Esports League of Legends

The Evolution of Vladimir

League of Legends’ resident hemomancer, Vladimir, has one of the most complex histories of any champion. Since his rework in 2016, he has been a fearsome force on Summoner’s Rift, and has had significant impact on professional play. He has seen ups and downs, and his role has changed quite a bit in these two years. Being a controversial champion in the League community, its fascinating to see how Vladimir has changed over the many patches. Through one champion, one can see different shifts in the meta, both pick and strategy wise. With the recent rise of the Crimson Reaper, its important to revisit his history to understand the position he is in, and how he is perceived by Riot and the League community in general.

Early History

Count Vladimir splash art. Photo via Riot Games

Vladimir’s rework in Patch 6.9 is a fitting place to start, as his original form is obsolete in this discussion. His rework was one of the major mage updates, with a kit focused on sustain. Riot wanted to put a level of risk in his kit, because his major abilities used his own health. They also wanted him to keep his identity of a monstrous late-game scaling team fighter. After buffing him next patch, they surely succeeded in making him a monster.

In the Summer Splits across the five major leagues (NA LCS, EU LCS, LCK, LPL, LMS), he became the highest priority champion in the meta. The Crimson Reaper had a 78.9% presence in these regions. Teams banned him three times as much as they picked him.

An aspect of his kit that made him so powerful was his the fact he could rush Spirit Visage. The increased healing was fantastic of course, but the real strength was its interaction with his passive, Crimson Pact. With this, he converts bonus HP to AP, and bonus AP to HP. So with Spirit Visage, though it has no AP in it, Vladimir would become tanky with damage still. Along with additional AP and CDR from items like Hextech Protobelt-01, he would be a tank and carry all in one. Players played him almost exclusively mid and AP mid-laners couldn’t deal with him effectively. It was hard to abuse him before he could scale with defensive builds. In late-game, team fighting metas, he was especially strong for these reasons.

He continued his dominance throughout the split, but eventually his passive scaling was reduced, along with other nerfs. These series of nerfs were warranted, and put him in a relatively balanced position. Going into Season Seven, he saw some use, but not much. He was more of a niche pick to certain players, like Exileh and Betsy in the EU LCS. He was a decent counter pick into champions like Syndra and Galio too. His reign of terror was over, but that wouldn’t mean the end of Vladimir forever.

Season Eight Spring Split

Marquis Vladimir splash art. Photo via Riot Games.

Season Eight saw a resurgence of Vladimir picks in the early Spring Split. Though he saw a decent amount of professional play in the western regions, eastern regions embraced him more. Two things dictated Vladimir’s revival: Frost Queen’s Claim (“FQC”) and Unsealed Spellbook. Despite being a support item, FQC had every thing a Vladimir could want. AP, CDR, a MS buff and extra gold. Spellbook, on the other hand, allowed him to start the game with Ignite and change it to Teleport and Ghost for different situations. These made him extremely powerful in the top lane. He could easily make money from the FQC by poking melee champions, and had kill pressure with Ignite while not sacrificing late-game mobility.

Patch 8.2 removed all Tier Three support items, including FQC.  Spellbook still gave him a reason to stick around, but he became more of a counter pick. Players used him to answer Gangplank, a popular pick at the time. He was also able to neutralize carry picks and scale well against tanks, and had kill pressure against both with Ignite.

His presence dwindled for a bit from there, but he came back soon enough. Patch 8.6 re-introduced Shurelya’s Reverie to the game. This item was perfect for Vladimir, giving him even more than FQC did. Granting HP, AP, CDR and a movement speed active was huge for Vladimir’s engages and survivability. Because of this, he saw a huge spike in play, having an 84% presence at the Mid-Season Invitational. The build focused on a balance of quick spell rotations and decent damage to capitalize on prolonged fights. Throughout MSI players used this version, but not after that because of the down time between MSI and the Summer Splits.

Season Eight Summer Split

Blood Lord Vladimir splash art. Photo via Riot Games.

