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The role swapping riddle: How do pro players do it?

Perkz isn’t the first player to switch roles in top flight League of Legends. We meet some of the multi-talented stars who’ve done just that.

It happened so fast the observers didn’t even catch it. 

“Whoa! Solo kill in the mid lane,” yelled David “Phreak” Turley while the in-game camera was focused on some light CSing in the top lane. 

Luka “Perkz” Perković had just outplayed his opponent off camera. A quick replay showed what had just happened. Playing as Syndra, Scatter the Weak stunned up the enemy Ahri, followed up by a burst of damage from Dark Sphere and Force of Will. The next second, he had flashed in for another Dark Sphere followed up by his ultimate, Unleashed Power, for the kill. He already had a CS lead of over 20 just six minutes into the game, and was now a kill up as well.

This wasn’t an unusual occurrence, as we had seen Perkz dominate in the middle lane from his debut in 2016 when he won Rookie of the Split in EU LCS Spring, through to playoff finals and World Championship appearances. However, it was an unusual opponent. Perkz had just outplayed Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the world’s best midlaner, at MSI 2017.

Perkz kills Faker at MS1 2017. 

Perkz has maintained that world class form ever since. So why on earth would G2 Esports want to take Perkz out of the midlane and give the job to someone else? 

Enter Rasmus “Caps” Winther, another young mid lane prodigy. On Fnatic, he played in the Worlds 2018 final in front of millions of viewers at the age of just 18. It was the first time a European team had been in a Worlds final since the first ever championships, which didn’t have any Korean or Chinese teams in it. 2018’s Fnatic was arguably the best League of Legends team lineup Europe had ever produced, but it wasn’t to last. 

To say Caps moving to G2 Esports caused quite a stir would be an understatement. Caps would be taking over from Perkz in the mid lane, and Perkz would be moving down to play AD carry. People were confused. Why would they do that? How will it work? Can Perkz even play ADC?

Perkz says he can play any champion

Perkz says he can play any champion

With G2 Esports at the top of the LEC standings with 13 wins, it appears that the answer is: Yes, Perkz can play pretty much anything. It also appears that switching roles was mostly his own idea, but only if the right player came along. Caps was that player.

“I wanted to have the best roster possible,” says Perkz. “I thought these five players would make the best fit both in game-wise and personality-wise. I was looking at the options of possible rosters for 2019 and came to the conclusion that me role swapping if Caps joined was the best one possible. I probably would not have role swapped if Caps didn’t join.”

These five players are certainly working out so far. G2 have suffered just three losses so far, and even that number is a surprise given how well they started the split. The decision for Perkz to go to the bottom lane seems to be paying off.

Of course, Perkz isn’t the first player to switch roles on a team to good effect. Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek has swapped back and forth between top and jungle for a number of teams like G2 and Vitality and Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi swapped between AD and support, much like his coach on Team-LDLC did before him, Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim – he played support, top and bottom lane in his storied pro career.

“I started my career as an auto fill,” says Kikis, Rogue’s jungler. “It was way back in season one and I was the sixth person on the team, so whenever someone had some real life stuff or wanted to go out I would just fill his place. When I became a main player on the roster I played mostly top lane until I became a jungler in season four. Afterwards I swapped to top lane when I qualified with G2 to the LCS, and came back to jungling two months before I joined Vitality.

“I always queued AD and support in solo queue and I noticed that even with a low amount of games I was doing some nasty stuff as support."

Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi

“Focusing on my last lane swap, it was mostly my decision because Illuminar Gaming came to me offering a spot on their team as a top laner. When I looked at their lineup more closely I decided it would be a way better fit if I was able to jungle there. I suggested that change and they agreed.”

Riot caster Andrew “Vedius” Day has been following Kikis’ career, and has been impressed with how well he’s played in multiple roles. “He went from being one of the best performing junglers in the league, to being one of the strongest tops when he played for G2, then returning to jungle later down the line. The man has found pretty solid success between two different roles.”

As for Steeelback, formerly of Vitality, Giants, and ROCCAT, among others, and now the support for Team-LDLC, he started his career as the AD Carry. 

“I liked attacking from a distance, and I always loved that you had to dodge a lot with your movements,” he says. “I always queued AD and support in solo queue and I noticed that even with a low amount of games I was doing some nasty stuff as support. Back then I was on Giants and I did try support for one or two games. I was like ‘Ho baby, I think I was made for this role!’"

European precedent

Kikis is another player to role swap to good effect

Kikis is another player to role swap to good effect

There’s a precedent for role swapping, and players have done well, and even extended their careers thanks to the change. 

“I would say that coming from 2017 into 2018 getting relegated, not joining an LCS team and being second in the Polish scene, to then role swapping and in a matter of four months stomping my way through LCS, getting MVP six out of seven games and qualifying for Worlds, one could say that the swap was really successful,” Kikis tells us.

So are the best League of Legends players in the world just that good at every role? Is it an easy thing to do? 

“Nope,” says Vedius. “I think to change roles and still be relevant at a pro level is a challenging thing to do. Mid to top is arguably the easiest because it’s from one solo lane to another. But having mechanics is one thing, understanding how the role works and how it fits into the team is something else entirely.

