Team composition and synergy is one of the most misunderstood things in League of Legends. It’s very easy to tunnel in on who is perceived as OP and pick solely based on champion strength. In this blog post, I’m Sudunem and I’m here to explain the fundamental team compositions and how to build teams that maximize their strengths. While it’s impossible to guarantee purely synergistic team compositions (nor is that even ideal), hopefully this helps you pick smarter in solo queue and build better team compositions in premade games.
Fundamental team types
In my opinion, there are five basic team types. If you disagree, feel free to post a lengthy diatribe about how I’m wrong and have bronze-tier understanding of the game, but since this is more of a philosophy than a set of facts, I can’t be disproved, just disagreed with.
Why is that important? Well, if your team is trending towards a particular type, then perhaps it’s beneficial to pick a champion that will synergize better with your team’s preferred type. Or maybe your team is already solidly entrenched in one particular style and your pick helps balance out the team composition.
Let me state up front that in many cases, it’s not ideal to pick champions that all fit the same team composition, because each fundamental team composition has its own weaknesses and having one or two slightly non-synergistic picks can help balance that out. Still, if you’re going to pick something that doesn’t fit the team composition, it should shore up the team’s weakness, not just be a random YOLO pick. If you don’t care about team composition or your champion pool for a given role is limited enough that picking synergistically isn’t a likely possibility, this article will not help you much.
One more thing before we begin. Champion selection should not be totally based on team composition. Here are a few other factors that are very important:
- Player skill with a given champion
- Champion strength
- Damage type
- PLAYER SKILL
Player skill trumps most every other consideration, especially at lower leagues. That said, counterpicking and team composition are in my opinion the next two most useful traits. There are plenty of websites (some more reliable than others) that discuss counterpicking, so let’s talk team composition.
Pick Compositions: “Welcome to Gank City”
This is the simplest and most common team composition. Pick compositions excel at singling out and isolating high-value or out-of-position targets and exploding them. They can either force an unfair 4v5 if they haven’t burned too many cooldowns or lost too much health, or pressure an objective (such as a turret or neutral monster) with their numbers advantage. Think of a pick composition as basically an extended version of “Gank City,” where you never, ever hope to pick a fair fight until your team has a crushing gold advantage.
Essential attributes: Burst and a hard CC. A pick composition must have the means to lock down or isolate a target, along with the means to explode them.
Preferred attributes: Cooldown resets on kills are a nice to have because after isolating and killing one target, a reset champion can keep on sharing the love in the subsequent 4v5. Durability usually helps because at some point, the enemy team may stop getting caught and force you to engage them under a turret or through a frontline. At this point, being able to take a few hits helps. Lastly, vision spells or traps of some kind can help locate and identify vulnerable targets. Gank-heavy junglers also help to start the gank-snowball going.
Preferred fighting locations: The jungle. Jungle paths are narrow, with lots of ambush spots. Alternately, anywhere somebody is out of position or separated from their team.
How to stop them: Don’t get caught! Pick compositions are often weaker in a straight-up 5v5. Warding and counter-warding via pink wards and Oracles is very important. Second, damage threats need to be supported. Leave at least one babysitter back with the carries, preferably with some combination of CC, heals, and shields. Lastly, having your carries build a defensive item (Guardian Angel, Zhonya’s Hourglass) that makes it harder to burst them down can be very helpful.
Example team: Ryze, Kha’Zix, Tristana, Thresh, and Jarvan IV. This team composition has appreciable burst from Kha’Zix and Ryze, while Thresh, Jarvan, and Ryze provide methods to lock targets down. They also have good mobility to fight across walls in jungle fights as well as two reset-on-kills. Thresh, Jarvan, and Ryze will eventually be durable enough to dive through an enemy team if it comes to that.
AOE Compositions: “Wombo Combo time”
This composition came into popularity early in Season 1 when Riot in their infinite wisdom released five incredibly OP AOE-ultimate champions in a row. This composition usually flat-out wins in 5v5 brawls, especially in lower leagues and against teams that don’t have Janna. AOE comps are also called ‘teamfight compositions’ because that’s where they excel. This composition is also fairly simple and doesn’t require a lot of finesse. Find a bunch of grouped enemies, press R to win.
Essential attributes: AOE hard initiation and AOE nukes. LOTS of AOE nukes. Gap-closers are likewise very useful for helping to start the pain train.
Preferred attributes: Some durability is going to help, as will lots of crowd control. Having a CC spell or two that isn’t tied to an ultimate is also useful in case all 5 enemies somehow don’t instantly explode.
Preferred fighting locations: Choke points, dragon, baron or anywhere the enemy is clustered up.
