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Runeterra 2021 In Review

How was 2021 for Runeterra? CastMin interviews nearly two dozen top players, talented casters, and tournament organizers to find out.

Another year has passed for Runeterra and the game is certainly evolving. In some ways for the better, in some ways… perhaps not so much. We had our first World Championship and our first World Champion, we went through several new expansions and balance patches, we explored crazy new builds and powerful decks and, above all, we had fun. We did have fun, right?!

In any case, let's talk about all these aspects with some great players, talented casters, tournament organizers and other community figures of the LoR World.

Before we get to it, I would like to give them a shoutout and proper appreciation because they took their time to fill us in with their thoughts. You can click on their names and head to their Twitters, as you might learn a thing or two from them. So, in no particular order:

Santupea – the cool dude that keeps tabs of all the tournaments happening in the community

CockyBoky – EMEA Top 32 Seasonal player, Top Ladder player and the guy with the greatest… pet in the world

G_able – EMEA Top 32 Seasonal player and one of the few TOs keeping the EMEA grassroots scene alive

CasterGems – EMEA Top 32 Seasonal player, Top Ladder player, Professional Caster and a great mate

Painas – EMEA Seasonal Winner & Top Ladder player

Freshlobster – Europe Seasonal Runner-Up, Top Ladder player and Caster

SonikHolik – EMEA Top 32 Seasonal player

Aku – TO for the LORGA events

MajiinBae – Americas Seasonal Winner, Top ladder player and content creator

Garretz – Top ladder player and analyst for Team Hydra

Random7 – Americas Seasonal Runner-Up

TheBlackBoss – Americas Seasonal Winner & Top ladder player

maxgotthetracks – Top Ladder Player, Streamer and the guy you want to call to diss track your enemies

StolenConch – Americas Top 32 Seasonal player

MonteXristo – some cool dude that writes for Mastering Runeterra and occasionally goes rampant on ladder

DK – Asia Seasonal Winner

Boulevard – the one and only caster that deserves a shoutout

Den – Europe Seasonal Winner, Coach & Article Writer

LuserBeam – Americas Top 32 Seasonal player

jtamonda – Americas Top 32 Seasonal player, Professional Caster and Top Ladder player on multiple servers

SSpellPierce – fellow Mastering Runeterra writer

Seku – Americas Top 32 Seasonal player

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

How was the Ranked ladder this year?

There is quite a lot of consensus among our guests when it comes to how the ladder has been over last year, the promise it shows and the suggestions people came with in order to make it a better place for everyone.

Most of them can still remember the Aphelios, Twisted Fate Fizz and Azir Irelia metas, especially because these Seasons have been clearly dominated by those decks in question – you were either with them or against them. As Painas would say, going from metas where these decks amounted for around 15% of the ladder and a winrate around 55% to the current meta where decks are not going over 10% play rate is a step forward. More deck variety makes for more fun and more people playing.

The ladder's main flaws usually revolve around the Best of One (BO1) format. Simply put by MajiinBae, ladder can be very frustrating when the BO1 meta is not in a good spot. And that is a shared opinion among the players which are used to playing and grinding a lot in order to qualify for events in many other card games, not only LoR. As Den points out, the main problem is the amount of grind involved when ladder is tied to something like the Seasonal qualifiers. Some people play a lot to get their 7-2 spot and some can get there in just two weeks of play. Lobster points out very clearly that there's no real competitive alternative and that ranked ladder is used to qualify for tournaments that have an entirely different format than blind BO1s.
Talking purely about the ladder itself, recently Rank 1 Americas player Garretz says that it feels more of a market than a game. “I've just reached Top 1, and it was terribly awful to keep playing because I had nothing to gain, and everything to lose”.

I have to give it to Boulevard here when he says: “Ladder is more impactful than it should be. We should have separate rewards for ladder/events and not demand players do both to succeed”.

There is also a solution most of our guests agree on : implementing a Best of Three (BO3) system. And I have to say I like MonteXristo’s idea here: leaving the BO1 ladder as it is -- because it provides for the best experience for most players, and it is the most easily accessible and understood format -- and use the BO3 format to qualify for Riot's events.

SSpellPierce supports this idea with an argument from the mental health side of thing, as most people surrender quite a lot in the BO1 format, when they know they have no chance in the match-up: “BO3 is very important to help alleviate this with a pick-ban system. People will still surrender early, but they will have more say in how those matches go and be more incentivized to play it out.”

A suggestion that I would like to see implemented sooner than the ones above would be what Random7 suggests: Riot to change the number of rounds and players to not need tie breakers except in rare circumstances.

How did the competitive scene feel like?

I am really glad we managed to get opinions not only from players, but also from people working behind the scene as Tournament Organizers or Casters. Words like “fine”, “neither really growing nor shrinking” or “growing rapidly” have been mentioned by our guests. I would like to add my words to summarize these: “It is satisfying, but not amazing”.

As positives, our TOs mention the great diversity of players in the grassroots scene, and that it is fairly easy for players to get into tournaments since the entry barrier -- in terms of resources that you need for a viable collection -- is quite low. The competitive player-base being rather small also makes for a great chance to make yourself known.

On the other hand, proper advertisement seems lacking for many of these events, and Riot is sort of finicky when it comes to providing support. Brazil is having it very well with many creator tournaments sponsored with coin prizes, getting a Fight Night Brazil from GiantSalyer and Arenas de Runeterra from Riot itself, but other regions are really lacking in this kind of support and most TOs have to work their backs to put up an event. Spain and Germany have their own leagues for Runetera on the EMEA server, but everything else is quite stale with people like G_able being one of the few investing his time in the attempt of reviving the scene.

