[For information on certain terms please see our article Game Terms: League of Legends]
League of Legends, Dota, and Heroes of the Storm have taken a relatively obscure genre of game, MOBAs, and made them one of the most popular genres in the world. Garnering the attention of massive audiences for their live streams and championships. A special genre of game; they are simultaneously expressions of ego and an exercise in surrendering to the reliance on others.
One of the best examples of this dichotomy exists within the League of Legends‘ bottom lane. Within the meta-game there are two players with distinct roles that share the lane: adc and support.
The adc is an aggressive role; they have the potential to be the most powerful unit within a team hence the title “carry”. The team’s goal is to get them “fed” meaning that a majority of the kills and minions should go to them to ensure that they are a consistent threat throughout the match. Many team fights are coordinated around creating opportunities for the adc to take down high value targets and to be protected at all costs.
Adc’s have a make or break role; meaning they either deliver their team a free game by being so spectacular that their team needs to do little to aid them, or they are so terrible that they get blamed for their teams’ inability to achieve objectives.
This pressure has an interesting effect on those who choose this role. Many become selfish and bitter, complaining and tearing down their teammate’s for minor mistakes. Instead of being the praised as the leaders of their teams they are often joked about as being greedy individuals only motivated by the glory of their “kda”score.
The support is a passive role, strategic and utilitarian. They often do little damage and instead contain kits that allow them to crowd control their enemies and protect their teammates with shields, heals, or buffs. The goal of the support is to ensure that their adc grows faster than the enemy adc and to create opportunities for the adc to get kills or to escape if they’re in trouble. This requires timing and exacting execution of their abilities and positioning.
Supports are typically seen as generous and giving players. They are praised for their ability to get their teammates out of trouble and for setting up their teammates with perfect plays. However when a support’s timing is off or if they overextend themselves and die often they can be a detriment to a team by feeding the enemy team gold and experience making them stronger.
Supports must wrestle with their identity as a player who serves; the worst supports will seek to syphon the glory of a high kill count by KSing their teammates. The problem with being a role that serves is that teammates will sometimes forget to give credit to the support for their contribution to the team’s achievements. This denial of acknowledgement and lack of appreciation can make the experience of playing support feel like thankless job.
All of this brings us to League of Legends champion Teemo; the name alone is enough to incite a war. He is loved by those who play him and despised by those who don’t. His kit is comprised of: the ability to run very quickly, shoot a blinding dart that causes enemies to miss their auto attacks, a poison dart passive effect that causes all of Teemo’s auto attacks to poison their target dealing damage over time, and invisible mushroom mines that slow an enemy upon detonation and also deal DoT. Add to this his ability to disappear after not moving for a brief period of time then strike with a buffed attack speed, and Teemo is a nightmare to track down and kill.
After looking at his kit it is clear he is meant to be an assassin. He is primed for ambushes and has a lot of tools to ensure his targets can’t escape simply by running away due to his DoT. So why would someone choose to play him as a support?
This is where the argument begins for what a support is, what determines the role, and its contribution. Is it strictly defined by the meta? “Only support champions can fulfill the role.” Is it due to a champion’s kit? If so Teemo would have too high of a damage output and too few cc abilities. Based on this alone he would not provide the adc with what they need. However if support as a role can be a mixture of kit, temperment, and playstyle then perhaps there is path for a viable Teemo support.
What Teemo lacks in traditional support skills he makes up for in disruption. Blinding an enemy adc can make a duel between adcs a fatal mistake for the enemy. The blind not only irritates the enemy and but also serves as a constant threat to their main source of damage. Teemo’s mushrooms are a fantastic way of providing an early alert system for a lane when enemy teammates start to close in. They also provide a secure exit route when pushing forward. His dot auto attack helps to whittle down the enemy and forces them to recall to heal. The constant burn of damage also serves to taunt the enemy to abandon logical attacks and focus on killing him. This frees the adc from being focused and if the support Teemo can manage their positioning, they can keep the enemy chasing them for days.
The primary problem with Teemo is that his high damage will eventually kill an enemy that should have been fed to the adc. However this can be negated if the adc has a firm understanding of their damage output and when to last hit the enemy, and if Teemo can restrain their instinct to close the kill. This type of supporting is certainly more nuanced than the meta game expects, but it is one that should be met with curiosity and not disdain since breaking the meta is an important part of how the game evolves.
The rigidity of the meta is meant to give structure to the game not constrict its players. It should be taken as a jumping off point for players to experiment with. While the meta defines the overarching narrative of how a match plays out, it is the wild cards the players introduce with odd champion and role matchups that create the most memorable games.
Meta breaking choices like Teemo support show us that the willingness to play with your teammates is the most important element in a fulfilling MOBA experience. The self expression within MOBAs comes from our choices of role and the champions we believe could serve that role. After that the only thing that matters is that a player bring forth their best effort, play thoughtfully, and commit to cooperation.