Having mechanics is one thing, understanding how the role works and how it fits into the team is something else entirely.

Andrew "Vedius" Day

“A willingness to adapt and learn is really important. Knowing how to teleport versus knowing how to smite seem like simple skills but at the highest level of play can require a large time investment.”

Time is one thing each of these successful role swappers has invested into their play. 

“This offseason I’ve been practicing a lot,” Perkz tells us. “I did not take role swapping lightly and wanted to be the best I could be, so I was pushing my limits a lot at the start to go from being very aggressive to becoming more disciplined. 

“I had to play even more than usual, which made me barely leave my room,” says Kikis. “I had to study more VODs to get on the right track in terms of jungle pathings, builds, and champion pool."

There are no champions I can’t play.

Luka “Perkz” Perković

Luckily for Perkz, so far the League of Legends meta has been kind to him. He’s actually been able to play a few of the same champions he did last split in the mid lane and bring them down to the bottom lane. He played three games of Lucian in Summer 2018, and has three games on him in Spring 2019. He had two Kai’Sa games last split, and has played her four times so far this split. He’s even managed a game on Zoe this split, his most played champion in Summer 2018. 

Switching it up

These players are generally good enough to pick up any champion with enough practice. For some, it doesn’t even take that long.

“There are no champions I can’t play,” says Perkz, bluntly.

“I role swapped one week before EU Masters began,” says Kikis. “At the start I was really clueless, but at the end of the tournament I became one of the best junglers. The champion pool was familiar enough, but I still had to pick up new ones like Olaf. It became a meme after my first match, but at the end of the tournament I was an Olaf one trick.”

Perkz and Steeelback were a little more confident in their abilities on unfamiliar champions though.

“I always played some support in solo queue,” Steeelback says. “I can learn support champions very easily, but the hard part for me was the build path because it’s totally new and different."

G2 take down Fnatic in the LEC 2019 Spring Split.

After doing so well at AD Carry, Perkz even thinks he could swap to another role at any point: “I know I could play any role at pro level. Going to bot was very easy because it’s also a carry role, which is what I like and what fits me. I like the fact that I can swing every game in my team’s favour once I get some items. As long as I die less than my opponent AD I will be stronger.”

Perkz does admit that there are tough things about playing professional League of Legends though – it’s not all plain sailing. “Mid is just a way harder role. To play mid at the highest level you need to be able to understand all other lanes in the game, because you’re at the centre of the map and you are dictating the game most of the time.” No wonder he let Caps take on that burden. “Bot lane is a bit different since in the laning phase you’re dependent on your support and jungler.”

G2 are getting the results they need, so it appears Perkz must be doing a good job in his new role. But do the stats actually back that up?

In Summer 2018, playing in the mid lane, he achieved a KDA of 5.7. Spring 2019 as an ADC? A very similar KDA of 5.4. His CS/minute stats and damage percentage stats are pretty equivalent too. Perkz is performing just as well as he ever was, and his team is doing just as well as ever too. 

They have a new midlaner, but G2 are doing as well as ever

They have a new midlaner, but G2 are doing as well as ever

In his first ever professional game as a bottom laner, Perkz went 7/3/10 in a dominating performance over Origen. “Fair enough,” said the masses, “but that was on Zoe, that’s a mid lane champion.” So, Perkz played Kai’Sa in the very next game and didn’t even die, going 8/0/6 against Elias “Upset” Lipp. Upset is considered one of the best European AD carries, and he was playing on Ezreal, a top meta pick. He didn’t even manage a single kill the whole game. 

Misfits would surely be the team to challenge Perkz. A top tier player such as Steven “Hans Sama” Liv playing Kalista against Perkz on Yasuo went the same way as all the other games before it. Once again, Perkz didn’t die. His tactic of becoming stronger than his opponent by dying less has turned out to be a good one.

What about Fnatic? Would Caps’ old team come back to haunt him? Would Martin “Rekkles” Larsson humiliate G2’s decision to put Perkz in the bottom lane? They had had a poor start to the split, but in recent times they’ve been looking more like the old Fnatic. Would a win over G2 be the one to set them back on form?

It ended up being the fastest game in the LEC up until that point. G2 had a 14,100 gold lead at 20:35 when they destroyed Fnatic’s nexus. Perkz had gone 2/1/6 on Lucian, and Broxah was the only Fnatic player to get a kill. They’d have to wait another week or two before the wins started rolling in.

Perkz doesn’t get to make those flashy solo plays anymore. It’s unlikely he’ll find himself one on one with Faker again, and although he’s playing against some of the best AD carries in the world, he usually has his support for back up, or his jungler waiting in the wings. But, you watch him play in the bottom lane and in team fights and there’s no denying that he’s just as good there as he was in mid lane. Whether he’s gliding across the battlefield as Lucian or Kalista, or getting stuck in with Kai’Sa and Yasuo, Perkz has hardly had a bad game so far. 

“I didn’t expect it to be this easy,” Perkz tells me. But, given his impressive career so far, is anyone really surprised?