On Patch 5.22, Riot Games added Rift Herald to League of Legends to remove “top lane island” gameplay. The intention of the objective was to balance dragon for the first 20 minutes of the game and give teams more choices. Despite changes, professional teams struggled to incorporate it into their play as more than a nice bonus to take when ahead.
Riot rebooted the Rift Herald concept for Patch 7.9. Rather than a long-standing buff for a split-pusher, killing the Rift Herald now allows players to use it as a summonable creature. The Rift Herald will do large amounts of damage to turrets if left unchecked (150 damage + 25 percent of current Rift Herald health can take out more than a third of a turret’s HP instantly in the initial assault) and push doggedly toward the Nexus, losing health over time.
I took notes on some of the first tournaments to take place after the new patches. Both Demacia Cup, featuring amateur City of Heroes, LSPL, and LPL teams and the European Challenger Series Qualifier took place on Patch 7.9 or 7.10. Teams played a total of 82 games in these events, and Rift Herald was used in 68 of them.
Looking at these games, a few trends started to emerge. A very crude measure of Rift Herald effectiveness is the number of turrets a team manages to secure in a lane in which a Herald is used. In the majority of cases (43 of 68), this was one turret. As such, when discussing objective usefulness throughout the game, teams trading Rift Herald for high priority drakes get the short end of the exchange. This is especially true of teams continue to push on the opposite side of the map and have the opportunity to secure a turret of their own.
That only paints part of the picture, however, as the threat of using Rift Herald can allow teams to pull opponents to a specific lane to set up for objectives across the map. If used effectively, teams can force their opponents to redistribute map pressure. Rift Herald becomes a temporary sixth player, and the team using it can then move to take objectives on the opposite side of the map.
When things like Baron come into play, the timing and execution of Rift Herald can make it one of the most rewarding objectives. From these initial observations, this redistribution of pressure will be key to how teams begin to think about the objective in competitive play.
Securing the Rift Herald: Contesting and trading sides
+Teams hesitant to trade dragons for Rift Herald (11/68 games)
+Teams hesitant to start a skirmish to contest Rift Herald (14/68 games)
+Average time of Rift Herald take was 15.36 minutes
In the 68 games I observed where the Rift Herald was taken, teams seemed hesitant to trade it for bottom side turrets or an objective like dragon. Of the 68 games, 30 took Rift Herald in exchange for a play made by the enemy team on the bottom half of the map.
These included dives in the bottom lane, trading turrets, and, more reluctantly, dragons. In cases where a bottom lane turret was traded for Rift Herald, the team taking Rift Herald would also often take a top lane turret. In these cases, the duo lane, having swapped away from the bottom side of the map, sieged the first tier turret in the top lane while the jungler and top laner took Rift Herald.
Only 11 games featured a Rift Herald trade for a dragon. Six of these games were Demacia Cup games, and the Chinese teams never saw fit to trade an Infernal or Mountain Drake for Rift Herald. They only traded Cloud or Ocean Dragons, while European CS Qualifier teams gave up Infernal Drakes twice in their games and Mountain Drake once.
There were only 14 games in which fights broke out over the Rift Herald. By fights over Rift Herald, I mean where one team started to take the objective and the enemy team tried to contest the take or steal the objective. This doesn’t include cases where one team got a pick on an opponent champion and rotated to the Rift Herald as an objective reward for the kill unless other champions responded.
As such, the most common scenarios for taking Rift Herald came from one of two cases. In the first case, both top and mid lane had a strong advantage and pushed out their lane opponents, and the jungler could easily solo the Rift Herald off this advantage. Alternatively, after trading the first turrets in the bottom lane and taking the first dragon, both duo lanes rotated top. The one with the itemization and tempo advantage from winning the bottom lane would be able to easily set up to take Rift Herald for free. The average time at which teams took Rift Herald was 15.36 minutes.
