Even if gaming isn’t your cup of tea, you probably heard of League of Legends somewhere, either from a younger relative, an unexpected article in the business section of a newspaper or an odd recommendation from one of the many algorithms which affect our online experience. As one of the biggest esports – competitive gaming titles – out there, it definitely warrants attention.
League of Legends – often abbreviated or stylized as LoL – is one of the two big MOBA titles in the gaming world. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, a genre of games often referred to as “action real-time strategy” or ARTS as well. In games like these, each player controls one powerful character on a team of usually five, battling against both the other team and the many weak computer-controlled minions or “creeps” which spawn periodically across the map. The first iterations of the (sub)genre can be traced back to StarCraft 2, and the original Defense of the Ancients (Dota) mod cemented it as a popular new way to play. League of Legends was one of the major spiritual successors and one of the main standalone games which kickstarted the true growth of the archetype – a process which was further reinforced by the eventual release of Dota 2, the sequel to the original mod. These two remain on the forefront of the MOBA genre and are still some of the most popular and important esport titles to this day. In 2015, the game placed 15th on USgamer's The 15 Best Games Since 2000 list.
League of Legends was originally released in 2009, and it was the most popular video game in Europe and North America by 2012 in terms of overall number of hours played. Two years later, over 7.5 concurrent players were reported during peak hours, and by 2016, Riot Games (the developers and publishers) estimated an active playerbase of over 100 million – a truly eye-popping figure at the time. It is a free-to-play game which is fully funded by a microtransaction-based model whereby you can speed up your progress or acquire additional cosmetic items by spending real money on the game, but none of the gameplay-altering items are locked behind a paywall.
League of Legends’ competitive scene also ranks as one of the strongest in the world of esports, with the North American and European competitions taking place under the League Championship Series (LCS) and League of Legends European Championship (LEC) banners with other regions having their own such competitions across the world, like China, South Korea and more. These are franchised leagues with massive buyout fees and a limited number of playing slots, not to mention the millions and millions of fans watching the events every year. The competitive calendar peaks with the World Championship (sometimes also referred to as Worlds) every year.
Recently, Riot Games included a new game in the League of Legends client to capitalize on the growing “auto chess” craze. Teamfight Tactics is almost identical to other games in the genre but Riot’s signature polish and attention to detail, not to mention the leverage provided by the massive playerbase of LoL, meant that it also became an overnight success.
League of Legends takes place in the fictional world of Runeterra. Most – but not all – of the "champions" in League of Legends are a collection of heroes and villains involved in the power struggles of Runeterra. These champions sometimes clash with each other, roughly reflected in the gameplay of League of Legends. The League of Legends Champions are the playable characters in the game. As of September 22nd, 2019, there are a whopping 146 to choose from. They all have different abilities and statistics, and finding the most effective five-hero composition against your opponents’ lineup is one of the key parts of winning in the game.
Riot offers a classification for newcomers in League of Legends which split the different heroes into six different categories. Here are the official descriptions:
Marksman: Marksmen, also known as "AD Carries", are ranged champions that usually deal with physical damage. These champions deal sustained damage over time rather than in a short burst, and are usually the best at destroying objectives like enemy turrets or elemental drakes. They tend to have weak defense, though.
Mage: Mages, sometimes known as "AP Carries", are champions with powerful magic damage skills and support skills, but weak defense and low mobility. Mages are a diverse set of champions. Some emphasize killing single champions from range very quickly; some specialize in the area of effect damage to multiple targets; some specialize in immense range to attack enemies safely from afar.
Assassin: A champion who specializes in killing another champion as fast as possible, usually within melee range. These champions tend to go after the enemy's AD/AP Carry and other 'squishy' champions, but tend to have weak defenses themselves if caught. They are distinguished in having excellent mobility which allows them to reach and strike at priority targets.
Tank: Champions who are hard to kill and soak up damage for their team. In exchange, they usually deal less damage but can compensate with useful "crowd control" abilities to distract or disable enemies or force enemies to fight through them first before they can attack the "carries".
Fighter: Champions that blend the attributes of a damage dealer and tank, combining moderate survivability with damage. A common designation for close-range melee fighters, since they need to be able to survive long enough to close in on their target.
Support: Champions whose skills are meant to directly aid the rest of the team by providing healing, buffing allies, debuffing the enemy team, or a combination of the above. Support champions often are paired with another champion in the early laning phase of the game where the support doesn't attack minions, but instead focuses on aiding their partner and harassing the enemy champions. Supports are also expected to pay the most attention to the map as a whole, placing wards which grant vision and watching for surprise enemy movements.