Analysis in Competitive League of Legends

Despite the tremendous strides competitive League of Legends has made recently, the industry is still fairly young with regards to how players interact with the support staff and management. While the responsibilities of the coaching role have reached a state of general definition from developing team's social and performance elements, the analyst role still remains relatively obscure with regards to scope and impact. An idea popularized in the past few years is that analysts most commonly watch a lot of competitive games and advise on pick/bans or strategy. While this is an important aspect this idea presents a fairly reductionist visualization of the role.

A comprehensive definition of an analyst is a person who maintains a high level understanding of the game by collecting as much relevant data as possible, constantly reviewing the data with experts in the community to interpret the details, and reporting on meaningful and actionable subset of information. The most challenging aspects of the role are remaining objective in the face of constant barrage of subjective commentary, cultivating and maintaining a network of relationships that can constantly help you critique your analysis, and most importantly, efficiently communicating all relevant information to the remaining support staff and team.

The figure above shows a sample subset of analyst directives, where the width represents relative importance to the team and the height represents the time invested or the analyst’s expertise in the topic. The figure will look different for teams depending on their priorities and the amount of support staff they have. For example, a team with a large infrastructure can generally pick up multiple members that excel in niche areas or devote time to specific sections, while it may make more sense for smaller teams to pick up a full time analyst who can focus on all general aspects, depending on their long-term goals.




Different Regions

In line with the community perception of analysts, support staff often track games from different regions, notably both LCS regions along with Korean and Chinese leagues. A year or two ago, many teams didn't have the ability to invest in a proper coach or analyst, leading to the dominance of empirical analysis where the Korean competitive scene served as an adequate model to draw inspiration from. However, the top teams from other regions adapt the opportunity costs of their in-game decisions to maximize the efficiency of their picks and strategies, something that can't be determined by observation. Thus, if the assumptions are mistranslated, the utility that teams gain from using that innovative advantage decreases considerably.

In addition to watching the other regions, analysts are also responsible for translating the efficacy of particular strategies and picks within the context of their local region or team. Analysts help build an identity around the unique proclivities of their players and establish the team's original hierarchy of pre-game and in-game opportunity costs before using empirical data to bolster their strategy. Essentially, analysts are responsible for watching other regions, but the underlying purpose is to help the team and players make informed decisions about their own strategies instead of simply mimicking other teams. Recurring benefits of scouting different regions include new strategies, playstyles, or meta-shifts that have a seed in external regions. Short term benefits include having a more holistic perspective of opponents at international competitions like IEM Katowice or World Championships.


Upcoming Opponents
Scouting specific opponents has a more refined and deliberate approach. At the beginning of each week, a scouting report helps break down each opponent the team is preparing for and it includes everything from player's champion pools and play styles to general level 1s and lane swaps. Depending on the team, there's also a mention of damage output and gold allocation throughout the game and pick/ban patterns to consider what the team prioritizes before and in-game. After a discussion with other members of the coaching staff, it's decided how this impacts the week's scrim practice. For example, if the opponent is proficient at prioritizing a certain role or champion the team is not comfortable playing against, there's a discussion about whether it's worth altering play style to prepare counters or simply rely on specific champion bans. Finally, the day before each match there's another discussion finalizing pick/ban contingencies and specific in-game plans where the coach then gets the team's final feedback to make any changes.


Tools of the Trade

From post-game data to Riot's API, there's an abundance of readily available information for teams to consider. After extracting the data into a reasonable format, Tableau and Matlab allow analysts to dynamically consider data or perform in-depth analysis. For example, if a team wants to focus on the early game, the data helps find other teams that generate early game leads to answer questions like, is the gold concentrated in specific lanes or are the leads a result of overall pressure? How do these champions perform if they don't have early game leads? What are the opportunity costs of early dragons vs. towers? The answers to these questions help shape the direction of the conversation, and offer constructive precedence players can reference.