These results demonstrate an overall sense of hesitation to make significant trades for the Rift Herald. In quantifiable value, it makes sense. A single turret, most often the concrete objective reward for using Rift Herald, does not equal the benefits of Infernal or Mountain Dragon later on in the game. The question is whether assuming one may only gain a single turret from using Rift Herald is too narrow of a view.
As the game wears on
+Teams more willing to skirmish to contest Rift Herald after 17 minutes
+17+ minute Rift Heralds have overlap with Baron spawn
+Hints at advantage of Rift Herald in redistribution of enemy map pressure
Teams exhibited some evidence of an increased willingness to fight over Rift Herald in later phases of a game. 10 of 14 games where teams in Demacia Cup and EUCS Qualifiers fought over Rift Herald, they did so after 17 minutes had passed.
As the game drags on, there’s more benefit in using Rift Herald to generate pressure. Rift Herald remains in a player’s inventory for four minutes, and Baron spawns at 20 minutes, so if a team takes it after 17 minutes, there will be a window where a player has Rift Herald, and Baron is in play. At this point in the game, at least some of the first tier turrets have usually been taken. It becomes more vital to protect second tier and inhibitor turrets to avoid giving the enemy team the opportunity to pressure an inhibitor in exchange for an objective like Baron.
At 17 minutes and beyond, giving up Rift Herald becomes a much higher risk. Part of the reason Rift Herald typically only successfully secures one turret is that the enemy can respond and kill the summon before it takes more. If an enemy can summon Rift Herald on the bottom side of the map near the second turret or inhibitor turret after Baron has spawned, the team will usually have to pull someone to answer the summoned creature.
As more games were played, teams deviated from the standard “give Rift Herald to jungler” formula and started granting it to other roles. Teams then have more freedom to use Rift Herald pressure to move to neutral objectives.
While no team in these 68 games specifically used Rift Herald to pressure Baron, there were instances where Rift Herald was used to start fights by pulling opponents to defend their turrets. Longer death timers mean that the team with the advantage can pressure more objectives after a winning fight.
Game time or hold time of Rift Herald didn’t seem to give an appreciable difference in the amount of turrets a team can pressure. Scaling wave clear and more turret damage should give teams with Rift Herald to opportunity to clear turrets more quickly, but the enemy team can also defend better.
The premium in increased willingness to contest, though nowhere near rigorous enough, simply reflects the higher cost of redistributing pressure as the game drags on. If teams can take Rift Herald before 17 minutes, they can reduce this threat.
Use of Rift Herald summon
+43/68 games featured Rift Herald completely taking a single turret as opposed to zero or two
+Rift Herald was used, on average, at 16.92 minutes into the game
+Average time Rift Herald was held in a player’s inventory was 1.56 minutes
+Early transitions to use Rift Herald on top side resulted in enemy bottom lane stopping Rift Herald quickly
+Rift Herald in a shorter lane (mid lane) appeared more effective in taking turrets
+Summoning Rift Herald in a side lane, then rotating the rest of the team to take a cross-map objective, may prove to be the objective’s most fruitful use
In the 68 games, 16 of teams used Rift Herald and cleared zero turrets (some damage to a turret counts as zero turrets), 43 teams cleared one turret, and nine teams secured two turrets with Rift Hearld. Only one Rift Herald summon helped the team to completely clear an inhibitor, though three instances featured Rift Herald damaging an inhibitor.
Rift Herald was used, on average, at 16.92 minutes into the game. The average time at which players held onto the Rift Herald in their inventory was 1.56 minutes. As mentioned, hold times and use times didn’t seem to have any measureable impact on the number of turrets Rift Herald secured, but given the few instances at which two or no turrets were taken, more observations are needed to make this remotely statistically rigorous.
In the early stages of both Demacia cup and EUCS Qualifier, many teams defaulted to securing Rift Herald, then rotating to the top side to use it right away. This usually resulted in securing one turret, after which the enemy bottom lane had time to match and clear before the second Rift Herald.
