Even within the meta, synergy matters
When I jungle, my character of choice is usually Udyr. I've talked about using him in the Guidebook as well as in various WRUPs, so the idea that I play Udyr should not be a new thing. However, Udyr has some weaknesses. His damage isn't that incredible, especially because I run Phoenix Udyr (a little slower in the current meta) and he has problems closing the gap. I generally have to use Flash to land a gank at all, which really hurts me if my gank fails. If things go badly, I can't Flash away, and I can gank only once every few minutes. I mainly rely on counter-jungling and deflecting enemy ganks, and I gank fairly conseratively. This is my preferred way to jungle.
Sometimes, my team will run a kill lane in bottom; a Leona or Blitzcrank support topped with a healthy serving of Vayne or Draven. When I see more aggressive picks, I like to pick more aggressive junglers. In these cases, I like to pick Wukong or Rammus, characters that contribute more to ganks and get into ganking positions more easily.
See the difference? I'm not picking a champion because she or he is fun. I love playing all of these characters. When I play Rammus with friends, I regularly sing his theme song over voice chat. I'm not tied to picking Udyr. Furthermore, if our jungle gets picked, I can play any role (though I still dislike mid). In fact, it's usually the other way around; I prefer to play as a ranged carry but choose to jungle if my team lacks someone who wants the role.
Pros don't know about your low-level gameplay
Let's get to the real meat of the discussion. Why follow the meta? Here's one reason that is horribly wrong: Because top player X said so! Before I go too far into why this is a bad reason, I want to clarify that, in the context of this column, "low-level play" is referring to the gameplay experienced by mortal humans outside the top 0.5% of players. If you want to put a number on it, I'll go with "under 2200 Elo."
Pro players are experts. In fact, they're even better than experts; they're professionals. These guys literally live off their ability to win. If anyone has a strong incentive to develop a new winning strategy, it is the professionals. Remember when people fielded the ADC in mid lane? Remember how that evolved, and now we have crazy tournament games with roaming supports and lane swaps? Pro players were responsible for all of those meta shifts. In fact, our meta is really just a reflection of top-level play; we generally play what the pros say is good without really understanding why.
However, pros are not playing in the same League of Legends as we are. Playing carry/support bottom because top players do is fundamentally incorrect. Top players play in a world where everyone makes very few mistakes. Their gameplay is built around the idea of beating someone who is so incredibly good that he might only give out one opportunity for a kill in the entire laning phase.
We are not that good. We make mistakes all the time, and our opponents do too. Alternative lane choices that work better in a mistake-rich environment are good choices, even if they'd be sub-par in top-level play. Master Yi is a really good example. He snowballs hard in teamfights. If he actually starts his killing spree, he's Alpha Striking all over and gets a penta kill with no problems. When he's played in high-level play, he gets shut down, even when played by incredible guys like Alex Ich. In lower-level play, AP Master Yi has a lot of potential because solo queue teams just aren't that coordinated.
Even weird lane choices can work out. Teams without a ranged carry are fairly common in low-level play. This is fine, as long as you are queued with a lane partner who knows what to do with that team-up. Who cares if you play some weird Sejuani/Fiora lane or something as long as the two of you actually know what you're doing? If you can beat people at your skill level with a trick, it's a trick worth keeping in your hat. It might not be something you keep in your hat forever, but it's good now, so why not play with it?
Let me underline this point: If it wins, it's worth playing until it stops working.
No man is an island
Solo queue is not the time to mess around with goofy lane combinations, however. If you're in the solo/duo ranked queue, you need to at least loosely respect the meta.
The reason for this is that you have three or four other people who are expecting you to play in a certain way. The five people on your team come from all different gaming backgrounds. You play your matches in your own ways, and you each have a different idea of what wins and why. If I am matched with one of you readers, I can be assured that even though you read my column and subscribe to some of my views, you probably don't completely agree with everything I think about the game. You might think Darius is OP or that Garen is really strong or that Fiddle is good in mid lane.
The only shared body of experience I know
we all understand is the meta. Anyone I team with in solo queue is level 30, has played a couple hundred games or more, and probably has seen a few featured matches. Even people like me who play an alternative game mode
almost exclusively know about the Summoner's Rift meta and have for a long time before I started writing the Guidebook. I'm sure that anyone I team with on SR has played more games of it than I have, so the meta is one thing I'm sure that is shared knowledge.
When you're teaming with a team of four total strangers or your best friend and three total strangers, you need to work with what everyone knows, and that means respecting the metagame. You may know how to play as Jarvan when Leona is your lane partner, but she might not. If she's not someone you entered the queue with, it's a safe bet that she doesn't. Pick someone she can work with. If nothing else, Ashe is free practically every week.
When I group with people, I don't try to be a lone wolf. I make picks that benefit my team and help us work towards our common goal of winning. I may not know anything about the four other people on my team, but chances are, all of them queued with the intent of winning. The best way to do that is to run with the pack.
We understand what it's like to climb the skill ladder in League of Legends. The Summoner's Guidebook teaches you the tools you need to get a competitive edge. Whether you're climbing the ranked ladder, playing Draft Dominion, or getting crushed by intermediate bots, every enemy has a weakness. And every Thursday, Patrick Mackey shows how you can improve improve on yours.