By Petar Vukobrat
February 19, 2019
The Summoner’s Rift is iconic; there’s just no other way of putting it. While it’s not the first MOBA map out there, it certainly defined what a MOBA map should be. It also became the map millions of MOBA newcomers first became accustomed to when they started playing. League of Legends’ player base is bafflingly huge, and this is the map many people around the world correlate with the genre itself.
The map is mirrored, with one team being on the left side and the other on the right. The team on the left (often called the “blue side”) is fighting upwards towards the enemy Nexus, whereas the other team (in this case, the “red side”) fights downwards.
You have three lanes — top, middle, and bottom — and separating them is a relatively big jungle that’s filled with numerous neutral monster camps. The map is divided by a river that connects all three lanes, while also dividing the map into two fractions. The river itself, though, isn’t just for easier traversing of terrain. You’ll spend more time skirmishing in neutral locations and seemingly random brushes along the river than on lane. When those hectic five-on-five team fights break out, they’re mostly revolving around an objective like the Dragon (located in a pit near the blue side) or the Baron Nashor (located in a pit near the red side).
The jungle is also mirrored, although your clear will heavily depend on which side of the map you start on. So, for instance, if you’re starting on red side (on top), then you’re mostly beginning with a blue buff clear and then going towards the top lane. Junglers on the blue side, however, mostly start off by clearing their red buff and then also progress towards the top lane.
Even though the general direction of the most basic jungle clears seems to be similar, that’s where individual pathing and champion strengths start to shine. You can take down one camp and immediately go for a level two gank in the bottom or mid lane. The jungle position is incredibly flexible, and it provides ample room for creativity.
Seeing how you never know how each lane will pan out, the jungle clear is always in a state of flux. Are your laners winning and thus (by proxy) pushing the lane? Then you don’t have an opening for a gank (unless you get really creative). If, on the other hand, your lanes are losing, then you might find yourself in a lot of trouble if the opposing players (and jungler) start invading your camps in an attempt to shut you down.
Every lane (and role) has a unique set of challenges, and the Summoner’s Rift allows every position to shine — either in a specific moment of the game or throughout its entirety. There are so many nuanced variables that influence the state of the game from the very get-go, which is precisely why the map never feels stale.
It enables and facilitates action from the moment you step foot outside your own fountain. You can invade (or get invaded), you can set up cheesy level-one strategies, you can focus and shut down just a single player, or you can do nothing at all.
Every decision you make and every action you take has a reaction.
The beauty of the Summoner’s Rift is that it contains various pathways, close corridors, choke points, and objectives over which you can (or should, rather) fight whenever possible. The map gives you ample freedom when it comes to choosing your steps towards victory. Do you want to brute force things? Or perhaps take the more subdued approach and win through a war of attrition? Anything is possible and fair game.
Because there’s so much to fight over, and in so many places, there’s always a chance of something going wrong and changing the outcome of a fight. Players can flank from unseen positions, collapse upon the unsuspecting team/player in a split second, or bait out action and valuable Summoner Spells through some creative engages.
A standard Summoner’s Rift game consists of the laning phase which is mostly considered as the early game. Every player is farming up, creating leads wherever possible, and trying to reach their own power spike.
After a certain item threshold, teams start rotating in an attempt to take objectives (either Dragons or outer turrets), up until the time Baron Nashor spawns. That’s the biggest and most important neutral objective on the map, and it also takes the most effort and coordination to take down. Regardless of who takes it, the game doesn’t have to end by default, although teams that are good at pushing their leads can press forward and eventually close out the game.
These neutral objectives re-spawn on a regular basis, so there’s always something to look forward to and fight over. With players putting down vision wards non-stop, there’s also an endlessly intricate vision set-up (and denial) game that’s going back and forth between both teams.
Players also invest into acquiring vision of the opposing jungle so that they can better track the enemy jungler and thus move and rotate around the Summoner’s Rift accordingly.
Things might seem somewhat simple on first glance — three lanes and a jungle on both sides — but once you delve deeper and realize the sheer number of possibilities within each and every game, it’s hard not to be impressed.
When I first started playing League with a bunch of friends back in 2011, we never even knew that Summoner’s Rift existed. Back then, we only played Twisted Treeline (a 3 versus 3 map) without realizing that it wasn’t the “real” game.
Twisted Treeline was thought of as an appetizer of sorts, meant for those moments when you just didn’t have forty minutes to play a game but still wanted to satisfy an itch.
But to us, it was League of Legends.
