Meta History: The Evolution of Minion and Wave Manipulation

Izento 2020-11-15 05:47:56
  Minions and the way they function within LoL is one of the most important aspects to understand in order to reach a high level mastery of the game. Throughout the years, players began to grasp that the game isn’t just about killing your opponents, and with the help of minions, you can eventually reach the nexus and destroy it. Things such as last hitting, minion aggro, level 2 timings, and having an ADC in the team composition to better push minion waves and take towers were things that players immediately caught on to, Europe in particular perfecting and popularizing some of these things, but it took awhile for us to get to slow pushing and concepts like weak side and strong side. Herein we’ll take a look at the meta history of minions and wave manipulation, discussing some instances where the game was completely broken by items, summoner spells and only later was brought up to speed through advanced macro development.

Initial Development of Slow Push

Pushing minion waves wasn’t really thought about until Season 2. Previously solo queue and pro play alike saw the minions as a means to get gold to then get items and overpower your opponent’s champions. One early instance of slow pushing was Moscow5 against CLG.EU. While there are previous instances of slow push, what makes this one in particular interesting was their ability to push the minion wave slowly to then setup for a gank and tower dive the enemy ADC. We would see this evolve more and more as the years went on to what it is today, with teams not even necessarily diving, but threatening to dive and forcing the enemy off of the turret to lose turret plates and minion gold.

Pulling the Wave

It wasn’t until around Season 4 where players began to realize that they can affect minion focus by entering the lane early, allow minions to gather around their champion, and then step back into the bush to drop minion aggro. This would allow the enemy minions to bunch up and focus one minion, forcing the enemy wave to push. The reason why this technique wasn’t used earlier is because in Season 1, 2 and even 3, teams would be focused entirely around level 1 plays and early invades to help their jungler, oftentimes leashing in order to get their jungler ahead. In the series of C9 vs TSM for the 2014 Summer Split finals, both teams would often pull the wave in top and bottom respectively in order to create favorable lane states and delay pushing for as long as possible. While this may not have been the earliest instance of pulling waves, it’s a great series to understand the importance of pulling waves, especially during an era of lane swaps.

Promote and Rally Summoner Spells

Probably the most controversial summoner spells, along with Revive and Surge, Promote and Rally allowed for players to buff their own minion waves, creating a situation of non-interaction with enemy champions and winning the game purely by minion push. Minorly, Rally was at first, a flag that would be dropped directly in front of the champion using the summoner spell, and for 15 seconds would give increased attack damage and ability power to champions in a 850 unit radius and also gave a really powerful healing regeneration. This summoner spell was incredibly broken in the beginning, even making it to where the flag was invulnerable for its entire duration, until eventually Riot made it a targetable object to destroy. Essentially, Rally was treated like the old baron buff, giving champions a stats buff, but the summoner never really caught on after Riot made the flag targettable and easily destroyable. This summoner spell was removed before the beginning of Season 2. Promote made for some really absurd strategies. Promote was a summoner spell that would allow a player to cast onto a minion and improve its damage, range, resistances, health, and even gave the minion an aura which increased the damage of the minions surrounding it. If that wasn’t enough, the spell also gave the promoted minion a “Tiamat AOE” effect and any units killed by the Promoted minion gave the original player gold. There was even a mastery called Demolisher that gave 15 seconds off the cooldown, increased damage to turrets, and increased armor. Players soon realized how good this summoner spell was by stacking their summoners as five, pushing down a chosen lane with the Promoted minions and winning the game by protecting their minions. The spell was removed, but was reincarnated into an item called Banner of Command, which once again broke the game and also made an appearance in esports.

Banner of Command

Banner of Command went unnoticed for a very long time, primarily because it cost gold to “Promote” a minion instead of a summoner spell slot. The item sat dormant, as the item recipe wasn’t ideal and would require the player to interrupt an AP build in order to purchase the item. After Riot reworked the item to include Aegis of The Legion and Raptor Cloak in Season 7, the community caught on and would use it in bruiser and tank builds to split push. Banner of Command increased the range of a selected minion, along with increased damage, 40% reduced damage from enemy champions, 100% bonus damage against turrets and was even immune to magic damage until Season 8. This buff would go on for the duration of the minion’s life and have a 120 second cooldown on the item. NA and EU LCS teams quickly realized how strong this item was, after it appeared in solo queue. Combined with the baron buff, the minion would be nigh unkillable, having incredible range, and completely wallop on towers. In the game of Unicorns of Love versus H2k, UOL would have Cho’Gath build the item against Sion, allowing Cho’Gath to push freely and keep the minion in lane and wander away, forcing Sion to deal with the minion while UOL would get other objectives on the map. Banner of Command would eventually be removed from the game in patch 8.12.

