In the second match of the 2022 League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) spring split, fans were treated to a surprise when FlyQuest opened the draft with Janna in the top lane.
Caster David “Phreak” Turley gasped in excitement. Smite-Janna top had been tormenting solo queue for about two weeks by that point, and most pros were well aware of its influence. Former Dignitas top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson was the first to bring this strategy to North American solo queue, and the pick changed the way that players understood the current metagame.
“So I originally started off wanting to play it because I had 4-5 solo queue games go super poorly with top lane having no impact,” Lourlo said. Then, a former Excel player came to the rescue. “[Rosendo ‘Send0o’ Fuentes] came to my stream telling me to play it more of a joke, and I mainly did it to just mess with him. But then I managed to pull off this play and I was hooked.”
The pick has since made its way to the LCS, League of Legends Champions Korea Challengers League and the LVP SuperLiga and has yet to accrue a loss.
Why does Janna-Smite Top work?
In the preseason, Riot Games made two major changes to the League of Legends metagame that caused a paradigm shift in how players had to play the game.
The developers changed Teleport so players could only use the summoner spell to get to turrets for the first 14 minutes of the game. Players could only gain “Unleashed Teleport,” which allows them to teleport to wards and minions, after the 14-minute mark. This isolated the top lane and, to Lourlo’s point, made it tough to have an early impact on games.
Players such as Immortals top laner Mohammed “Revenge” Khaddoura said they believed top lane had already been neutered a fair amount before the Teleport change. With the old Teleport, a good use of the summoner spell could at least give top laners a chance to make an early, game-changing play in the bot lane.
However, the recent changes to Teleport make it impossible to do so.
With such little agency left in the game, top laners have set their sights on new strategies to make their presence known. The frustration birthed the Janna-Smite top strategy, which focuses on roaming, stealing jungle buffs and doing pretty much everything but actually being in the top lane.
Janna-Smite top thrives because of the chaos it creates. Lourlo, in one example, disregards his position and instead ganks an unsuspecting Akali at Level 1. Then, with a Flash over the wall by the Red Buff, Graves.
The result: Graves falls a solid 5-10 seconds behind Lourlo’s jungler. And while the opposing top laner does get ahead in farm and experience, that lead is offset by a new mechanic that Riot Introduced in the pre-season: objective bounties.
In short, objective bounties are a comeback mechanic that allows losing teams a way to turn around the game. The bounties usually settle on objectives that either team can take, though they can also include turrets, any monster in the Dragon pit, Baron Nashor and Rift Herald. The team with Janna-Smite top aims to capture all the early objectives.
When a team is sufficiently behind and they are able to take these objectives against a team that is ahead in gold, the losing team receives an additional influx of gold depending on the objective. The further behind a team is, the more gold they will receive for securing the objective.
Janna-Smite top works because objective bounties grow in scale as a player falls further behind their opponent. Because Janna is always at a deficit, any objective taken by Janna’s team will always benefit the entire team, most of whom can get ahead in their lanes thanks to the ganking pressure and extra objective control Janna provides with her Smite.
While this strategy seems like a fun way to mess with the enemy team in a solo queue game, the rise of Janna-Smite top tells a greater story. Hyper-carries such as Caitlyn, Jinx and Aphelios have taken center stage in the bot lane, along with enchanters such as Lulu or engage supports like Thresh.
Players like Lourlo and Send0o have opted to leave the top lane completely to ensure bot lane’s success.
“Objective bounties are definitely a major factor in this strategy,” Lourlo said. “But bot laners not having to worry about Teleport in the first 14 minutes and allowing them to pair up with enchanter supports to freely scale nearly into mid-game made this strategy a no-brainer to enhance the already strong ADC meta.”
All these adjustments, on top of buffs to Janna in Patch 12.2, have made her viable as a seemingly gimmicky pick. Howling Gale, Zephyr and Eye of the Storm all received significant buffs in cooldown and range. Most importantly, Janna gains an 8% increase in movement speed when moving towards allied champions, further enabling the roaming playstyle.
The numbers speak for themselves. The Smite top strategy has seen Janna make an incredible jump in win rate, from 51% (strong) to 55% (best in the game) according to data collected by U.GG over more than 17,000 ranked games. This shift was a direct result of Lourlo and others bringing the champion to the forefront of a strange new meta.
Janna-Smite in the LCS: Does it work beyond solo queue?
