You’re Barred: Gragas Removed From League Of Legend Tournament


Drunken brawler Gragas has been removed from the League of Legends World Championships [official site] character pool along with two of his colleagues after developers, Riot, investigated a game-ruining bug. (I would have written about this sooner but I was in bed recovering from eSports on Monday.)

Here’s what happened and how I think ditching a champion partway through a tournament will change the game.

The investigation into Gragas came after Saturday’s quarter-finals were brought to a halt by the bug. To recap what happened:

The European team, Fnatic, had picked boozy champ Gragas in their second game against the Chinese side, Edward Gaming. About 20 minutes into the game Gragas was affected by a bug which meant he could no longer cast one of his abilities. The game was paused as Riot investigated and attempted various hardware and software-related solutions. Eventually, given the problem couldn’t be resolved, Fnatic agreed to the game being remade. Fnatic had no qualms about picking up the champion again and played him without incident, as did Edward Gaming in the third game of the series.

As Fnatic’s captain, Bora ‘YellOwStaR’ Kim, told me in an interview afterwards, “We’ve played so many games in our life and this is the first time it happened. Maybe one game out of ten thousand? So [with] how rarely that bug happens, we’re not scared of it happening.”

At the time Riot explained that Gragas would be left in the pool of potential heroes but that if the bug reared its head again Gragas would be benched for the rest of Worlds. But in the time following the match they were able to isolate the cause and worked out that the chances of it recurring were higher than first suspected.

As per their statement:

“We don’t want to endanger the integrity of the upcoming games or risk additional remakes, so we are are disabling Gragas for the remainder of the tournament. The bug is also reproducible on [two other characters] Lux and Ziggs, and so to be safe, we are disabling them for the remainder of the tournament.”

Gragas is an incredibly popular champion on the competitive scene at the moment (Lux and Ziggs haven’t been picked at all). The top spot is occupied by another jungler, Elise, and a top laner called Darius (both have been played in 38 games) but Gragas and another jungler – Rek’Sai – are just behind with 29 games apiece. This means that his removal from the game is a Big Deal. Teams will need to strategise around the absence and ensure they have other champions ready and waiting for an outing.

According to Riot:

“We have chosen to do this at the end of Quarters and with a full week before Semis so that the teams will have time to adjust their strategies. We know that Gragas has been a high priority pick so far in Worlds and we want to make sure all four teams have the chance to adjust as necessary.”

It also potentially makes it easier to inconvenience the team playing on the red side of the map. To explain that point a little better, the jungle role has been dominated by the three heroes I just mentioned – Elise, Gragas and Rek’Sai. Elise is the most hotly contested of the three as teams vie to either ban her or pick her for themselves. Rek’Sai is second and Gragas third. When one of the three is banned, the teams tend to field one each of the remaining options. Without Gragas, if you ban Elise or Rek’Sai there’s no longer that ability to divide up the remaining two. One team will get the remaining popular pick and the other team will have to draw from lower down the list. The way League of Legends works, the teams take it in turns to ban three champions each and then start picking. The team on the blue side picks first so if their opponents are overly reliant on getting one of Gragas, Rek’Sai and Elise they can use the fact that Gragas is benched to their advantage, banning one of the remaining champs and picking the other.

Pictured: The red side's win rate trickling away

This would be in addition to what’s referred to as the blue side advantage. The blue side being able to pick first means the onus is on the red side to make sure all of the champions who are incredibly strong at the moment are banned and thus out of reach. At the moment that’s Mordekaiser and Gangplank so generally [obviously there are exceptions] the red team will spend two of their three bans on those champions and be left with one option to specifically target their opponents. The blue side, meanwhile, can use all three of their bans to target their opponents.

The blue side win rate is currently 62% for this tournament (39 games out of 63). The blue side advantage now also comes with the potential to force a less versatile jungler (or one who focused on the three main top tier champions) into an uncomfy position.


