League of Legends uses a role system called “attributes” to sort its wide base of champions by function. The official game client displays twelve basic attributes with every champion falling into at least two. In my experience with the official Champion Concepts forum, these attributes are generally well-understood individually, but now and again concepts are proposed which mix attributes in an unconventional manner, at best creating something that is difficult to relate to in-game experience and at worst inviting a host of balance issues. Of the twelve categories, I’ve classified three as ‘basic’ and the remaining nine as ‘specific’. Basic attributes provide general information, while specific attributes explain the nuance of how a champion is played.
Melee (49) vs. Ranged (37)
Melee and Ranged describe from what distance a champion fights. Any given champion can only fall into one of these roles and there are a few who fall into neither due to attribute-changing abilities.
Recommended (8 Melee, 7 Ranged)
Recommended champions are those whose skill sets are easily executed at a reasonable level by players new to the game.
Assassin (14 Melee, 2 Ranged)
Assassin champions specialize in doing an incredibly high amount of single target damage in a short period of time and have some form of dash or teleport to quickly assail or catch their prey.
Carry (3 Melee, 11 Ranged)
Carry champions start off weaker than other champions but scale more powerfully into the end game. In particular, carries focus on attack damage, resulting in powerful autoattacks as well as strong abilities which scale off of the stat.
Fighter (28 Melee, 1 Ranged, 1 Mixed)
Fighters are characters with high survivability and impressive damage, but neither at the level of a pure tank or carry.
Jungler (4 Melee, 1 Ranged)
Instead of fighting in a lane during the early game, a jungler fights the neutral monster packs on the map. This means one teammate will be at a 2v1 disadvantage in lane, but will gain experience and gold that would have otherwise been split with the jungler.
Mage (3 Melee, 19 Ranged)
Mages rely very little on their autoattacks for damage, instead employing their abilities which scale strongly with ability power (there are no attack damage-based mages)
Pusher (6 Melee, 3 Ranged, 1 Mixed)
A pusher’s job is to advance the team’s positioning in a lane without starting a team fight. Pushers typically have limited self-supporting abilities to allow them to take a few hits while advancing.
Stealth (4 Melee, 3 Ranged)
Stealth champions have the ability to disappear from enemy sight and the minimap, allowing them to set up ganks and to escape unfavorable situations. Stealth duration ranges from only a brief moment to 50 seconds.
Support (3 Melee, 8 Ranged, 2 Mixed)
Support champions are marked by abilities that allow them to come to the aid of their teammates, usually with healing abilities or shields.
Tank (9 Melee)
Tanks specialize in survivability through health, armor, and magic resistance. They lead the way into teamfights, absorbing the first waves of damage and using abilities which keep one target at the focus of the rest of the team’s damage output.
As would be expected, most attributes are biased towards either melee or ranged. A ranged tank, for example, wouldn’t be an effective design because this leaves non-tank melee characters such as carries at the front of the team instead. The only way to protect melee characters would be for that tank to have multiple taunts on short cooldowns, forcing enemies to attack him and ignore the closer target, which would be extremely unfair to the other team. Meanwhile, melee mages are uncommon because the role devalues autoattack damage, which means that when their abilities are on cooldown they’re left in range of the enemy team but have no respectable way to return fire until their cooldowns expire.
Beyond melee and ranged combinations, the specific attributes combine in their own ways. Four of the six stealth champions, for example, are also assassins. This is because the stealth mechanic allows a champion to move into an advantageous position before attacking, making the extreme burst required of assassins easier to execute. Five of the six melee pushers are tanks or fighters, the two classes with the most durability in team fights, giving them sustainability in the laning phase as well. That said, there are a few odd mixes. The two that stick out to me most are:
- Teemo the Swift Scout (Support, Ranged, Stealth): Teemo’s support attribute comes from his Blinding Dart ability, which deals damage and causes his target’s autoattacks to miss for up to 2.5 seconds. While not a shield or heal, blinding a carry cuts out a significant amount of damage. He earns his stealth attribute through his passive, Camouflage: if Teemo stands still for 3 seconds, he becomes stealthed until he takes an action, at which point he gains 40% attack speed for 3 seconds. Though a support ability, Blinding Dart is also used as an offensive opener when coming out of stealth. The opening damage from Blinding Dart is followed by a series of rapid autoattacks through Camouflage‘s effect; all the while, the enemy cannot autoattack Teemo.
