The Rise of Ranged and Marksmen Supports at Worlds 2023
With only one match left to be played at Worlds 2023, the meta for supports has taken a very big shift as the tournament has gone on. In League of Legends, the support role is known for providing utility to their team while having low economy. This can take the form of engage, lockdown, peel, buffs, etc. There’s no hard and fast rule on what exactly a support HAS to do, just that they provide something valuable to the team.
Early on in the tournament, teams stuck to what they had known and practiced up to that point. Rakan, Rell, Nautilus, and Alistar were the premier picks. All four of these champions fall under the same niche of engage. They’re all meant to go in and be walls of meat for their team while hopefully locking down the key opposing champions.
The Play-In Stage featured just 10 total support champions with those four making up 53 of the 62 picks. The meta did widen a bit once the Swiss Stage rolled around. Still, almost every single game featured either Rakan or Alistar. They had 29 and 22 games played respectively. There were two key meta developments at this time however.
The Beginnings of a Meta Shift
Renata Glasc was picked up by multiple eventual playoffs teams. Ms. Glasc is a squishy ranged support that functions as a disengager. Her Hostile Takeover provides amazing zoning and peeling potential, while Bailout can buy a teammate a second life with that disengage. Renata works best when the enemy team is running straight at you, which is exactly what most of the meta support picks wanted to do.
Senna also made multiple appearances in the Swiss Stage. First shown on stage by DetonatioN FocusMe in Play-Ins, it was NRG who picked her up as a regular part of their draft strategy. They paired Senna with Tahm Kench, a classic combo that sees the ADC player take Senna and buy a support item, leaving the support player to farm. Using Senna, NRG picked up wins over Team Liquid and G2 Esports, helping them qualify for the Worlds 2023 Playoffs.
Notably, we did start to see shades of what was to come in the Knockout Stage of the tournament. Lux and Milio saw their first presence at Worlds 2023, being specifically picked as set pairings or counters. T1 also showed their willingness to play Bard. With all of these potential picks on the table, we were left with more questions than answers going into playoffs.
Gone with the Old, In with the New
The quarterfinals featured a mix of both traditional engage supports and a new flavor of ranged ones. Tahm Kench rose in popularity, while Rakan and Alistar declined. Milio came in as a full-on Aphelios enabler and crowd control counter. We also saw a couple new ranged picks in the form of Heimerdinger from Weibo Gaming, Karma from NRG, and Lulu from KT Rolster.
The most notable match from a meta perspective was T1 vs LNG Esports. In game one, support player Ryu “Keria” Min-seok took Senna alongside another ADC pick in Nilah. This was the first time a support player would be piloting Senna, creating a double Marksman bot lane. T1 then followed that up with another double Marksman lane in game two. They picked Ashe support to go along with Varus. Ashe support isn’t a new concept, support player Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee has a DRX Ashe skin from winning last year’s Worlds. But the pick had yet to show up at Worlds 2023 until now.
Ashe is a unique Marksman in that a bulk of her kit’s power is in her utility. Her autos and Volley both slow, the latter in a large cone area. Hawkshot provides vision of anywhere on the map and gets maxed second on support, giving even more information than ADC Ashe. Lastly, Enchanted Crystal Arrow provides engage and pick opportunity at long range.
Now, simply listing a champion’s kit and saying what she can do doesn’t make for a viable support pick at the highest level. You can’t just pick a champion for a giant arrow and a dream. If the goal is to have an engage tool, surely melee picks like Nautilus are more reliable.
Why Double Marksman, Why Range at All?
League of Legends has been in a specific tempo of meta for a while now. Major Objectives like the Elemental Drakes and Rift Heralds define the game. As such, team fights mainly happen around these objectives. Team compositions are drafted with this in mind, since giving away all objectives while you scale is an easy way to lose.
Ashe has tons of range as a Marksman. Her 600 range auto attacks and 1200 range Volley make it nearly impossible to trade effectively against her. Her level one is among the strongest in the game, letting teams invade much more aggressively. Coupled with another high range carry like Caitlyn and Varus, Ashe support can effectively maintain control for the entire laning phase.
