The Current State of Vision Control
Vision control has come a long way since the Season 3 Worlds patch, when many observers expressed their distaste for the way skillful teams could grow an early gold or map control advantage into a suffocating victory by blanketing the enemy jungle with Vision Wards. While the current Ward/Trinket system has done much to alleviate the vision snowball issue, a similar problem remains for teams going into the midgame (starting at roughly 20 minutes) at a disadvantage. Should the winning team invest in Wards, Totems, and Lens in order to take vision control of Baron, their opponents often have little choice but to go in blind and just hope that they can put down safe Wards.
Whether this is indicative of a continuing design flaw in vision is beyond the immediate scope of this writeup; the ‘ought’ of this situation has little bearing on its actual occurrence, and this article will seek to determine the losing team’s optimal strategy in the vision control game when playing from a gold and map control deficit. As repeatedly expressed by the LCS commentators this week, the Scrying Orb has strong potential as a solution to this dilemma, and it does appear that this long-ignored Trinket might be the key to breaking vision sieges.
As a brief introduction to Trinket use In competitive play, teams typically will open with 5 Totems before switching to Lens on their support, jungler, and occasionally one of their solo laners when they begin to make rotations or group. While very aggressive teams might grab one or two early Lenses, the safer laning that Totems afford makes them the preferred start for most. The standard mid/lategame Trinket setup is a 3-2 or 2-3 split between Totems and Lenses, allowing a mix of on-demand vision to supplement the support’s warding and ward clear to secure vision control of key areas. In an even game, Vision Wards (Pinks) and Sweeping Lens allow the team to first arrive at a contested area, typically Dragon or Baron, to pitch a tentative tent that can hold only so long as they are willing to commit most of their team to defending their Pinks.
The Loser’s Dilemma
While the consensus is that the vision battle has become less stifling for the losing team in a relatively close game, a wide enough gap still makes vision control nearly impossible to regain once the winning team is able to threaten a Baron attempt. The limitation of one Pink per player is still sufficient to exert a monopoly on vision in a given quadrant of the map, and when that quadrant happens to contain Baron, all action elsewhere comes to a standstill. There are also fringe cases where the excluded team can ignore Baron and trade that neutral for an inhibitor, but games usually do not get to the point where a team is ahead enough to own Baron vision yet has a vulnerable inhibitor. A more common exception is for champions with globals or teleport, which is part of the reason Teleport Mundo in particular has been such a popular pick. However, Teleport requires a target, usually a Ward, which returns the losing team to the dilemma of being unable to take action away from Baron when they have no wards in the vicinity. It takes a while to fully clear wards and set up vision around Baron, but when the clearing team is far ahead enough that they are certain to win a 5v5, they can bully their opponents in their own jungle and take all the time they need to set up the fog of war.
Once that is done, the losing team is trapped in the classic catch-22 of either giving up on Baron completely and all but surrendering the game, or going in and risking being caught in a trap. In many situations, the best-case scenario for them is to simply guess at a timing and try to catch the enemy when Baron is nearly down, attempting the steal and fighting the 6v5 with Baron’s assistance. Although this strategy makes for some highlight reel excitement when successfully executed, it is largely dependent on raw luck and is not a reliable way to get back into the game.
Given that Baron is an important enough objective that just conceding it is often to concede the game as well, teams are stuck trying to find ways to survive a loss of Baron vision.
The Scrying Orb as a Solution
Enter the Scrying Orb. It serves a similar function to the summoner spell Clairvoyance, briefly revealing a small area of the map from a long range. The vision area is enough to reveal a patch of brush, making it useful in scouting ahead when moving into an otherwise blind Baron check. The ‘free’ move afforded by the Scrying Orb (never used in its basic form) and its upgrades can be invaluable if the enemy is revealed trying to set a pick. They will be forced to surrender their vision foothold, withdrawing due to the need to recover from the undesirable positioning that teams will typically use when setting up picks. A reveal of an in-progress Baron attempt is an even bigger jackpot as the engaging team will usually be forced to back off to heal, losing their vision control in its entirety, or all-in on Baron and risk a huge throw.
