Esports can seem very confusing and even overwhelming to a first time watcher. In this beginners guide to watching competitive League of Legends we break down everything you need to know to start watching matches live, and understand what is happening right from the beginning of the broadcast through to the victory celebrations.
League of Legends is the most popular eSport in the world. It is a 5 v 5 competitive online game where the objective is to overcome your opponents and destroy their base. Like any other physical sport League of Legends incorporates strategy, twitch decision making and teamwork – there are many ways to accomplish victory.
The game map for League of Legends is symmetrical (more or less) and is divided into sections by the three lanes and the river. The lanes run from the bottom left of the map to the top right, and are called the top, middle and bottom lane. The river divides the map neatly in two and runs from the bottom right corner to the top left. This divides the map between “blue side” (left/bottom) and “purple” side (right/top). Between the lanes is the “jungle”. The blue team’s base is in the bottom left, while red team’s base is in the top right. The two main neutral objectives, Dragon and Baron, are in bottom river and top river respectively, with one-way access facing into the river.
There are over a hundred champion in League of Legends – it will take time to familiarize yourself with the various champions and what they do, but for now know that they can be broken down into categories based on role. Each player on a team specializes in one type of champion, and therefore has a distinct role and play style with their own separate strengths and weaknesses. Without all five members successfully playing their role and working together, a team cannot achieve victory.
Generally, the top laner is the member of the team who plays a “tank” champion or brings a high level of utility to the team. More often than not placed in a straight up one versus one against their opposite number, top laners show up to fights in order to protect their carries and provide a titanic obstacle for the enemy team to overcome. Otherwise, split-pushing and jungle support are some of the other duties of this multi-faceted role.
The jungler is a role unique in the sense that they do not have a set lane – instead, the junlger roams the dark areas of the map, killing neutral monster camps and assisting the team wherever they might need it. The main job of the jungler is ganking, or surprising enemy laners by emerging from out of vision and attempting to kill them. Otherwise they have the all-important job of securing the neutral objectives of Dragon and Baron and initiating skirmishes and team-fights, usually with their high mobility.
A role that encompasses a lot of different styles due to the variety of champions which can be played effectively in the mid-lane, this player is often the secondary damage dealer for the team. Mid-lane has a lot of responsibility around the map thanks to their central location, allowing them to show up to a lot of small fights quickly and effectively. Usually the mid-lane champion is either an assassin type character, who pounces on the enemy and eliminates them in one fell swoop, or a mage, designed to sit further back and bombard enemies with long range magic.
It’s all in the name: the main job of the AD Carry is to “carry” the team to victory in the late game. The role of AD carry, often extremely weak early but strong in the late game, is to dish out damage thanks to a barrage of auto-attacks. More often than not paired with a support player to provide protection, the marksman is the main damage source for the team, but requires a lot of gold and experience in order to fulfill that duty. To play this position at a professional level requires lightning quick reflexes and nerves of steel – but the reward for excellent marksman play is almost certain victory.
The support does exactly what you’d think – support the team. Often sacrificing their own well-being for the good of the team, supports are in charge of maintaining vision control over the map with wards, providing disables or utility spells in team-fights and generally making sure that the carries are safe to dish out the damage. Traditionally the support player is paired with the marksman in order protect him and to ensure that the carry gains gold and experience in the early and mid-game. Often, support heroes have low health, meaning that smart positioning is key; however, a willingness to die for the team or make self-sacrificing play is the hallmark of a great support player.
There are many strategies employed in League of Legends in order to secure victory – here are some common ones which will most likely be used throughout the World Championship.
The “Two versus One Lane” or “The Lane Swap”
A strategy which involves sending the Marksman/Support duo to face up against the enemy top laner rather than their opposing duo lane, forcing your own top laner to do the same for the enemy duo. Employed when the enemy team has a superior 2v2 matchup that the “Lane Swapping” team wishes to avoid or if the opposition has a very strong top-lane champion which the “Lane Swapping” team wants to starve of gold and experience. A risky but effective strategy if executed correctly.
A technique for closing out the game which involves sending two champions, usually the top laner and the mid laner, to the top and bottom lane respectively while the remaining three players (jungler, support, marksman) push the middle lane. This forces the enemy team to either spread their resources thin in order to deal with the multi-lane attack or commit to one lane fully, allowing the other players to take towers, inhibitors and possibly even the game.
