Who defined the League of Legends worlds meta?

Riot Games

Competitive League of Legends in 2020 was unlike any other season that came before it due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Most regions stopped play at some point in the season and came back as online leagues. China's LoL Pro League and South Korea's LoL Champions Korea were both able to come back as fully offline tournaments at points, although the LCK went back online during playoffs due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the country.

Never before had regions been so separated from each other. With the Mid-Season Invitational cancelled completely, the only international tournament this year was an online Mid-Season Cup between the top LPL and LCK teams won by Top Esports on a standardized ping of approximately 30ms. Teams from Europe and North America typically would have made their way to either China or South Korea to bootcamp before the world championship began, but no international bootcamping was possible for the entirety of the year. This led to a few pocket metas from region to region that then made their appearance at worlds, as well as a more rushed worlds "bootcamp" as teams passed their 14-day initial quarantine before moving to the event hotel prior to the worlds play-in stage.

Despite it all, this was one of the more balanced and stable worlds metas. In previous years, G2 Esports and Invictus Gaming (whose playstyle was somewhat characterized as the overall "aggressive LPL style") dictated the global metagame after their worlds victories and 2019's FunPlus Phoenix was no exception. For the first two-thirds of the year, teams and mid laners all around the world talked about how they wanted to play in the style of Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang and FPX. When FPX failed to qualify for worlds, it was seen as a testament to how strong the LPL was from top to bottom and how the meta had already shifted away from them, and more towards teams like LGD Gaming and Suning. It was more a question of meta than regional strength.

More: Way-too-early 2021 power rankings | How DAMWON dismantled Suning | DAMWON usher in the next generation

With DAMWON Gaming winning the 2020 League of Legends World Championship, hopefully this fosters conversations about teams' specific playstyles and how they match up against one another rather than the assumption that region automatically matters more than anything else. Regional strength still matters somewhat, but metagame has been of the utmost importance to our most recent worlds winners.

Finding the perfect meta team in DAMWON Gaming

Across the past two years of worlds the question of which team suits the current meta versus the worlds meta has been at the forefront of worlds analysis. Arguably, even further back in 2017, the in-worlds meta shift dictated how Samsung Galaxy won their championship, with scrim partners Royal Never Give Up teaching them a more bot-lane-focused style that complimented the team's natural tendencies. Invictus Gaming, G2 Esports, and FPX all had their turns dictating what teams around the world were trying out.

This year it was DAMWON Gaming's turn. DAMWON struggled compared to the lofty expectations set for them throughout spring, but came into their own when bot laner Jang "Ghost" Yong-jun joined the team in mid-to-late spring and remained as the team's starting bot laner throughout summer. As the summer meta evolved into one that was perfect for carry junglers, pushing solo lanes, and a more utility-focused bottom lane (Senna, Ashe, Ezreal) this was perfect for DAMWON, who could naturally play this way around jungler Kim "Canyon" Geon-bu.

"The meta was similar to the meta we have played with during the summer split," Canyon said. "So we just focused on expanding our champion pool."

Head coach Zefa added that while DAMWON was well-suited to the meta and more aggressive than other LCK teams, the true strength of DAMWON was the flexibility of individuals' champion pools to use a variety of compositions and be as flexible as possible if necessary. This was made apparent with picks like top laner Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon's Kennen, despite the fact that he spent the majority of his finals games on Ornn.

Picks and Bans: Play-Ins

With all of the talk of how quickly games would be played, it was a slower pace that prevailed in the play-in rounds.. Lillia rose as the quintessential meta pick that everyone is playing in scrims but doesn't work out in all situations on stage. More stalwart teamfighting options like Ornn and Orianna enjoyed the highest winrates of play-ins alongside Graves, another jungle pick that's more about scaling into teamfight relevancy rather than immediately interacting with lanes early. One of the strongest-looking teams in the play-in stage was Team Liquid, who relied on top laner Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong soaking up a few bans while the rest of the team locked in scaling options like Twitch, which became a TL hallmark at this worlds.

Talking to multiple play-in teams, the struggle with Lillia came from an inability to execute her early game correctly - and have a strong enough coordination with lanes as well as pushing lanes to do so - and some failed Level 1 invades. This changed in the main event, but perhaps not in the way people may have thought it would.

Picks and Bans: Main Event

Lillia dropped significantly in play from groups to the knockout stage. Teams either banned her to eliminate the potential of her damage, opted for other AP junglers, the Fnatic Oskar "Selfmade" Boderek special of Evelynn, or learned how to counter her Level 1. The initial days of group stages saw some remarkably punishing Level 1s, where the team that lost was unable to stop an almost immediate-snowball.

Worlds 2020 saw comparatively lower winrates across the board for the most picked/banned champions. This is interesting because typically worlds sees at least one must-ban champion that will take over a game if picked. This year, even the most-banned champion, Lucian, only had a 54.5 percent winrate. This points to a strong and more evenly-spread pool of champions to choose from, and generally good balance. There's also comparisons to be made between the play-in stage, where teams generally opted into scaling and games played out slower and the main stage where we immediately saw Level 1s have an even stronger effect than they did in play-ins, teams adapt and adjust accordingly, and a more standard meta pool in the knockout stage.

The Case of Suning

DAMWON Gaming were the clear best team in this current metagame, but another team that heavily benefitted from this was Suning, who used this to focus around jungler Lê "SofM" Quang Duy. Utility AD carry picks were perfect for helping foster rookie bot laner Tang "huanfeng" Huan-Feng and support Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Chieh looked completely at home on tanky initiators. This meant that Suning typically focused on SofM powerfarming and setting up top laner Chen "Bin" Ze-Bin to succeed. Bin in particular had a strong worlds that left an impression, and defeated the two more flexible or better laning tops from his region in JD Gaming's Zhang "Zoom" Xing-Ran and Bai "369" Jia-Hao.