Early top lane Rift Herald use was another reason why trading for dragon seemed undesirable. The Rift Herald’s soft spot allows attacks on its back side to deal 12 percent of the objective’s health in true damage. As such, it’s easy to take with just a jungler, top laner, or both. It still went faster for teams to group to take dragon with bottom lane, mid lane, and jungler. This meant the team taking Rift Herald and then summoning it immediately, waiting the 3.5 second animation time, and setting up the wave for Rift Herald to assault the first turret, would lose tempo in these trades. The enemy bottom lane would rotate to match before Rift Herald had time to do significant damage.
In cases where Rift Herald was used right after it was secured, mid lane seemed like a more viable target. With a shorter lane and more wave clear on mid lane champions, teams could secure Rift Herald, make a play to take out the enemy mid laner, take out the wave, and have a higher chance of getting more turrets. Especially where duo lanes rotate top by default, expecting Herald to be used on top side or to answer a top push by the opposing duo lane, mid lane Rift Herald use had more of an element of surprise.
As already mentioned, however, some of the most interesting uses of Rift Herald came from teams that wanted to drop the Herald either on its own or with one member of the team. They then moved the rest of the team to other parts of the map to secure a turret in another lane or look at neutral objectives like dragon.
I’ve listed some of the most interesting Rift Herald examples below with a few notes.
Snake eSports vs Red Wolf Game 3 – Taliyah interaction (Sadly, there’s no tool for linking to a time stamp with QQ VODs)
This game was most interesting because, when Rift Herald was summoned at 18 minutes in, the opposing team walled off the push with Taliyah’s ultimate. The Rift Herald jumped over the ultimate and still collided with the turret, but the wall prevented the creeps from taking aggro for Rift Herald and stalled the sieging team. Taliyah’s allies had time to answer the push and prevent Rift Herald from taking more than one turret.
Oh My Dream vs I May Game 1 – Standard bottom lane duo back
In this case, before IM’s Kled used the Rift Herald at 13:37, both of IM’s solo lanes pushed their opponents under their first tier turrets. OMD’s bottom lane and jungler played aggressively to get turret first blood in the bottom lane and forced IM’s bottom lane back.
OMD’s bottom lane still had time to back and rotate to the top lane to answer Rift Herald’s pressure on the second turret. OMD were able to flank IM’s jungler and top laner for kills. As such, IM lost out on the trade, but the play demonstrated a very standard required response to using Rift Herald.
JingDong Gaming vs Legend Dragon Game 2 – Ivern interaction
The first turret take on top side after the Herald is summoned at 11:42 demonstrates how important wave clear and using the wave can be. Not only does JingDong Gaming bring Karma to clear the wave for Herald, but Ivern calls Daisy to tank a lot of the initial damage. This preserves Rift Herald’s health and gives it a lot of extra momentum to move on.
Potential use of the Daisy and Rift Herald combination is high. Both of these at the same time can set up dive opportunities for the team. JingDong, like IM, became greedy and got caught by Legend Dragon, but the concept is interesting.
DAN Gaming vs LGD Gaming Game 1 – The power of a catch before RH use
In this example, members of DAN went bottom to collapse on LGD’s Fizz, but LGD’s Cassiopeia, Kalista, and Thresh collapsed on mid. They wiped out two members of DAN at 19 minutes into the game, and this gave Rift Herald ample time to push through almost three turrets in mid lane before the enemy bottom lane could answer.
Invictus Gaming vs Red Wolf Game 1 – Dragon fight setup
Of all 68 Rift Herald uses, this one I found the most interesting. Invictus Gaming saved their Rift Herald until after 20 minutes. When Kennen had a great deal of pressure on the bottom side of the map, Red Wolf sent Rumble, one of their highest wave clear champions, to answer. The rest of iG sieged the first tier turret in mid lane with Rift Herald in response.