Generally, the data mentioned above isn't seen by coaches or players; analysts act as an intermediary source. But there is data that needs to be presented and manipulated by coaches and players. Excel and PowerPoint are traditional and powerful tools to help accomplish the task. Online excel documents shared within the team tracking scrim information let players go through and see where they did well, what they did poorly and help them present their arguments to the team regarding picks and strategic direction. PowerPoint or other presentation software helps summarize information for vision control, scouting reports, pick/bans and more. Finally, video editing software like Adobe Premiere allows analysts to put together presentations for reviews or introducing new concepts.


Introspective Analysis

BoxeR, the renowned Starcraft player and current coach of SK Telecom T1's Starcraft II team once described his strategy as one in which "even if the opponent had predicted it, he cannot stop me." Day[9] similarly advises his audience that "strategy and solid play doesn't revolve around tricks, surprises, or hidden information, but very solid planning and crisp execution."

An implicit and understated responsibility of analysts and support staff in general is to help team's development, rather than merely searching for new tricks or scouting other regional strategies. More often than not analytical resources are focused on external data, while team development follows a reactionary path rather than a proactive one. A methodology that reflects an infantile approach to delayed gratification, teams focus heavily on the short term in order to win games, rather than establishing a foundation for future success. New teams consistently fall prey to this trap, and while they may enjoy sporadic successes, they lack a cohesive identity and rarely achieve greatness.

In order to help direct team growth, support staff have to recognize the type of team approach that will best represent their players. Some teams are innovative and enjoy playing combinations of new or off-meta picks, while others are reflexive, those who have diverse pre-existing strategies and can adapt to various picks and game situations. Teams can be adaptive, those that heavily research and are the first to pick up and master the new meta styles, while other teams prefer a conservative approach, and shift slowly, letting their skill and teamwork carry them through the transition. Committing to an identity helps team create long term plans regarding how to approach patches, tough opponents, tournaments, roster changes and more.

Similarly players' development can take different routes. Mechanically adept players learn certain champions and playstyles at a different rate than tactical players. Other players are neither but are more open to the learning process, allowing the support staff to mold the player that the team needs. Analysts have to recognize the type of players they are working with in order to recommend plans for adapting during patches or preparing for upcoming tournaments and games. Investing the time to learn about the players and team before setting long term and short term goals is important for any team that wants to set themselves up for long term success.



Final Thoughts

After the coaching role is established, the analyst role becomes the next most important on the support staff. There is a considerable amount that analysts can be responsible for depending on the goals of the team. Some teams simply want to place well in their region, while others want to win worlds or create a lasting team legacy. As the expectations of the team increase, it becomes critical for the organization to invest in good analysts who not only knowledgeable about the game and various scenes, but can also communicate and present their ideas in a clear and persuasive manner. For a team expecting to maintain a top place in the regional standings and doing well at international competitions, the reasonable expectation is 60-80 hours of analysis work per week, from planning and creating content to scouting regions and analyzing scrims and more. We are slowly approaching an era in team e-sports where player and team development is going to become more important than raw talent, and surrounding the coach with a strong supporting infrastructure will ensure a team's long term success.

Learning from SK Telecom

Following the mass Korean Exodus, SK Telecom T1 remained one of few teams to retain a full roster of top-level players, resulting in a crucial developmental advantage compared to the other teams that competed in the OGN pre-season. While teams like Samsung were still laying the foundation for their new (albeit extremely talented) roster, SKT forged ahead by testing the limits of relevant strategies within the context of their team, ultimately finishing the pre-season well ahead of the other teams. With the LCS about to start, it’s important that the coaches and analysts look towards SKT as an example; not merely to see what champions are strong in the current meta-game, but also their approach to pick/ban phase, their resource allocation, and their vision strategy.

The Pick-Ban Mind Games

Before delving into the pick ban phase, let’s first consider the landscape of relevant champions in this meta-game. There were 54 different champions picked over 36 games, 7 of which were used in multiple roles. Some of the more contested picks for each role are shown below, along with their pick, ban, and win rates.


