This weekend sees the world final of League of Legends, an arena based real time strategy game which is quickly becoming the NFL of the international eSports scene. Although, you might not traditionally think of it as a 'sport', competitive League of Legends has exploded in recent years, with more people tuning into the 2014 LoL finals, than the NBA finals. This increase in interest (and importantly cash) means LoL is now on the radar of major sports broadcasters such as ESPN and BBC, as well as many online streaming services.
And this year's final is a big one, with two rival Korean teams, SK Telecom T1 and KOO Tigers, going head-to-head in Berlin for a $1 million prize fund.
Of course, trying to jump straight into LoL without knowing anything about the game will probably result in a extremely confusing, albeit visually exciting, experience. Luckily, I'm here to explain (in the broadest most simple terms) how you can enjoy the final, without ever needing to play the game.
What is the objective of the game?
League of Legends is an Multi Online Battle-Arena "MOBA" game in which two teams of five players (each controlling a 'champion') compete over 5 rounds in an arena like battleground. The objective of each round is to destroy the enemy's Nexus - which is essentially an object at the edge of playing field. Kind of think of it as the touchline in football.
However, to reach this Nexus, the players must advance through a field of play that is separated into three separate passages - or lanes - referred to as top, middle, and bottom. Each lane is essentially the same (although the middle is shorter), ensuring a symmetrical field of play. Along each of these lanes are endless swarms of 'creeps' or 'minions', which are relatively weak computer controlled characters which are allied to either of the teams. There are also towers - static computer controlled enemies - along each line of advance which also act to slow the players down and create hotspots of action.
In between the lanes there is also the 'jungle', which is essentially any area which is not a lane or a starting base. The jungle is home to jungle monsters (not aligned with either team) which provide bonuses when killed. Controlling the jungle is therefore also important to victory.
In order to advance to the Nexus, players must wade through the tide of minions and knock out each towers one after the other. Of course, at the same time, the enemy players will be attempting the same thing. To gain the upper hand, the players must work as a team and employ some clever tactics to push their opponents back.
The two teams, which are identified by the colors blue and red (formerly purple), each consists of 5 players. Each player controls a 'champion' - a particular character figure with their own specific skill set and abilities. LoL currently has 127 champions, meaning picking the right champions for the match is half of the battle. Prior to each game, each team can select 3 'bans' which are champions the other team is forbidden to use. The skilful use of bans can deny their opponents their favorite or best played champion.
Champions are generally separated into various categories dependent on their advantages and disadvantages. Think of this as similar to the different skill sets of different positions in a football team. For example, some champions are good at soaking up damage but poor as dishing it out (known as tanks) while others are the opposite (known as marksmen or assassins). Others may have a selection of special skills which either assist their own team (healing etc) or disadvantage the enemy.
Throughout a round, champions level up (via killing minions, monsters, other players etc) which allows them to upgrade each of their three skills. When a player reaches level 6 (out of maximum of 18) they also gain access to their 'Ultimate', a powerful 4th skill.
There are also the dragon and baron characters which will occasionally arrive on the map. Killing these neutral character grants a large global bonus for each member of the team, making it a juicy and important target.
At a basic level, you shouldn't get too bogged down on the subtle differences between different champion classes, although it is important to know how they are used in the 5 player 'roles'.
The Player Roles
In each LoL team there are 5 distinct roles that are actively played by the player. Each one is different, and each one contributes to the final victory. Generally, these 5 roles are referred to as Top, Mid, Attack Damage Carry, Support and Junglers. Let's go through each one individually.
The top role is generally a solo player who, as the name suggests, concentrates on the top lane. Generally, they are a tank champion, which means they take a lot of damage, but do not generally kill enemy players. Their presence on the top lane is several fold, but broadly speaking, their job is to simply block the enemy moving up it, and if possible take out towers along it. Think of them as a blocker in football.
Additionally, they might also be called on to assist in the middle lane and 'farm'. This generally means killing enemy minions to accrue gold and boost their abilities. Gold can then be used to purchase items and generally improve the team's champions.
