So what happens when a pro player attempts to push the bounds of their mastery of the game? Throughout history, role-swapping has been one of the ultimate ways for pros to expand their horizons within League. It allows for players to solidify as great students of the game who transcend the context of a particular meta or roster.
We witnessed what may have quite possibly been the most successful role-swap of all time back in 2019. Luka “Perkz” Perković surprisingly switched from mid lane to bot lane. Perkz was in his prime as the best or second-best mid laner in Europe. His only rival at the time was his now-teammate Rasmus “Caps” Winther. In his new role, he not only went on to win first place in every tournament possible, sans a second place finish at the 2019 World Championship. People started to then call him one of the best bot laners in the world.
After swapping back to mid in 2020, Perkz was still the best mid in his region and added another championship under his belt. Today, both Perkz and Caps have found themselves playing mid, albeit in different continents. Most role-swaps don’t end in the player becoming the best in their new role and reaching two international finals, however.
Swaps and Flops
Probably the most prominent role swaps alongside Perkz were Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in’s and Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim’s change from ADC to support, and Kang “Ambition” Chang-yong’s swap from mid lane to jungle.
CoreJJ famously was imported from Korea to North America where he played ADC for Team Dignitas. At the time, Team Dignitas was a bottom tier team at the time. After that he went back to Korea in 2016 to join Samsung Galaxy. CoreJJ played out the spring split as ADC before deciding to switch. He then he took to the support role and eventually went on to win the 2017 World Championship. His teammate and fellow World Champion, Ambition, had a path more similar to Perkz. Before becoming one of Korea’s premier junglers, he was one of the region’s best mid laners playing for CJ Entus Blaze.
YellOwStaR never really hit his prime as a bot laner before joining Fnatic in 2013. With FNC, he won the first European League of Legends Championship Series 2013 Spring Split as ADC. He then went on to swap to support and winning four more with Fnatic. This includes the historic 18-0 split in Summer 2015.
These success stories are incredibly rare. The rigid practice environment of the Korean LoL scene facilitated both CoreJJ and Ambition’s role swaps in a way that’s unique to the region. For YellOwStaR, moving to a cerebral role such as support during a time when Fnatic was fielding a lot of young talent helped him realize his potential as a leader and shot caller despite never becoming mechanically proficient at the role.
When you look at more recent stories of role-swapping, like Golden Guardians’ Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Yuri “Keith” Jew from mid lane to support and ADC to support respectively, you’ll see that these players don’t typically go on to become the best. It helps to have good teammates and a good organization when making these sort of switches. But more importantly, there’s a reason why role-swaps in major regions are few and far between. It’s quite possibly one of the greatest risks that a pro could undertake within the span of their career. Role swaps risk a players personal brand and market value as a player. Not to mention the potential loss of years of investment into their own growth.
The Gold Standard
There are key factors in how a player like Perkz found so much success. For starters, the state of the game at the time of Perkz’s transition, along with the support staff available to him, encouraged experimentation.
Perkz didn’t immediately show stellar results on traditional marksmen right out the gate in 2019. Luckily for him, mages and melee carries had slowly trickled their way into the bot lane towards the end of Season 8. Additionally, with Heimerdinger being the most prominent pick. Because of their potency, Perkz was willing to venture into territory that his bot lane competitors weren’t. He was then able to introduce more mages from his mid lane pool into the bot lane.
On top of that, G2 coach Fabian “GrabbZ” Lohmann was famous for his odd drafts all across the board. This enabled Perkz to have more and more freedom to play unexpected picks like Yasuo, Zoe, Syndra, and more. Having his team behind him and willing to support his strengths and weaknesses in the role by making up for them in unconventional drafts (like running kill-lanes bot and supportive champions on the top half of the map) created the ideal environment for him to come into his own.
We probably won’t see another Perkz or CoreJJ or Ambition story for a while. That only stands as a testament to how difficult a task it truly is to swap roles. And it’s even harder when a player is at the height of their career. Perhaps as the fundamentals of the game continue to change with each season, and competition gets closer and closer within regions, more players will take this avenue to stand out and make a name for themselves.
*Originally published on May 29, 2020