  1. Steven Hutton says:

    Perhaps I’m confused or my LoL knowledge is rusty but isn’t it more likely with Gragas benched that Elise & Rek’Sai will both get banned. One banned by each team. Before anyone gets to pick. Leaving both teams picking from the second tier of junglers.

    Also, Picks and Bans are stupid. Just have both teams pick their line up of five characters, double blind, in advance.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      But what if both teams pick the same hero(es)?

      I don’t see bans being removed either. If they were, a few heroes that snowball unless countered would dominate, until a few “safe” lineups would become the standard. Meta would become stale even quicker than now.

      • Abndn says:

        You cannot pick the same champions. They’re selected through a draft going 1-2-2-2-2-1 where blue side gets the first pick and purple/red side the last. On top of this they are currently about to start the semis of Worlds, so there is no time for a new meta to develop.

        Disabling Gragas is huge because it forces bans on the other two popular junglers, so that we’ll likely end up seeing a lot of fringe picks, heavily punishing teams like Origen whose jungler has always been inflexible in his picks. He’ll be pushed onto either Evelynn (who can be countered hard in champselect) or a champion he has literally never played before on his current team.

        It’ll probably be exciting for the viewers to see other jungle picks, but it’s a massive blow to certain teams.

        • SuddenSight says:

          Lars Westergren is referring to Steven Hutton’s double-blind pick idea. There is no (easy) way to implement double-blind picks and guarantee that everyone has distinct champions.

      • Steven Hutton says:

        Just let the same character appear on both teams?

    • Ringwraith says:

      Then you get mirror matches, and if you happen to pick things the other team counters, there is nothing you can do, just have to deal with an incredibly uphill struggle.

      • Steven Hutton says:

        Balance the game correctly so there’re aren’t tons of hard counters?

        • Abndn says:

          Not sure why you’re being so aggressive with every post when you clearly know little about League. It’s true that Riot’s balancing can be questionable, but I am not sure how that is relevant or how anyone here could change that.

          In reality though there aren’t many hard counters in League at all when you play at a high level. Instead you have team compositions countering other team compositions, and that is both impossible and undesirable to prevent.

          Picks and bans allow the teams to play a game before the game where you have a say in how your team compositions match up. In blind pick it comes down to intuition and luck.

          • Steven Hutton says:

            It’s not desirable to prevent/remove 9-1 match ups? It’s better that it be possible to be at a huge disadvantage before the game even begins?

          • Xocrates says:

            @Steven Hutton: Which is why they don’t do blind pick in competitive. So they can try and avoid being at a huge disadvantage before the game even starts.

            The blue side advantage is because the game simply isn’t as well balanced as was desirable, and this worlds got it particularly bad due to the Gangplank/Mordekaiser dominance.

          • Abndn says:

            I don’t think any common matchup is as bad as 9-1 (assuming you mean a 1/10 chance you win). “Losing in champ select” happens to an extent, but it’s not quite as bad as you make it out. At least with a draft you have a say in how that goes, it’s up to the players and the on-stage coach to be skilled at picking and banning correctly. At this point it’s pretty much a part of the game, as much as actually playing it.

            Now, I don’t think blind pick would solve the problem of skewed matchups at all. You’d still be able to come out of champ select with a disadvantage, but now it would come down to intuition and luck rather than a skill you can practice.

        • Xocrates says:

          Every champion is supposed to have specific strengths and specific weaknesses, and likewise every team composition is designed to focus on specific strategies which will also have specific strengths and specific weaknesses.

          This is not only expected in most strategy/team games, but actively desirable since it prevents the game from becoming samey and stale by giving room for both sides to maneuver.

          The alternative is simply for every option to be all around good, which essentially just turns the game into an exercise of seeing who makes the first mistake.

          • gwathdring says:

            That has nothing to do with not letting characters mirror-match. Countless competitive games allow mirror matches. Characters and team compositions having specific strengths and weaknesses has nothing to do with that.