Zz’Rot Portal

Introduced in Season 5, Zz’Rot Portal was an item that allowed players to place a portal which spawned small void minions which would go towards the closest lane where the portal was spawned. The voidspawn would act like a minion, with increased movement speed and melee attack. Although the minion’s attack damage wasn’t powerful or even near the equivalent of any regular minions, if it ever approached an enemy turret, it exploded, dealing a significant amount of damage to the turret. Players would use this item to split push, as it built from tanky items such as Aegis of Command and Raptor Cloak, and primarily be used on tanks to split the map up. Famous streamer Trick2g in particular popularized this item, using it as a way to create map pressure and often shoring up the weaknesses of his teammates’ inability to properly manage waves and prioritize objectives. This would later be picked up by professional teams, in particular Fnatic’s top laner Gamsu would use this along with Banner of Command to create an unwinnable situation for the enemy top laner. The item would later be removed in Season 9, not particularly because of pro play, as the item saw little use once it could not be paired with the removed Banner of Command in Season 8, but the item still saw use in solo queue for the reasons why Trick2g continued to use it, because it allowed for a quick fix to team macro.

Hand of Baron Buff

Baron had previously been a stat buff called Exalted with Baron Nashor, giving the team that secured it, 40 additional ability power, 40 additional attack damage and increased health and mana regeneration. This would mean that the buff was only useful for teamfighting and didn’t necessarily help with wave manipulation, other than allowing your champion to have more priority simply because you were stronger. In 2014, the Hand of Baron buff was reworked to give the team that secured it an aura which buffed their team’s minions when near an allied champion, giving minions increased damage, resistances and even got a movement speed bonus. Cannon minions in particular got a massive range buff, allowing them to hit turrets outside of turret range. This allowed for teams to play the game a different way, often using the buff to push up minions and guide them to take turrets, or better yet, place players in several different lanes to create a siege that is difficult to answer on different parts of the map. Teams began to realize that Baron buff could be more efficiently used through multiple lanes, and we would see this rise in pro play throughout the years, especially from top laners in particular.

Minion Delay

While never truly utilized widely, minion delay (sometimes called minion blocking, but not to be confused with the normal frustration surrounding the term minion block) was a technique which allowed players to block minion pathing from the nexus spawn point, allowing a player to slow their minion wave and therefore force the enemy wave to push into their lane faster because of the imbalance in minion numbers for a brief time. One of the earliest instances of this being used in pro play was with Unicorns of Love player Steelback, where he would delay the minions all the way from base in the EU LCS match against Roccat during Week 4 of the 2016 Spring Split. This was also previously done by Renegades in their match against Immortals during Week 3 of the 2016 NA LCS Spring Split. After both of these instances, Riot would patch the game, making minions ‘ghosted’, which prevented unit collision for the first 18 seconds of the game. This still didn’t prevent players from being able to delay minions, as just after the tier 2 turret, players could still disrupt the wave. 100 Thieves would be the third team to use this tactic, implementing it in 2019 after a popular video went viral from Adrian Riven which showcased the tactic. At this point, the public finally realized that this could be utilized, even though there have been previous instances of the tactic still being usable, even in 2018. The LCS commissioner released a statement, saying that players could not pin minions against walls, but that minion blocking was fine. While this was originally Riot’s statement, shortly after, Riot would remove minion delaying entirely with patch 9.4, which upped the ghosting of minions from 18 seconds to 28, which meant minions had unit collision off until after the tier 1 turret, effectively destroying the strategy entirely.

Spell Aggro

During the 2017 MSI Knockout stage, Faker showed a supreme display in understanding the lack of spell aggro for his champion. Previously, targeted abilities did not give minion aggro, meaning that if you played a champion like Cassiopeia, you could effectively zone someone off the wave without taking damage from the enemy minions. This had existed in the game for a long time until patch 8.2 where targeted abilities, item actives and summoner spells would now draw minion aggro. While this wasn’t necessarily the beginning of players knowing this function, he certainly drew more attention to this fact, and players began actively thinking more about how they trade in lane and when they’re vulnerable against minion aggro.

Modern Wave Manipulation

Now we enter the current era of macro and wave manipulation. Popularized by the famous analyst and streamer LS, players began to realize that taking an inhibitor too soon would allow the enemy to receive free minions without the risk of leaving their base. While initially it sounds counter-intuitive to not take an objective, the theory of taking an inhibitor is to distract the enemy by forcing them to attend to that lane, by which you can then take other objectives on the map, but if a large objective, such as baron or dragon soul isn’t available, there is no reason to take an early inhibitor. One of the first instances of this awareness was G2 at MSI 2019 against SKT, where they would intentionally let an inhibitor be destroyed by minions, which essentially froze the game and allowed G2’s top laner to safely farm. Such things as slow pushing and counting minions to create a freeze is something which more players and pros alike are discovering currently, which could very well be the next evolution in wave manipulation. With changes such as patch 8.23 which allowed cannon minions to spawn every other wave at 15 minutes, reduced from 20 minutes from patch 4.2, Riot has created a scenario where the game is far more accelerated, especially with baron, creating a siege opportunity that is much more frequent and available. This allows for easier wave timings and win conditions which don’t have to be planned out as studiously. While there are many things which have been exploited, learned and improved upon, it seems as though the player base will continue to innovate and learn the intricacies of waves as the game is both updated and mastered. We’ve come a long way from figuring out how to last hit minions.
Izento has been a writer for the LoL scene since Season 7, and has been playing the game since Season 1. Follow him on Twitter at @ggIzento for more League content. Photos courtesy of Riot Games Special thanks to Fandom.com For more LoL content, check out our LoL section

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