This guide is aimed at people that don't play or play on a very rudimentary level. The goal is to explain what the game is a little more than generally, why certain things are important, a brief history, some applicable comparisons to traditional sports, and last but certainly not least for most of you, a guide to some of the ternimology and lingo used (this might be a separate post).
What is League of Legends?
I'm just going to use the Wikipedia description here because it's concise and then I'll elaborate:
- In League of Legends, players assume the role of an unseen "summoner" that controls a "champion" with unique abilities and battle against a team of other players or computer-controlled champions. The goal is usually to destroy the opposing team's "nexus", a structure which lies at the heart of a base protected by defensive structures, although other distinct game modes exist as well. Each League of Legends match is discrete, with all champions starting off fairly weak but increasing in strength by accumulating items and experience over the course of the game.
The professional game (and mostly all games) is played five versus five with each player controlling one of the five champions on each team. The game is played on the same map every game.
How the Game is Played:
The Draft is where teams decide which characters their players are going to pilot. The Draft is broken into multiple phases. Before any champions are selected each team is allowed to BAN out three champions they do not want to allow the other team to play. Then each team starts their selections in this order:
There are currently 139 different champions to select and each has unique abilities. Most champions have three primary abilities and one ultimate that is usually on a longer cooldown but has a larger impact. The Draft influences the style of play that a team will want to play, where the problem areas will be, where their strengths will be and the overall flow of the game. IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE GAME. It's not as extreme as it used to be with most teams worldwide being significantly improved and versatile but most GAMES ARE STILL WIN AND LOST IN THE DRAFT.
The Map (known as Summoner's Rift or "The Rift"):
The map the professional game is played on is called Summoner's Rift. It has changed mildly over the years but is more or less the same concept it has been since day one 8 years ago. The map changes very little game to game except for one thing which I'll discuss. I'm going to list some things about the map and the game that are the same every single game.
- To win the game you need to destroy the enemy Nexus building which is defended by multiple towers distributed across the lanes.
- There are THREE lanes (top, middle, and bottom/bot).
- At 30 second intervals starting at 1 minute and 15 seconds computer controlled "minions" or "creeps" will spawn starting at the Nexus and walk toward the center of the map. If not interacted with the creeps from each team will fight each other when they collide in the middle of the map. Creeps have health and do predetermined amounts of damage but it is minimal compared to Player controlled Champion damage.
- Champions and other creeps can kill creeps. If a Champion kills a creep they will receive Gold that they can use to purchase items at the shop as well as Experience (XP) for their character to level up which allows them to learn new abilities and gain more statistics. YOU CAN ONLY KILL ENEMY CREEPS (this is different in other games such as Defense of the Ancients where you can kill your own creeps to "deny" the enemy gold)
- A Champion will only receive the Gold from a creep if they score the killing blow on that creep or the "LAST HIT." A Champion can do 99 out of 100 health worth of damage to a creep but they will not receive the gold unless they score the last hit.
- Besides Creeps there are also "Jungle Camps." Camps are located outside of the lane within the wooded areas where the orange dots (labeled "Jungle") are. They spawn less frequently, are more difficult to kill, and provide more experience and gold than creeps do.
- The Dragon or Drake (labeled "D" in the lower right hand side) is a neutral objective that both teams can kill. It has a lot of health, does significant damage, and only respawns every six minutes IF it is killed. There are four varieties each offering different bonuses and effects. At 35 minutes into the game an "Elder Dragon" spawns. It is extremely difficult to kill but offers an extremely potent and often game ending buff to champions to allow them to do significantly more damage.
- The Baron or Baron Nashor (labeled "B" in the upper left side) is a neutral objective that both teams can kill. It has a lot of health, does significant damage, doesn't spawn until 20 minutes into the game, and only respawns every seven minutes. When killed by a team, Baron rewards your team with a substantial amount of gold and bestows a buff to all champions alive when it is killed that most importantly amplifies your minion damage and health when in close proximity. The Baron is a mid to late game objective and the buff it bestows is often used to end the game so a lot of strategy revolves around securing it.
- Inhibitors are found behind the towers in your base. Each lane has one. When the inhibitor is destroyed the minions coming toward that lane become substantially stronger, enough so that they can more effectively and quickly push and destroy structures than regular creeps. These are called "Super Creeps."
- Every character starts at level 1. The maximum level is 18. Each character has SIX Item Slots they can fill with items purchased from the SHOP.
- Each individual player will have access to TWO Summoner Spells. These are spells gained independent of the champion being played and are selected before the game begins by the player. There are a ten different ones each with different effects and cooldowns but the summoner spell "Flash" is taken by almost every champion every game. It instantly ports your unit to a location within a very short distance. It is the main playmaking tool in the game.
Within a game of League of Legends there are set locations assignments or "lanes" for each player. Over the years there has been some experimenting but the game has settled into the following assignments:
- One player to the Top Lane
- One player to the Middle Lane
- One player to the Jungle
- Two players to the Bottom Lane
- "Solo laners" is a term used to describe both Top and Middle lane players because they're both one player per.