- Vladimir the Crimson Reaper (Ranged, Mage, Fighter): Vladimir’s Fighter role is build upon his Mage role. Unlike most mages who use the mana resource system, Vladimir uses his own health to fund his abilities, with the exception of Transfusion, which heals him on cast. At rank 5, Transfusion has a 4 second cooldown which can be reduced to 2.4 seconds through cooldown reduction effects. Vladimir’s Sanguine Pool ability costs health to use, but heals him for a percentage of damage done, potentially gaining health overall if he damages a large number of enemies. The nature of health-based spells encourages Vladimir to build health and health regeneration items, which combined with the healing provided by his abilities gives him the durability of a fighter, albeit in a more volatile way.
There are 36 pairs of specific attributes. Keeping in mind that many champions have only one specific attribute in addition to their melee/ranged distinction and the variability of roles described by the attributes, it should come as no surprise that some pairs are not represented. In particular, the Carry, Stealth, and Jungler roles do not play nicely with others.
- Carry: Carries have low starting damage, high ending damage, and low survivability throughout the game. As a result, they do not combine with the fighter, jungler, or tank attributes, all of which require a higher level of survivability. Carries additionally cannot be Mages, because while Carries rely on autoattacks, Mages rely on abilities. Lastly, there are no Carry Supports. Carries focus on offensive play while Supports focus on defense; crossing these purposes makes champions who are too valuable and players who have to play the part of two champions with half the toolkit of each.
- Stealth: Connotations aside, Stealth characters are selfish in design. They sneak around to line up their next move and reactivate stealth to escape bad situations. For this reason, Stealth champions are not Pusher or Tank champions. Stealths are additionally not Mages – sustained damage through autoattacks is better for Stealth champions, since while missing one ability as a Mage is a significant damage loss, for a Stealth it means that they must completely re-ambush the enemy. Finally, there are no Stealth Junglers. This is because one of the inherent risks of jungling is that the enemy team can lie in wait for you near a monster pack, but Stealth characters cannot be seen by the ambushers, removing the risk.
- Jungler: Junglers focus on single-target damage to eliminate the strongest monster in each monster pack. Meanwhile, Pushers focus on AoE damage to whittle down waves of minions. Giving one champion both forms of offensive power would be too strong a combination. Another way to look at it is that from a strategical standpoint, the role of the Pusher takes place in lane while the role of the Jungler takes place in the jungle. There are also no Jungler Assassins – both roles boast good single-target damage, but the Jungler’s output is comparatively diminished in favor of self-survivability tools. Adding the high damage levels of an Assassin to a Jungler would give the Jungler too much strength and when combined with his survivability would allow him to fight off ambushes even in the early game.
Keep in mind that this is based on what Riot’s official definition of each attribute is. Shaco the Demon Jester, for example, is officially Assassin/Stealth/Melee, but he’s a very common Jungler despite Assassin and Stealth both being attributes whose design goes against the Jungler role. This is likely due to the offsetting advantages that the Assassin and Stealth roles provide Shaco: survivability through Stealth and damage through Assassin. Amumu the Sad Mummy is another common Jungler despite being Tank/Melee not because he excels at the role, but because his ability to farm gold off of minion kills in lane is lower even than other tanks, making the jungle a more lucrative option for him.
The current attributes system is comprehensive and developed. The combinations of attributes that are not represented are usually left that way for good reason; it would take a very delicate balance and specific design to amend two conflicting roles such as Stealth/Pusher. Gameplay experience demonstrates why certain roles are incompatible: trying to use a carry as a tank, for example, never ends well. It is entirely possible that Riot adjusts these roles or even adds new ones as time goes on, since the champion roster grows with each passing month and new champion mechanics introduce new ways of playing the game.