I’ve been playing League of Legends since post-beta in 2009. Since the MOBA title’s debut, the League of Legends meta has evolved distinctly each year.

That is, until 2017 when Elemental Dragons were introduced and team fighting took center stage.

In recent years, meta discussions in the community resurface every few months on X and Reddit, particularly when significant patches drop that inspire prominent content creators to give their two cents worth.

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One of the most significant discussions of late is driven by analyst Nick “LS” De Cesare, a former coach and LCK shoutcaster who tests in-game theories, plays Korean solo queue, and maintains active, open channels with professional League of Legends players from all regions.

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LS brought forth the view that pro play has been stale, partly because of the 2017 meta shift, and partly for reasons that hinge on the players themselves.

Because there’s been many voices and opinions in the community surrounding “the meta”, I was curious about how Riot Games is thinking about it, especially in the context of 2024 Void changes on Summoner’s Rift that will impact the game in a big way.

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ONE Esports got the chance to speak with Lead Gameplay Designer Matt “Riot Phroxzon” Leung-Harrison about game balance and solo queue versus pro play meta.

Balancing the League of Legends meta for solo queue and pro play across different regions is downright challenging

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In 2022 when LS coached Cloud9 for a brief stint in the LCS, he made headlines by drafting Soraka mid for Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami to go up against Joseph Joon “jojopyun” Pyun’s Viktor, which resulted in victory.

During that League of Legends meta, he believed that enchanters overall had untapped potential, alongside certain top lane champions who could be flexed to mid depending on the matchup.

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Across the globe, even Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok got wind of Soraka’s LCS debut, and started playing her in solo queue too.

These non-meta picks are a frequent sight on the ranked ladder where players attempt to out-cheese and outplay opponents every chance they get, all for the sake of LP — but it’s rarely seen in pro play.

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That’s not to say that they aren’t viable at a competitive level, however. “We feel like there’s a lot of things that can be played, but for the pro game, there’s a lot of things that kind of run counter to having an evolving meta,” Riot Phroxzon explained.

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“One of the reasons is that I think pro players are generally pretty rigid in how they tend to approach the game, as well as constant team turnover,” he continued. “And things like that make it pretty hard for teams to innovate and to practice.”

The nature of League of Legends esports sees teams adjust their roster every season, sometimes even in between Spring and Summer. The reality is that retaining the same players for more than a year is rare, even if they’ve won Worlds.

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“And then you throw on top that a team that’s at the bottom of the ladder doesn’t really feel the desire to want to innovate,” Riot Phroxzon said, giving the example of a pro who might be capable of playing Kog’Maw mid or other innovative picks — but doing so might jeopardize their job next split.

And so at a pro level, these combined industry and team factors inevitably run counter to improvising and adapting creatively to the League of Legends meta.

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On top of that, Riot Games also updates the game frequently, dropping a patch every two weeks. “When we change the game, it’s pretty common for players to lean on that as a crutch,” said Riot Phroxzon.

“If something is pretty strong, like let’s just say for example, Orianna is quite strong right now. If we left the patch on for two months, then maybe people would find a counter that’s quite unique,” he elaborated. “But at the same like is it appropriate for us to leave the game in a prolonged state like that for regular players?”

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The bottom line is that there’s always a tradeoff in game balance: balancing for solo queue, pros, and aggregating for regional differences.

At the end of the day, while it is a challenging task to uptake, Riot Phroxzon believes that frequent patches is arguably advantageous for League of Legends.

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“We don’t think the meta is as solved as players perceive it to be,” he said. “And we also need to make a lot of changes to satisfy the regular player base. So it’s kind of a push and pull there.”

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