The 2020 League of Legends World Championship is on the horizon, and you may have seen the hype online around the 10th anniversary of the biggest event in the world for the world’s most popular esport.
But what is League of Legends? What’s a Nexus? What does a game look like, and how are they won? How does the largest competition of the year work? If you’re unfamiliar with the game or the concept of a multiplayer online battle arena game, here’s the 4-1-1 on League of Legends and the upcoming world championship.
At the heart of League of Legends are two teams of five players, each with one base that features the Nexus. Destroy your enemy’s Nexus, and you win the game … but getting there can be difficult.
League of Legends is divided into three lanes — top lane, mid lane and bottom lane — and five roles: top, jungle, mid, bot and support. Top plays top lane; mid plays mid lane; and bot and support play bottom lane. In-between the lanes are pockets of jungle, which are divided in half by a river. Junglers start in the jungle, with the sole goal of powering up their characters to become strong enough to invade one of the three lanes to outnumber the opponents in that lane.
In League, there are 150 champions. Each champion has a unique toolkit, making them suitable for some positions, but bad at others. Some champions can play more than one, but many are best just for a single position.
In the lanes with the players are minions, who do damage to opponents and their turrets. Killing minions grant experience and gold, allowing you to level up and buy items, gaining stats along the way. But what’s a turret, you might ask? Good question.
Each team has 11 turrets. Every lane features two turrets in the lane, with a third at the end protecting the base and one of the three inhibitors. The last two turrets guard the Nexus and can only be attacked once an inhibitor is destroyed. Remember those minions? Take down an inhibitor and that lane will begin to spawn allied Super Minions, who do extra damage and present a difficult challenge for the enemy team.
Getting strong enough to destroy the enemy Nexus comes with time. Games last anywhere from 15 minutes to, at times, even hours, depending on strategy and skill.
Let’s circle back to the jungler. In between invading an opponent’s lane — known as “ganking” — a jungler kills various monsters in the jungle, like the Blue Buff, the Red Buff, Raptors, Gromps, Wolves and Krugs. Like minions, these monsters grant you gold and experience. But those aren’t the only monsters. There are three more that live in the rivers:
The Rift Herald: This monster lives on the top side of the map, in a pit in between top lane and mid lane. It first spawns 8 minutes into the game and then respawns again six minutes later, if it’s killed before 13 minutes and 45 seconds into the game. Killing Rift Herald provides your team an item that, when used, will spawn an allied Rift Herald in whichever lane it’s summoned in. If it hits a turret before it’s killed, it will do massive damage. Using Rift Herald can give your team a big advantage in a lane early on.
Dragons: The first dragon — which you may hear referred to as “drakes” — spawns at 5 minutes in-between mid and bottom lane. Another dragon spawns in the same spot five minutes after the first one is killed, with that pattern continuing throughout the game. There are four types of dragons: Infernal, Ocean, Mountain and Cloud, each which gives your team a unique buff. The first team to get four dragons of any kind gets a Dragon Soul, which enhances the dragon buffs they’ve gained before. Once one team has the Soul, an Elder Dragon spawns, which grants additional buffs that can help win the game.
Baron Nashor: League of Legends’ most important monster, it spawns in the same pit as the Rift Herald at 20 minutes. Baron is an incredibly difficult monster to defeat, and it often takes several teammates to do it. Given it deals a ton of damage, you’ll not want to face Baron until you’ve slain some of the enemy team. If you do, you risk letting your opponent kill you and take the Baron instead or try to steal the Baron kill.
Killing Baron grants your team a buff that makes your minions larger and stronger, and it also grants additional stats to all allies. Defeating Baron can often, but not always, win you a game. A new one spawns six minutes after the last one was slain.
Now let’s get to supports. Support players play a unique role in League of Legends. They often start in the bottom lane, helping the bot laner level and stay safe. But then they move across the map, securing vision — using wards, expendable items that grant sight in a certain area — and sometimes ganking lanes. Supports themselves are often quite weak, so make a wrong move and you’re toast. But they can also be big playmakers when backed up by their team.
Teamwork is everything in League of Legends. The best teams win by being able to outposition the enemy team, moving around the map in a way strategically to outsmart their opponents or protecting their damage dealers during teamfights. Teamfights occur multiple times throughout a game and can happen between a few members of each team, or with a full five for each. You’ll know them when you see them — there’s a lot of colors, abilities and health bars depleting.
Given how fluid and complex League of Legends is, it’s no shock that the game is one of the most popular in the world among hardcore esports players. This year’s world championship will take place in China, where League has long been the most popular esport, and will feature 22 teams from 11 regions around the world.
The reigning champions, FunPlus Phoenix, are from China. But they won’t compete after failing to qualify out of the country’s League Pro League. Instead, a new champion will be crowned as the 10th League of Legends world champion.