Saturday, November 23, 2013

League Analysis: "League of Targon," Income Stacking, and the 2-1-2 Meta

The season 4 patch has come on League of Legends. While I have a longer analysis article in the works on another topic that suggests sweeping, revolutionary changes to match the same types of changes that came out with the patch, I really wanted to address a topic that has come up due to the (typical, to be frank) imbalances of the season 4 patch and the discussion that has resulted from it.

I am largely referring to "League of Targon" where players start with Relic Shield and run two duo lanes in order to generate rather large income while having strong sustain. Not only does the math seem to back it up income-wise (will explain this in a bit), but the strategy made big waves in the competitive scene, Reddit, and so on.

An interesting result of this "League of Targon" "issue," on the other hand, is the sudden rise of the 2-1-2 setup that either exists in low-level summoner matches or a meta almost lost to the ages. However, because the Relic Shield item and its upgrades seem so dominant in terms of usage right now, essentially "forcing" the 2-1-2 meta, an outright nerf or other knee-jerk reaction could ruin the potential for a more fluid meta.

In this article, I will explore these issues and try to strike a balance that brings the Relic Shield item into line while allowing for the possibility of a 2-1-2 meta, 1-1-2 + jungler meta, and maybe more.

A Fair Change to Relic Shield and Targon's Brace Income

As of this writing, a change on the PBE increases the cooldown of the passive effect on Relic Shield to 60 seconds (fortunately this only applies to Relic Shield). While I can appreciate the attempt to bring Relic Shield's income generation in to line with the other first tier income generation items, this doesn't really seem like the right way to handle the issue of the Relic Shield because it makes income generation very uneven and reliant on larger intervals of time. Because of this, there will probably be fewer opportune times to recall if one wishes to make the most use of the passive's stacks in order to make enough money to purchase items.

The fix mentioned above also doesn't take in to account the massive income swing that Relic Shield and its upgrades can have. To recap on what Relic Shield and its upgrades do in terms of income generation, they generate gold equal to over double the bounty of the minion that is killed every 30 seconds or so. At the moment, in most cases of comparing the first tier of income items, Relic Shield wins out  because it can make about a minimum of 20 gold every 30 seconds compared to 12 every 30 seconds for the other two income items when they are used optimally.

Furthermore, Relic Shield generates only 5 less gold per 30 seconds than its upgrade, while other income items generate less than half the gold that their upgrades so, making Relic Shield's income generation nearly comparable to tier 2 income items (which generate 30-36 gold every 30 seconds optimally). Keep in mind this is accounting for the worst possible case for Relic Shield, meaning that were the worst case for Relic Shield to always happen, the above change would be plausible. However, it is very easy to obtain better possible cases (killing melee or siege minions for their bounty to share, for instance) that make the above change pointless and a poor band-aid fix more than anything.

Using the information above, altering the gold generation of Relic Shield and its upgrades to a static value while retaining its current theme of sharing gold with the lane partner, which would result in a lesser personal income but greater benefits to your lane partner that they wouldn't have with other income items, should eliminate wild swings of best and worst cases in terms of gold generation. Doing so is a superior idea to increasing the cooldown of the passive of Relic Shield and retaining the high standard deviation of gold generation that Relic Shield and its upgrades have at the moment. For instance, the passive for Relic Shield could behave like this:
UNIQUE: Spoils of War - Basic attacks execute minions below 200 (+AD) health, granting the gold to a nearby ally and healing them for 2% of your maximum health. In addition, both you and your ally gain 6 additional gold. Recharges every 30 seconds, up to 2 charges.
Targon's Brace and Face of the Mountain could then have this passive:
UNIQUE: Spoils of War - Basic attacks execute minions below 200 (+AD) health, granting the gold to a nearby ally and healing them for 2% of your maximum health. In addition, both you and your ally gain 15 additional gold. Recharges every 30 seconds, up to 4 charges.
Whether the heal should be removed and the static gold reward should be adjusted is another matter. Values are not final, but the suggestion is as clear cut as it can get. On another note, while normalizing the income items to be a little more equal to each other in terms of gold generation may make choices seem bland initially, it opens the possibility of income items being chosen for their actual stats, upgrade effects, and so on as opposed to what item generates the most gold.