There are a lot of reasons the game has settled into this but it mostly has to do with resources. You want to get as much gold and experience as possible on the map and this division works out to be the most efficient. These assignments have become known unanimously as their namesakes. Players specialize and with very few exceptions study and perfect one "role." A player that specializes in playing the top lane is called a "Top Laner," the middle lane a "Mid Laner," the Jungle a "Jungler." The bottom lane consists of two players; the AD Carry (or Marksman) and the Support.
Each "lane" has with it certain responsibilities and typically certain champion types that are played in it. Think of it like positions in basketball.
- Top Lane is typically inhabited by tanks and bruisers, durable melee champions that have a blend of survivability, disabling effects (known as "CC" or "crowd control"), and the ability to fend for themselves in a one on one fight. These are like the center in basketball. They create space for their teammates down low, do a lot of the dirty work, and once in awhile can be the primary scorer in certain matchups.
- Jungle is typically inhabited by champions that can clear the difficult "jungle camps" without the help of teammates. Because the jungle camps are difficult, only champions with durability, multi-target damage, or very good sustainibility can jungle. Junglers are the main playmakers on a League of Legends team. The nature of the position is to be the first to make a play be performing what's called a "gank." A "gank" is when the jungler shows up to a lane to create a 2v1 situation against the opposing laner. A lot of this role is about creativity and deciding where to be and when compared to the other jungler who is doing the same thing. These are like power forwards in basketball, they are usually the catalyst for most plays whether it's creating a turnover or opening space in the paint with a pick or pass. They need to be able to do everything.
- Middle Lane is typically inhabitied by a solo "carry." A "carry" is one of the teams' primary damage sources. These champions are typically less durable but have more damage dealing capability in their design. MOST of the time the Middle Lane is played by a magic damage dealer or a "mage." There's physical and magic damage in League and you can itemize defensively against each depending on purchases but that's a separate topic. The Solo Mid is like your small forward in basketball. They are the secondary scoring option (sometimes primary) and are in the middle of your lineup. In League of Legends the "mid" has historically been played by the strongest individual players. Because of their location they can impact the map nearly as much as the jungler just like a small forward can have just as much impact as the shooting guard in the right matchup.
- Bottom lane is two versus two and contains the AD Carry (ADC or Marksman) and the Support. The ADC is your primary offensive threat and damage dealer. They are often ranged, physical damage dealers that are extremely vulnerable early in the game but are the most effective with gold and items. ADC's are like your shooting guards in basketball. The primary point scorer (damage dealer). They are passed to the most and take most of the shots and produce the most points because of that. In League they are given the most resources in gold and protection so that they can do the most damage.
- The Support is the second player in the Bottom Lane. Much of the game revolves around setting up the ADC to get their items faster so they can become huge threats to deal with, so much so that there is an entire player dedicated to babysitting the ADC until they're big and strong. This is the Support player. Support's typically function with little to no gold so their champion needs to be strong on it's own because they'll have fewer items. Support champions are typically exceptional at protecting an ally through shields, healing, or disabiling effects. They often amplify the power of an ally as well by offering abilities that increase the ADC's damage output. Support players are like point guards in basketball. they generate lots of assists and their main job is to facilitate their teammates.
One of the cool things about this game is that these roles aren't necessarily restricted to the lane assignment. There are players that specialize in damage dealing supports, carry top lane, tanky mid lanes, etc. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was not a typical center in basketball. He put up a ton of points. James Harden plays shooting guard but is one of the best passers even when he's not putting up tons of points. The point is these are just what's typical, it can vary and there are very specialized players and teams that know how to play differently.
Much like the different soccer leagues around the globe the different regions in League of Legends comeptitive play offer vastly different styles, quality, formats, and attitudes. I'll quickly go over a few here (they are arranged roughly in order of strength):
- Korea: Korea has a long and storied history with e-sports dating back to Starcraft in the early 2000s, a game that they continue to dominate to this day. Korea didn't actually have League of Legends servers in their own country until after the Season 1 World Championships in 2011. Within a year, in 2012, they were considered the strongest region in the world and if it weren't for an unfathomable Cinderalla Man level upset at the hands of the Taipei Assassins, Azubu Frost would have won the crown. Since then the Koreans have won EVERY SINGLE World Championship. Since 2012, of the 12 teams that have made the finals, 9 of them have been Korean. Korea is the strongest region in League of Legends and it's not close. It's similar to Canada in hockey or the United States in basketball. Just dominant of a long period of time because of culture, infastructure, coaching, and player quality and attitude. Korean teams are lauded for their discipline, strategic brilliance Their main professional league is the LCK (LoL Champions Korea) which is a 10 team, double round robin tournament where each match is a best of three and the playoffs are done in a gauntlet style where 5th plays 4th, winner plays 3rd, winner plays 2nd, winner plays 1st. They have earned slots to send three teams to the World Championship every year.
