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.
"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.
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.