More On Income Items and Stacking Them

A suggested change to Relic Shield and its upgrades, particularly in response to the suggested PBE change to increase the cooldown of the passive of Relic Shield, is to make the passive effect not work if the ally has Relic Shield or one of its upgrades. However, while this change seems like a decent suggestion when only looking at Relic Shield, it doesn't account for other income items being stacked alongside Relic Shield. In particular, Relic Shield on the player farming and Amulet Coin on the player not farming would result in decent income stacking when accounting for the nerf to Relic Shield.

To be fair, this also works with my suggested change above. It's not really possible to account for income stacking when working with fixing a single (or single line of) income items. It is worth noting, however, that my suggested change does also tone down the effect of double stacking Relic Shield or its equivalent upgrade to that of stacking two different income items on a duo lane.

With that said, if stacking income items should be nerfed, it needs to be nerfed across the board, if at all. The reason I say "if at all" is because at the moment Relic Shield was generating so much income it gave the illusion that income item stacking is broken (particularly with that item) for reasons given above. If the income of Relic Shield and its upgrade were to be fixed like I suggested above, then the players, developers, and all others involved may get a better idea of how strong stacking income items is and whether it really needs a nerf or not.

In conclusion, on nerfing income item stacking, I would say "wait and see." Relic Shield and its upgrade are the immediate problem that resulted in these sorts of suggestions to begin with, after all.

Final Words: Retaining the Viability of 2-1-2 (or 1-1-3, etc)

Another reason I don't want to touch income item stacking yet is because it could potentially open the gateway for a healthier 2-1-2 meta. This would not only be beneficial for lower level summoners, but it could result in a decision of whether to have a jungler for more map presence and dragon or an additional duo lane or player in another lane for additional presence in the given lane in order to shut down that enemy laner with zoning and potentially take turrets for global gold and map presence through roaming and fog of war due to the destroyed turret.

Overall, the pros and cons could go something like this in terms of 2-1-2 vs 1-1-2 + jungler:
2-1-2 Pros (and Jungler Cons)
  • Players can take the jungle buffs for early empowerment as opposed to empowering a jungler.
  • Players can also freely farm the jungle as needed for extra income that the jungler would end up getting.
  • The lane with the extra player is empowered and can handle gank pressure while applying significant zone pressure against the other lane (or at least have an even match if both teams run 2-1-2). If the pressure is allowed to happen, early turrets may end up being taken for quick global gold.
  • Would allow for team comps that don't require a champion with decent early jungle clear and/or gank potential or lanes with gank assist, etc. (Example: Two support champions, with one in each duo lane)
2-1-2 Cons (and Jungler Pros)
  • The enemy jungler can counterjungle any camps on a 2-1-2 team that aren't taken with significantly greater and control over the 2-1-2 team's jungle is weakened due to the lack of a jungler in it.
  • The team running 2-1-2 may become susceptible to invades depending on lane setups and team comps, as mentioned above.
  • The team playing against 2-1-2 needs less vision control since it's less likely for ganks to happen. There may still be some roaming but far less than if the team were to have a jungler.
  • Depending on the lane setup, the team with the jungler would have more dragon control.
  • The lane with the extra player would get less experience than a solo laner in 2-1-2.
With that said, players may end up scrambling to optimize for one meta or the other, finding methods to counteract weaknesses in one meta or the other while exposing or enlarging flaws in the meta of the other. In addition, it would be interesting to see how well multiple metagames stack up against each other at the competitive level or even in a typical League of Legends match.

Either way, I would like to see the 2-1-2 meta stay around. It's definitely something fresh and new (or should I say "somewhat fresh and old") compared to the "standard" meta that's been around for a couple seasons now.

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