- China: China has BY FAR the most players with more than ten times the next closest region (Europe West and Korea are nearly the same size). They have historically been the second strongest region but have never actually won a World Championship having failed on two attempts in the finals. "Chinese League of Legends" is extremely aggressive. They fight early and often and the games tend to be very high in kills. This warps the metagame there to focus on strong skirmishing and teamfighting champions. A stereotypical LPL team doesn't know a fight it won't take although in recent years some of the top teams have taken to a more Korean style of play. Theoretically China should be the strongest region with a playerbase nearly ten times the number of all others they should have a larger selection of players to choose from but a lot of the top Chinese pros play on the Korean ladder. China is known for having extremely gifted mechanical players but a playstyle that's more like a bull in a ... China shop. A lot of the LPL's coaches are ex-LCK coaches and a lot of Korean players are imported as well so most teams are two Koreans and three native Chinese players.
- Europe: Europe has the second largest player base if you count the entire continent but it is divided into multiple servers. EU West is the largest non-Chinese server. EU Northeast, Russia, and Turkey all have their own servers and EUNE and Russia play in the LCL while Turkey plays in the TCL but the primary professional league in Europe is the European League Championship Series (or EU LCS). The EU LCS is a 10 team, double round robin, best of one league that plays on Fridays and Saturdays. Traditionally Europe has performed well on the international stage with multipl quarterfinal finishes but haven't won since Season 1 when the game was very small.
- North America: North America has one server dedicated to it's name (technically Latin America North is hosted in Florida but features most of Central America and Mexico). Players from the United States and Canada play in the North American League Championship Series (or NA LCS). The NA LCS is a 10 team, double round robin, best of one league played on Saturdays and Sundays. North America has had some success on the international stage but hasn't consistently cracked a quarterfinals berth and normally struggles to get more than one team out of the group stage at Worlds.
- Misc Regions: There are leagues in the CIS, Turkey, Latin America North, Latin America South, the Oceanic region (Australia and New Zealand), the Garena Premier League (Southeast Asia), Taiwan, Japan, and Brazil. These regions are significantly smaller player bases but have leagues and are given births into the Worlds Play In Tournament where they can earn berths into the World Championship Group Stage. Typically one or two of these teams will make the top 16 but they rarely go far with only two Top 16 finishes in 7 years. These leagues all have different formats and settings although most have converted to a best of one similar to the NA and EU LCS. Traditionally Turkey, Brazil, Southeast Asia (the GPL), and the CIS are the strongest of the smaller regions.
League of Legends is an incredible complex game that appears much simpler than it looks. As discussed earlier there are 139 champions, 10 picks, and 10 bans making for literally quintillions of possibilities before the game even starts. A team shapes how they want to play the game based on The Draft and the champions they select against the enemy team's selections. Each champion has unique abilities that interact in any number of ways against an enemy and because of this certain champions "counter" others in one way or another. With so much diversity it's fairly easy for a team to have their own unique signature if you will. In this section I'm going to talk a bit about some of the common playstyle archetypes that teams have.
- Early Game: Teams that focus on the early game select champions that are strong laners that can gain an advantage or keep their opponents down before teams organize and group up on the map. The terms "lane dominant" and "bully" are used a lot. Typically these champions are significantly weaker later in the game so it's risky to play them and requires crisp execution which is difficult at the highest level. Early Game teams struggle if they don't end the game early. Think of this like taking out a loan; it's a quick fix but eventually you pay for it in interest.
- Late Game: Teams that focus on the late game sacrifice early game and laning power for a substantial payoff in the late game. Their champions are often weaker early on but very powerful later in the game (a concept called "scaling"). Late Game teams struggle with losing the game early and being unable to mount a comeback. Think of this like investing your money; you don't have as much now but you'll have more later.
- Team Fighting/Deathball: Teams that focus on this style of play select champions that work well together or have certain skill combinations (combos) that are devastatingly powerful together. The whole idea is to fight as a full five man team. These teams often tend to be strongest in the middle and later portions of the game and sacrifice individual power for team power. Team Fighting/Deathball teams struggle if the other team doesn't want to fight them five versus five.
- Split Push/1-3-1: Split pushing teams prioritize champions that are incredibly strong in one versus one situations and attempt to set up a situation where that champion is isolated against another champion by splitting their team across the map, hence the name "Split Push." Typically this is done by having two strong solo laners that are very strong duelists (1v1 fighters) and putting them in two separate lanes and a three man unit that can defend and avoid conflict. Split Push teams are difficult to execute, require very high individual skill, and certain niche champions that not everybody plays. They struggle with teams that can engage or force fights because they don't want to fight as a unit but instead of three separate units.
There are others but these are the main four team composition archetypes a team can build in The Draft. It's like a really complicated game of Rock-Paper-Scissors with micro games in between. Because of the variety of champions and their interactions it's really important to have a Coach that can draft a winning team composition for a team and for the team itself to either be exceptional at one strategy or well versed in a number of them to be versatile.
For my next article I'll likely talk about the metrics, statistics, and how to find and use them as well as which ones are useful and which aren't!