It’s interesting to note that Gnar has been banned in all 36 pre-season games. Corki and Lissandra, despite being present in 83 and 81 % of the games only show a win rate of 35 and 33% respectively. With the exception of Ahri and Leblanc, the majority of mid champions are flex picks, a list that includes Jayce, Ezreal, Kassadin, Lissandra, Morgana etc. This flexibility also extends to item builds and strategy, allowing champions to overcome weaknesses at various points in the game, further opening up the possibilities for the pick ban phase. For example, Renekton normally struggles against Jayce; however, in their game against Samsung, SKT’s Marin opted into the matchup. With some pressure from Bengi and an unorthodox full damage build, Samsung’s Cuvee ended the game with a score of 1-8-2, 100 CS behind Marin.

These changes make pick ban phase much more interesting than ever before. Coaches, who are now allowed to participate in the process, not only have the responsibility of helping choose the champions but can also help outline strategies and objectives for that particular team combination. With that in mind, let’s consider SKT and their coach Kkoma’s brilliant pick ban phase against Najin em-Fire.


Each pick-ban phase is a separate game, played by exchanging information and bound by player skill and time. Recognizing that Najin has the first pick in Game 1, SKT choose to trade power picks for flexibility. Najin opt for Janna as their first pick, followed by SKT picking up Lissandra and Jarvan IV. Najin pick up Corki to complete their power bot lane set, after which SKT pick up Ezreal and Alistar. At this time, SKT does not know where Kassadin is playing or the last two champions, but between Lissandra, Jarvan IV, and Ezreal, SKT can use their last pick for top, jungle, mid, or AD Carry.

After Najin pick Zed and Elise for their final rotation, Kkoma picks Lee Sin for Bengi, locking in Jarvan IV for top lane. This forces Najin to lane swap out of the Kassadin-Jarvan IV matchup and allows SKT to avoid facing Corki and Janna in the bot lane. While this game exemplifies Kkoma’s emphasis on pick flexibility, the next game he manipulates power picks to focus on team synergy, putting Jarvan IV and Lissandra different positions and using Jayce and Graves-Janna to disrupt mid and bot respectively.

Four of the five games Faker played in the pre-season were on flex champions like Ezreal and Lissandra. It’s an approach to the game that uses the highly skilled players to adapt for the team, rather than having the team cater to the strengths of the star player. Professional players are an aggregate of many elements: mechanical skill, game sense, flexibility, etc. The pick-ban phase in Season 5 will test not only team’s knowledge of the current metagame, but also how they create an identity around the unique proclivities of their members.

Game Economy and Resource Allocation

A game of League of Legends has limited resources on the map for its players in terms of experience and gold. Moscow 5 recognized that Darien’s repeated deaths allowed them to pick up dragons and buffs from the other side of the map, while their enemies lost wave after wave chasing Darien. CLG was criticized for having a singular strategy of feeding Doublelift and letting him carry the team. These are but a few examples of how some teams use resources differently.

The question then becomes, how can teams use resources efficiently? In terms of gameplay, the jungle and support roles are examples of how a team concentrates resources onto the top, mid, and ad carry roles during the laning phase. But once the laning phase ends, each team has a different philosophy on which members receive farm, push out lanes, and control vision. 

A top laner who is split pushing by himself will have more farm than one who is responsible for defending a turret with his team. A mid laner who has to retreat due to jungle pressure gives up a wave of creeps. While these seem like disparate events, teams influence resource distribution within the team based on their objective focus and overall strategy. The figure below shows the distribution of CS within each team during the preseason.


Teams like Samsung Galaxy and Najin prioritize farm onto their AD carries at the expense of their top laners, while KT Rolster does the opposite for its top laner. Teams like CJ Entus have a tight distribution, while other focus on their mid laners, notably IM and SKT. This data gives valuable insight into a team’s strategy and how teams will react. Let’s now consider the new SKT, a team composed of members from both K and S teams, specifically the top lane.

Another impressive facet of SKT’s strategy is their deliberate allocation of gold to their players. Unlike Impact, Marin prefers a carry-oriented approach to the game. His aggressive style relieves pressure from the map and has a strong presence in teamfights alongside Faker. However, this requires additional gold for him to buy items and remain relevant against his opposing laner.

