Just as we humans have developed various cultures and lifestyles in different areas around the globe, so too do meta-games in esports vary across regions. In this article, I’ll be looking at some meta-game specifics for different regions. I’ll focus on the popular esports title League of Legends as an example, since it can be used to perfectly illustrate the topic at hand.
So let’s start with the basics. League of Legends, or LoL for short, is split into leagues all around the globe. I’ll be focusing on 5 of the largest, most high-profile leagues: the European League of Legends Championship Series, also known as the EU LCS, its North American counterpart, the NA LCS, the League of Legends Master Series or LMS where teams from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau face off, the Tencent League of Legends Pro League or LPL in China, and finally, the League of Legends Champions Korea or LCK, which takes place in Korea.
Meta-game by League
The EU LCS is made up of 10 teams that face each other two times in a single split. Almost all of the players come from European countries, with only 5 imports from Korea. What separates the EU region from others is probably the genuine innovation teams display while playing the game. Most LoL fans are familiar with the Unicorns in Love (UOL), a team notorious for always having a few unexpected tricks up their jerseys whenever we see them on stage. Since the UOL burst onto the scene in 2014, others have followed suit, and we can now almost expect surprises like that to come from any and all of the EU LCS teams. EU teams are not afraid to test the waters with some unusual strategies which can surprise the opponents facing them in global events such as Rift Rivals.
LMS is different from other Asian leagues because it‘s the only one covering more than one territory, although the participating nations do have their Chinese heritage in common. Teams hailing from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau all play together in the LMS. As some LMS players have said, they focus on strong lanes and team fighting, but are a bit more methodical in their playing style when it comes to teamplay. In this league, there are 8 teams that face each other in best-of-three series twice in a split. The LMS is also the only Asian region with no English stream available.
China’s esports community is exploding right now. LPL teams are shoving money into importing as many Korea star players as possible. China is one of, if not the most aggressive region in the game. Their junglers spend more time ganking (if you don’t know what ganking is, check out this video from Gen Doukeshi) and team fighting than in other leagues. The LPL has a unique format where twelve teams are split in two groups of seven. Every team plays two games with each of the teams in their group and one game with each team in the other group in a best-of-three format. Even the splash art on some champions is different to the ones we are used to in other regions.
It could be said that the NA LCS is the Hollywood of esports — all about stars and entertainment. It’s a mix of all styles we listed so far, but not at the same level as other regions. North American teams are happy to import top players from other regions, so it’s not surprising to see 14 Korean players in the league, 8 players from the EU, and even some from China and other countries. The players coming to play in North American teams from abroad end up influencing their teams’ strategy and playing style with the experience and skills gained on their home turf. Ever the entertainers, the NA league is also known for the occasional showboating.
We saved the best for last, and that’s the LCK. When you think about the best teams in League of Legends, all-start teams like SK Telecom, Samsung Galaxy, CJ Entus, and numerous others come to mind. These are just a few of the best teams in this game and they all come from South Korea. Korean players are usually the best, they are great at overall strategic skills and great at rotations. In South Korea, we can see many of the same champions that are also used in other regions, but they are played and built differently. The LCK format is similar to that of the EU and NA leagues, however here teams face each other in best-of-three, not best-of-one, which can be an advantage because all world events are played in this format.
While NA and EU are still trying to find legitimate ground in esports, South Korea has had professional tournaments since the days of the original Starcraft, and even has its own television station dedicated to 24/7 esports coverage.
Champions’ Popularity Across Leagues
Now that we know how teams in different leagues across the world approach strategy and tactics, we can take a look at who their champions of choice are. We’ve combined data on champions played from the 2018 Summer Split and displayed it visually in a set of infographics (see below). We can see that although there are clear similarities — it seems the toplaners of the world are all smitten with Dr. Mundo — there are quite a few differences among the regions as well. Looking at champion selection patterns, we could say that the strategies used by LMS teams diverge most visibly from their peers in other leagues. We can also see how LPL junglers have a much higher tendency to use different champions, as the distribution of champions is much less concentrated.
Outside of the top league, here are some specialties of regional servers you may not have known before that :
- Russia is giving free rewards to people that make “Clubs” and play together.
- In the Oceania region, solo queue would be disabled everyday between 4am and 7am because there were not enough people playing during that time to accurately match players according to their Elo (the rating system used by LoL). This restriction was removed a few months ago.
- If you want to create an LoL account in South Korea, you will need to sign in with your IPIN (the gateway to all online services in South Korea) and mobile phone number. Boosting in Korea is punished with up to 2 years in prison.
- Open mid is popular in Korea, where many players play in internet cafés that charge by hour. In order to avoid wasting time and money, players just surrender games openly if they have a bad start by declaring open mid. This way, the game ends faster, and they can jump into a new match sooner.