We had a request from the readers a few weeks ago for a few articles on team gameplay, so I'm pleased to bring this article on team compoisions to you today, by guest author WTFHaxorz. I hope you enjoy it!
A game of League of Legends is often won or lost at champion select.
This is a bold statement indeed, as champion select is a comparatively short piece of game-time. But the many professional teams who have conceded, after a crushing defeat, “We simply got out picked” stands as impressive supporting evidence.
The important thing to identify here is that 'out picking' a top LoL team is more complicated than simply grabbing five lane counters against them. Any professional player knows his or her lane matchups like it's their job (because it is), and goes into serious games with a fairly accurate expectation of which lanes will win, lose, or free-farm without jungle intervention. Instead, top level teams pick against each other in terms of an overall strategy complemented by their team's strengths and hopefully exploiting their opponent's weaknesses. The five champions each team chooses to execute their strategy is a little something we like to call team comp.
In this article we're going to touch on a few of the basic concepts behind team composition, general rules and concepts which serve as the foundation for this surprisingly unstudied field of LoL strategy.
The Teamfight Compositions
At the later points in a LoL game, where teams are likely to be grouped as five, most of the contention revolves around strategically positioned objective locations. Most commonly: baron, turrets, and inhibitors. The attack-defend nature of these objectives causes a bloody phenomenon known as teamfighting, where subtlety takes a back seat to mayhem. As such, the most common attempts at building a LoL composition fall into the line of thinking, “If we win teamfights we will win those objectives, and thus the game.” So pull up your theory-crafting pants and lets get to work examining the three classic teamfight archetypes.
But first, a word of caution. We're working with generalizations here. Most viable teamfight compositions fall somewhere between two of the three approaches we're about to discuss. Hopefully tough, a few nuggets of truth gleaned from these generalizations will better equip you to analyze the optimal teamfighting strategies at play in a real game, empowering you to execute your own and defend against the opposition’s. If nothing else, it should at least strengthen your ability to effectively navigate champion selection.
“They kill me before I can do anything! You guys have to protect me, I'm the carry! GG, no tanks.” These are the lamentations of the enemies of a Dive Composition: a team-fight strategy which relies on deciding conflicts through one swift surgical strike. This is the opportunity for high mobility assassins, and their bruiser counterparts, such as Irelia, Diana, and Kassadin, to shine.
So how does it work? Well, the kill potential, or damage output, of a typical LoL team is not evenly distributed across its members. Yes support and tank focused champions contribute to a fight, but in most cases they lack the ability to apply the ultimate form of crowd control (death) without a damage focused backup. This simple fact is exploited by the Dive Comp's strategy. This team composition runs two or three 'divers', champions with assassin-like mechanics that have the potential to nullify the enemy's big damage dealers as quickly as possible.
The speed and efficiency with which a Dive Comp achieves its selective-killings goal is critical to its success because this all in “dive” leaves the remaining members of the team (usually an AD-carry and support) poorly defended.
You have probably been in games where the teamfights reliably split into two separate conflicts, with each ball of combat moving away from the other. This is a sure sign that two teams with the Dive Comp mentality are clashing. The separation is created by each team's back line kiting backwards, away from the fight's original center, as the opposing divers charge them.
Becasue supports and carries on a Dive Comp will spend a lot of time fending for themselves, the composition is traditionally limited in its selection of AD-carry and support. Carries with effective escape mechanisms such as Ezreal are common picks because they live longer unattended. Or someone like Graves, with his stronger defensive stats may participate with the team as an additional diver. And Janna, with her numerous and effective disengage abilities, remains the traditional support for any AD-carry relying solely on their support for protection.
Area of Effect Comp
I'd like to point out that an extremely rough rock>paper>scissors relationship exists between the classic teamfight compositions listed in this article. In this relationship, Dive Comp meets its nemesis in the age old AOE Composition.
AOE stands for “area of effect” and AOE Comps take advantage of the numerical advantage afforded to AOE abilities in League of Legends. AOE abilities are balanced with damage values only slightly less than their single target counterparts. This means that, at most stages in the game, the most raw damage a team member can hope to output in a short period of time comes from a perfectly placed AOE spell. The AOE Composition embraces this idea and boldly states, “If we do tons of damage to everyone, we will win the fight!”
The challenge here, of course, is getting such near perfect casts from all of the contributing team members. It is because this is a difficult task that AOE Comp is a team composition in-and-of itself. In order to ensure that all of the team's AOE spells hit multiple targets this composition tends to run an AOE initiation spell (serving as a signal to the other players to drop their own AOE). Traditional examples here are the ultimates of Amumu, Sona, Galio, or Orianna which provide the CC necessary to layer the rest of the team's AOE damage over top of the (hopefully) four or five caught enemies. The AOE damage amplifier of Vladimir's ultimate also deserves mention.
So why do AOE Comps tend to fare well against Dive Compositions? Because Dive Comps come to them. A traditionally constructed Dive Comp relies on jumping into the enemy team and mitigating the damage received by killing or routing them – not by possessing the tankyness needed to survive full enemy combos. Unfortunately for our Dive Comp, dropping your team into the heart of this enemy formation is not disruptive; it's simply inviting those layered combos.
So how do you beat a AOE Composition? It's not easy to do, as evidenced by the dominance of AOE heavy compositions in mid and low level organized play (where Amumu is a common first-pick or ban). But, on paper, a composition hoping to face off against the advantage of stacked AOE really only needs to do one thing: remain effective while not balling up.
