Every League of Legends match starts with the laning phase. The reason for that lies in minions—AI units that march down the lanes of top, middle, and bottom. Since killing minions grants gold and experience, someone has to be there to pick these up. Of course, this also means that the enemy champions will try to do the same, so you will be inevitably battling each other for resources.
The default lane assignment has a tank or a bruiser in the top lane, a mage or an assassin in the mid lane, and a support and an AD carry in the bottom lane. In every case, champions will aim to last-hit minions while trading blows with their opponents. Depending on your (and the enemy) champion, you will have good and bad matchups.
If you have a good matchup, you should aim to push your opponents into a corner. You set up kills, drive him away from your minions, or force him to escape to his base and lose out on gold and experience. But if your matchup looks bad, your goal should be surviving without losing too much in the process. Correct rune and item choices can make these matchups more manageable, and, of course, skill is a huge factor, so a superior player can turn around even the most unfavorable situation.
Keeping up with last-hitting while pressuring your opponents is what separates good laners from everyone else. Even something as minor as killing the enemy minions faster can result in you leveling up faster and securing a brief opening when you can overpower your enemy. But there’s a lot more to laning than that. Knowing your matchups, mastering your abilities, noticing opportunities, and picking the right timings—laning involves a diverse skillset and the best laners can put their counterparts on the back foot within the first minutes of the game.
Still, overstepping your limits can be punished even if you vastly outclass your opponent. Because every laner has to be wary of ganks.
Ganking means that one or more champions show up in another lane to get a kill on an unsuspecting enemy. It involves timing, game sense, and an element of surprise. The role that’s usually responsible for ganking is the jungler.
Junglers navigate through the shrouded areas between the lanes, fight neutral monsters, and look for opportunities to assist their teammates. If you don’t know where the enemy jungler is and don’t have any wards to spot them, then even going overextending by a single step can result in you getting ambushed.
The best players develop an ability to track the enemy jungler by estimating how much time it takes him to move around the map. But junglers respond to that by picking unorthodox routes and timings. It’s a constant information warfare between the laners and the junglers, and the loser often pays with his life.
Of course, you’re not completely constrained to your lane. And it’s not just the jungler that can go for ganks. Any champion can leave his lane at any moment and look for opportunities elsewhere. This tactic is called roaming, and it usually involves setting up a play on another side of the map, grouping up with teammates to secure an objective, or looking for a chance to blindside the enemy unsuspecting laner.
Roaming is a powerful weapon in your arsenal that relies on helping your teammates. Naturally, this means that you will be giving up gold and experience from your own lane, so if you go for a roam, you best make sure that it’s worth it. Sometimes, provided you pick the right moment, you can get away with roaming without losing much of anything. In other cases, a player that went on a roam can call for his jungler to temporarily stay in his lane and pick up resources in his stead.
While the laning phase doesn’t usually last more than 10-15 minutes, it’s one of the most important parts of the game. Losing your lane can be devastating and can lead to your team coming under fire in large-scale battles. Of course, you can always look to make a comeback later. But even a team with the best strategic minds in League of Legends will struggle to stand up to superior laners.