LCS: Why LCS Teams Fail So Badly to Use Flex Picks

League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

LCS teams are failing to properly use flex picks in their games, let’s examine how and why that happens.

Flex picks have been a relatively new concept in professional League of Legends, a way to optimize a team’s chances of “winning” draft by securing good a solid match-up, bait out an early draft mistake, or hide a pick until later. However, in analyzing the LCS drafts we see that teams in this league are not using flex picks to their fullest potential.

The idea with a flex pick is that a team will pick a strong champion who can conceivably be “flexed” into multiple positions. This means that the opposing team will not know where the pick will be played and loses the advantage of knowing the enemy’s composition sooner.

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For instance, let’s take one of the most popular flex champions in the Summer Split, Sett. Although he is primarily a top laner, the Boss can be flexed into multiple roles including jungle, mid, and support. That means teams can pick Sett early, comfortable that the enemy team will have to wait and possibly miss their chance to pick a counter to Sett in his intended position.

Theoretically, teams that utilize flex picks should be in a position to succeed because they take advantage of this wrinkle in their draft. Unfortunately, the data shows that, in the LCS, it’s the exact opposite.

In analyzing every single draft in the LCS Summer Split, I found that the team who has the advantage in flex picks, that is to say, they have more flex picks than their opponent has a losing record. The team with the flex advantage has a 16-24 record so far this split, a winning record of just 40%.

Even worse than that, though, is the fact that LCS teams rarely make flex picks in their games. The average LCS game only features one or two flex picks, and one-third of LCS games don’t have any flex picks at all.

Now, obviously, some of that is attributable to the flex picks being banned, but it’s also partially because of teams picking flexible champions in an inflexible situation. For instance, if a team last-picks Sett, the rest of the comp is already locked in, so you can’t call it a flex pick.

The top five flex champions in terms of pick rate, as well as their win rates, shows just how dire this failure is:

  1. Volibear – 52%
  2. Sett – 52%
  3. Karma – 20%
  4. Jayce – 58%
  5. Wukong – 33%

While we see that teams in the LCS are having moderate success with some of those flex picks, they’re failing miserably with the others. This is borne out by the fact that teams also overwhelmingly have losing records when taking a flex pick.

Which leads to our final point: which LCS teams use flex picks the most and which use them most effectively?

To the first question, here are all the teams ranked by the raw number of flex picks made through six weeks of LCS play:

  • Cloud9 – 13
  • TSM – 11
  • FlyQuest – 10
  • Golden Guardians – 9
  • Dignitas – 7
  • Evil Geniuses – 7
  • CLG – 6
  • 100 Thieves – 4
  • Immortals – 3
  • Team Liquid – 2

As you can see, the top two teams in the LCS are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their utilization of flex picks. Cloud9 flexes more than any other team while Team Liquid hardly ever flexes in draft. So how do we square that?

Well, it’s easy when you look at each team’s record in games when they use at least one flex pick:

  • C9: 5-1
  • TSM: 3-5
  • FLY: 3-4
  • GGS: 2-4
  • DIG: 2-3
  • EG: 2-3
  • CLG: 2-3
  • 100T: 2-2
  • IMT: 0-2
  • TL: 1-1

Those top two teams are among only three teams (along with 100 Thieves) that don’t have a losing record when using flex picks. But the reasons for that are quite varied.

While Cloud9 is talented enough that their players can play just about any of these flex champions effectively, Team Liquid knows their limitations well enough to not try to put their players on champions they cannot pilot. This is why Team Liquid is also the team with the least champion diversity of any LCS team: they understand their players’ limits and don’t try to push them onto uncomfortable champions.

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It seems a lot of teams need to face the realization that their players do not know how to properly utilize these flex picks, either individually or understanding their role in the game as a whole. If more teams abandoned their reliance on flex picks and instead made the effort to simply pick a strong, straight-forward composition, they might have better results.