Before a game of League of Legends even starts, there’s a number of things that players can do to set themselves up for success. Things like masteries, runes, and even summoner spells may seem insignificant at first. But they all add up to make for a game-winning performance.
Think of masteries as League’s talent system. Players get 30 mastery points that they can allocate to different bonuses. There are three mastery trees:
- Ferocity—focuses on offensive perks and sustained damage.
- Cunning—focuses on a mix of utility and burst damage.
- Resolve—focuses on defensive and supportive perks.
Every tree takes up a total of 21 mastery points. Usually, players to pick one primary branch to invest their points into and then supplement it with a few perks from another mastery tree. Most of these are minor gameplay tweaks, such as getting 5% increase in attacks speed or a slight bump to your ability damage.
The real game changers are the Keystones. Keystones are the ultimate talents that can be unlocked at the end of every mastery trees. They offer significant benefits that can very well alter a champion’s playstyle. Each mastery tree has three Keystones that players can choose from.
For the Ferocity tree, there are the following Keystones:
- Fervor of Battle: increases your attack damage after every basic attack onto an enemy champion. An ideal keystone for AD carries and champions that rely on physical damage in prolonged fights.
- Warlord’s Bloodlust: occasionally charges up your basic attacks to grant you life steal and short bursts of movement speed. Perfect for AD carries and champions that focus on laning and kiting their opponents.
- Deathfire’s Grasp: adds a damage over time effect to your spells. Suitable for champions that use their abilities to deal sustained damage.
For the Cunning tree, there are the following Keystones:
- Stormraider’s Surge: gives you a large burst of movement speed after you deal damage equal to 30% of a champion’s maximum health. Ideal for mages or other champions that have powerful spells but no way to close the distance and finish off their opponents
- Thunderlord’s Decree: makes your basic attacks and abilities mark the enemy champions for a short duration. After landing three basic attacks/spells, the mark triggers and your target gets hit with a burst of damage. A great tool for assassins and champions that want to quickly dispose of their opponents.
- Windspeaker’s Blessing: empowers your heals and shields while also adding bonus resistances to your allies. A perfect choice for utility-based supports and other champions that have healing or shielding spells.
For the Resolve tree, there are the following Keystones:
- Grasp of the Undying: makes your basic attacks seldom deal additional damage to the target champion while also returning a part of that damage as a heal for yourself. Half as effective for ranged champions. Great pick for tanks or bruisers that want a combination of damage and survivability.
- Courage of the Colossus: grants a shield after hitting an enemy champion with a crowd control spell or disable. The more enemy champions around you, the stronger the shield. Another stellar choice for tanks that focus on teamfighting and initiating skirmishes.
- Stoneborn Pact: grants a slight health boost and makes your crowd control spells mark enemy champions. Once your allies damage the target with basic attacks, they heal for a portion of your maximum health. Suitable for tanky supports that want to protect their AD carries.
In a game of League of Legends, it’s vital to have the right masteries. Professional League of Legends players are constantly looking for ways to optimize their masteries because when push comes to shove even little things can be the difference between winning and losing,
Runes are very similar to masteries in that they also offer slight power-ups. But they’re also a lot more straightforward. You won’t find any game-altering effects or subtle mechanics here—just raw stat boosts. Runes can be divided into:
Every player has a rune page with 9 slots for marks, 9 slots for seals, 9 slots for glyphs, and 3 slots for quintessences.
In theory, marks sharpen your offensive stats, seals bolster your defenses, glyphs improve abilities, and quintessences add utility. But there are many different runes in League of Legends, and you can easily find seals that will increase your damage output or glyphs that will grant protection. The only real difference is that quintessences offer sizeable bonuses while other runes grant smaller advantages.
Once again, a proper rune selection can make or break a game. You can tailor your rune page to specific champions or even particular in-game situations. For example, if the enemy team is built around physical damage, you can very well skip magic resistances runes in favor of armor. Or if you want to become a glass cannon, you can replace your protective runes with choices that highlight your offensive capabilities.
Every League of Legends game is played with runes. Picking a wrong rune page or even forgetting your runes altogether puts you at a significant disadvantage. In general, high-level players strive to min/max their rune pages and often use them in combination with masteries to get the most value out of them.
The final and the most noticeable thing that players can do before the game starts is choosing summoner spells. Every player gets to pick two summoner spells—powerful abilities with long cooldowns that can alter your playstyle. You can use these abilities to outplay your opponents, to protect yourself and your allies, or even to perform your role properly.
There are the following summoner spells in League of Legends:
- Barrier: grants a strong shield that protects you from damage for 2 seconds. A great choice against champions with high burst damage. Cooldown: 180 seconds.
- Clarity: restores half of the maximum mana to you and a quarter—to nearby allies. While this might seem great on paper, mana is rarely an issue in League of Legends, which makes this summoner spell subpar. Cooldown: 180 seconds.
- Cleanse: removes disable effects (excluding suppression) from your champion and grants you a 65% crowd control reduction for 3 seconds. Perfect for the cases when the enemy team has potent crowd control abilities that are hard to avoid. Cooldown: 210 seconds.
- Exhaust: casts a debuff onto the enemy champion that slows him and reduces his damage for 2 seconds. A great pick in situations where you want to protect yourself or your allies from a powerful assassin.
- Flash: an instant short-distance teleport. While seemingly bland, it is the go-to summoner spell for almost every champion in the game. Using Flash, you can dodge enemy spells, finish off stragglers, or make a swift escape when things go south. Cooldown: 300 seconds.
- Ghost: a gradually increasing movement speed buff that lasts 10 seconds. If your champion is durable enough or has other defensive abilities at his disposal, then you oftentimes want to take Ghost instead of Flash. Sometimes Ghost is combined with Flash for additional mobility. Cooldown: 180 seconds.
- Heal: exactly what it says on a tin. Using this spell will heal you and one of your allies for a sizeable amount while also granting a movement speed burst to both of you. AD carries often prefer Heal because they can use it to save their supports. Some mid laners also use this summoner spell for the combination of protection and mobility. Cooldown: 240 seconds.
- Ignite: a damage over time ability that also reduces the target’s self-healing for 40%. Great for assassins or other champions that seek to quickly kill their opponents. Cooldown: 210 seconds.
- Smite: deals a massive amount of true damage to a minion or a neutral monster. Cannot be used on champions. Smite is absolutely required for junglers in League of Legends since you will have a tough time battling neutral monsters without it.
- Teleport: a channeled ability that teleports you after 4.5 seconds to the location of an allied turret, minion, or a ward. Top laners and mid laners often pick Teleport because it allows them to promptly join the battle on the other side of the map. Teleport can be canceled, putting it on a 200-second cooldown. Otherwise, it has a 300-second cooldown.
The way you use your summoner spells is what separates good players from great ones. Even in a competitive setting, pros can whiff Flashes, Heal too late, or mistime Teleports. Proper summoner spell usage requires in-game knowledge, on-the-fly thinking, and even teamwork.
As you can see, there are many aspects that can influence how a LoL match goes before it even starts. It’s a game of inches, really. So the next time you see a pro taking over a game of League of Legends, ask yourself how much of it was due to him making smart mastery and rune choices or outplaying his opponents with summoner spells.