As a tank champion, they actually want the enemy to attack them, since this means they are absorbing damage that would have otherwise been dealt to their teammates. To assist in this, they may have special skills which stun or silence their opponents, therefore hampering their abilities and encouraging them to attack the tank.
The mid lane, as you can probably guess, plays mostly in the middle lane and has a slightly different make-up than the top. Generally, they are magic-based champions, which means they come packed with more powerful attacks although they are usually weaker than top tanks.
One of the main duties of the mid player is to harvest gold by killing large numbers of minions - hence their more powerful attacks. They are similar to Top in that they are designed to hold the lane against attack, and occasionally the top may move to the mid lane if it is under heavy attack.
Generally, Mids might also be called upon to roam around the map and 'gank' (which means to move to another lane and attack) enemy players where needed, although this is also provided by the next player role.
Jungle spend most their time in the 'jungle', the play area not encompassing the lanes or starting bases. The jungle is a relatively harsh place as it includes not only stronger 'Jungle minions' but 'monsters camps' as well. However, there are also major advantages to be gained from the jungle, including buffs (temporary or permanent bonuses), which can help the entire team. To gain a buff, junglers must kill neutral golem or lizard computer characters of various colors. Often, they may need assistance from their team to do this.
Junglers also have another important role: "ganking" the enemy. As mentioned above, ganking means to move into one of the lanes and assist your team in taking down enemy players. Often, this is done by surprise, meaning junglers are usually characters which pack a severe punch against one target. This becomes increasingly important in mid-to-late game by which time the jungler has hopefully built up enough gold and levels to become an effective fighter. Knowing when to gank effectively can help your team secure victory by clearing lanes of enemy champions.
An acronym for Attack Damage Carry, the ADC can arguably win or lose a match for the team. Generally, they take up a position on the bottom lane with the Support player (see below) and are expected to kill the enemy players and minions with powerful ranged attacks. However, they also have the lowest health of any role, meaning they themselves are vulnerable to attack, hence their need for support. Sometimes ADC are referred to as the 'squishiest' player, a term which describes the easiest to kill character on a team.
The 'Carry' part of their title means two things. Early in the game, the ADC will only have weak attacks, meaning the rest of the team will have to 'carry' them until they gain enough gold and begin to level up. However, once they become more powerful, they will carry the team themselves, cutting a path along their lane towards the enemy Nexus. Think of the ADC as a "glass cannon" or the opposite of a 'tank'.
Because of their important role and weak health, the ADC is a prime target for ganking by enemy Junglers, necessitating the final role in the team, Support.
Supports team up with ADC on the bottom lane and ensure they live long enough to gain in strength. Due to this, support rarely kill anything themselves because to do so would limit the amount of gold gained by the ADC. In many cases Supports are tank champions.
Instead, they use a variety of abilities to hinder and harass the enemy and engage in 'crowd control'. This essentially means limiting the amount of enemies which can attack the ADC and allowing their partner to gain easy kills.
Supports must therefore be extremely vigilant for enemy junglers and others who intend to gank the ADC.
So these are the five roles than encompass a League of Legends team. Professional teams will also have an additional substitute player known as a Flex who may be expected to fill any roles that are required, although often they train as Mids.
The Path to Victory
Generally each game follows a similar formula. Initially, each player will stick to their lane (or the jungle in the case of Junglers) and gain gold to beef up their abilities and purchase items. There may be minor skirmishes at this time, but no one is likely to make a dramatic push.
As the game progresses and a few items have been purchased with gold, you may see ganks starting to play more of a role as one team tries to force a hole in the others defences. Successful ganks might force other players to abandon their lane to support another, opening up other opportunities. This makes the skill of knowing what is happening where, also known as 'Map Awareness', incredibly important.
If both teams merely stuck to their lanes there would simply be a war of attrition that could go on for hours, however through the skill use of ganks, pushes and the gaining of buffs, one team will usually start to gain an advantage over the other. This means slowly working your way towards the Nexus, victory and a juicy 1 million bucks.
Where Can I Watch the Final?
The final, which takes place on Saturday October 31st at 1pm, will be streamed at various sites around the internet, namely Lolesports.com but also ESPN. The competition is also being broadcast on the BBC3 for the first time, while the entire tournament so far is available in their iPlayer service.