Defining the Meta: Goals

Metas aren’t defined in a vacuum, of course. They develop and change over time due to game-context, to maximize winning. There are two aspects of a developing meta. The first is the relative: to take the RPS example again, in a Scissors meta, Rock is a strong play; in a Paper meta, it’s a weak one. Then, there’s the objective: as gameplay develops over time, strategies become more and more pinned down. We can envision developing metas like a y=sin(x)/x curve. There is always going to be variation around the perfect strategies (y=0), but as time progresses, we’ll get closer and closer and closer to it.


This is what we see in LoL, with wildly divergent strategies early in the game (European lane meta vs American lane meta pre-Dreamhack), but over time, what is viable becomes a smaller and smaller pool. However, it never reaches one strategy, simply because metagaming allows you to play a strategy that counters standard strategies, while being weaker overall.

So what defines metas in League of Legends? Well, metas defined by goals that lead to winning. In League of Legends, those goals ultimately come down to towers. It doesn’t matter what else you can do, but if you can’t take towers, you can’t win. To give two extreme examples:

  • Season 2 CLG.EU (now EG) played with compositions that lost almost every possible fight until the 40-45 minute mark, but started to win teamfights more and more heavily after that point. But they ran heavy AoE waveclear champions, like Anivia, to delay (or prevent) teams from winning games against them before they reached that point.
  • The 2v1* strategy that evolved as part of the international meta, and became especially strong in Asia initially, revolved around a 2v1 lane pushing towers as quickly as possible, and then using that advantage in gold to take tower after tower, while the other team watched the game slowly crumble away from them.

Both of these strategies use towers as their focal point, and that explains their rather dominant success, at least for a time. So how do you take a tower? Well, you really have two options

  1. Win a teamfight, and take towers after that teamfight
    • note that you don’t have to kill everybody, you can just leave them low enough that they can’t stay and defend a tower
    • If fighting away from towers, this requires strong sustained damage, for the most part. Useful stats in teamfights are:
      • low cooldowns (to continue to use abilities)
      • high tankiness (to survive through a whole teamfight and keep putting damage out)
      • sustain/shields (to be able to stay around a teamfight)
      • Range (to be able to avoid taking damage in a teamfight)
    • On the other hand, if fighting under towers, you want fights to end quickly (to minimize tower damage). Useful stats under towers are:
      • CC (to prevent enemy damage)
      • Shields (to prevent enemy damage)
      • Burst (to end the fight quickly)
      • Typically, you want to kill 1 or more members under a tower, while putting collateral damage on those nearby, so you can disengage from the tower and then push it down, without threat of retaliation.
  2. Take towers in ways that don’t require teamfights.
    • Split-pushing
    • Poke at the champions with ranged abilities and the towers with ranged auto-attacks

From this alone, we can see the strength of ranged ADCs. They are quite good at teamfights:

  • they have low-cooldowns (auto-attacks reset every second or so)
  • They have range

But they also excel at taking towers without teamfights:

  • Long auto-attack range
  • High damage
  • Even if the other team AoE clears your minions, you can probably get a hit or two off on the tower

This is part of why ranged ADCs have been so strong for all of League of Legends, because they have largely been balanced around their ability to win in teamfights, but they bring additional strengths of being able to dominate 2v1 lanes and having strong tower pushing, and importantly, having the ability to push towers even when not ahead.

This is also part of why melee ADCs have been weaker. It’s not really that you can focus and kill them; with Cleanse, a Tryndamere will still put out good damage with his ultimate, or draw enough focus that his team does a lot. It’s that they bring nothing to tower-pushing. For Tryndamere to push towers, one of two things has to happen:

  1. He has to be ahead in lane and able to to split-push against his laner
  2. His team has to be ahead enough in teamfights to dive towers.

And this is how we can see the creation of almost every Meta through Season 3 as a response to ADCs.

Why do you run tanks? They can protect ADCs while they teamfight/take towers. Why do you run assassins? They can kill ADCs. Why do you run bruisers? They can force ADCs out of fights. Why do you run Nasus? Wither. If we were just talking about teamfight damage here, why would we never see a Cassiopeia or a Karthus replace an ADC? Think back to OMG vs Lemondogs. They ran Cassiopeia instead of an ADC, and in response, they dedicated to making sure that Aatrox came out way ahead of the enemy top laner, so that he could split-push to take towers. That, and tons of poke between Yorick, Cassiopeia, and Nidalee allowed them to avoid teamfights ond only poke at towers/champions. When it comes down to it, every strategy in every meta ever has to answer one question: How are we going to take towers?

*Yeah, people were 2v1ing in EU and NA at that time, but they were using that strategy to zone and deny the solo laner, not to push early towers.


Mattias “Gentleman Gustaf” Lehman is a big time nerd-gamer who has been involved in both SC2 and LoL. He has ranked as high as Diamond 1 in solo queue and Diamond 3 in arranged 5s.

You can see his other work here:

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