entirely.
Having a long career as a pro right now means you need to be able to constantly adapt to the times. This is true even in sports. The outcry we’re seeing now is that it’s affecting the entire role at once — every single marksmen is feeling the brunt of “adapt or die” that every other role has faced over the years. It’s just happening all at once now instead of affecting just the tank players in top or just the assassins in mid or just the Lee Sin players or just the lane-swap dominant teams. I think it’s important to understand and remember that this is something that has always happened.
So right now, you see Rekkles or Doublelift or whoever talk in interviews about how they feel uncertain about the future of the role — I sympathize greatly with them. It’s not an easy thing to just pick up mage champions or bruisers. They might not have the same aptitude for those types of champions no matter how much effort they put in, and they know firsthand just how ruthless a meta shift can be to a player’s career prospects.
As spectators, I think we might have a tendency to expect these guys to be able to play anything. We know of them as some of the best players in the world, so how hard could it possibly be to play a different champion? But I’d venture to say it’s way more difficult than we can possibly fathom — especially at the highest level where being 95% efficient or being 100% efficient on a champion can be the difference between living or dying and winning or losing.
That’s why roles are so clearly defined in professional sports. A professional point guard in the NBA could drop into the local Y and play any of the five positions and dominate, but in the NBA even switching from point guard to shooting guard would be super hard. A guy like Rajon Rondo needs to control the ball to be effective, whereas a shooting guard like Klay Thompson is much better without it. You can’t interchange the two and expect great success.
That’s what we are seeing right now with pro ADCs. Some of them will be better at making the leap because some part of them can do it, but there are assuredly a handful who can only thrive on the auto-attack dominant champions. Or maybe that’s the only thing they enjoy — it’s hard to motivate yourself to extremes on things you don’t like. In the long run, though, I think we’ll start to see more hybrid players rise through the ranks (NA solo queue talent lul). In the NBA, Steph Curry has single-handedly altered the course of the NBA “meta” by being so prolific at three pointers that every other team needed to adapt.
In the past, seemingly every NBA team had a random seven foot tall dude they found at the local Ralph’s to come in and rack up a few fouls against the star big men of the 90s and early aughts. In baseball, relief pitching has become a science. In football, running backs need to be able to run routes and catch the ball. Even in Counter-Strike, teams can be greatly affected by which maps are in or out of the rotation, or which guns have or haven’t been nerfed recently (looking at you, CZ).
I think given an offseason, there will be ADCs who manage to adapt if they put the time into different types of champions, but it’s not an easy thing to do in the middle of the split. In the future, I think it would be interesting (if logistically super difficult) to do the pick-ban phase before selecting which five people would play. That way you can incorporate one-trick-ponies into your roster and ADC mains can still rotate in fluidly if it makes sense. There are a lot of ways the sport can still evolve to accommodate these new changes, and I find the possibilities super exciting.
Ultimately, we’ve seen teams crumble with the fall of the lane swap meta, the duo top/jungle meta, and even the pre-ADC meta in the bot lane. We’ve seen others rise in that absence. One of the biggest problems pros face is the perception that they are suddenly bad because their style is no longer part of the meta. That’s something I hope we take away from this — that eventually the meta will cycle into something else, and that player we considered “washed up” may be good again. I hope players take that to heart and prepare themselves accordingly, even if it seems hopeless at times.
Always, people rise to the demands of those times, though. In the NBA, big men have started to shoot three pointers with great proficiency– their doing so provides their teams with much more space to execute on a larger variety of plays. It has been a super fun shift to see — instead of the NBA becoming “smaller” with the implication that smaller guys had more skill, it’s the big men who’ve instead become more skilled. There’s a future in League of Legends where hybrid players who can play a multitude of styles in bot lane will come to dominate, and this may be the beginning of that path. Out with the old and in with the new. And it is the type of thing we’ve seen throughout the course of our game’s history — the spotlight just happens to be casting a much wider shadow this time.
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10 Thoughts Going Into Week 4