Note that this technique requires extreme levels of coordination to pull off and in order to succeed the solo champions must be threatening on their own – if the solo pushers are weak then the enemy team has the option to simply ignore them.
A variation on the “One-Three-One”, this time sending a potent duelling champion into a solo lane while the rest of the team pushes a lane across the map (usually four top, one bottom). This technique is extremely difficult to deal with if the solo champions is far ahead – no one member of the enemy team can challenge him alone and to send more than one person would allow the group of four to quickly destroy the base.
This technique requires no hesitation on the part of the group of four: once an opening is seen they must pounce immediately. Since the “Four-One” is all about a numerical advantage by forcing the enemy team to commit at least two players to fight the solo man, it is risky but highly effective if done correctly.
A technique for recovering in a game where a team is down, the “Deathbush” essentially boils down to luck. The team which is at a disadvantage will often look for solo heroes of the enemy team to kill with minimal risk – therefore, they will occasionally commit many heroes to sit in a brush where they are sure the enemy team does not have vision and wait patiently for a foe to walk by. Since they have the element of surprise and a numerical advantage, it is possible to kill the enemy even if he is extremely far ahead.
While this does not necessarily win a game on its own, the Deathbush can help a team recover by killing off a high-priority target, giving much needed gold and experience to the losing side. Over time, these small plays can add up to help a team get back in the game. However, leaving a few members waiting in a brush and not doing anything is occasionally a waste of valuable time, especially if the enemy never walks by.
Stages of Each Match
Each professional game has several stages through which it goes- whether a game is long or short, one sided or even the whole way, it’s safe to say it’ll have all these elements.
Each and every game starts with the pick and ban phase where each team selects the champions they wish to play in the upcoming match. This phase is highly strategic, and can already begin to influence the outcome of a game. This phase starts out with “bans”, where the teams go back and forth removing champions from the pool until six have been banned. Designed to prevent the enemy from having powerful or niche picks, you will often see certain champions (considered to be “overpowered”) banned out consistently by all teams.
Next comes the picks, which are done back and forth in a one, two, two, two, two, one pattern. This is to allow the team which picked second to have the last pick, giving them the opportunity to counter whatever strategy the other side is employing. Once again there is a lot of strategy in the pick phase – choosing comfort champions, taking away key picks from the enemy and team synergy are all consideration when picking.
Finally, once all the picks have been locked in, the game can begin.
At the start of the game, generally each player goes to their assigned lane to face off against their opposite number(s). Most of the time in competitive play you will see the junglers receiving assistance on their first neutral monster from their team – this is to conserve health and speed up the jungling process. While there are many other openings to a game such as invading, delayed invade, lane-swaps and purposeful level one fights, for now let’s just talk about a standard opening.
The top laners go top, the junglers start in their respective jungles, the mid-laners take over the middle lane and the duo-lane (support and AD carry) go bottom.
Emerging from the base every thirty seconds and running down their respective lanes are “minion waves”, computer controlled characters which run forward and attack the enemy minions with a single-minded purpose as they meet in the middle of each lane. When an enemy minion dies, it gives experience to nearby champions and when killed by a champion (when they get the “last hit” on the minion) they provide a small amount of gold. The main focus on the laning stage is to last hit enemy minions while avoiding death at the hands of opposing players.
The laning phase tends to be more about individual skill rather than team strategy since there is a direct one versus one (or two versus two) in each of the lanes. As each player last-hits minions for gold and experience, they test each other’s defenses, poking and prodding and searching for an advantage. Each player starts out weak, so the laning phase is a chance to gain gold and experience while also sizing up the competition. Meanwhile, the junglers move about the map, taking advantage of the gaps in the enemy’s vision in order to “gank”, or attempt to secure kills on enemy laners.
Competitive laning phases can be as short as seven or eight minutes to as long as twenty or twenty five depending on the pace of the game, the strategies employed by both teams and whether or not a champion requires more gold and experience before becoming effective.
The laning phase is very much about incremental advantages which all add up – last hitting better than your direct opposite, picking up a few kills here or there, securing a Dragon or two, pushing down a few towers. It’s rare that one team steamrolls the other in the laning phase, although it does happen. Usually one team will be slightly ahead while the other team looks to catch up heading into the mid-game.
