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Meta History: The History of Warding and Vision Part 1

Izento 2021-04-12 07:15:53
  There have been several changes to how vision works throughout League of Legends’ history. From the changes to vision wards (now known as control wards), to removing sight wards as a consumable (colloquially called “green wards”). Vision has been one of the most crucial mechanics of the game, adding more depth to the “fog of war” mechanic. Here, we will go through notable vision changes made in LoL history that has shaped community playstyles and mechanics over time.

Brush Vision

Riot Games had added a mechanic no other game (at least within the moba genre) had thought of, which is brush vision. Players that moved from DotA were unfamiliar with the idea that you could lose vision of an opponent by way of them entering a brush, obfuscating their model and becoming untargettable by targeted spells and auto-attacks. This created another depth to the fog of war mechanic, which was only based on distance, height differentiation, and line of sight in other games. Players quickly caught on that they could use brush mechanics to set up level one plays very easily, having all team members wait in a single bush for an unsuspecting enemy to appear. This would quickly appear in pro play early on, with several teams trying to get an early advantage before minions would spawn. Also, at the time, jungle camps spawned at 1:55, far from the 1:30 that it is today, which may have been why a team such as CLG were so inclined to create unique level 1 strategies.

Oracle’s Elixir

The namesake of the popular LoL stats website OraclesElixir.com, this item granted stealth detection for four minutes. Previously, the item granted it until death, which became a bit of a problem later in the gamestate if a tank picked the item up and had adequate resistances to prevent dying and therefore losing the buff. Oracle’s Elixir was originally designed to combat against stealth champions like Evelynn and Twitch, but it quickly became too strong as players realized the advantage of clearing things like green and pink wards. Supports would often purchase this item to help with vision control, and more often than not, the only items a support could afford were very low cost gold income generation items like Philosopher’s Stone or Heart of Gold, which gave 5 gold per 10 seconds. Balancing this gold income, they would invest in green and pink wards, along with Oracle’s Elixir to maintain a vision advantage for their team. [Related: Meta History: The Evolution of Minion and Wave Manipulation] Oracle’s Elixir was removed in Season 4 preseason patch 3.14.

Sightstone

Sightstone was created during the preseason of Season 3, along with the upgraded version, Ruby Sightstone. These items might have been the best and worst change Riot ever made to their game. Sightstone gave 4 charges of wards that would refill when going back to the fountain (while Ruby Sightstone gave 5 charges, but we’ll mostly focus on Sightstone here), and they could place a total of 2 on the map at any given time. This doesn’t sound very problematic in our modern view of the game and the wonders of vision it would have still provided, especially considering there was no limit on the amount of consumable green and pink wards a single player could place on the map at any given time. Essentially, Sightstone allowed for players and teams to place even more vision, and meant that supports would just double down on their purchase of green wards and Sightstone. The item didn’t see that large of popularity in solo queue due to the restriction on Sightstone wards specifically being limited to 2 at a time on the map. Sightstone would continue to change how LoL was played well into the future. During 2013 OGN Champions Winter (played during the preseason heading into Season 4), teams already caught on that you could use Sightstone in the jungle position, which eventually would foreshadow more vision control and greater dominance from the OGN/LCK region. SKT T1 K and S—their sister team—already realized the power of Sightstone very early on in the jungle position. Along with them, CJ Entus Frost and Blaze would focus on this strategy, all four teams heavily contesting Lee Sin in the pick/ban phase, as he was the clear benefactor of the item due to his ward hopping mechanic. Even Samsung Ozone (which would later become the famous Samsung White that went on to win Worlds 2014) used Lee Sin in the support position, apparently a Mata special at the time. Eventually, Sightstone would have the ward cap be included with the overall amount of wards a player could place, which was 3 for green wards and 1 for pink wards, which took place during preseason of Season 4 (after OGN Champions Winter). Although this was technically a nerf to the entire vision structure, players were now more incentivized to purchase the item en masse. Sightstone would be further nerfed in Season 5, after the removal of the consumable green wards from the item shop, with shortening the duration of it’s wards by 30 seconds, removing the 4th charge, but at the same time, combining the gold generation aspect from previous items to allow for supports to build other items. Sightstone was fully removed at the beginning of Season 8.

Vision Overhaul

After realizing how unhealthy support itemization was, Riot’s plan for Season 4 was to give more opportunities for supports to do more than just ward around the map. This saw massive changes to limiting the amount of green wards a single player can place upon the map to 3, and pink wards to 1. With the addition of Spellthief's Edge, Ancient Coin, and Relic Shield, this gave different ways for supports to earn gold. Spellthief’s edge gave additional gold for attacking an enemy champion, Ancient Coin gave passive gold if next to a minion that was slain, and Relic Shield gave both the support and allied champion next to them gold for killing a minion. The theory of limiting players to only 3 green wards and 1 pink ward per player meant that other players would need to take on the burden of vision to light up the map, which to a small degree, worked to shift the load from supports to the rest of the team, as players bought more pink wards and green wards to help, but the majority of the burden still resided with the support player. It should be stated that this did tremendously help low elo players, because there was a defacto gold value item that the support could purchase, which gave much needed vision and would increase the level of play from the ground up, even if their teammates bought no vision whatsoever. Another large change to vision was the removal of stealth (meaning that pink wards are now visible) for pink wards. This added a far more complex layer to the game, as players had to defend their pink wards more heavily, rather than relying on the enemy to invest in their own pink ward to clear it. With pink wards being visible, and having a HP bar of 5 auto attacks (previously changed from 3 auto attacks), setups for baron and dragon contests became more difficult for the winning team, because the losing team didn’t have to invest in pink wards to be able to kill the enemy’s pink wards due to them being stealth in the previous iteration. The wards would also last forever until either the enemy killed the ward, or the owner of the ward placed another somewhere else, whereas previously, you could place an unlimited amount of pink wards per player, but they timed out after 180 seconds. Pink wards were an even heavier investment than the traditional control wards we know today. The cost being at 100 gold, and also lacking HP regeneration made them rather fragile and it would take many years for players to learn that fighting over vision was a necessity during this meta, even moreso than it is currently today. The cost of pink wards would reduce to 75 gold during Season 5, and HP would reduce to 4 auto attacks in Season 6 (Graves players rejoice), with HP regeneration added to help compensate. It wasn’t until preseason of Season 7 that the classic pink ward would be discontinued in favor of the control ward.

