I was poking around the Team Curse website, and I located Saint's Jungleology, which I had forgotten exists. I'm not the biggest fan of SaintVicious, but he's obviously doing something right that I'm not, so I'll watch almost anything.
The most recent one is Maokai, which is an old favorite no one plays. If you want to watch it here's the link, but I'm not really going to talk about it much in particular. Towards the end, SaintVicious lets everyone know "Maokai is viable--in solo queue," which begs the question "Why isn't he viable in competitive play?"
This question has a very simple answer that's somewhat present in the guide SV makes. Maokai is extremely susceptible to counterjungling, and he's blue dependent. This is also why Amumu took a hit. But can we track how this happened? Maokai was a force to be reckoned with near the end of Season 2, but during the summer seasons of EU, NA, and Champions, he was only picked seven times with a 29% win rate (that's two games). While that's not statistically significant by any stretch of the imagination, people just--aren't playing him. At all. Suddenly.
There are stages to this. The first obviously took place early Spring with the advent of the carry junglers who did ridiculous amounts of damage for no reason while still building tank items--mostly health. To underline this claim, the top contenders were Jarvan IV, Vi, and Xin Zhao. The latter's insane burst combined with his mark 15% armor shred properly ate Maokai alive in the jungle. Add in the inclusion of Sightstone leading to supports buying only wards early gave Xin Zhao enough vision to search and destroy almost whenever he felt like it.
But Xin was nerfed right? His early game wasn't, and Jarvan IV and Vi still have the armor shred and high damage output to go along with better scaling, despite their nerfs, which them efficient at killing Maokai in his jungle. But Maokai has high burst damage. He can defend himself. All Maokai's damage, considering his really low auto attack speed, is in his abilities, so Jarvan only has to wait for Maokai to blow a cooldown on a camp, which again, he needs to do to clear, and he can pretty much chop down that--haunted?--tree.
Now, this was a problem, of course, which Riot balanced somewhat with aforementioned carry jungler nerfs, and for maybe a few weeks we saw a resurgence of the support jungles like Nunu, Maokai, and Amumu--especially with Nunu's buffs--but then Riot changed the jungle to put more emphasis on securing buffs than on pressuring lanes, supposedly to make it more fun for lanes who felt camped. Really, what they meant to say is, we want to make the game less fun for junglers because the camping became more extreme, though perhaps more predictable (three minute gank top). Emphasis was place on invades early to get huge experience advantages from buff monsters, as they were weighted with most of the jungle experience. It then became less worth it to clear out small camps instead of rushing the Ancient Golem and Lizard Elder, then heading to lane for a gank top or mid lane. The experience on the death of a level 3 champion is divided by number of champions participating, so that would be around 150 in solo lanes, which is more than clearing out wraith camp, and definitely more gold for a first blood assist. This made more heavy gank, poor clear champions like Evelynn and Lee Sin extremely powerful. And what are these champions good at?
Killing the fuck. Out of Maokai.
Not only that, but with Maokai's slow autoattacks and long cooldowns, his clear speed is extremely slow after first blue, and his chances of getting that first kill top diminished. Plus, if he lost blue buff (can you say susceptible to invades?), this slowed him down even more, and he would never, ever
Then, if by some chance, he made it top around the same time as the enemy jungler, see "Killing the fuck. Out of Maokai."
But what makes him supposedly good in solo queue? For one thing, early invades are harder to coordinate without team trust on calls. If bum fuck bottom lane decides they aren't coming, that might be a first blood for Maokai, who should be the one getting screwed by invade. Then you see the video with Saint where Nunu ended up flashing to consume his Ancient Golem. Let's point out the obvious problems with this. 1) He would definitely die if top lane were present, 2) burning flash to defend blue from Blitz used to be viable when you could get level 2 off just killing the ancient golem, but when you don't kill the little ones, you don't get the level after the subsequent patch. Then if you add in Maokai gets his own red, and I have to go back to mine, plus Nunu doesn't gank, and Maokai does and...
Yeah, it's a train wreck. Maokai ended up getting Nunu's blue in the end, too, so since he didn't split the little lizards on that one, he ended up getting more experience from buffs than Nunu did. And Nunu blew his flash.
So you can see the shit that will happen in solo queue, but not at professional levels. Considering what I just mentioned above for competitive play relies upon coordination and minimizing mistakes, plus good ward coverage and champion knowledge--sure. Maokai is still the same guy in solo queue as he's always been. A targetable snare makes him really strong when flash is down, and his base armor and magic resist makes him an unkillable monster once he gets rolling (see the video for 3v1 action). But if your enemy jungler isn't blowing his flash to get less experience than you, and you don't take lane farm, you'll fall behind. Eve, on the other hand, rapes in solo queue. Always.
TL;DR Maokai sucks anyway.
But how can we make him better? You can't very easily. His abilities need the burst to clear, and they need to cost that amount of mana for him to not be the scariest motherfucker to hide in your tribush. This is the perfect example of game changes making a champion irrelevant even though he stays the same (I'm sorry, Mao; it's not you, it's me). I'd say, if anything, reduce cooldown, mana costs, and damage on sapping toss, but buff damage a little vs minions and monsters. This will make the ability more of a utility spell to grant vision and a tool to control objectives, which I think is in tune with the true spirit of the champion. Another option would be to give him almost any other passive that isn't ability reliant--or to make Maokai's saplings work a little like Zac's blobs. He loses health to drop them, but regens health if they detonate. I don't like this one as well because it doesn't fit with the concept of Maokai as an arcane creature. And I think it would be difficult to counterplay, unlike Zac's blob mechanic.
EDIT: A question I've gotten in response to this is "But Nocturne is blue buff dependent. What makes him better?"
This is completely false. Looking at early mana costs, Nocturne requires 60+20+15=95 mana for a full rotation, and Maokai requires 55+70+75=195 mana for a full rotation. Not only that, but Nocturne's burst and sustain come from his auto attack passive, while Maokai's sustain also comes from his passive, but that, as well as his burst, is completely ability reliant. This mean Nocturne can clear much faster and with much more health remaining than Maokai if his blue buff gets stolen early.
Yeah. A Plat I jungler gave me this question. He should know better.
I was going to talk about Olaf, but I honestly didn't expect to have that much to say about Maokai sucking dick.
Anyway, I will, however, talk about Curse. I'm not going to comment on the Roster changes until I see some action out of the Challenger series, and I don't really have much to say in regards to the eSports scene (for those of you have listened to me bitch or know that I am a staff editor at GosuGamers, this is clearly bullshit), but I want to talk about the strategy of sponsoring three teams.
I have a feeling it won't last. And I have a feeling Curse went into this knowing they would cut at least one roster loose eventually. They're strategizing, pooling 15 players together in hopes that they will be able to raise some decent talent by the time Season 4's finale rolls around. I expect to see at least five (well, four, since LoLPro doesn't have a support player yet) of these players let go while the remaining players get shuffled to form an A Team and a B Team kept around to practice, a la the Korean structure pioneered by Azubu. It's an interesting idea, and Curse definitely has enough resources to support three teams, even without Riot and Coke Zero paying player salaries and offering housing stipends. I predict this strategy, more than any of their roster changes--except maybe removing Saint, but I promised I wouldn't say anything--will be a primary factor in any success we see out of Curse's lineups. I want to see how this pans out, and I hope I can report something interesting coming out of the Curse and Curse Academy competition in the Challenger League.
Please watch with me today at 8:00pm EDT ^^.