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What is a Metagame and How to Break It

By Mark “WalleMarno” Ray

A Brief History of Metagame

Merriam-Webster defines the word game as “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure”.

The definition itself is applicable to not just video games, but board games, sports and to a plethora of other activities. When a game has two or more parties put together in a game of wits or skill, a higher level of competition is applied. Depending on the game or contest, there can be multiple strategies considered and applied to gain victory. More often than not, the prevailing strategies will win and likely be implemented in future match-ups. Over the course of time, as more games are played and more winners and winning strategies are developed, a more refined version at the highest level of competition arises. This style of game at the highest stage of competition is called a metagame.

The greatest example of a prevailing metagame would be in the defensive schemes of baseball. The official rules only state there be a pitcher and a catcher; the other seven defensive players could align themselves anywhere on the field and it would be legal. Early in the game’s creation, an optimal way to align players arose which involved a player covering each of the three bags, three people in the outfield and a person who played short of the second and third bases, a shortstop as you will. The shortstop eventually backed off, and the second baseman shifted to the right and created a fielding metagame that has lasted for well over 100 years. Depending on the batter, they might shift players in a certain direction to counteract a specific playstyle, but the general outline remains the same.

The same theory is applied to League of Legends and the current lane metagame. It wasn’t always the typical carry midlaner, duo marksman and support botlane, versatile top laner and jungler. Early in League of Legends lifespan, immobile marksmen found themselves in midlane, 0 creep score supports weren’t entirely existent, and sometimes teams would skip out entirely of a jungler and ran two people top lane.

The current metagame is an evolution of these playing strategies becoming more defined and a due to the revaluation of the rules and gameplay mechanics implemented by developers. It’s not too often in the highest tiers of competition of the game you see anything outside of the top 50% of champions being played. More specifically, these champions have been shoehorned into these now generic roles and positions. Doing anything outside of the ordinary is considered troll. In the words of Trundle “It’s time to troll.”

In Defense of the Cheese



John Madden once said “To win the game, you must score more points than the other team.” But even Captain Obvious doesn’t need to state that losing doesn’t feel as good as winning. Intentionally hindering the experience of other players is frowned upon. What I will be discussing in the future is not meant to give your team less of an opportunity to win but to instead approach the game in a different direction and open the possibility to not only make yourself more flexible in both playstyle and understanding as a player but to enjoy the game in a different light.

Take a moment and check out former LCS pro and current Twitch legend QTPie with his ingame run in with an AD Tank Leblanc. (WARNING: Explicit Language NSFW) Leblanc is played traditionally as a burst mage doing mostly all of her damage in a short time frame while also being susceptible to damage herself with low defensive stats. In this game, with scaling defensive runes across the board, this player utilizes her strong early damage to scale into a beefy late monster with high mobility to get off multiple trinity force attacks. It’s not the conventional build and on paper doesn’t seem to be effective, but this player is able through a combination of skill and ingenuity to make it work at a competitive level.

In essence, this is what cheese is all about. We want to delve into what makes champions work from a kit (skills and abilities on a champion) standpoint and find niche ways to work with or exploit certain traits. Oftentimes while experimenting, these builds fall short and come out not as anticipated. This is a part of the natural process of determining what does and doesn’t work, and even a loss or a bad game can not only teach a lot but can still be extremely enjoyable and rewarding. However, every once in a while, an entirely new meta and standard of play can develop from it. We’ll delve more into champion builds later in the series.

Cheese isn’t just limited to builds on champions. It can be entire gameplans, lane matchups, objective strategies, and a variety of other miscellaneous little aspects of the game. One common strategy that this writer would classify as cheese would be the classic Level 1 Blitzcrank invade. This is when a Blitzcrank walks into the opposing jungle in hopes of landing a rocket grab on a champion to get a quick kill for him and his allies before minions spawn. If not a champion grab, he can also pull monsters to make it harder for a jungler to clear quickly or even worse, steal a buff at the right time. This once unconventional playstyle has nearly become a standard form of play for this particular champion. There are a variety of other champions with similar strategies such as the AP Shaco box stacking strategy, Sion dying to take a camp at level 1 to get quicker XP, or even the standard LCS bottom lane takes a jungle camp before lane. All these strategies were once niche and unconventional, but through large sample sizes and refinement have become the optimal way to play the game. We will look more into these strategies and how they form later as well.

In Summary

Let’s begin the journey of cheesiness, which will surely be the name of a Food Network reality show at some point, and expand our understanding of not only how to play differently, but how we can understand this game and many others at their base values. Let’s annoy our friends with our confusing builds (that totally make sense) and have the opponents questioning our sanity. Let’s just have some fun! Tune in soon for PART 2! WalleMarno has been playing games since he was 5 years old. A huge League of Legends player since beta, he has over 3000 normal wins and has finished in Platinum multiple times in a variety of roles. In addition to completing the A-Z jungle challenge, he has helped tutor both new League players and aspiring tournament shoutcasters for over 3 years in improving their understanding of the game. You can find him frequently playing LoL, Hearthstone, Black Desert Online and a variety of other games

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