    • Time Bat says:

      Funnily enough the LCK (the Korean league for LoL esports) does actually do blind pick, as you described, for the final game in a best of five series as a method of trying to eliminate the bias of blue/red team advantage. The problem with that, in the words of the players, is that it can quite easily turn the game into Rock Paper Scissors, where you’ve opted into a team composition that simply won’t work well enough against what your opponents have picked. It also tends to stifle variety, since if any champions are determined to be more powerful than any others will be picked by both teams rather than being eliminated by bans and the more closely grouped “lower” picks being chosen from.

      That said, blind pick games are still fun to watch. They just tend to be a bit samey.

      • anHorse says:

        Blind pick games in Korea sometimes lead to really fun strats that would otherwise never get picked, like the time one team just went 4 mid and pushed like crazy

    • RookTBK says:

      It isn’t overly likely that both teams will ban them all the time. Coming from a Dota background there have been very powerful heroes who will still be let through ban stages. Batrider at TI3 being the big one that comes to mind with a 99.6% pick/ban rate at that event with that being split close to 50/50 for games played vs games banned. Sometimes a team will want to prioritise banning against one role over another letting those characters through or trying to get the character themselves hoping the opponent won’t want it.

      Picks and bans are part of the strategy in these games. Sure both teams could blind pick their line ups and, assuming there are no double ups, play but the problem though is there are always characters who are more powerful than others and certain combos between characters that can be near game breaking. So either both teams will pick the same characters (which would need to be resolved in a fair way) or teams try and counter those characters however they seem fit. Both those options lead to situations where it will consistently be the same line ups over and over making the game incredibly boring to watch. (Look at SCII toward the end of WoL every zerg player almost always went the same build. Hatch before pool into roaches and infestors). With picks and bans you get a situation where both teams can limit the options of the other either by removing the characters that are very good in the current meta or by singling out a specific player and getting rid of the characters that they are best at, either way forcing the other team to react on the fly picking what they think is good or countering what their opponents pick. Its like a knife fight before a big brawl. If you do well enough in the fight you can cut off options for your opponent or completely cripple their strategy.

    • Abndn says:

      Perhaps I’m confused or my LoL knowledge is rusty but isn’t it more likely with Gragas benched that Elise & Rek’Sai will both get banned. One banned by each team. Before anyone gets to pick. Leaving both teams picking from the second tier of junglers.

      Also, Picks and Bans are stupid. Just have both teams pick their line up of five characters, double blind, in advance.

      Picks and bans add an element of strategy to the game that is interesting for viewers and players alike. It also serves as a buffer against Riot’s questionable balancing, so you can get rid of the especially egregious picks on any given patch.

      The problem with banning one each is that there is a clear pecking order. Elise is *the* best jungler, and purple side absolutely must ban her. This also forces purple to ban Reksai, since blue would pick her otherwise.

      • Abndn says:

        Woops, left your comment in there with no edit button available. :<

      • Steven Hutton says:

        Correct answer is not “include bans”. Correct answer is “just balance your game correctly”.

        • Xocrates says:

          Well, that’s a naive opinion.

          Also, bans aren’t there just for balance issues. Many bans are targeted at removing champions the other players are good at, champs that you personally can’t quite deal with, champs that counter the strategy you’re planning of running, or even champs that allow the other team to run a specific strategy.

  2. Time Bat says:

    Interesting article, and I completely agree that Gragas being disabled will have pretty big effects on the pick/ban phase for the rest of worlds.

    That said, it was looking a lot more like the “Red side must ban Gangplank and Mordekaiser” situation was starting to change at the end of the quarter finals. Several of the teams took the idea of leaving blue team to ban one and red team subsequently banning the other. That said, if the trend does continue with the Morde/GP bans, I can see red team getting somewhat screwed by being virtually forced to ban Rek’sai or Elise if the blue team bans the other. Though that will mean we get to see even more champion variety, at least. I’m holding out for Fiddlesticks ;)

  3. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    I don’t really follow MOBAs at all, but is there a reason they cannot just randomize what color picks first after the banning period if this blue side advantage exists?

