No longer an island: Dissecting the top lane | LoL Esports
No longer an island: Dissecting the top lane
"Top lane is an island."
It's an analogy that's been used by players for quite some time, but the 2015 Summer Split has really flipped it on its head. The top lane has become the lane to watch this season with changes ranging from champion picks and spells to strategies. Just how do all of these things come together to change the top lane that we used to know?
Deep End of the Champion Pool
Mainstay meta picks like Maokai, Rumble, Gnar and Hecarim are seen time and time again as a core pick for many team compositions. It's a pick-or-ban situation for these four champions, as they're able to fulfill many roles successfully. Whether a composition needs a tank to soak up damage or an AOE slow-roast ability in the form of Rumble's Equalizer (R), they have become the go-to for many teams.
But there are tons of champions other than Treants, Yordles, and horses bringing the pain in top lane lately. Teams have picked other tanky champions like Shyvana, Sion, and Irelia. Even Shen has seen some play, with teams like the Unicorns of Love, Team 8, and CJ Entus picking him into the Top lane. Riven made a swift entrance back to Summoner's Rift when the KOO Tigers and KT Rolster decided to field her. The other wind ability specialist, Yasuo, took the NA LCS by storm when Team Impulse took him into the top lane.
AP assassins/bruisers like Fizz, Kassadin, and newly-released Ekko have also made an appearance, in addition to mages like Vladimir, Ryze, and Lulu. And interesting picks like Rek'Sai, Nautilus, Jarvan IV have all been played competitvely too -- not to mention the really unconventional picks, like Morgana, Nunu, and Galio. This diversity in the top lane means that teams have to expect the unexpected.
"I think top lane counter picks are stronger now and more beneficial, since there are so many different champions that can be played," says Counter Logic Gaming's Darshan "ZionSpartan" Upadhyaha. "Usually, the champions that are picked are the ones that have a lot of playmaking ability."
Is he excited about seeing all these unconventional picks? "I really enjoyed seeing Riven and Yasuo, since there's no limit with the types of plays you can make," he says. Playmaking top laners mean that they're able to be dominant -- just look at ZionSpartan's Rumble, who went 10/0/9 against Team 8 in Week 2.
Smite and Teleport have been two very common Summoner's Spells we've seen the pros use. Teleport plays make it possible for a team to turn around a fight that would have been a lost cause, or to make plays across the map. Having that extra Smite is always good for those epic monster objectives, although it's not intentionally taken for this reason.
"Top laners running Smite really started in the Cinderhulk meta," ZionSpartan explains. "But it's stayed on thanks to the concept of building tanky, and also because it enables the purchase of Skirmisher's Sabre, which is really good for dueling on champions like Shyvana or Hecarim. Plus, it helps them to clear waves faster."
Teleport has made it possible for top laners to make bigger impacts on games than before, especially because they have the ability to influence the other lanes. Coordination with the team is the most important thing, even though it's something that the audience can't really pick up on. "Using Teleport is a team effort, since top laners have to work with their team to make the best plays," says ZionSpartan. He also believes that Teleport will be here for awhile. "Teams are getting better at using Teleport and I don't think that they'll stop using it any time soon."
As for the spells he likes to take into the lane? "I personally prefer Teleport and Ignite, since I like that extra kill pressure," he says with a laugh. "Teleport and Flash is a standard pick, and I think I'd rank Teleport and Smite as my last preferred spell combo."
The early game Buddy System
It must've been really lonely in the jungle, as junglers have recently adopted top lane partners to roam around with. Teams have been utilizing a strategy where the top laner tags along for the first initial jungle rotation. Other times, certain camps are reserved for the top laner to take before going back to lane. But what are the reasons behind this sudden change?
"The "Follow the Jungle" strategy being used at the moment has a lot of advantages, but it also can be countered," ZionSpartan says. "It allows the jungler to be safe in case of a late invade, and also helps the top laner reach level 2 faster. It's also good during 2v1 lane swap situations because it helps top laners have a safer early game."
Backing after the jungle visit allows for players to get a bit of crucial shopping done. "Usually before going to lane, you can back and buy five pots and a 400 gold item. But the thing is, if the opposing top laner pushes the wave in and goes back to buy, they can buy that second Doran's item and have that advantage over you."
Fantastic Scores for Fantasy Leagues
For those who opt into the craziness that is the Fantasy LCS, top laners are some hotly contested players to draft into a Fantasy League. As of Week 5, ZionSpartan was #3 on Counter Logic Gaming in terms of point totals, but only 10 points behind mid laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park. Young-jin "Gamsu" Noh lead Team Dignitas in Fantasy points in Week 5, although by a slim margin of 1.26 points. He was also the #2 spot for Team Dignitas overall. And Diego "Quas" Ruiz stood at #1 on Team Liquid for Fantasy LCS points. Not bad for players who are usually overshadowed by the flashier mid laners and AD carries.
Not that Zion's too worked up about his place, though. "I think it's cool that I'm doing well in Fantasy LCS, but I don't really get bothered by it because in the end it's just a number." He also quips that his overall performance in the games is what he focuses on, and not the fancy numbers he'll put up for the fantasy league. Even so, the top laners' dominance this Split means more points to help fans win in Fantasy LCS.
Life in the Fast Lane
From fantasy back to the Rift, carry top laners aren't a new phenomenon. But top lane has become the lane of innovation this Split, and there is a possibility of more surprises to come. ZionSpartan agrees that surprise is definitely possible going into the Playoffs and the World Championship. "I don't think the innovation in top lane will stop any time soon, unless the game changes drastically."
As for what he thinks about the current state of top lane? "Before, top wasn't very fun. But I think it's the most fun it's been since Season 2. Top lane is where it's at right now, in general," ZionSpartan remarks.
"Top lane isn't an island anymore, it's joined the rest of the mainland."