For most League players, the best way to climb and consistently win your games has generally stayed the same since the beginning: narrow your champion pool so you can dedicate more time to those fewer picks to master them, using them whenever you can to put the game in your favor. Comfort and meta picks are useful to pro players as well, but unlike my Gold ELO games where I can play pretty much anything I want as long as I know how, pro players have the knowledge and skill to abuse aspects of a champion regardless of the player’s actual skill. That’s why drafting in the pro scene is so important: drafts have the possibility to completely dictate a game.
Oftentimes, both fans and even pro players underestimate just how much influence the draft can have on a game, which is why a reliance on simple counters or meta picks are shortcuts that don’t really provide understanding of how to draft. The recent stints of triple AD drafts, especially the specific combination of Graves, Renekton and Senna highlight not just how a team can undermine themselves compositionally, but how a bad composition demonstrates a general weakness in the proactive knowledge that builds a winning macro-game. Let’s take, for example, the MAD Lions vs. SuperMassive best-of-five final game, where Irfan “Armut” Tükek pulled off the following play while being ganked by Zhiqiang “Shadow” Zhao and Andrei “Orome” Popa.
Almost every single part of this gank spelled bad news for MAD Lions, with a worst case scenario of Armut killing both Shadow and Orome, hitting level six from the kill experience, and then Unstoppable Forcing himself out of turret range to live with barely any hit points to speak of. The worst case scenario didn’t end up happening in this gank, but it’s important to note that though nothing has really happened yet in this game, Shadow goes in for an unfavorable fight to try and make something happen.
Why? Without going too much into the specific reasoning of the player in the moment, what’s really important is that before Malphite even has any real advantage, we can see that MAD Lions are already feeling the pressure from the threat of Malphite’s scaling against their primary AD composition. The combination of Orome being out-laned and Shadow’s miscalculation of the gank, I would argue, are in part happening because of the pressure of the Malphite hard-counter pick weighing heavily on their mental game.
This failed gank-turned-disaster for MAD Lions set the stage for them tilting the game into its eventual loss. It’s important to note that, even though Armut had a powerful showing in that game, MAD Lions killed him in quite a few fights, even coming out ahead in some engagements to the point that they had a chance in the twilight minutes of the game to actually come back. Instead, they walked on Caitlyn traps and started dragon with no smite while the enemy jungler was alive, losing the fight and the dragon in the process. This was relevantly independent of Malphite— after all, he was already dead.
What happened? In the specific case of MAD Lions, there were questions about their ability to perform with the stress of being on stage for the first time (COVID-19 precautions keeping most tournament matches online), and while that most likely contributed to their tilt, I suggest that the looming pressure of being disadvantaged from the outset of draft had the biggest impact on their mental game. By no means did MAD Lions lose that game in Champion Select, despite the disadvantage they had given themselves, but the perceived threat from Armut (especially considering he had already been performing well in the series) made MAD Lions flinch. They became so focused on trying to put Malphite behind that they forgot that Malphite is an engage tank that can be played around. Not once in the entire game did any member of MAD Lions flash a Malphite ultimate, nor did they respect his reach so that they could be in better positions to disengage and kite from a possible ultimate. This is further evidence that the team’s mental edge heavily waned.
What point is there to picking Graves, Renetkon and Senna, ostensibly powerful meta picks, if you don’t understand what makes them powerful? In that draft and in the game that followed, MAD Lions had the toolset to win, but demonstrated that their knowledge was limited by a lack of in-depth understanding to use those tools. Renekton can easily beat Malphite in lane, that is certainly true, but if you aren’t comfortable with playing an ultra-aggressive lane as Renekton, what use is that pick to you? Senna has powerful crowd-control and line damage, but how can one utilize that when you don’t know how to position yourself to stay out of the way of an Unstoppable Force? The importance of drafting isn’t in the draft picks itself, although they can give you quite an advantage, it’s the knowledge to use the tools at your disposal: to know not just what works, but how to work it. Even though MAD Lions put up a good fight against SuperMassive, because they failed to leverage their knowledge of how to draft and how to macro, they found themselves at the mercy of players who saw past “common knowledge” of the meta. Both regular players and pros should always be on the lookout during all parts of the game, from draft to baron pit, and make proactive strategies to give themselves the winning edge.