The figure above shows the average CS difference for each player compared to their lane opponent at different phases of the game. During the preseason, when Impact was in the top lane, Faker and Bang would end on average with 121 and 39 CS above their lane opponent while Impact would be even or just below his lane opponent. In the games with Marin however, Faker and Bang’s CS leads are halved, CS that’s donated to Marin. This conscious effort has been rewarded by Marin’s impressive 10.5 KDA in their wins, compared to Impact’s 4.3. Marin and Bang have helped create a much stronger and relevant identity for SKT that wouldn’t have been possible with Impact and Piglet. If Marin was forced to follow Impact’s established utility role, SKT would not have been nearly as successful as it has been so far.

Western teams have segmented the game into phases of objective control, but resulting in haphazard distribution of resources. Sometimes farm is deliberately funneled to members in ways that is counter-productive to team’s goals. It’ll be interesting to see whether teams like CLG and Curse accommodate their new solo laners, or force them into established roles set by their predecessors.

Final Thoughts

SKT has started the preseason in dominating fashion, dropping only 1 game out of 10. Is this a foreshadowing for things to come? It’s hard to tell. SKT certainly looks like the most polished team; Bengi’s mechanics have drastically improved and the team has found a modicum of synergy with Marin’s carry-oriented style and Bang’s calculated approach. But, veteran teams like Najin and KT aren’t to be dismissed. Najin didn’t play Ohq in their set against SKT, a player who has ensured victory in every game he’s played in the preseason. Additionally, teams like Samsung and HUYA have shown more than glimpses of potential. Samsung especially who have shown time and again that their mechanical skill is top notch, will only get stronger under their veteran coaching staff as the year progresses.

Shifting to the west, the examples above show how SKT have formed an identity, displayed in their pick-ban phase and resource allocation. But if western teams are to compete against other regions, they must innovate themselves, discover their own opportunity costs and fortify weaknesses instead of mirroring other teams. Since Season 2, western teams have played behind the curve, relying on empirical analysis from regions with a more established infrastructure.
With Riot’s acknowledgement and financial support for coaches and analysts, it’s time for teams to learn from SKT, not only superficial elements of meta champions and vision strategy, but the deeper insights into how they approach the game to accentuate their players’ strengths within the context of the team. Will CLG and Alliance give the proper resources to their new members? How will Team8 and Roccat use the unique styles of their top laners? It’ll be interesting to see if the west adapts in the new season.

Working with Alliance as a Remote Analyst

Last month, I had the opportunity to perform some remote analysis for Alliance as well as offer a second opinion on a lot of topics surrounding scrims, tournament, mindset, approach etc. I wanted to thank Jordan for involving me in the process and allowing me to share portions of my brief journey.  It was invaluable experience and gave a great insight into the professional scene. 



Someone had posted on Leviathan's account where Jordan mentions that he would like to help any analysts trying to break into the scene. While my end goal isn't to simply do analysis, I thought it would be an interesting experience, so I sent him a detailed email with my resume and a reference that my project manager at Boeing wrote for me along with links to my website and writing asking to be introduced to a team in NA. With his busy schedule, I wasn't actually intending an email back before Worlds was over so I was pleasantly surprised when a few days later he replied saying that he was impressed with my qualifications and thought my perspective would be valuable. Additionally, he asked if I would be interested in helping him and Alliance at Worlds. I was pretty excited to just be involved in the process and I added him on Skype immediately.

The next day, we spoke on Skype for the first time and he mentioned that he'd read some of my articles and thought I would be a positive influence to the team. We delved into some core topics in that first conversation and towards the end, my first assignment was to review their scrims and take notes. They were BaronReplay files, a software I had never used until now, but it was pretty intuitive and easy to set up. A few days later, I was also tasked with recording and uploading the video versions of scrims onto youtube privately so that the players could watch them on other devices. He also mentioned the idea of creating a video library of games for players, which I think has a lot of merit especially during the regular season. 



