In my previous article, I established what a kit is at the most basic level: the individual. However, what a champion does means nothing until you compare it to what their opposition does. You might say a champion, such as Vlad, is tanky, but what are you comparing them to? Compared to Shen or Malphite, Vlad isn’t tanky, but compared to Ahri or Xerath he is. Moreover, League is a team game, and the power of an individual is insignificant in comparison to the power of a team; how a champion functions within the framework of others is a vital consideration. Janna might be good at peeling for a Caitlyn or Tristana, but are there better choices for short-range marksman like Graves and Vayne? The goal of this article is to help you understand how to provide context (both for your enemies and allies) for the results you get from analyzing a champion’s kit, so without further ado, let’s begin.
Developing alternative builds and playstyles for the champions you play will improve your game, if you understand when to use them.
For starters, there is no one single “right” way to play a champion. League is designed to have multiple viable options for how to play champions, which allows for nearly infinite counterplay.
Morgana is a good example of this, as she can fit comfortably into just about any composition. Her long range abilities and passive spellvamp give her good poking potential, her shield and CC are excellent peeling abilities, her pool can clear waves quickly enough to allow her to push by herself, which paired with her peeling abilities that serve well as escape mechanisms make her a decent splitpusher (in a pinch), her ult is a powerful AOE ability that fits well into a wombo combo, and her ult’s ability to function excellently with Zhonya’s, along with her shield, make her one of the best diving carries in the game.
The type of role she needs to fill in her composition will dictate what types of items she should buy, where she should position herself, and how she should be using her spells. In a poke composition, chalice->grail is a good item choice because the MR and infinite mana allow her to spam her bindings and clear waves with her pool until she gets a “catch” she wants to follow up on, or simply force her opponents off of an objective. Rod of Ages works better if she is going to be diving, because infinite mana is not needed when immediately engaging, while the extra health comes in much more useful than MR when it comes to being nuked down. Depending on what the threat to the hypercarry is, a peeling Morg may be better off leveling up her shield rather than her binding (and will be more likely to give that shield to a hypercarry), and will save her ult for when threats come to her/the hypercarry, rather than trying to jump into the middle of the enemy team to get an ult off.
In other words, two people can play Morgana very differently (patient and spammy vs. aggressive and bursty, etc.), including having different builds, and both of them be maximizing her potential. So how do you decide which route to take your champion? There is no simple answer for that question, you must analyze the kits of all 10 champions in the game both at the individual and team levels, and compare them to determine what path is best. What if your team is designed to be a poke comp, but the enemy team is running a strong counter to poke comps? Should you build for synergy with your team or to counter the actions of your opponents? Generally the team that is controlling the pace (making moves for objectives, forcing action) is the team that should weigh more heavily in this decision.
Even if someone is not maximizing potential fully (perhaps they got Tear of the Goddess/Archangel’s Staff on Morg for some reason), if it is what they are used to it is what they will do best with for the game they are in. If they are a friend, you may want to explain the better options, but if they are a stranger in Solo Queue, it’s best to just make the most of what they are doing (without saying anything to correct them), whether they are performing well that game or not. Remember, Solo Queue is for you to improve yourself, not your team.
Applying The Principle of Universal Equity to Champion Kits
Now, let’s look at the main point I want to make about kits above everything else: that you “pay for” what you get in a kit when you select one champion from all the rest. In reality, it’s impossible to achieve 100% perfect balance among champions, but Riot can get close enough to perfect balance that we are able to assume every champion is able to do just as much as every other champion. Therefore, when we choose one, we simply choose which combination of tools we like in a champion . This means we trade off some tools for others, and understanding the ramifications of that choice allow us to better utilize it.
For an example, let’s look at one of my favorite champions, Nunu, in the jungling position. Nunu’s Consume can be very helpful in counterjungling (particularly with the buffs it provides), while it loses some effectiveness in teamfights and dueling, even if you’re able to to find minions to use it on to get the heal.
A similar ability to Nunu’s Consume is Cho’Gath‘s Feast. Because of the cooldown on Feast, and the fact that Cho has to wait until L6 to get it (counterjungling is largely an early game tactic), it is not as potent in counterjungling as Consume is. However, the Feast stacks, if they are able to be built up, are more useful once a teamfight starts than the heal from Consume, and the fact that it can be used on enemy champions also makes it a much better ability for teamfighting. So, while Consume has more use as a counterjungling tool, Feast Performs better in teamfights.
Because of this (Ignoring all other abilities for the sake of simplicity), we can say that Nunu is better at counterjungling than Cho’Gath, and Cho’Gath is better at teamfighting than Nunu. As such, Nunu will not only want to set an opposing jungle Cho’Gath back by counterjungling, but will need to to outperform Cho, because he knows he will be at a disadvantage when it comes to teamfighting.
Let’s look at a this concept in a different context. Take a support like Sona, Nami, or Lulu. Their heals/shields, ranged autoattacks, and pokey abilities are designed to be used to gradually harass/out-trade the opponent out of lane, while a support with hard engage, lots of cc, and some form of anti-burst (usually a shield) such as Leona, Blitzcrank, or Nautilus is designed to force (and win) a hard engage. In a match up where a poker/sustainer is against a hard engager, the poker wants to be forcing opportunities to harass, requiring constant pressure, while the hard engager wants to catch them when they overextend, go in for a bad trade, or otherwise get into a place where a fight can be forced.
Both types of supports have an equal chance at winning, just like Nunu and Cho’gath have equal chances of winning, and while there are too many factors to calculate here, exactly who will win will be largely determined by who pushes the strengths of their kit, while defending the weaknesses of it. So, If a large part of your kit is poke, you should probably be poking, if a very small part of your kit is poking, you probably shouldn’t be poking, etc.
Every champion has weaknesses that can be exploited, and strengths that need to be emphasized. The weaknesses that come with a kit are the hidden “price” that is easy to overlook when selecting a champion (or an item, remember that both champions and items are just “factor packages”). Comparing the power that the given kits provide in every possible context allows you to avoid situations where you aren’t going to succeed, and create those where you will. Recognizing the types of situations where you are stronger than your opponent and forcing them into those situations puts you in no-lose scenarios where you are extremely favored to outplay your opponent. Big plays rarely happen in the heat of the moment, they are carefully set up beforehand.
I want to leave you with the thought that every decision, from the moment you choose your champion until the announcer declares the victor, is a trade. Understanding what exactly you are getting for what you are giving up (e.g. giving up some safety, mana, and a cooldown to get harass on an opponent) is the key to making trades that will put you ahead.
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