Top lane gets a bad reputation in the 2014 season for being extremely stagnant, with only bruisers — Renekton/Shyvana/Mundo — and bruiser-killing bruisers — Trundle — being playable. Let’s talk about how true this is, and why!
As I cover in my article on lolesports.com, The Giants of Top Lane, top lane has always been biased towards tanky champions. Yes, some AP Carries have gone top (although they tend to be the tanky ones like Rumble, Gragas, Cho, or Vladimir). Yes, a few poke carries — Nidalee/Jayce — have found success top. Yes, even a few assassins — Akali comes to mind — have been strong top at some point or another. And of course, melee carries — Riven and Aatrox particularly — have only ever found success top. But for the most part, bruisers set the bar for top lane.
Why is this? Because top lane is an unfair, volatile lane. While it’s a far cry from Season 2 where top was often won or lost based on whose jungler out-ganked at level 3, other lanes often determine how top plays out. What are these factors?
So why do you pick bruisers?
The first reason is simple: to mitigate risk. A bruiser without gold is slightly less tanky, but still fulfills his basic purpose of being hard to kill. If they’re ganked and are ahead, they can sustain through the damage. If they’re ganked and are behind, they can simply turn and run to tower, and probably survive. But in contrast, a carry’s response to a gank is often to all-in the laner or jungler and hope to clean up a kill before they die. If they are ahead, this can lead to them snowballing uncontrollably; even ganks don’t prevent them from getting kills. But if they fall behind, they lack the burst to do this, and will end up feeding kill after kill.
Essentially, bruisers can stabilize when behind, but still are strong when ahead. Carries do not have this ability, for the most part.
But Gentleman Gustaf, what’s the problem? Half of the time they do really well, half of the time they do really poorly!
The problem is that the other team knows that at higher levels. The reason your carry pick is so consistent at lower levels is because people don’t understand that balance. But in the LCS? They’re not going to say ‘well, the other team picked Akali top, so I’ll gank her once or twice, but still pressure other lanes’. They’ll say “other lanes, play it safe, because I’m going to dumpster this Akali until she’s completely useless and afraid to even farm”. Essentially, if a champion has a strength and a weakness, the team who gets to determine whether it’s the strength or the weakness being focused is the team that wins. Since ganks are in control of the enemy team, carry picks tend to put the control of the game in the other team. If they fail to react, you win. But pro teams aren’t known for their consistent failure to make good decisions.
Worse, bruisers are extremely safe in lane in the 2014. They had problems in previous seasons vs champions with lots of sustain (Irelia comes to mind), or lots of poke (Jayce). However, the huge amount of health regeneration available from Doran’s Shield and and the defensive mastery Perserverance has made them almost impossible to remove from lane.
So what has that meant? Let’s revisit the top picks and bans:
Our top picks are all bruisers: Renekton, Dr. Mundo, Shyvana, Trundle, Shen, and Warwick. After that, we have (not all pictured) 5 melee carries — Jax/Yasuo/Aatrox/Irelia/Nasus — and 2 AP Carries — Gragas/Karthus — as well as a few more bruisers.
The top picked champions all have a 50%+ win rate — well, Dr. Mundo is at 49% — but it’s important to note who those wins are against.
So while those 4 champions all have high pick rates with decent win rates, it would me a mistake to think that bruisers are just strong right now. The strengths of these champions are very different.
Renekton is 30-26 overall, but more importantly, he’s 12-4 against all champions outside the 4 top picks. This is what we expect from Renekton: he wins every lane, but has to win lane or he gets outscaled. While he is 8-4 against Mundo (able to punish his weak early game), he is 6-9 against Shyvana and 4-9 against Trundle.
The other tops don’t have that sort of record: Shyvana is 6-6 outside of the top 4, Mundo is 7-8, and Trundle is 5-6.
So essentially, Renekton is strong because he beats every laner: he is such a bully, but also scales decently. Shyvana and Trundle, on the other hand, are strong picks because they have favorable matchups vs Renekton. Finally, Mundo has strong matchups vs Shyvana (10-9) and Trundle (5-2).
The regen from perserverance and Doran’s Shield that made Dr. Mundo and Shyvana viable has been nerfed heavily. Doran’s Shield’s health regen has been nerfed by 40%, and the perserverance regen has been nerfed by 66%. While Trundle and Renekton can start Doran’s Blade, Mundo and Shyvana are pretty reliant on the sustain of Doran’s Shield. With the Doran’s Shield nerfs coming through, I predict Shyvana and Dr. Mundo falling slightly out of favor, with Renekton sticking around as a generally strong laner, and Trundle as a strong Renekton counter. As well, champions who have strong sustain from their kits or builds — Irelia/Aatrox/Jax — or strong poke — Jayce — might be able to force champions out of lane without the the oppressive regen of Doran’s Shield. Who knows, maybe we’ll even see more Warwick!
Mattias “Gentleman Gustaf” Lehman is a big time nerd-gamer with high-level experience in both SC2 and LoL. He has ranked as high as Diamond 1 in solo queue and Diamond 3 in arranged 5s.
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