After receiving scrim data, I was also invited to several chat groups labelled NJWS and C9, each with 7-8 people. While it was interesting to participate in the discussions, I personally didn't feel that I was adding much, and I stopped engaging in the conversations. Instead when Jordan asked someone to put together a summary presentation on Cloud 9 and Shield, I realized that it would be pretty interesting to rewatch games from an analyst's perspective. Since I already knew the general dispositions of both teams, I decided to narrow the focus to vision strategy because it was something both teams did well, and what Alliance somewhat lacked at the time. I rewatched and took detailed notes on Cloud 9's playoffs matches [8 games] and Shield's gauntlet run [10 games]. Then I converted these notes into summaries of each player and their inclinations as well as how the teams approached visions with respect to their compositions. I'm not sure how Jordan or players of Alliance used this work, but the presentations would've easily been three times as long depending on the perspective. I decided to focus on vision control, but objective-based movement and teamfight/skirmish strategies are similarly important. Separately studying these elements before synthesizing them into a cohesive team strategy is the next step for analysis in western League of Legends.

Pre-Group Stage research on Cloud 9 focusing on their vision strategy and projected picks


Scrims revealed to me that Alliance's biggest flaw was vision control, causing them to lose control of early dragons and allowing opposing teams to freely roam around the map. After I pointed this out, Jordan expressed that they had resolved the issue in the early game, but still struggled with mid and late game decision-making. I had been thinking about this topic a lot during my brief involvement with helping a team in the Challenger scene. I helped break down the mid-late game into objective control, vision, and map movement for the shotcaller, and offered recommendations on how to improve each. Some of these included reviewing replays with partial team vision and replaying team movement before major objectives or fights. Next I advised on pausing replays at various points in the game and having the shotcaller discuss each team composition, their strengths, and end goals, before watching the remaining replay to measure the differences between expected and actual outcomes. Other suggestions included practicing certain elements like overdoing vision control to appreciate the value of information and then scaling back the amount to increase efficiency in order to complement compositional strengths.

Pre-Group Stage research on Najin White Shield focusing on their vision strategy and map movement


Next, I was told that the pick/bans for each team were done the day before the games. I wasn't asked for it, but I decided to consider several pick/ban scenarios with the help from a few friends. Assuming certain bans like Zed and Rumble from Alliance's side and opposing teams to certainly ban away Irelia and possibly Zilean, I made the following presentation focusing on team compositions, their synergy, and how to approach each with vision. I didn't have the opportunity to speak with players about pick/bans or priorities, but I was hoping this would be enough based on my knowledge of their champion pools and resource allocation. Overall, I spent approximately 60 hours reviewing videos, discussing ideas, and creating the presentations. 


Notes on some sample team compositions for Alliance assuming particular bans like Zed, Rumble, Zilean, and Irelia



Outside of analysis, Jordan and I spoke a lot about how to approach the game and tournament. The first discussion revolved around expectations and mentality. At the time he was concerned about the players' doubts about their own condition and ability to beat the top Korean teams as well as the community's reaction to his confidence on social media. Drawing from my experience and my conversation with Evan McCauley, we talked about the difference between having confidence in your abilities and the issues with displaying that confidence. Also, it was my contention that the benefit of humility is that it lowers community expectation and therefore reduces the pressure from players to perform, allowing them to concentrate on the task at hand. Next, as Evan and I had discussed earlier, I pointed out methods to build confidence from reaffirming faith in their fellow teammates' skills to offering constructive criticisms in a 1v1 conversations instead of group setting. Again, these were merely discussions and I was simply offering my perspective, but it was encouraging to see support staff actively consider and attempt to solve these issues. 

You can find the discussion with Evan McCauley here: Link


Final Thoughts

I wanted to thank Jordan (@LeviathanLoL) for giving me this opportunity to work alongside the team and for allowing me to share my experiences. Even though Alliance still has a lot to learn, I believe that the top western teams are at least equal with Chinese teams and rapidly closing the gap onto the Korean scene. However, an influx of efficient support staff and increased professionalism are the next hurdles to furthering the western scene. I would encourage anyone with the interest or passion to reach out to members in the industry. In my experience, I have found that everyone in the scene is very receptive of new members and are willing to help and encourage growth.