How to stop them: Don’t fight 5v5 against a sufficiently strong AOE composition in confined space. If you have to (e.g. they’re forcing baron), try and approach from different angles. The most important thing you can do is NOT CLUMP UP. They will flash-ult you, and it will hurt. AOE compositions tend to have lots of weak 1v1 champions, so split-pushing can also be a viable strategy as long as you can keep your minion waves shoved so they can’t just base-race. Also, pick Janna. Seriously, no other champion pick infuriates an AOE composition like a well-played Janna. If their composition isn’t particularly long-ranged or doesn’t have good initiation, you can try a poke composition.
Example team: Rumble, Malphite, Karthus, Miss Fortune, Sona. I shudder at the thought of fighting that team in any kind of chokepoint, as they all have powerful AOE ultimates. Malphite or Rumble will lead off, locking down the team, and the Miss Fortune/Sona/Karthus follow-up is absolutely brutal. Press R to win indeed.
Poke Compositions: “Reach out and touch someone”
One of the older team compositions in League of Legends, it is also one of the hardest to pull off in solo queue. Why? Because nobody likes dancing around hurling nukes at 1500 range, particularly the over-eager Darius player who wants to dive in and crush skulls with a giant axe. This team composition requires patience and thought in champion select, neither of which are popular in solo queue. However, if played right, this can be one of the most infuriating compositions to deal with, particularly if your team composition lacks the kind of hard engage or vision to deal with them.
Essential attributes: Obviously, nuke spells with more than 800 range are very helpful and the more spammable the better. Second only to that is the ability to disengage. A poke composition that gets initiated upon tends to die very, very quickly, so having the ability to say NOPE to an enemy teamfight attempt is extremely valuable. Lastly, good wave clear is important so that you can siege them under their tower.
Preferred attributes: A vision spell, such as traps, can help provide safety, because a poke comp never wants to be initiated upon, especially from multiple angles. Flanks are extremely useful. Durability is not as essential in a poke composition, as long as your disengage is good. Heals and shields to help make any poke trades grossly one-sided are also very valuable.
Preferred fighting locations: Wide open spaces, sieging enemies under towers, and preferably from 1000 range away.
How to stop them: Catch them out of position. Most poke teams do not want to brawl, as they are fragile or not especially good at fighting up close. A hard initiate that isn’t immediately disengaged can be very, very useful. Most of all, do not huddle under the tower and hope the mean Nidalee just goes away. Another handy attribute is some kind of global engage ala Twisted Fate or Nocturne that can force a fight. Lastly, blue buff control will help limit the spammability of nukes. If the poke comp has both blue buffs, things can get ugly.
Example team composition: Jayce, Nidalee, Trundle, Janna, Caitlyn. Jayce’s Shock Blasts and Nidalee’s Javelin Toss will melt health bars from offscreen, while Janna and Trundle laugh at puny attempts to force a hard engage. Caitlyn plinks away in the back from ludicrous range and her traps and 90 Caliber Net mean that jumping on her is easier said than done.
Protect compositions: “Protect the Doublelift”
This composition was popularized by Counter Logic Gaming and centers around protecting a single high-value target, who will proceed to be practically invulnerable thanks to shields, heals, and peels. In return, that single target (in CLG’s case, their AD carry Doublelift) will murderize (that is now a word) entire teams, no matter how hard they are engaged on, or how poorly they position. Team Dignitas also ran this in Season 2 with three supports (Janna, Lulu, Alistar) protecting a Kog’Maw, and it was ludicrously effective. It’s less in vogue in Season3 with AD carry nerfs, but it’s still effective in the right hands, particularly because nobody sees it coming.
Essential attributes: First, your team must have that kind of champ that does the damage levels you can build around. Basically, you need not just a carry, but a hypercarry, so Tristana, Vayne, Kog’Maw, and Twitch are the most likely candidates. I suppose Tryndamere could work also for a top-lane oriented protect comp, or Cassiopeia for a mid-oriented protect comp. Anyway, somebody on the team has to be the MAD DEEPS guy. Then you need three or four other people whose sole job is to protect the MAD DEEPS guy, so shields, heals, and peel spells are extremely useful.
Preferred attributes: Champions that donate stats to the hypercarry are very nice to have, as having bonus anything boosts the hypercarry to even more ludicrous amounts of damage. Another useful attribute is disengage, as being able to rescue the hypercarry from any amount of hard engage (or stupidity) can be a life-saver.
How to stop them: Shut down the hypercarry in laning. Carries like Vayne, Kog’maw, and Tristana are lategame timebombs. If they can get their items and their team isn’t completely getting destroyed, then you’re in a lot of trouble. In teamfights, bursting them down is essential, but will be very hard to do against a good protect comp. Most of the hypercarries can’t poke and since their team composition isn’t built around hard initiation or poke, trying to whittle them down can be useful.
