For the first week of practice on Patch 8.11, the League of Legends world in North America was at peace. Picks remained fairly standard, albeit counterpick-focused.
When Royal Never Give Up substitute AD carry Dai "Able" Zhi-Chun locked in Yasuo in the bottom lane during China's offseason Demacia Cup tournament, it was seen as a cheeky troll pick. RNG had just won the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational in Paris, Able was subbing in for veteran AD carry Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao and the Demacia Cup was often home to slightly off-meta picks and strategies. Nothing to see here -- just another Chinese offseason tournament.
Little did North America and the rest of the world know, it was a harbinger of what was to come on patch 8.11. As teams began to avoid counterpicks, they realized that they could move certain bruisers and mages into the bottom lane. Gold funneling compositions like Master Yi jungle, Taric mid -- which also came from Chinese solo-queue -- also became viable with nerfs to critical strike affecting the AD carry champion pool. Suddenly, anything seemed viable in the bottom lane.
"It's actually the first time this significant of a meta change happened," Counter Logic Gaming mid laner Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun said. "Before, we would pick up one or two champions and still people would doubt it -- whether it was actually strong or going to be a viable pick in the metagame. And that's exactly what I thought when people started to play really weird stuff. I wasn't sure if the LCS would start and people would actually use that strat, but that was actually the case."
As a team, CLG has always been more than willing to play off-meta picks or try out unique compositions even in a more standard metagame. Much of this is due to Huhi and top laner Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaya's willingness to play just about anything if necessary. In the new world of 8.11, they've found that communication, which CLG has always stressed as imperative to a successful split, is more important than ever.
"It's actually really funny," Huhi said. "Whenever Trevor picks up a champion he'll ask me or Darshan for tips and we'll tell him what to do."
Huhi laughed, likely remembering AD carry Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes' first days on mage champions like Vladimir or Ryze, both of which have been popular bottom lane picks in South Korea and China.
CLG wasn't the only team to stress that communication is of the utmost importance. Not only is the AD carry learning new champions, he's learning a different style of play. Mages position, move and play a completely different role than a scaling Attack Damage carry.
"Whenever I'm playing a new champion I'm asking Fabian or Colin for tips," Clutch Gaming AD carry Apollo "Apollo" Price said. "If someone picks something bot lane, I'll ask them what counters that and pick that champion. It's really frustrating obviously, because I suck at some of these champions. It sucks when I go into solo-queue games playing first time champions and I just get flamed -- but I've been getting better. It's frustrating but it's also fun so I've been liking it."
"Honestly this bot lane change has hurt me the most out of any of the AD carries in the LCS. Since I have a really bad habit of when I get into solo-queue and am auto-filled or top/jungle/mid/even support, I just hit the 'X' and wait out the timer," Golden Guardians AD carry Matthew "Deftly" Chen said.
He grinned sheepishly.
"Since I only want to practice AD carry, why am I playing jungle? Why am I playing top? So I just wait out the timer. Right when the changes came out I was a bit nervous and hesitant, but now my bot lane is just as strong as anyone else's in the LCS."
Deftly told stories of scrims or solo-queue where he consistently turned to his teammates Son "Mickey" Young-min or Samson "Lourlo" Jackson for build advice and tips.
"It's actually pretty funny," he said, laughing. "I'm just a student now in the house."
"We're just trying to share knowledge a lot, because a lot of picks are being flexed everywhere," Team Liquid mid laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park said. "If we're playing Vlad bot, then Impact and me will try and give Peter a lot of tips. It's not exclusive to bot lane, that's not the only example, but I think that's what's really important right now, just teaching each other."
With so many different champions available across multiple roles, rotating through all of them at once can be enticing. Neil "pr0lly" Hammad, coach of 100 Thieves, warned other coaches that the trickiest part of this meta is curbing player urges to play everything, especially when -- in previous metas -- players were stuck practicing two to five champions for their role.
"Since almost everything can be played, players will be like , 'Oh, just pick me this.' And it's like, dude, let's pick six or seven champions and be good at them. But everyone wants to play 20 champions," Pr0lly said. "In scrims, I think it's more fun to play new stuff. This is something I hadn't experienced before because usually there is a limited amount of champions and then maybe picking some crazy s---. Have faith in your players but make sure they're not playing more than 10 champions at a time."
Over the course of the weekend, most NA LCS teams defaulted to more standard bottom lane picks like Xayah, Ezreal and Lucian, returning to familiar territory. However, in that same time period, Echo Fox saw success role-swapping top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon into both the bottom lane and the jungle to make the most of his Yasuo to facilitate jungler Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett's Rengar play.
In these cases, the most important factors are the strengths of the players, regardless of role. With certain teams in China also playing standard AD carry picks, and other teams within the same region like Snake Esports benching both of its AD carry players in favor of role-swapping, it seems that the best way to play in the new meta is to pay attention to what your players excel at.