One of the most interesting things I’ve found about League of Legends is that it, much like baseball, requires each player to fill a specific role during each game. These roles are not hard-coded into the game in any way. There’s technically nothing stopping any player from switching from one lane to another throughout the game. Instead, this allocation of specific roles is enacted by the community of League of Legends players.
It’s generally accepted throughout nearly every level of play that there is one top-laner, one mid-laner, one jungler, and two bottom-laners (an adc or marksman and a support). Even at the lowest ranks, players generally adhere to this formation. In fact, it’s really only the highest level teams that alter it, and even that is only a result from careful consideration of each individual game and team match-ups.
At first glance, this seemingly rigid team formation looks like it would stifle creativity within the player base, but what it does instead is create a mutual understanding among a team of people who have never met before. In fact, the standardized formation incentivizes early communication within a group of five randomly-selected players. Communication almost overwhelmingly begins with each player stating their preferred role. While occasional arguing is inevitable, more often it allows each player to participate in early efforts to create a tentative strategy.
As you might expect, each player may end up finding one role in particular that he or she feels most comfortable playing. Most players call that position their “main” role. Having a main role in League is beneficial, because it allows players to create for themselves a specialty that they can excel at. This gives everyone a small boost in confidence whenever they get to play that role, and that makes the game feel much more enjoyable.
While having a main role is useful, some players opt to focus so intently on that one position that they neglect any practice in the other roles. In a game that matches you up with four random teammates, this is a bad idea. Being placed into a role that you are not accustomed to can raise anxiety and can become extremely frustrating, especially when you’re losing.
For that reason alone, it is highly recommended that you become familiar at least one or two characters that you are comfortable with in each position, but that is far from the only reason.
One thing that I find gets little attention among the League community is that each position focuses more intensely on different mechanics that apply to every position, both in the early game and towards the late game. For this reason, I decided to break out each position and highlight a few examples that I have noticed.
So let’s start from the top.
The top-laner position, admittedly my worst position, is unique from the other positions in that they are often the most isolated from the rest of the game for a good while. For this reason, top laners are probably the most in tune with the idea of match-ups. That is, how well your champion can deal with the opponent top laner’s champion. Most players can do well if they are especially comfortable with a particular champion, but I’ve found that top laners are the most likely to completely change up their champion selection and strategy based solely on who they think they’re going up against. While it is generally advised against to base your selection on counter-picks, a good top main will at least know who not to pick or how to play carefully.
Good top mains also seem more attentive to what their opponent can do at any time, even if they don’t ever play the champion they’re facing off against. That’s because in the top lane, more so than any other position, trades are key. Simply having more health that your opponent can place a huge amount pressure on them, which can make them more willing to pass up on creep score (cs).
The concept of match-ups is one that all players should be cognizant of. The best players can tell what their opponent is capable is at any given moment. Simply knowing which champions you have a hard time against will let you switch up your strategy. Taking it further, knowing what your opponent can do and what you can do to counter them gives you the edge, no matter which position you are playing.
The jungler position is unique in many ways, but one of the biggest is that you are often not directly playing against another player in the other game. Instead, you are competing against the enemy jungler indirectly in a seires of mind games. Jungling is one of the most strategic positions in League of Legends, because you have to be aware of where everyone is and where they are likely to go.
Have you ever played in the jungle and set up for a gank in the bottom lane, only to have the enemy jungler come down and completely sweep your attack out from under your claws? Little is so infuriating, but whether it’s because the enemy lucked out or because they saw you coming, you just went from an easy double kill to possibly giving up a triple. What many players may not realize, is that in-depth knowledge about the enemy jungler as well as careful warding can give you a big heads up on where they are, how low they are, and if they’re going to be able to stop your gank. The same goes for the enemy mid-laner. Mid-laners are in a great position to roam to the other lanes, and you are not aware of a missing LeBlanc or Zed, you could find yourself in a world of hurt.