    • Ringwraith says:

      They first alternate picking their bans, blue choosing first, then blue gets first pick, then red gets two picks, blue two, red two, blue two and finally the last single red pick.
      So first ban is tied to first pick, and if you randomised it you’d deny the other team the last ban to counter the first pick.
      Dotes does it different, staggering a greater total number of bans throughout the picking order instead having them all upfront.
      I still think they need more three bans a side though, the roster has grown so much.

    • Abndn says:

      Randomization wouldn’t be a good solution. At least now you know 2 out of the 5 bo5 games will be on blue side (the odd game decided by who has the highest seed or possibly how well they’ve done so far in the tournament I think).

      Beyond this, there has always been a blue side bias (generally 55% in matchmaking) in League of Legends and it most likely goes well beyond advantages in champion select. Have a look at this screenshot: link to

      If you are blue side you will generally be looking up and to the right, so you can see how there would be a natural advantage there.

      • Ringwraith says:

        To be fair, they did change the “self camera” placement to be off-centre depending on which team you’re on by default.

        • Abndn says:

          I wasn’t aware they’d fixed it, that’s good I guess. There are western studies showing preferences for processing left-to-right as well though. Unclear on how that translates into the game, and if it’s still the case for non-westerners used to reading right-to-left.

          There are also issues with map asymmetry in League, where certain picks and strategies work better on one side than the other inside the game. I wonder how much of blue side’s dominance comes down to these OP picks, and how much of it is owed to other factors.

    • gwathdring says:

      Any competitive game with turn order is going to have bias towards one side or the other. The solution is just to take turns having the advantage and/or apply some kind of carefully calculated handicap. This is true in Chess, Go, and picking MOBA heroes.

      Randomizing who picks first misses the point. Better to structure the picking process to minimize the advantage of going first/second [which has the advantage depends on the game obviously] and take turns being on either side of that structure. Randomizing elements within that structure doesn’t make sense because it either makes the game even less balanced or is entirely semantic–like randomizing whether white or black goes first in Go or Chess. The skew exists no matter which label you attach to which side.

  4. Horg says:

    We really need an e-sports section in the tabloids. I can just see the headlines now:

    ”Spectators OUTRAGED as champion BANNED for refusing to throw beer at opponents!”

    ”Official investigation as disruption of major tournament caused by RIOT!”

  5. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    So whoever is the blue side, has a 60% chance of winning off the bat? That’s..interesting.

  6. weltensturm says:

    I’ve had this happen with Katarina at least two times now, the first apprearance being more than one year ago. At least they’ll try to fix it now.

  7. Time Bat says:

    OK, let’s just flip a coin then. That’s balanced. Much more interesting, right?

  8. Siimon says:

    They have a week before the next big games and that isn’t enough time to fix a bug they’ve already found? Ouch.

    • Xocrates says:

      Fix? Maybe. (ignoring the fact that worlds is a couple patches behind live)

      QA it so as to make sure it doesn’t affect any of the other 100+ champs? No.

      • Yglorba says:

        Yes, this. Rolling out a (possibly major) bugfix with minimal QA in the middle of a massive highly-publicized tournament seems like it would be an extremely bad idea.

      • Traipse says:

        As a software developer, the thought of pushing out a non-trivial change in the middle of a worldwide media frenzy about my product with only a few days of testing gives me full-body hives. Definitely not going to see that from Riot.

  9. ssh83 says:

    Banning should be removed. If riot thinks a champ is broken, they should just disable.

    In reality, most bans are targetting to a player. It’s like banning a sports player from using his famous manuver. It makes the game less fun to watch and it rewards playing standard. If you innovate you just get banned, and force to play standard. If you master the standard meta, then you will be at your best no matter how the bans go. It cause the eSport to be extra stagnant.