There is nothing quite like an off-meta pick to turn a boring pick/ban phase into a thrilling war of attrition. So often overlooked by action-hungry fans, the wild unpredictability of the draft can be exhilarating.
At last season’s World Championship, ROX Tigers shocked the world with their ingenious Miss Fortune support strategy. This year, Misfits concocted a similar surprise with their unprecedented Leona pick, enhanced by ‘Fervor of Battle’.
The champion currently sits at a 100% win rate, but the question remains: What is this strange pick and can it really change the meta like Miss Fortune did last season.
Even barring the strange choice of mastery, Leona would still be a peculiar choice on the Worlds stage.
In the past two years, only nine players picked Leona for a total of 16 games, giving Leona the lowest pick rate of any support in both 2016 and 2017.
Unfortunately, Leona has very few perks that distinguish her from other, better support champions. Her tankiness is useful, but better utilized on a more all-around support like Braum or Tahm Kench. Her crowd control and engage is a major bonus, but Alistar and Thresh can provide the same thing in a better package.
In addition, she is one of only three primary supports without a single ability that can be used on a laning partner. This, along with her poor disengage, makes it difficult for her to protect her ADC by any means other than absorbing damage.
So why the sudden rise for a previously irrelevant champion? The answer lies in the current ardent censer meta.
While supports like Janna and Lulu dominate the meta, supports without heals and shields have fallen out of priority. Even though Leona falls into the latter category, her incredible aggressiveness allows her to dominate a lane if given the chance.
The idea of Leona is simple – rack up so many kills in the early game that the enemy ADC’s delayed Ardent power spike has diminished effect. The Fervor only serves to further Leona’s kill-potential in lane, perfectly specializing her for this singular role.
The best example of this strategy was demonstrated by Misfits’ support, Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun. IgNar was the first to pull out the pocket pick and thrust it into the meta with an instant display of power.
In the first five and a half minutes of Game 3 vs SK Telecom T1, Misfits’ bottom lane had already tallied four kills. From there, Steven “Hans sama” Liv and IgNar simply snowballed the game into a Misfits win.
Not every game has been as smooth as Misfits’ however. When SKT tried the same pick a week later, they failed to find the same calibre of early game success. Being SKT, they still won the game, even if the Leona was not quite so vital.
While SK Telecom T1 succeeded without an ardent censer, it seems to work best with some sort of ardent user in the mid or jungle. This way, the AD carry can crush their lane opponent early on, without giving up the all-important ardent buff later in the game.
Misfits pulled this strategy off with Karma and Ivern during their series, but other innovative picks such as Lulu jungle could work in this type of composition as well.
While Fervor Leona is perhaps the most surprising pick, this type of team comp can work with other champions. Blitzcrank plays a similar role in providing valuable crowd control to crush the early game with a constant slew of bot lane kills.
In fact, he so much fits the same archetype that both teams that tried Leona have also used Blitzcrank. There are many ways to customize this strategy to fit individual team.
Fervor Leona may seem like insanity at first, but in the context of the current meta, it works quite well. The broader strategy of early-game lane bullies replacing ardent supports is a natural progression of the Worlds meta.
It allows teams to prioritize strong champions in other roles without forcing themselves into Lulu or Janna. Just like Miss Fortune support last year, Leona is simply an undervalued counter to the dominant champions of the meta.
With such simple and useful utility, it is hard to envisage a final without some form of this brilliant counter-meta strategy.