In League, as it turns out, protecting an important member of your team is a very spread out affair. Champions playing the tank role run at threats to prevent them from closing into range of the champion being protected. So when a teamfight strategy centers around protecting a single champion (or two) the “defending” team tends to spread out in a lengthening line as the tanky members move up to meet the threats and the vulnerable damage dealers kite back and away. Executed properly, this spreading presents a problem for AOE Compositions forcing them to accept less than optimal targets for their combo.
The weaknesses of this Protection style comp are two-fold. Firstly, the tanking members of the composition have few opportunities for self-preservation. Because these tanks are focused on playing defense, the enemy carries are free to deal damage to them without serious personal risk. So, to mitigate the fact that a Protection Comp is simply not going to instagib the enemy carry, the DPS of the Protection Comp's carry must generally exceed the DPS of the enemy carry – as the two are essentially playing a game of “I'll kill your front-line before you kill mine.” This is why we see “protect the Kog” and not “protect the Ezreal.”
This need for a super-carry is the second exploitable weakness of Protection Compositions. It completes our rock>paper>scissors relationship by making Protection Comps extremely vulnerable to Dive Compositions. If the Dive Comp removes the critical champion (as it's designed to do), the fight is all but won.
Team synergy is not always built around teamfighting. A League of Legends victory is won by killing the enemy nexus – no matter how many aces you may or may not have scored. Lets take a quick look at what compositions we've seen put together by teams who simply aren't interested in going toe-to-toe in a fair 5v5 fight.
Split Push Comp
Some degree of split pushing (where a team pushes more than one lane at a time, usually in a 4 and 1 split) occurs in almost every game of LoL. However, with the right selection of champions this tactic can be taken to a whole new level of effectiveness. In fact, the Split Push Composition can really be broken down into three distinct subsets.
The Almost 5-Man: A select few League of Legends champions have the unique ability to traverse all, or most of, the map in moments. Examples of this are Shen and Twisted Fate (but any champion running the Teleport summoner can perform this maneuver on occasion). The advantage to having one of these champions as a team's split pusher is obvious: they can enter any teamfight the remaining four members of their team engage without having to be near their team at the start. Teams planning to split push with a teleporter force their opponents to lose towers or split their own team defending. If the defensive team does divide up to handle the split push, a 5-man engage can then occur on them - courtesy of the split pusher's mobility. Because this team composition strategy often revolves around winning these opportunistic teamfights, expect the four remaining champions of an Almost 5-Man Comp to help the team nestle into a powerful teamfight strategy. Point of fact, CLG.NA's Almost 5-Man AOE comps once dominated the competitive LoL scene.
The Duel-Master: Some champions are exceptional duelists with high mobility (*cough*Nidalee*cough*). A fact which we will sometimes see abused by teams that want to split push heavily but can't get (or don't want) Shen or Twisted Fate. Compositions with one of these duelist champions can achieve the same one-more-man advantage as an Almost 5-Man Comp by simply having the strongest duelist in the game split push. This means that their opponents must send more than one champion to stop the push, creating an exploitable 4v3 scenario on the rest of the map.
High Mobility: Like I said, you don't ever need to teamfight (5v5, 4v4, or 3v3) if you can outmaneuver your opponent. This is an extremely complicated and situational task – so we won't even touch on the “how to” here (but wards and oracles are the stars of the show). Suffice to say that a team of champions which can get around the map significantly faster than their opponents can open many doors for themselves. If you think you might be up against this kind of team, protect your early towers at all costs and invest in some extra wards.
What if you could damage the enemy without taking any damage back? This is the idea behind Poke Compositions, which use a few champions with extremely long range abilities (i.e. Nidalee, Xerath, and Jayce) to “fight” their opponents without fear of heavy retaliation. Successful Poke Comps siege towers (and objectives) with ease, damaging their opponents from range until they are too low health to handle a full engage and must fall back or die.
The downside of running a poke heavy comp is that most poke champions are mediocre teamfighters, meaning that Poke Comps tend to be in big trouble if their enemy lands a strong engage. For this reason, Poke Compositions will usually run an anti-engage champion like Trundle (cast pillar) or Janna (with her powerful disengage and move-speed buff).
Early Game / Late Game
In League of Legends, some champions are simply stronger or weaker in certain phases of the game. For example, Pantheon's early game is quite scary but he falls off late game. Conversely, Vayne and Jax have vulnerable early games but are extremely dangerous to play against with heavy item builds. While not so much a team composition in and of itself, this is a strategy component - and always worth recognizing. Most teams instinctively balance their champion selections between early and late game power in their champion pool, however advantages can be gained or lost by sliding this “power curve” towards the early or late portion of the game. Teams full of early game champions can simply win games with early aggression that their opponents are in no shape to handle, while late game oriented teams have never truly lost until their nexus is down and, arguably, win simply by keeping up with their opponents.
If you've made it this far, congratulations, you now have a firm grasp of the very basics of team composition. Hopefully, you are already able to better analyze the picks and bans occurring before a match. But, more importantly, you now posses the building blocks of a complicated, and often poorly understood, bit of LoL theory. From here, real theory-crafting is possible. Ask questions, probe weaknesses, exploit strengths, and formulate new strategies to keep League of Legends alive and evolving. Then test them out to keep your Elo rising too.
- WTFHaxorz/Captain R. (with thanks to ƒDrSimonTam for the edits!)