After the Rift Herald took out the first mid tier turret, however, iG left it alone to continue to push and pulled back to meet Kennen at dragon. Red Wolf, after respawning to the Herald, reacted quickly to rush after iG for the dragon contest, only to trap themselves into a bad fight. iG aced them and transitioned to take an early Baron as well as additional turrets in mid lane.
Of course, it’s worth noting that iG had a significant lead at this point in the game, and RW were overall very outmatched. But by forcing RW to respawn to Rift Herald, iG could set up vision and bait them into a bad fight over another objective when they were unprepared. The rewards they got reflected the snowball potential of Rift Herald when it’s used in this manner.
In one of the rare examples of a Rift Herald contest in the sample, the fight occurs so late in the game that MnM have the opportunity to rush Baron after winning the Rift Herald fight. Of course, this is foolish with the length of death timers, and they gave up momentum to Millenium.
Wind and Rain vs Red Bulls – Fight to keep the enemy team from approaching Rift Herald
WAR’s Camille summons Rift Herald at 17:28 while the rest of her team waits in the red buff area on red side. They start a skirmish to try to stall Red Bulls from answering the Rift Herald push and give it more time. Rift Herald still only got one turret, but the idea of pulling pressure away from Rift Herald can be applicable to other situations.
MnM vs Wind and Rain – Rift Herald as a tool to stall top side for a TP play
Typically, when a top laner uses his Teleport, he gives up pressure on the top side of the map. In this example, WAR’s Jayce pushes with Rift Herald through Tier 2 on top side. This creates a great deal of pressure, and he uses that to make a Teleport play on the bottom side of the map for a double kill.
KIYF eSports Club vs Beautiful Talented Men – Rift Herald used as a dive tool
When BTM reacted to KYF summoning Rift Herald mid, they used Rift Herald as an initial tank to dive BTM. This kept the minion wave up to facilitate their dive longer and gave KYF an easy snowball.
Millenium vs Reign – Using Rift Herald with a high threat champion
When Reign’s Zed used Rift Herald at 19:39, he had a score line of 4/0. His huge threat made it somewhat hard for teams to contest the Rift Herald. He pushed through the inhibitor turret with the Rift Herald, but because he made this play on his own and over-extended, he ended up giving up a shutdown. Still, Millennium had to pull away from bottom side to respond with multiple members, and this strategy has more effective applications considering how much pressure Zed and Rift Herald could exert in tandem.
This brief initial glance was intended to be a somewhat informal look at Rift Herald use in the short time span before the main season began for LCS teams. While Rift Herald is often presented informally as a tool for taking turrets. At times, this is very simplistic, since most teams won’t want to give up Mountain or Inernal Dragons for a single turret, depending on the circumstances. I think a better way to discuss it might be as an extremely fed temporary “sixth player” that will force the enemy team to redistribute map pressure.
Rift Herald will see even more use in competitive throughout the split. Though we have seen teams like Samsung Galaxy use Rift Herald to get early mid turrets and a great deal of pressure in the opening week of LCK, SKT had a poor reaction. Over time, I think teams will become more likely to prioritize it after 17 minutes because the threat of using Rift Herald near inhibitor turrets or with an open map is more extreme. Baron can also play a role.
The best use of Rift Herald isn’t in taking turrets. At most, teams can hope to take two turrets, and most often will succeed in taking one. The best use for a Rift Herald seems to be in forcing the enemy team to respond to one particular part of the map. Teams can use this reclaim tempo advantage if they’re behind, but so far it has most often been used by teams when ahead, because teams have been hesitant to give up other objectives to secure Herald.
Some of the best uses of Rift Herald have been in baiting opposing teams to a part of the map to set up a fight and then transitioning into a much higher value objective elsewhere. As teams continue to think of Rift Herald more along these lines, we may see it saved increasingly for later stages of the game or simply taken early to deny that potential from opponents.
At this point, an Infernal or Mountain Dragon still feel like the safer and more beneficial objectives, but with Ocean and Cloud Dragon in place, more teams may venture top with Rift Herald for the map pressure it provides.
You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.