Flex picking has been a trend in professional play since the early days of competitive League of Legends, going all the way back to Season 3. Today we’ll be covering everything to do with flex picking including how, why, and when it’s useful – plus, a handful of LEC’s top lane players weigh in on the subject to give their professional opinion. First of all though...
What exactly is flex picking?
A flex pick is a champion that can be played in multiple positions that is also a strong champion in its own right.
Flex picking is when you choose a champion that has the ability to be played in multiple different roles. The idea behind doing this is to draft a desirable champion and make sure that you can get a favourable matchup in the laning phase. Many champions have strong counter picks that can shut them down hard, but many of those counters cannot be flexed into multiple roles.
A very simple example of this would be the opponent thinking they’re facing an Ability Power champion, so they take Magic Resist in their runes, but in reality they will be facing an Attack Damage champion, which means they basically wasted their rune choice and will have less Armour, making laning phase harder for them.
Flex picking can also be used to confuse the enemy and bait them into picking an unfavourable matchup. An example of this would be Team 1 picks Aatrox, Team 2 thinks it’s Aatrox in the mid lane, so they pick LeBlanc in response. Team 1 picks Lissandra and sends the Aatrox into top/jungle. Team 2 have effectively counterpicked themselves, and force their midlaner into a horrible matchup.
The main reason for flex picking is so you don’t get counterpicked super hard. A common flex pick right now is Aatrox. Some teams will get greedy and try to counter pick it with LeBlanc. That matchup sucks for Aatrox, but the Aatrox can be flexed into top or jungle and the LeBlanc can’t really work well in those roles.
Why is it so useful now?
The game has changed a lot in the past two to three years. There is less vision overall now and the game has changed from the Korean style of play to a more LPL/EU style. It’s all about teamfights and smart aggressive play now.
As mentioned by sOAZ, the game has seen drastic changes within the past few seasons. With the removal of Tracker’s Knife, the cooldown on warding trinkets getting higher, the introduction of the support item lines replacing sightstone, and even a ward cap (3 Regular, 1 Control) being set has significantly reduced the amount of vision available to teams. This means that it’s now harder to fully track the enemy.
The wards that are available must be useful and get as much information as possible, which makes lane priority a must. Having lane priority allows your team to get vision deep into the enemy jungle without the risk of the enemy laner collapsing on them. This is where flex picks come in. If you can find yourself a favourable matchup by flex picking, then you’re likely to have priority in your lane, which benefits your team greatly.
You can also force the opponents to either take an unfavourable matchup that may fit their team comp well, or to find a champion that has a decent matchup against your flex picks, but may be weaker later into the game or not fit the team comp. Kennen is a good example of the latter; with the changes to the Kleptomancy keystone, Kennen can poke away at the opposing toplaner and get free gold while winning or going even in lane, which forces the opposing team to either spend a lot of time trying to shut down the Kennen, or to draft a ranged toplaner who can deal with his constant harass.
Kennen is one of the safer toplaners right now. He does well into the current meta flex picks. If you take Kleptomancy, the opponent has to match you with a ranged champion otherwise you can get free gold and can get even more from tower platings which really doesn't feel good for the enemy toplaner.
When are flex picks strong?
Flex picking is something you can usually do when the toplane isn’t a full on tank meta, such as right now where it's more of a carry meta with bruisers and mages going top.
Flex picks are usually best when a champion that can be played in multiple different roles is strong, and everything that can be used as a counter to it is weak. Almost all of the current meta champions that are flex picks generally have no extremely tough matchups and usually have either winning or even matchups. There are a number of champions that can be flexed between three and even four roles at times, which makes it very hard to pin down exactly what position they’ll be filling.
Trying to counter pick these champions is a tall task as you would have to find something that can also be played in all of those roles effectively, which is typically hard to find. Another thing is the champion needs to be at least decent at team fighting as the game right now revolves around teamfights. Finding a champion that fills all of these needs is no easy task and is why flex picks that do work are so powerful.
A lot of traditional mages have been nerfed and forced out of the meta, so now we see more bruisers such as Irelia, Aatrox, Urgot, and even Sion being flexed between mid and top. This is mostly because they have great stats within their kit and because of how much weaker everything else is.
What makes flex picking better than traditional drafting?
Flex picking removes some of the more unplayable matchups from the game. Matchups that are extremely one sided are known as “80/20” or “70/30” matchups. One of these matchups is the example used earlier with Aatrox and LeBlanc. If flex picking wasn’t possible in that matchup, the Aatrox would get destroyed and the game could be lost before they even load into Summoner’s Rift. Flex picking helps to remove games that are so one sided due to a good or bad draft, and will more often than not allow the better team to prevail due to their play rather than winning due to having better matchups.
One downside to flex picking is that you can go too deep into the hole trying to get good matchups, and end up with a lackluster team comp that cannot actually win the game. With the meta being so focused around early game and teamfighting, having a bad team comp can really cost you the game. This makes the drafting phase as important as the game itself.
There is a risk that you can go too far into it and rely heavily on winning your lane because you don’t have a good enough teamfight comp. It depends on how good you are at executing with your flex picks.
Has flex picking pushed some champions out of the meta?
You’re forced to be creative when trying to find new champions to play as they need to be strong against multiple picks. Kennen is a good example of this. Even though he isn’t really a flex pick himself, he can still work well against a majority of the current meta flex picks and sort of neutralises them.
Of course not every champion can be meta at once and the flex pick meta follows this logic. Many champions that have the inability to be flex picked have been left behind and forgotten about as they just aren’t viable against many of the flex pickable champions that are currently in the meta. Assassins are the one of the biggest groups who have been pushed out by this. If you draft an assassin to deal with a specific pick from the enemy team, they may just opt to send a tank mid lane against you and completely nullify your pick. As Odoamne says, you have to get creative and play champions that can work in multiple different matchups.
The opposite is also true; some champions only come into the meta because of flex picks. We’ve mentioned Kennen already, but let’s look at another champion whose presence has risen recently within the LEC: Yasuo. Yasuo can be played Top, Mid, and Bot and can also deal with almost all of the current flex picks pretty well. He shreds through tanks like a hot knife through butter, and can absolutely decimate a teamfight. Yasuo also provides strong utility with his windwall, which can be a significant counter to many popular champions such as Braum and Ezreal. We’ve been seeing some flex pick Ryze and Jayce over the past few weeks too.
So, as it stands, while flex picking does remove some champions from the meta, it also introduces some new exciting picks that we haven't had in the meta for a while, which is a breath of fresh air and just makes the games all the more exciting to watch. You never know what crazy pick could get locked in next.