The Mid-Game/Objective Phase
Towards the mid-game (usually around 10-25 mins), the teams tend to start grouping together and look to secure objectives across the map be it towers, Dragons or occasionally even Baron. However what actually defines the “mid-game” is hard to pin down since it really depends on how the game is going, which strategies either team is employing and to what degree the game is even (or not).
Unlike the laning phase it is rare that one member is stationary in one place for an extended period of time – mobility and team movement are key to prevent getting picked off solo and thereby give an unnecessary advantage to the enemy team.
Where the laning phase is all about incremental advantages, the aim of the mid-game is to “snowball”: that is to say take a small advantage and turn it into a significant one with a few decisive moves. Executing solid team fights, pushing down several towers and catching enemies off-guard are all ways to earn a gold and experience lead and take command of the game in the mid-game.
However if one team is significantly ahead the mid-game can be a chaotic scramble as the leading team seeks to slam their advantage home while the defensive team attempts to stall the game out and recover from their disadvantage.
Overall, the mid-game is some of the most varied play that you can see in a League of Legends match due to high variability of the game state around twenty minutes. Some games are low-kill and methodical, relying of strategy and smart team movements to secure a win while others devolve into bloodbaths as both team fight it out for dominance of the map.
The Late Game
In the late game (30-50 mins), most champions are beginning to accumulate a significant amount of items and levels and the death timers are long enough (30-70 seconds) that a one-sided fight can threaten to end the game. In this phase, teams tend to be much more cautious as one wrong move could cost them the match. Generally both teams will begin to group as five members and move around the map in an attempt to catch the enemy team off guard or in a bad position. In this phase control over the Baron area is vital – the buff and gold which killing the Baron provides could very well swing the game one way or another. Fights can be explosive since so many players are stocked with items, but occasionally the late game is a nearly bloodless affair due to the high tension.
If the game is even or has the potential to swing one way or another, sometimes this phase of the game can drag. Neither team wants to be the first to slip up, meaning that a lot of wave-clearing, hesitant poking back and forth and conceding of objectives occurs. However this means that even one death can totally alter the face of the game and quickly spiral towards the end.
However, if one team is very far ahead come this stage, the ending is usually more methodical, involving a slow strangling of the enemy to allow for no comeback, securing all the towers and objectives before closing out the game.
The “Late-Late” Game
Almost never seen but always exciting the “late-late” game occurs around an hour into a match as all players are fully stocked with items and a max level – even the smallest slip-up can be costly. Each and every player has the potential to come up huge in the late-late game as the mental toll of games lasting over an hour can fray the nerves of even the most seasoned veteran. At this stage in the game gold tends to be irrelevant as all the players are maxed out in all respects – it all comes down to execution of the fights or a brilliant stratagem to take the day.
While watching a game of League of Legends, the casters will often employ lingo which may be unfamiliar. Don’t worry, here are some of the most common terms.
Fog of War: Where a champion or ward is not present, a team will see that section of the map as dark. This is the “fog of war”, a gameplay mechanic which limits information to a team where they do not have vision.
Vision: “Vision” is a generic term used to describe where a team can “see” – that is to say, their map is not covered in the fog of war. Champions, wards, allied minions and certain abilities dispel fog of war and give “vision” nearby.
Split Push: A strategy wherein one champion “pushes”, or advances towards the enemy side of the map, while the rest of the team either defends their own territory or fights the enemy team somewhere else.
Gank: Usually executed by the jungler, a gank means to emerge from the dark areas of the map where the enemy does not have vision and attempt to get a kill on one or many of the opposing team. Numerical advantage and the element of surprise are key in successful ganks.
Blue Buff: The “Mage” Perk – by killing the large golem monster within either jungle the wearer receives a temporary boost to their mana regeneration and has increased cooldown reduction, both of which allow them to cast spells more freely. If killed, the wearer passes the buff to the killer, refreshing the timer on the buff.
Red Buff: The “Marksman” Perk – by killing the large lizard monster within either jungle the wearer receives a small temporary movement speed slow applied to the enemy with each auto-attack while those who are slowed also take a small amount of damage over time. Both elements of this buff help marksman type characters chase down fleeing enemies and increase their damage output. If killed, the wearer passes the buff to the killer, refreshing the timer on the buff.
Baron Buff: The reward for killing Baron Nashor, the Baron buff is a temporary (but significant) boost to all stats including attack damage, magic damage and regeneration of health and mana. This buff is not transferred to the killer like Blue or Red but merely disappears.