Meanwhile, events like the Mastering Runeterra tournaments and the ones sponsored by GG Tour are great in the Americas scene in terms of prize pools, as well as OLS and their recent partnership with Mobalytics.

I tend to agree with jtamonda when he says: “I feel like the competitive scene will grow as much as Riot supports the game; it will depend if it is worth it to them or not.”

Were the balance changes what we needed?

The long answer would be: “Yeah. Maybe. Probably. Not at all. No.”

Take the last sentence and you have the short answer, too. Sonik’s point of view pretty much sums it up: “When the balance changes happened, they were good. The issue for most of the year was the <<when>>”.

The biggest problem seems to be timing here, as cards get buffed, nerfed, adjusted and hotfixed how they are supposed to; just not when they are supposed to. Yes, they hot-fixed Yordle Explorer and Poppy. Yes, they tuned down Shurima before Worlds and yes, they gave food to my dog. But, as MonteXristo points out, “balance was a mess for the first three quarters of this year.”

An even harsher opinion comes from Bouelvard, as “the balance of the game has been pretty poor this year, with some things hanging around a lot longer than they should, buffs were not used properly to shake up stale metas and the philosophy of nerfing things simply because they’ve been around too long feels lazy. They need to do better”.

Part of the reason we are constantly asking for balance patches, as Random points out, is because the expansions generally increase the power level of the game. This is fine if there are enough cards in the expansion. Right now, in general, only certain decks benefit from the expansion, and they are generally not decks that focus on the late-game.

We are all hoping for things to get better this year, but we should not be surprised if Riot’s moments of brilliance in terms of balancing are just that: moments, not scheduled and implemented when needed to. Let’s believe in Painas’s prayer: “Don’t fall sleep, Riot, keep working.”

Did Riot get the power level of the expansions right?

Except for a few oddballs, our guests agreed that recent expansions have suffered from the “Powercreep” syndrome, yet that can be viewed as either a good or a bad thing.

On one side we have people like Painas, who says: “If a new expansion doesn’t contain better cards or cards with more possibilities than before we will be the first to complain; it is better to bring broken cards and nerf them afterwards.”

On the other, there are people who sympathize with Random7’s view: “Almost every single deck nowadays either has to be Aggro or aggressively slanted (Sivir, Nab, Pantheon, Sion), be able to ignore their opponent (Bandle Tree), or be able to consistently generate huge amounts of cards(Ahri, Nab, Darkness, Curious Shellfolk, Bandle City in general). It used to be that outside of Deep Meditation, you either needed a certain setup to generate cards (Rummage, Karma, Trifarian Assessor) or a high mana cost (Progress Day!). Now we have Conchologist.”

And then we have Den, the voice of reason, who is coming from an already developed card game: Hearthstone. He says he did expect for power-creep to happen and the only issue with it is: We were promised that, whenever something goes over “broken” level, it would be consistently toned down.

We will have to see what happens. In the meantime, there are people like myself and StolenConch who just want to see Lee Sin finally toned down, instead of getting more support in every expansion. I am looking at you, Eye of the Dragon. You are on my list!

What about the Esports scene?

Yeah. We do not have one. It is just a dream comforting some of us at night.

The closest we had in terms of Esports are the European Masters and Worlds events and the latest has been very poorly managed, not to mention the late payments for people participating in and winning Riot events. Get your act together, Rito! You can do it.

How about things that do not fall in the previous categories?

So, who was the best player last year? According to Boulevard: “If anyone mentions anything about ‘Player of the Year’, there are only two answers I want anyone to even think about entertaining as a possibility - MajiinBae and Bajatak.”

Meanwhile, Lobster is pushing for more special events similar to The Bandlewood Invitational, as it had everything: great viewership, a nice fresh twist and format and was received well by both players and viewers.

LuserBeam still asks for a Crescendum nerf instead of gutting good two drops. Except Eye. Eye has to die. He did not say the Eye part. I did.

Gems comes in to finish this section as another voice of reason, by pointing out what is being done poorly and could use improvement:

  • A lot more could have been done for our first year of Worlds. Qualifier issues generated by unclear rules, outsourcing the organizing part of the event and imposing their rules onto TOs over what is healthier for the tournament are just a few areas that need improvement.
  • There are a lot of regional discrepancies, and we have seen that when we talked about the competitive scene already. There are countries like Germany and Spain that receive great support and that is truly great. Kudos to them. But there are other regions like the UK and Nordic countries that could use some attention. These discrepancies are most notable in the early access phases, where most of the community members of certain countries receive them regardless of size, while other regions struggle to get some support.
  • Outsides of the European Masters, it is a shame that EMEA players have to go over the Americas servers to play in tournaments. Outside of a few countries that are having their specific leagues, there is not much going around on this side of the Atlantic.

Closing Words

After a year in which I stepped down from the casting lights, I have to say I enjoyed my time writing articles and opinion pieces for you, and especially gathering all of these great people’s opinions. I love working with others, and helping them share their passion with our readers.

Whatever that future may hold, thank you for an awesome 2021 together. I hope you've enjoyed this article,  and that 2022 finds us with even more topics to talk about and people to interview.
Don’t forget to check out my Twitter as I will keep you up to date there about my future articles and future interviews with great community members like the ones featured in this article.