Despite Riot’s champion roster nearing the 150 mark, they continually find new and unique attributes to bestow upon the newcomers. While there are some basic things repeated, of course (3-hit proc) the fact is that some of the latest champions to be introduced have also been some of the most unique.
Additionally, they seem to have another, more subtle trend in common – in order to master them at a high level, the player needs to have more extensive game knowledge than just the four given abilities and a passive that each champion has. Make no mistake, game knowledge has always been essential to playing the game well, but Riot is now making that knowledge even more vital to play some individual champions at a passable level.
This trend can be traced back to Neeko, the Curious Chameleon. As evident by her name, what makes her stand out is the ability to take the form of any ally on her team, as well as creating a clone in their appearance. This can, and often is, used for fun, or just to throw off a lane opponent for a second. To be successful at higher levels, though, several other factors come into play.
Taking the appearance of a low health support can be used as successful bait, while impersonating a fed assassin could back the enemy off to help defend a tower, or even waste their flash. A faux Jungler could give your team the appearance of having Baron priority, when in fact the real Smite holder is across the map.
The more skilled the opponents are, though, the harder they are to trick. Players with their wits about them will not flash away from an enemy that should be staring at a grey screen, or was seen just seconds ago on the far side of the map. This merely adds another layer of what must be considered for Neeko before making bold decisions with her Inherent Glamour.
Next up is Sylas the Unshackled, who’s unique ability pulls from the enemy team rather than his own. Upon hitting level 6, he is able to Hijack the ultimate ability of any enemy champion. The basic ramifications of this are clear: a skilled Sylas player must be at least familiar with every ultimate in the game, or run the risk of stumbling upon one that is relatively unknown. Therefore making it much less effective, reducing the ultimate pool by 20% for each such case.
On top of this basic knowledge, Sylas has been around long enough that the enemy team will have him figured out as well. A common pick into him is Jayce, who has an ultimate that is weak when stolen, compared to many other champions. Other opponents (not necessarily direct lane opponents) make his Hijack weaker than one might expect.
A stolen Slicing Maelstrom from Kennen can still do solid damage, but the stun comes from another part of Kennen’s kit, and therefore is unavailable to Sylas. A stolen Syndra Ult will only use the basic three Dark Spheres since he has no way to create more, and Master Yi, Twitch and Vayne all have Ultimates that boost basic attacks, which isn’t exactly Sylas’s forte. Some Ultimates such as a Chronobreak from Ekko can be used for a clutch escape rather than dealing damage. Knowing which Ults to steal not only based on pure strength, but also situational needs is the key to carrying with this champion.
The brand new support takes this idea one step further. Not only does the Yuumi need to know who to anchor with on her own team to be most successful, but ideally, all those on her team must know how Yuumi works as well. There’s a long list of supports that only require the ADC and other teammates to just play their game, and the Support will support. A few have more interactive abilities that seem an elusive concept to many, such as Thresh’s lantern, but none to the extent of Yuumi.
When she is anchored on an ally, they are not only given speed boosts and healing when necessary, but that person is also in charge of her Prowling Projectile range as well as the placement of Final Chapter once she casts it. Being aware of this can make or break a team fight, and playing a team with a Yuumi on it depends on every member of the team to be successful. This is a big reason why she is so powerful on the professional scene currently, where game knowledge is highly prized.
Riot seems like they plan to continue this faith placed in their players with the newest champion, Qiyana. The Empress of the Elements has a kit that is incredibly dependent on where she is on the map. Her abilities have different effects depending on whether they are cast on River, Wall or Brush which will force players to pay attention to a new element of positioning that they likely didn’t care about before. For example, her Edge of Ixtal ability can provide a Root if cast in the river, high damage to low-health enemies if near a wall, or stealth if cast from brush.
This environment-dependant versatility will be mainly the responsibility of Qiyana in the early game, but will extend a bit as the game moves on. Looking for a team fight? Whoever is calling the shots needs to assess what is needed from Qiyana’s kit, and pick a battleground that lets her provide it easily.
Effects of the Trend
This tactic by Riot has been very effective in several respects. The unique aspects of the champions unsurprisingly has had a polarizing effect on the community, but the player base seems to have seen the value in them more quickly than some others in the past. This is most evident at the professional level, with Sylas, Neeko, and Yuumi all being picked or banned frequently. This is a testament to the fact that game knowledge is a huge factor in playing these champions successfully.