The Summer Split brought the biggest change to Vladimir. Patch 8.11 is infamous for its monumental changes to AD Carries and the meta as a whole. Its equally as influential to Vladimir. The nerf to Shurelya’s made it less viable and nerfed his CDR builds. The bottom lane opened up for new picks because ADC’s became largely irrelevant. Vladimir quickly took center stage as a premier bottom lane carry.

Vladimir was always a solo laner up to this point, and despite having slightly different roles top and mid, he always had to be self sufficient. MS and CDR were vital to be relevant in fights, as the rest of the team often revolved around the ADC. Now that Vladimir has a support, often an aggressive engage champion like Pyke or Alistar, he doesn’t require these those stats as bad. As such, the build dubbed “Gigalords Vladimir” was popularized. The creation of the build is commonly credited to high-elo EUW Vladimir main Elite500, and is unique to builds of the past. Rabadon’s Deathcap and Magic Penetration items are bought early and the Electrocute rune is used to maximize damage. Professionals commonly rush Spellbinder for increased utility. But, the fundamental idea is the same: to one-shot carries.

Vladimir is enabled to build full damage and capitalize on earlier power spikes because he can rely on supports for engage and sticking power. This makes him strong in theory versus any ADC’s or mage bottom laners, while still being strong versus the bruisers too. Many pro players and normal players alike found him to be oppressive in the bottom lane, and he is still played in that role more than others.

Problems with and for Vladimir

Soulstealer Vladimir splash art. Photo via Riot Games.

The meta encapsulating patch 8.11 through 8.13 has made his position a tricky one. Due to the popularized full AP “Gigalords” build, Vladimir players now take on the role of a lane bully. This creates a problem for him, because of the scaling he has. Riot addressed his strength in patch 8.13, nerfing the scaling on his E, Tides of Blood, by 20%. Though this nerfed his damage, many thought it didn’t properly fix him. Clearly it did not, because of the fact he remains a high priority pick.

Vladimir is not necessarily over-powered. His relative strength is largely due to the weakness of ADC’s. His performance in other lanes is fairly lackluster, because CDR builds are more optimal for solo lanes in pro play. This leaves Vladimir in a precarious situation indeed. His win rates in pro play demonstrate this, having a 36.7% win rate in the middle lane and 50% in top.

Even though all signs point to Vladimir being broken in the bottom lane, it arguably isn’t so. Sitting on another abysmal win rate of 43.2% in the bottom lane, its curious for him to be perceived as such a power pick. The champion itself isn’t the main contribution to his strengths. Instead it is because of players. There has been a large number of discussions on Heimerdinger and the amount of experience needed to perform well on him in the bottom lane. The same is true for Vladimir, and its clear to see how. TL Doublelift is one of the best western bottom laners, but had awful games when he played Vladimir in Weeks One and Four. This holds true for a number of bottom laners, who had little to no experience on him before.

An interesting adaptation some teams have made, such as 100 Thieves in their match against Cloud9, is to swap their bottom and middle lane players. This works well in funnel compositions, where both players can play champions they’re comfortable on.

Conclusions

Dark Waters Vladimir splash art. Photo via Riot Games.

Vladimir has seen many changes in the past two years. He has dominated pro play at certain points, and always for different reasons. New items and runes have lifted him up, but Riot tends to address his problems quickly. He is a controversial champion in the League community because of his kit mixing sustain and damage. He is notoriously difficult to balance, and his evolution demonstrates this.

Overall, the meta suits Vladimir in the bottom lane currently because of other champions being considerably weaker. Vladimir is able to abuse weak champions with full AP builds, but struggles to find the same success without a support. Solo lane Vladimir players and people who play against Vladimir both suffer in different ways. His situation is likely to change in the future more, and its vital to keep an eye on this champion.

 

Data and statistics courtesy of Games of Legends. For more information on the split, teams and standings from all regions, visit www.lolesports.com.

Featured image via Riot Games.

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