Trinkets

One of the larger changes to the game came with the introduction of trinkets during preseason of Season 4. This would have it’s own item slot, creating a separate 7th slot which could only use one of the three trinkets. Very similar to the current iteration of trinkets, but weaker in many aspects. All trinkets had an upgrade path, wherein the player could upgrade their trinket to a more powerful version. All trinkets had 3 tiers, and the 2nd tier could be upgraded for free at level 9, whereas the 3rd tier cost 475g. All trinkets had a 90 second lockout at the beginning of the game, meaning that there were no tactical invades to place vision or sweep vision via trinket use.

Warding Totem

The warding trinket was especially overpowered given that you could upgrade it into a pink ward trinket which had a 180 second cooldown (but of course replaced any pink ward you previously placed on the map), or you could simply upgrade it to the Greater Stealth Totem, allowing you to place a green ward that lasted 180 seconds. This was the only trinket upgrade which had a divergent path after the 2nd tier upgrade. Before the days of the mastery rework, every player had 30 points to place into 3 mastery trees —offense, defense and utility, respectively— with players getting an additional mastery point for every level they gained on their account until level 30 (a large criticism of the progression system at the time). The Scout mastery had originally required 4 points to be used to access the mastery, and it increased the vision granted by a ward by 25% range, but it was only for the first 5 seconds. Not very useful, that is, until it was reworked for Season 4. Unlike today’s mastery/rune system, this mastery could be accessed by a single mastery point since it was at the top of the tree, so you could therefore not waste points in a spec that didn’t really have much to do with your champion. This allowed the player to have an increased cast range of 5% for trinkets, which amounted to a range of 630— 30 more range than normal— for the yellow trinket. The mastery was buffed to 15%, amounting to a cast range of 690! I do not remember many pros talking about how insane this mastery actually was, especially considering it allowed for easier ward placement for enchanter supports instead of being closer to facechecking brushes. An easy advantage could be seen with the famous Scarra Ward, which is warding from dragon pit into Blue Side tribush. In general, the yellow trinket gave easier access to more vision, and indirectly gave Lee Sin greater mobility early on with his ward hopping technique, and as a result, Riot ended up nerfing Lee Sin’s W by removing his shield on non-champion targets (not to be confused with removing his dash altogether, that part still existed) and increasing the cooldown by more than 50%! Poor Lee Sin, he will always be tied to vision changes due to his ward hop ability.

Sweeping Lens

Sweeping Lens (which is now called Oracle Lens) was an item that allowed the player to sweep a specific spot on the map, with a cast range of 400 for 4 seconds, which could be upgraded to the Greater Lens at level 9 (for free), giving increased cast range to 600 and increased duration to 6 seconds. The item also granted true sight onto enemies and traps, so you could catch that pesky Teemo or Twitch. Sweeping Lens was a further rendition from the current Oracle Lens which hovers over the character model, and is therefore transportable over wider areas on the map rather than Oracle Lens’ static spot in which you hopefully spot a ward in that specific area. This is one way in which Riot had improved the vision denial system from days gone by, which has had larger effects than many may have initially realized.

Farsight Orb

Farsight Orb was the least impressive of the trinkets and only revealed an area on the map for 2 seconds, with champions being revealed for 5 seconds. This is the upgraded version, with Scrying Orb only revealing a location for 1 second and a range of 1100, and the level 9 upgrade which increased the range to 2000. The obvious usage of this item was for teams that are falling behind and do not have good vision control over the map. Much like the current iteration, it was used to check baron or dragon when normally it was not possible to facecheck such dangerous objectives while behind in gold and map pressure. The current form of this trinket is much better given it places a weaker version of a green ward at the desired location (with reduced circumference of vision).

The Rise of the War on Vision

While the new trinket system was made to allow for the losing team to more easily come back into the game, with easier access to vision and vision denial, along with creating ways for players to prevent a volatile early map state by keeping junglers accountable, this would bring on a vision arms race. The Western professional scene would look upon what the Korean scene was perfecting, and try to follow in their footsteps. As much as Riot tried to prevent a vision arms race, players adapted and continued to double down on vision, even after the removal of green wards, sightstone, player ward caps and increased vision denial.
Stay tuned for Meta History: The History of Warding and Vision Part 2 where I discuss the evolution of vision being a team endeavor, with the introduction of Wriggle’s Lantern, Tracker’s Knife, and the modern era of vision control.
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. Special thanks to Fandom.com Special thanks to Gamepedia.com For more LoL content, check out our LoL section
 

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