“Why don’t teams just engage on her?” you may ask. She is an ADC champion after all. Well, there typically isn’t enough damage in the early game to just one-shot the Ashe or her carry. If a Nautilus or Alistar force an engage, they’ll typically end up chunking the Ashe and taking way more damage than her on the way out. Not to mention that her slows will probably end up forcing a Flash.
Picking melee supports against Ashe is a one-way ticket to sitting under tower the entire game. Ashe and her ADC will end up getting Turret Plates, poking the enemy bot lane down, and denying them farm. This results in the Ashe team having much earlier item spikes, making the forced team fights around objectives every five minutes heavily skewed towards them.
Win Lane Win Game
Now, if we utilize this theory of lane pressure, there are many more picks that can be brought out with a similar idea. In the Worlds 2023 Semifinals, a total of nine unique ranged supports were played over the nine games. The only melee supports seen were Rell and Alistar with one pick each and both lost.
Granted, two of the ranged supports were the more Enchanter focused Milio and Lulu. Even so, we’ve gotten to see plenty of lane dominant picks. Bard had three games and Ashe had four. We saw Senna, Renata, Lux, and Heimerdinger. There was even a Caitlyn flexed to support. Yes, simply having the longest auto attack range in the game and tons of zoning potential with Yordle Snap Traps is enough to warrant being played.
All of these picks excel at pushing opponents back to their towers, gaining a farm and Turret Plate lead, then transitioning that lead to mid-game objective fights. It doesn’t matter that there is no Alistar or Nautilus acting as a huge wall of meat with point-and-click CC. Simply being able to control lanes and objectives is enough of an advantage to consistently win off of.
The Newly Accepted Meta
No team has been better with ranged supports than T1. Keria is one of, if not the best mechanical support player in the game. He’s easily able to take Marksmen or picks like Bard and crush anyone in lane. He hasn’t played a single game of Rell, Rakan, or Nautilus all Worlds and instead opts to just beat down the opponents before they can even play.
Weibo Gaming has also utilized ranged supports to great effect. Liu “Crisp” Qing-Song has piloted Milio, Lux, Heimerdinger, Ashe, and Renata in the playoffs, never picking a single melee support. Additionally, their semifinals opponents BLG also played range supports in four of the five games despite playing melee supports in a majority of their earlier matches.
Every team that made it to the Worlds 2023 Semifinals has recognized the power of ranged supports. Whether it’s a mage like Lux or Heimerdinger, or a Marksman like Ashe or Senna, these champions allow for a great degree of control. They provide stable and consistent win conditions. On the other hand, melee picks have shown higher levels of variance while also starting at a deficit from their weaker laning.
Can You Play Around It?
There are a couple of existing champion picks that can try and deal with this lane pressure strategy. Rakan is slightly different from the other engage picks in that he CAN escape after going in thanks to his Battle Dance. His lockdown is reliable and can hit multiple enemies as well. T1 understands this, and that’s why they first banned Rakan every game of their semifinal series.
You can also pick Blitzcrank. Unlike Nautilus, Blitz doesn’t have to full commit to throw out a hook, and hitting it is much more rewarding in that the opponent will either die or be forced to flash. LNG tried this approach in their quarterfinals match against T1, picking Blitz into the Nilah Senna lane.
This game was probably Blitzcrank’s worst showing in Worlds history. His first hook was hit at the final objective fight right before LNG lost the game, and it even got his ADC killed. It was simply too hard for Blitz to find a good hook opportunity in lane, as T1 had LNG constantly pressured back.
So, if one-shotting the Ashe lane is difficult and Rakan isn’t available to bring equal value, the other option is to opt into range versus range. In their series against T1, JDG tried playing Senna, Lulu, and even took away Keria’s Ashe once. Their one game win came via their Kalista Senna double Marksman lane against T1’s Caitlyn Ashe.
Going into the Worlds 2023 Finals, T1 and WBG will both likely be utilizing ranged supports. Marksmen will be aplenty, and lane dominance will be the name of the game. Whichever bot lane can gain more control will be a huge asset in claiming League of Legends’ biggest achievement.