Meta. We hear this word thrown around a lot, but what exactly does it mean? Is the meta two solo lanes, a jungler and ad/support bottom? Is it the set of champions being played right now? Is it the items being commonly built? Meta as a term is vast and encompassing and in this article I want to scratch the surface on what the meta is and how Riot sees.
Meta in philosophy is: “A prefix meaning one level of description higher. If X is some concept then meta-X is data about, or processes operating on, X.” (Dictionary.com) So the metagame is the data about the game itself, in this case League of Legends. As you can see, this is entirely open ended. The meta can be any of these things and more:
- Lane assignments
- Item Purchases
- Types of Champions played
- Playing style
- Role specific expectations
- Team compositions
People commonly refer to “the meta” as a solo top, solo mid, solo jungler and a duo bottom, which is a mindset that Riot has discredited. The next stop on the meta train is usually the absolute most popular thing like “League of Warmogs” and “League of Bruisers.” This is the first layer of the meta and is the most general sense. It doesn’t really explain anything about the true meta of the game at any time.
Team comp is the next layer to be looked at. You can see clear patterns in the style of teams played, such as AoE composition, armor shred or strong laners. With champion specific synergies, teams can achieve aggressive diving, early towers, safe laning or something else. The solo queue meta doesn’t have as much emphasis on this aspect, but you will still see trends such as the long holding bruiser top, bruiser jungle, AP mid or an AP top/mid setup.
Inside of the other two layers lies the lane specific environment. Each lane has their own meta going on, whether it’s a mobility emphasis on the ADC on bottom or the switch from AP to AD in middle. This meta changes fairly frequently and is often an entire ecosystem within the game. You can main a lane and not have it get stale thanks to the match-up and champion pool changes over time. As a jungler, I’ve gone from “what’s a jungler?” to strong gankers (Rammus/Maokai) to strong counter junglers (Diamondprox’ breakout Shyvana play) to the support (rise of CLG.EU) to the now current carry jungler meta. Over the course of a year or two the champions and environment has changed entirely.
Role specific expectations are just a broad way of saying what each lane is expected to do. This creates lanes like the recent Nidalee/Soraka bottom lane from Dragonborns. The lane is expected to have an AD that gets farmed and can do so effectively. To counter this expectation, a very strong poking composition was thrown down there to make sure no farm can be gotten. When middle was expected to roam, champions such as Evelynn and Katarina became wildly popular because they could roam well. This is where a lot of the action goes and many mind games of counters and counters to the counters and a lot of really fun, interesting stuff.
The heart of the meta is playing style. Over time, player’s styles start to change around. While the game was developing and people were learning still, a much more passive approach was taken. Players overall took little risks compared to today as they were feeling out the game. As people learn the game, more and more aggression and calculated risk is found and rewarded. If the meta is healthy, this will trend a different way and keep the overall flow of the game going. There are individual styles to players and teams, however a global trends also happens when someone breaks the mold.
How to work my meta model
My model has a core and several layers that go outward. The meta is a general trend in what is being played right now and as such can be countered at the proper layer. Each layer then radiates all of the decisions outward until you’re outside the model. If there is a shift in the lane-specific environment, it will then effect the team compositions and lane assignments. When Talon, Kha’Zix and Zed took over midlane in preseason 3, the team compositions shifted towards supporting armor shred (Renekton, Jarvan, etc.) and stacking up the physical damage dealt, which in turn drove things such as Miss Fortune buying Black Cleaver.
The churning turmoil of the inner core impacts everything else in the game. You can see this with the trend over the last two years of League of Legends. First there was passive play style with safe laners that had strong teamfight abilities, such as bot lane tank. This was then countered with stronger lane presence in a roamer and jungler combined. The roaming meta was stopped by running a dedicated AD/Support style bottom that was well insulated to the roaming and a strong control jungler. This was dominate for a while until folks figured out that strong counter jungling puts the mostly passive approach of control jungler/support/adc bottom to rest. To stop the counter jungling, lanes started swapping and playing strong pushers to force junglers to respond instead of counter jungle.
Currently, there is a trend in the meta towards strong snowballing lanes and champions that do well against or in combination with heavy lane pushing. This is indicative of a healthy meta and I’m sure a new style of play will soon arise that does well against early tower aggression and diving compositions. When the next trend drops, expect changes in every other layer to trickle to the casual players. What do you think is the next step in play style to defeat the towerkrieg currently going on?