Janna-Smite top has made one appearance in the LCS so far, and it arguably wasn’t even the most unexpected pick of Week 1 (Ivern mid, anyone?). While FlyQuest did win their game against Counter Logic Gaming, a single game is hardly a good sample size for competitive viability.
The pick worked as intended, mostly. FlyQuest were able to secure two Dragons before the 13-minute mark. Despite the lead, CLG were able to make a comeback. The game was a 49-minute slog that ended with a successful backdoor attempt from FlyQuest’s new mid laner, Loïc “toucouille” Dubois.
After the game, casters Phreak and Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler discussed the draft that surrounded the Janna-Smite top. They maintained that a composition that would run Janna-Smite top in the LCS might require at least an aggressive support and jungle combo rather than the Lulu that FlyQuest chose.
“I think you do need engage in some way,” Phreak said. “If it is a Lulu down there, that jungler better be a Hecarim, to your point. If it’s Kha’Zix, I think your composition is trash.”
Lourlo said he agrees and added that the mid lane player should be a good Teleport user, and that the AD carry position should have a hyper-carry.
“My dream draft would definitely look like Janna/Karma top,” Lourlo said. “Xin Zhao/Lee Sin/Hecarim jungle. Any mid scaler and Teleport user, ideally a champion that’s good at skirmishing like Sylas or Zoe, etc. A hyper-scaling AD carry like Jinx/Caitlyn/Aphelios with an enchanter support like Lulu/Karma or even Leona to add more engage.
“Of course, it all varies depending on the enemy draft, but for the most part any of those pairings feel like a free win.”
CLG’s Thomas “Jenkins” Tran, who lost against the newfound meta pick, has played it himself. The strategy is still in its infancy, he said, and he added that CLG’s matchup was winnable despite the Janna-Smite’s advantages. Teams are going to develop their own countermeasures against Janna-Smite top, he said, if the strategy begins to permeate the LCS.
“It depends what each individual team is thinking,” Jenkins said. “Maybe one team thinks that you just pick a hyper scaler and make a lot of income for the top laner. I’ve seen teams match with their own enchanters with Smite. Definitely think Janna is the best one by far.”
Lourlo said there is a future where the League of Legends metagame settles into a tri-lane bot situation. If both teams pick enchanters with Smite, then it is inevitable that both will roam bot lane at some point and leave the top lane empty.
“Top lane could look like a Dota-esque style of game, having 3 vs. 3 bottom pairings and top lane being an empty island of gold to collect for the jungler and mid laner,” Lourlo said. “Actual top lane counters people are trying are split pushers like Tryndamere and Fiora. However, they never really win the 5 vs. 5 and are on a timer. [They’ve also tried] champions like Akshan/Kayle, but the problem with them is getting out-ranged by Lethal Tempo [AD carries].”
Top Lane 2022 pic.twitter.com/dDVfBtXEQG
— Samson Jackson (@Lourlo) February 4, 2022
Are Smiting enchanters the future?
Jenkins said he believes Janna stands above all other enchanters in the Smite top strategy. She moves around the map the fastest, and just as importantly, she works well with low income.
“You can make plays as soon as Level 2 or 3,” Jenkins said. “You can do it with other enchanters too, but Janna is hard to deal with. She just gives a lot more steroids and early set up than other enchanters.”
Karma can work too, though, as can a host of different enchanters. As long as the enchanter can get a lead in different lanes while staying behind, Lourlo said, it can work with Smite top.
“Janna and Karma are definitely the staples but you can also pull things out like Ivern, Soraka, Lulu, Bard, Zilean and even Taric,” Lourlo said. “Some are harder to pull off mechanically, but have similar win conditions and team identity towards stacking dragons, winning 5 vs. 5s for the whole game and aiming to get jungle and AD carry ahead.”
There is also a chance that Riot Games hotfixes this into oblivion, as the developer has never been fond of Smite strategies in different lanes. Funneling strategies that run Smite in the mid lane have been consistently stomped out. How the rest of the community responds in the meantime will be the most interesting question as the spring split moves forward.
U.GG is a property of Enthusiast Gaming, who owns and operates Upcomer.
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The resident Dota player of the Upcomer Team that dips his toes into League, Melee and Pokemon. A chinese-indonesian living in Vancouver, Canada. Enjoys food, fashion and movies. Just another adult who decided it would be a good idea to start their own podcast