As the wielders of the smite summoner spell, junglers are also the most likely to prioritize objectives like the dragon and baron. They also want to make the most out of a successful gank by helping their laners take down towers and creating as much pressure as they can. Great junglers are truly the masterminds of any match they play, because they are one of the most aware of the enemy team as a whole.
Needless to say, gaining a sense of the flow of pressure in League of Legends is beneficial for every player regardless of their position. If you can predict a gank or counter-gank as a jungler, there should be no reason not to predict one as a mid or top laner. Over time, you will gain a sort of “spidey-sense” about the dangerous sort of situation you’re in.
The mid lane is a somewhat tricky position, because it’s the position with the most options. You play against one opponent much like the top lane, but if you fall behind, you can simply gank another lane, farm raptors, or call for a fairly easy gank from your jungler to catch up. This, of course, means that you have to know how to react to your opponent doing each of these. Simply put, the mid lane is the one that most pressures you to act. A missing top or bottom laner is more often than not (in lower-ranked games at least) a result of backing rather than roaming. A missing mid-laner can mean a dead teammate, especially if you don’t at least call it out. You’ll also be the one junglers call out to grab a blue buff or help fend off a counter-jungler. As a mid-laner, you are going to need to learn how to act and act quickly.
Another situation that I find mid-laners have to deal with a little more than others is harassment. Most mid-laners are either long-ranged mages or fast-acting assassins, and both of those like nothing more than to throw spells at the other laner, sometimes at the expense of cs. The mid lane is also an easy lane for junglers to gank, due to the short distance between the lane and the jungle brushes, so mid-laners have to be able to escape ganks quickly.
ADC / Marksman
While cs is extremely important for top and min lane, it is pretty much the sole focus of any adc. The first 10-20 minutes of the game might as well be a game of whack-a-mole for many adc players. Accurate last-hitting is a staple skill for adc’s, and it is mostly through playing as an adc a few times that many players truly begin to realize its importance. This is why, especially at low ranks, I highly encourage those who “don’t” or “can’t” play adc do so anyway.
Of course, eventually you’ll come to realize that cs is vital for mid-lane and top-lane too, and that even junglers and supports can benefit from the occasional cs here and there. In the middle ranks and higher ranks, adc’s begin to experience a new major mechanic, and that is positioning. Simply put, proper positioning keeps you alive longer, which in turn keeps you doing more damage. As the one position that typically builds very little defensive items and has very little mobility, adc’s with poor positioning will find themselves dying over and over again. This fact of life is what prompted me to write this post in the first place, since my ability to play the role has waned considerably through neglect.
Positioning can be extremely helpful for any player, whether it be for avoiding unnecessary damage or for tanking. Knowing where to stand in any given situation is always useful.
Two major jobs fall on the support’s shoulders. The first job is the one that most everyone knows about: ward control. Now due more to tradition than to actual practicality, the support is the one that everyone relies on the keep vision on the board as well as denying enemy vision wherever possible. Through this practice, you share the jungler’s burden of being the most aware of what’s happening on the map. Since you need to look at the map to see what your team’s vision looks like, this should come naturally as you get more used to warding. Since you are aware of who is where, you also have the opportunity to build up that sense of pressure.
The second job is being cognizant on what your own team is capable of. As the one doing most of the healing, shielding, and buffing, you are probably the one who looks at his own teammate’s health and stats the most. Knowing your team’s capabilities is every bit as crucial as knowing your enemy’s. You will probably know best whether your team is can realistically contest dragon or take an early baron or come out ahead in a turret dive.
Overall, each position exists for a reason, and as a result of the very nature of League of Legends, each position focuses on different aspects of the game. That’s why I believe that if you really want to fully understand how the game works, you should work on perfecting each position to the best of your ability. These skills “stack” too. If you’re used to farming as an adc or warding as a support, you will be more aware of it as a top-laner or a jungler, helping both you and your team in the long run.