For a whole year, we had played on just this small map, and all of a sudden, we entered this humongous map that — to us — felt endless. Three lanes, two big sides of the jungle, so many options, things to do, paths to take. We were terrified at first, and looking back, it was the only logical reaction. We understood the impact of every wrong decision, of every botched team fight. In 3v3, a death only teleports you back to a base that’s perhaps ten or fifteen seconds away from your turret.
Dying on the Rift, however, is much more consequential and impactful.
But soon enough, this uncertainty and complexity became the reason why we started playing on Summoner’s Rift almost exclusively.
To me, Summoner’s Rift isn’t just a map. It’s a place where I “hung out” with some of my best friends for years — almost a decade now, in fact. It’s a place we still visit on a regular basis, and even though we don’t inhabit this huge land with the same fervor that once led us into battle, we still enjoy playing whenever we have the time.
The Summoner’s Rift allowed a ragtag group of friends to role play and have fun for hours on end. The fact that we’ve been playing on just a single map for so long doesn’t mean we’re clinically insane, but rather that the map always feels fresh and engaging.
League’s huge player base attests to the fact. There’s a reason why we stayed on the Rift for so long, not opting to change for a different game. It is so big and well-designed that we never lacked anything, regardless of if we were trolling around or playing competitively.
Much like with every other game nowadays, Riot Games pushes out frequent updates to champions, items, and all aspects of League of Legends. The map gets changed somewhat regularly as well, although that only happens in the off-season period between two ranked seasons.
That’s the moment for experimentation and immense change. These patches aren’t always accepted by the community, but they’re integral to the Summoner’s Rift regardless.
With each new change, the game moves in a different direction as well. Change the amount of experience a single jungle camp provides, and every existing path gets turned on its head. Make outer turrets a bit weaker, and you’ll shorten the laning phase, allowing teams to fight earlier across the map.
These are just minor changes, and yet they still impact the way the game is played. They dictate and alter the meta.
Riot is also prone to making substantial changes every couple of years. It feels like just a couple of months have passed from the introduction of jungle plants and blast cones, and yet that was three years ago. By making these monumental changes, they keep everything fresh, and they’re forcing you to adapt and even re-learn the game to a certain extent.
Now all of a sudden, a part of the map that was previously unpopular for whatever reason becomes a highly contested segment of the Rift. You’ve entered a certain rhythm, and you’re doing things almost mechanically, and yet you suddenly have to adapt and start doing things in a completely different way.
Just because the map is mirrored doesn’t mean playing on either side is the same. Blue side historically always had a higher win rate. The team that’s playing on red side is mostly forced to ban power picks, whereas the blue side gets to lock in a priority champion from the very get-go and build their team comp around it. The fact that red side can counter-pick at the very end often doesn’t end up being that impactful.
Furthermore, blue side has a direct path towards the Baron pit, whereas red side doesn’t — players have to either go around it and expose themselves or flash/dash through the wall behind Baron in an attempt to fight or steal it. Depending on the team, these advantages can either be negligible or game-winning. It’s also important to highlight that these win rates aren’t set in stone. They fluctuate and change along with the game, but there still hasn’t been a moment where both sides were equal for longer periods of time.
Perhaps the best way to witness all the incredible flexibility that the Summoner’s Rift provides is to watch a couple of competitive top-tier League of Legends games. Professional players know every inch of the map, and they’re constantly looking to innovate and come up with new and unique paths and ideas to best utilize a part of the map.
These innovations aren’t mind-blowing by nature, but they’re still refreshing to see and more often than not begin to impact casual play as well. Competitive play and solo queue are intertwined in a unique way. What’s running rampant in casual play often becomes a pocket pick or strategy in competitive and vice versa.
Things like the inting Sion or no farm Zilean with Kleptomancy in the top lane (which we saw from Clutch Gaming’s Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon just a couple of days ago) are all inspired by solo queue craziness. The Summoner’s Rift allows for all of this, but it really depends on the meta.
Right now, we’re witnessing the most flexible meta in the game’s history. Anything is viable, given that you have the skill to pull it off.
After a while, the Summoner’s Rift map kind of becomes like a second home. You get to know every nook and cranny, every rock, and small beast that is inhabiting it. You have your favorite paths as well as a couple of spots that you evade for various reasons — maybe a traumatic solo queue game that went awry or a bad play you made that lost you the game.
The fact that you can play on a single map for a decade and still not get bored is a testament to Riot’s game (and map) design. That’s mind-boggling on so many levels, but it makes perfect sense. They have created a seemingly perfect playground that enables thousands of different scenarios and yet only one of two outcomes — victory or defeat.
An immense number of possibilities, and yet a binary conclusion. Infinitely complex, and yet deceivingly simple. So deceiving, in fact, that you can spend a decade traversing these rivers and brushes without ever noticing the time go by. It really is the pinnacle of map and world design.