Of course, the fact that Orb Trinkets are almost never seen in competitive play raises suspicions that they have serious drawbacks that outweigh their usefulness, and they do have some potentially fatal flaws. The most commonly identified one is the massive cooldown – the starting Scrying Orb is all but unusable with a 150 second cooldown for a one second reveal, decreasing to a still-substantial 90 seconds only with a 475 gold investment into the final Farsight Orb. Compared to the much longer true sight granted by Lens and the potentially infinite duration of Stealth Totems, Orbs feel very underwhelming. The brief duration and small reveal area make the Trinket useful only when the gained information can be immediately acted upon, whereas Lens and Totems provide lasting utility. This means that Lens and Totems outcompete Orbs in all situations where it is not important to be able to gain vision from far away. As the vision game is played with full teams rotating through areas, teams are happy to limit their Trinkets to those that can only be cast in a small range.
That said, Orbs are clearly the most useful Trinket when locked out of Baron, but even here they can often fail to earn their keep. Due to the miniscule reveal and duration, the Orb has just as much guesswork as a Baron bumrush when it comes to deciding where to cast it. In addition to the Baron pit itself, there are some 2-3 brushes where the opponents could be, and a whiffed Scry leaves the user’s team with little actionable information. For instance, Scrying an empty Baron pit indicates that a trap is being set, but says nothing as to where the trap is, leaving the minefield of brush uncleared. Similarly, Scrying an empty brush suggests that either Baron is being taken or that the trap is set elsewhere – not much to go on.
The Clouded Orb
With all these negatives, it’s more surprising that Orbs would be bought at all in professional play, and Froggen’s experience with the item in Week 5 EU LCS is not encouraging. He swapped to a Greater Orb (150s cooldown) 24 minutes into Alliance’s game against Roccat and was able to do absolutely nothing with it. It was used once on Baron, but Roccat had just won an extended teamfight and Alliance was not in position to contest.
The Orb was used twice more, once to track Roccat’s rotations when they pushed against Alliance and once for instant vision in a teamfight, but no useful information came out of either of those uses. While a case could be made for Orbs having potential in countering rotations and tracking flankers or escapers in teamfights, the limited area makes each use a gamble, and simply taking better preparatory measures to set up long-duration vision in places where rotations or teamfights are expected is a far more reliable way to play the game.
So, in all cases examined, Orbs are either completely outperformed by Totems and Lens or are so unreliable as to offer no real benefit. The forced cooldown upon swapping Trinkets also eliminates the possibility of use as emergency stopgaps when vision is lost in an immediately critical area, requiring players to surrender the substantial utility of Totems and Lens in order to have the Orb ready for use – considering that the Orb only really offers value to losing teams, setting oneself behind in the present by getting an Orb in order to assist in a potential comeback later seems a rather uncompelling proposition.
Final Thoughts and Other Potential Setups
It bears noting that, though no team has yet been brave or foolish enough to attempt such a setup, Orbs grow much stronger in number. Having multiple Scrys to cover more potential locations in a given area takes much of the guesswork out of using the Trinket, so a team could potentially have a pretty good chance every 150 or 90 seconds to have a comparable level of information on a map quadrant that an equal number of wards would have granted. Then again, they could have just used the wards in the first place, and that is exactly what more or less every single team has opted to do in every single game. It is possible to maintain a similar level of vision control with a 3 Orb, 2 Lens composition to a team running a standard Trinket setup with gold investment in Wards, but there is no real reason to spend the gold on Wards, the cost of which can total thousands of gold over a game.
In short, Orbs are an interesting but unreliable long-range alternative to the standard Totem/Lens setup, and they are likely to remain as gimmicky as the Clairvoyance summoner that preceded them. While this is certainly not welcome news, teams struggling to compete from a losing position from the midgame onwards are best advised to just not fall that far behind in the first place. In any reasonable state of the game, there will always be a point at which the odds of a comeback become vanishingly small, and at the moment being unable to contest Baron vision appears to be that point.