Example team: Nunu, Cho’Gath, Vayne, Janna, Kayle. Running through Kayle, Cho’Gath, and Nunu isn’t exactly easy, and if you do get there, Janna is probably one of the single best peel champions in the game. Meanwhile, Vayne is getting more and more powerful with every item she adds.
Push Compositions: “All your base are belong to us”
This team composition is very popular in Korea, where they remember first and foremost that the way to win in League of Legends is not by piling up a 1337 KDA, but rather in taking towers and destroying the nexus. Champion kills are only pathways to taking towers and moving around the map quickly to exploit undefended towers leads to a dance where the defending team frantically scrambles to keep up as the push composition knocks down the towers. There are two flavors of push comp: the one that tries to end the game early, and one that revolves around a split pusher (or two) that is in a separate lane putting pressure on different towers while his teammates distract or take objectives elsewhere, forcing the defender to give up one or another. This composition is also not popular in solo queue, because people like to teamfight. That said, it also works extremely well in solo queue as long as your team cooperates, because nobody is used to dealing with it.
Essential attributes: The ability to destroy towers very quickly helps, as does mobility to quickly rotate from lane to lane. The other extremely important attribute is minion wave-clear, particularly in split push cases. The other four champions must be able to keep the minion waves off their own turrets, or else they risk being initiated on 4v5 and then losing the ensuing base race.
Preferred attributes: Strong 1v1 champions are useful in a push composition because they force the opposing team to send more than one person to deal with them, leading to mismatches elsewhere on the map. Vision or trap spells provide safety while the split pusher is off shoving lanes. Additionally, good disengage or poke spells can help make those 4v5s in a split-push scenario less disadvantageous.
How to stop them: Obliterate the minion waves. Any and all opposing minion waves must be destroyed. Good map vision and strong 1v1 champions are very helpful in stopping split-push champions. That split-push Teemo might be annoying, but he won’t attempt to shove a tower if a 5/0 Zed is standing under it if he values his miserable rodent carcass. Most of all, don’t get greedy. Chasing a split pusher is not worth it if the rest of his team takes your other turrets. Also, to deal with non-stop push compositions, obliterate the minion waves and avoid giving up too many kills on ganks. Teleport can be very useful here. If all else fails, make your defense at your inhibitor towers. Those are usually the hardest for a push comp to deal with because the defender can easily rotate between the lanes.
Example team: Teemo, Twisted Fate, Nasus, Tristana, Taric. Twisted Fate creates unfair scenarios that lead to turrets being down—kills are nice, but turrets are better. Teemo can split push safely with mushrooms to cover jungle paths , while Twisted Fate can also split-push with the best of them. Nasus, Tristana, and Taric can generally hold off less forceful counter-pushes, and if those three ever get to a turret, it’s not long for this world. Lategame, Teemo can deal with a lot of champions 1v1, as can Nasus and Tristana, leading to sending two or more champions to deal with them.
Understanding team composition is just one of the strengths needed to build a good team. If you’re far better with Irelia than Jayce, it doesn’t usually matter if your team wants to run a full-poke composition, especially in solo queue. If your team wants to run a push comp but the opposing mid is LeBlanc, maybe Galio might work better than Twisted Fate. However, being able to pick and play synergistically with your team is very helpful. The Irelia on a poke composition should not be trying to force picks or dive in to catch people out of position. The Galio should be more judicious about setting up initiations if his team can’t follow him up like an AOE composition could.
Another thing to remember is that it may be useful to be that one oddball pick—a Galio on a push composition gives them more teamfight potential if they need to stop a Baron attempt, covering the weakness of a push composition (poor teamfighting). Bringing something to the team that just completely isn’t useful, i.e. Udyr on a poke composition is a cost that has to be weighed against player skill, counterpicking, and the damage/survivability/utility needs of the team.
There are many possible varieties and combinations for each team composition and many teams that incorporate elements of multiple team compositions. A “global” composition built around Shen, Nocturne, and Karthus has elements of both a pick comp and a push comp. Some champions are more versatile than others when it comes to compositions they synergize with. A team with Twitch, Nunu, Galio, Thresh, and Renekton can play like a pick comp, a protect comp, or an AOE composition. There’s no rule or reason to build a team comp exclusively to fit one style—but understanding what the basic five are and how they work is key to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team.
I hope this article has given you a deeper understanding, or at least a different understanding of basic team compositions along with their strengths and weaknesses. Don’t feel pigeonholed into building team compositions that fit a particular mold, but rather understand the differences in playstyle involved with each one and act appropriately. Understanding team composition also helps not only at champion select, but how to approach the other team in-game—if your team has more pick and push power, then brawling 5v5 against an AOE team even when you’re ahead can still be a poor decision.
I’ll close with one last reminder that just like counterpicking isn’t everything in champion select, team composition isn’t either, but it’s something to understand and keep in mind. Best of luck on the fields of justice!