Actors and Reactors: Lane Dynamics
Wed 6th Mar 2013 - 8:51pm: League of Legends
There are a lot of champion roles in League of Legends that are very obvious and easy to identify. The simplest listing of the roles would simply be top, jungle, mid, and bottom. These roles are just defined by where they are on the map, and really, they speak for themselves.
Another level of description of champion roles are defined by a list of terms like: Bruiser, Tank, Mage, AD Carry, and Support, or even more specific ones like Tanky Mages, Burst Mages, Utility Mages, Damage Bruisers, Aggressive Supports, Sustain Supports.. really though, the list can go on and on as you define champions by what they do until eventually, you’re just calling every champion by name. This level of classification is really important, because it describe what kind of skills a champion has, and gives a general idea of what kind of items you can expect to build on them.
There certainly isn’t anything wrong with that classification, because without those categories, it would be frustratingly difficult to pick one champion out of the staggering 111 now available to us. The only problem with these terms is that they don’t really bleed into the actual gameplay.
There are a lot of terms that get thrown around League of Legends, but not many that actually describe your actions in the game. It takes time to learn them and what they mean, and I’m talking about terms like: pushing, freezing the lane, ganking, missing, diving, stealing buffs, ward clearing… the list goes on. One term in particular gets thrown around a lot, and that’s “pressure”. Pressure gets talked about a lot in any competitive game, and we all have a general idea of what it means, but it’s not very specific. It might give you images of a Jungler who ganks the same lane over and over, or a top laner who keeps pushing up and stealing from the enemy jungle, or seeing a lane swap who just pushes until they take a tower down. Nonspecific words like “pressure” are why there is still room for new words to describe the game.
Two terms I’ve picked up to better talk about how the dynamics of a lane work between the opposing sides are Actor and Reactor. I think they’re fairly simple words, but the way they interact can really help describe what’s happening in a game, and help to decide how to play in a lane.
Actors are pretty simple. They can be described by some other familiar terms, like initiator, or low cooldown mages, or high mobility, or sustainer. These are champions who either are sure that they’ll win a trade in a direct fight in lane, or are sure that after the skirmish they can heal back up. Some champions that are easy to relate to this are Nidalee, Shen, Ahri, Vladimir, Xin Zhao, and Kayle (plus almost any support champion).
If you think about any of these champions, they’re the ones in lane who are constantly the ones setting the pace and creating action, who can afford to take a risk because they are reasonably sure they’ll get out of it on top. It’s easy to confuse Actors with champions who just go all in, but really it’s just champions who, under an ordinary circumstance, would create the action in their lane.
After talking about Actors, Reactors are even easier to explain. These are Champions who wait for the perfect opportunity. They can’t afford to be reckless, either because they’re fragile, or they need to be certain they can land a full combo, or they just can’t fight in lane, and are focused on defending and farming. It’s easy to drop AD Carries into this category, since they’re always looking for an enemy to be caught out in the perfect place before committing, but it’s not all encompassing.
Another champion archetype that fits well here is burst mages with long cooldowns, like Lux, Annie, or Brand. The final major type of reactors is champions with a lot of control abilities, who wait for the perfect opportunity, and can win a fight by controlling the enemy’s actions.
The idea behind the two terms isn’t hard to understand, but the application of them isn’t absolute. There aren’t many champions who are always one or the other, since they’re relative to the champion you’re facing. If you imagine the champion you play most often, or any champion that you know relatively well, you can think pretty easily about how your match-ups will go.
A champion played in the top lane like Akali, who really starts dealing heavy damage fairly early in the game, while you’re still focused on your lane, might be used to playing as an Actor. You can easily put the enemy top laner on their back foot, and control the pace of the lane. But suddenly, maybe you’re playing against someone like Shen or Singed or Yorick, and your usual tactics just leave you waiting. In a match-up like this, you’re no longer the actor. You could still be the aggressor, but if all your efforts are being ignored or shrugged off, then you’re no longer setting the pace. Switches in the dynamic like this are really important to deciding how to play against a lane opponent.
That relationship works well when you’re even on gold, or levels, or ganks, but considering where you are at a point in the game can change your role even more. An example I like to use for this kind of scenario is Ashe. It’s easy to imagine a game where one side of a bottom lane is doing pretty poorly. If there’s a misstep and one side gets ahead, it’s brutal for an AD carry to catch up when you’re behind in kills and farm.
Seeing one AD carry being ahead by a pickaxe, or vampiric scepter, or any other important item is reasonable. If the AD carry who is behind is Ashe though, and the enemy feels in control of the lane, an overly aggressive play can really be turned around by Ashe, with a heavy stun and a big burst, either getting a comeback kill or giving her the upper hand in the short-term.
Being the actor or reactor in a lane isn’t really better or worse for either side. It’s easy to view the actor as having the upper hand, because they can control the pace, but if the other side is aware of it, and plays in a very controlled way, there are very few matchups in which you can’t avoid death.
It’s so easy to play a game and see teammates dying over and over, and a big part of that is because they aren’t adapting to how they could change to play safer. (Of course, this doesn’t account for things like skill mismatches, counter picking yourself, or tricky things like lane-swaps.) These ideas work mostly for the laning phase of the game, but that is an awfully large part of a victory.
It would be hard to go into every specific example (although I’d certainly like to talk about it more if people would like to discuss it), and a lot of the interesting applications of this come from thinking about it yourself to come up with some surprising picks.