Originally posted on lolesports.com by James "Obscurica" Chen
Foremost among the many surprising changes to the 5.6 meta is what's been happening in top lane. Urgot mid? We can roll with that. Lee Sin fallen out of favor in the jungle? Was going to happen eventually after so many nerfs. But for a player to drop Flash, the most basic and vital escape tool at a player's disposal, means something has radically changed.
For it to be replaced by Smite, of all spells, makes the changes fundamental.
The top laner's job is at the heart of it all. At the current pro level, they're meant to provide map control, whether by independent action as a split-pusher or Teleport their way into a fight and bail out their team. Recent item changes have turbocharged their capabilities. According to Jack "Jak" Gifford, toplaner for Oceania Pro League's Team Absolute, jungle changes in Patch 5.6 spilled over to his role. Most significant was "access to Cinderhulk, which is by far the best item in the game at the moment, and the ability to easily clear jungle camps."
But, wait, aren't jungle camps supposed to go to junglers? "Having Smite on a top laner lets you counter-jungle or get extra farm from your [jungle] when your jungler is on the other side of the map," said Cloud 9's An "Balls" Le. "This lets you get more experience than normal, and Challenging Smite lets you beat almost anyone 1-vs-1." Gifford's assessment matches Le's, noting that the most important thing is the experience advantage, sometimes giving up to a two-level advantage over traditional Flash/Teleport top laners.
But gaining those advantages does require a specific champion pool. Said Gifford, "the two users of Smite/TP are champions that are either too mobile or too tanky to need Flash." Balls notes that there needs to be a balance between mobility and kill pressure: "if you don't have Flash on a non-mobile champ, you just get camped and die. Shyvana and Hecarim both have mobility, but they also have a lot of kill pressure after a certain point. I think champions with high mobility, fast waveclear and a lot of damage run this strategy best."
Currently, beating back the Smite/Teleport strategy relies a lot on personal mechanics. "I think if you are against a laner that can bully you in lane, or someone that knows how to punish you, then it will not be worth it to run the strat," said Balls.
Gifford notes that the window of opportunity to do so is limited. "Obviously it's easier to gank, but big fed tanks are very strong later in the game, so the weakness is mostly just gankability. Getting a champion like Shyvana fed is far more important than having a Flash." Come late game, the beefiness and mobility of Smite top laners like Shyvana and Hecarim don't just make them difficult to work around in fights—they also splitpush extremely efficiently, thanks to the waveclear from Cinderhulk.
To Balls, this is worrisome for the health of solo queue play. "I think Smite should just stay in the jungle, because they can't punish you in solo queue, and two Smites is better than one for objectives," he said. "People can abuse this strat to always stay even or ahead in lane experience." He calls for Cinderhulk to be directly nerfed in whatever way appropriate to stave off its influence in his role.
Gifford is more ambivalent, in face of the history of his role. "Any change for the stock standard laning phase is good," he asserts. For a long while, the top lane was considered an "island" because of its lack of interaction with the rest of the map or team, especially early on. But he agrees that the item has to be changed. "Smite/TP is only good because Cinderhulk is so amazingly broken, otherwise we would've seen it before. Cinderhulk is definitely in need of some nerfs, which will probably kill Smite/TP as a strategy, but that would be for the best. Strategic diversity is not good when it only exists from overpowered items."