The Korean metagame, established well over a year ago, has taken a strong presence in competitive League of Legends play. There are a number of reasons for existence of the strategy, which will be discussed, but the main point of this is to discuss the problems of the strategy that change the game mechanics of numerous positions, namely the relative strength of bruisers, as a class.
First off, let’s discuss why someone would want to swap lanes. The most obvious (although it has fallen to the wayside due to its popularity in competitive play) is the sheer novelty of the swap. A team that has absolutely no experience and has no plan to deal with the lane swap will have a significantly higher possibility of sending either a champion unsuited for a 1v2 or a player with little ability to play in the 1v2 into a situation in which they will fail. This gives a blatant advantage to the team that has performed the swap, while having no adverse effect on their own team, as their top and bottom lanes will be prepared and have a strategy to put the swap to good use. Of course, as the 1v2 lane swap became more prevalent in competitive play, the novelty of the swap wore off and other reasons arose as to why it was strong, which will be discussed now.
There are two reasons to do a lane swap, in my mind (outside, of course, of the one mentioned above which doesn’t really factor into professional play). The foremost being the safety of the laning phase for the AD carry in question. A carry with a weaker laning phase might have trouble performing in the bottom lane, such as a Kog’Maw or Vayne against a stronger laner, like a Caitlyn or Miss Fortune. By doing a simple swap, the stronger late game AD Carry now has freedom to farm to their hearts desire with little chance of something going horribly wrong. Even if the opposing team attempts to swap back, the weakest part of Kog’Maw’s or Vayne’s laning phase will quickly be over by the time the opposing team is able to swap or, if the swap is immediate, the weaker AD carry will have gained an experience and gold advantage.
The other reason you would lane swap is to quickly push down turret, the thing that was popularized in Korea and has essentially taken over competitive play. There are a number of reasons to do this, regardless of team composition. By simply taking a turret, you increase map pressure from your team, decrease map pressure from the opposing team, reduce the safety of your opponents as they attempt to farm and make your team as a whole stronger (+750 gold so strong). This has a number of implications, but the end result always finishes with this – this is simply the strongest way to play competitively at the moment as the team that can push faster will always gain significant advantages over the opposition.
Regardless of the team composition, early, mid or late, a team will gain advantages with a fast tower push. By destroying a tower, it decreases the safety of the opponents. Not only does ward coverage have to increase, but decisions have to be made. For instance, if I freeze this creep wave outside a tower (ever so common in North America just a season ago), I can easily farm each wave as my opponent is denied. However, this means the opposing team gains increase map control as I farm under my second turret because I have no vision of the river and can’t see potential buff invades or prevent dragon attempts. I can ward what’s near me, but I can’t get to where I need to go quickly and effectively if I’m freezing my lane. This means I have to push out my lane, along with increasing my ward coverage as this will allow me to keep some pressure on my opponent and hopefully make buff steals and dragon attempts a little bit more difficult. However, since I’m now pushing my lane, I open myself up to ganks. Yes wards are great and helpful, but if I miss anything even for a second it’s unlikely I can escape if I’m attempting to push down their outer turret by myself. Not only will an opponent have to deal with this, they also have less gold which is only going to strengthen the fast pushing team, regardless of its relative strength in each part of the game (early, mid or late). As I said, the fast push turret strategy is simply unstoppable in any way, unless you can do the exact same thing just as quickly as just as well, something that Korean teams have learned, but the North Americans are still attempting to perfect. Blatant evidence of this can be seen in how Cloud 9 has dominated the North American scene this past summer split – they quickly push down towers and make sure to keep this pressure on at all times. Once they get ahead, even a little, they drive that advantage as hard as they can by maintaining as much pressure as possible, strangling their opponents.
Now there are a few other factors that also come into play due to this – namely the strength of the bruiser class and the strength of the ad carry class. As discussed earlier, simply switching lanes will allow a weak early carry to become much stronger, but it also strengthens the class as a whole, mostly due to the weakness of bruisers after suffering through a 1v2. When a bruiser is stuck in a 1v2 lane, they normally end up missing out on important gold and experience, preventing them from successfully farming the way the two other lanes are able to. This becomes even worse when a jungler joins the lane, zoning the top laner out even harder and preventing even the slightest gain in experience or gold. The longer the 1v2 lasts, the weaker the bruiser becomes. This will not (necessarily) provide either team with an advantage, but it does significantly limit the strength of an entire class. This, of course, leads to only one real solution – choosing bruisers that are able to either farm better in a 1v2 lane, whether they are ranged bruisers or bruisers with heavy waveclear, or bruisers that are significantly harder to tower dive. This also leads to choosing bruisers that have a focus on utility over damage, mostly heavy tanks. A ranged bruiser, like Jayce, can farm waves without ever putting himself in danger. A top like Renekton can waveclear, sustain and prevent tower dives more easily than most with his ultimate. There are also options like Zac or Shen who, due to their late game potential, difficulty in diving, and heavy sustain, make them optimal. These limits, however, completely prevent the use of a number of bruisers in top lane, especially with the potential for a bruiser to end up in a normal situation where a melee bruiser will usually get dominated by a ranged bruiser. This leads to one of the smallest viable champion pools for top lane, destroying a number of the interesting matchups that had so much potential during the previous season.
Hopefully with the increase in turret strength Riot intends to implement in the next patch will lower the strength of the fast turret push strategy, but there still aren’t many reasons to prevent the 1v2 lanes from limiting the champion pool of top lanes in any way. The fast push strategy, although hopefully fixed, won’t prevent the advantage AD carries can gain from a swap and will continue to limit the strengths of bruisers in top lane. This, in addition to the general dominance of ranged vs melee lanes, will continue to be a problem and cause a number of limiting to the problems of the bruiser class as a whole.