ARAM began life on Summoner's Rift, hence its name. The single lane used for ARAM was the middle lane, and traveling into the jungle or other lanes meant immediate disqualification of one's team. It was fraught with the normal trappings of an alternative ruleset; the rules for ARAM were not enforced by the game, so players were expected to play within the community-created rules. It evolved into ARAB, played on the Crystal Scar, with two teams fighting over the bottom capture points. ARAB proved to have its own flaws, most notably that games went on for a bit longer than normal, but the passive gold and experience as well as the health relic helped to add interesting spice to the game mode.
Finally, ARAM became a more or less supported gametype with the addition of the Proving Grounds. That addition streamlined ARAM gameplay while keeping some of the elements of the Crystal Scar version of the game such as health relics and Dominion items. Today, while there is no matchmaking for ARAM, it is extremely popular in custom matches.
Rules of ARAM
ARAM is quite a bit different than normal games on either Summoner's Rift or the Crystal Scar. The win conditions are the same as Summoner's Rift: destroy towers to get to the enemy Nexus and deplete its health to zero. ARAB, though less played since the Proving Grounds was created, has the same win condition as Dominion: deplete the enemy Nexus' health by controlling more capture points than the enemy.
However, the similarities end there, and not just because ARAM has a single lane and enforces random champion selection.
The Proving Grounds disables the Recall spell and the ability to buy items from the shop normally. You can purchase items in ARAM only when your champion is slain; walking back to the fountain will not allow you to buy items as it does in other gametypes. Additionally, the summoner fountain does not restore health or mana. Even in ARAB games that are not played on the Proving Grounds, players are forbidden from shopping unless slain, using Recall, or returning to the fountain for healing unless pushed to the fountain by the enemy team.
Although ARAM somewhat mirrors the Summoner's Rift game mode, it uses Dominion items, starts at Champion level 3, and has passive experience and gold generation. It also prohibits the use of the Revive and Teleport summoner spells. Some players soft-ban the Promote summoner spell, though there's no real reason to do this as Promote doesn't really give much benefit to a team and is basically a dead spell pick when there are five enemy champions to counter-push.
Suicide is an interesting problem in ARAM. If a team is ahead (i.e., if most of the enemy team is dead), a player can suicide on an enemy turret or minion pack in order to use the shop. If done properly, this "executes" the character and grants no one the kill rewards (and does not interrupt killing sprees). Some players see this as legitimate, since the player is out of the game until he respawns. Others find the practice exploitative, since it allows a player to shop without feeding the enemy team gold from a normal kill. Certain characters with global ultimates can use these skills to jump far past the battle line and die to back-line turrets "safely," as well. In general, if the match host does not expressly prohibit this practice, it is probably fair game. However, it's a good idea to ask so that you avoid offending people (it's a "fun" game mode, not a hardcore competition).
Even if unrewarded suicide is not allowed, players who are not on a killstreak may suicide to the enemy since the reward given to the enemy team is low. While this seems like a bad idea, a player with many assists but few kills may accrue a lot of gold and dying doesn't give the enemy team a "streak-break" kill.
The most important reason to play ARAM is that it's goofy and fun. The chaos from getting two teams of random characters all stuck in the same lane is usually a blast, win or lose. The global resource gain and shopping restriction make games quite a bit closer, though there is quite a bit of snowballing in most ARAM matches.
It can also be good as stress-free practice. I find that, even if I'm stuck with a random champion, ARAM lets me practice teamfight positioning and situation management. It also lets me do so without worrying too much whether I win or lose. It often puts me into roles I'm not used to; while I don't own any champion packs (every character I've unlocked was deliberately selected), there are a lot of champions I don't play regularly or play only as counter-junglers or some other role that doesn't do so well in ARAM. There are also a few champions I own that I don't particularly like playing much anymore, such as Shaco, and putting myself in those unfamiliar situations is good practice for being more adaptive.
It can also be good to socialize. Nobody takes ARAM seriously, and most people are much nicer in chat, which isn't true in more competitive game types. ARAM seems much less likely to induce the rage that plagues most LoL players. I end up getting dragged into ARAM games by friends a lot, and they're usually pretty fun.
Of course, this is the Summoner's Guidebook, and it'd be wrong of me to completely ignore strategy here. The most important skills in ARAM are positioning and knowing when to pick fights. All too often I see my team engage near the enemy's turret when we should be poking and controlling the health relic or darting in with minions to do a bit of turret damage. Unfortunately, ARAM usually means "I do what I want," and this often means people make foolish assaults on entrenched enemies. It's best to not get mad about it.
Many of the best ARAM characters have healing. If you like supports and have unlocked a lot of them as I have, healing supports help a lot. Soraka is one of the most ridiculous characters on ARAM because she heals and provides aggressive teammates with the mana they need to keep attacking. Taric is also amazing (all of his abilities are amazing, or outrageous if you prefer), and Nidalee has a bit of healing combined with fantastic harassment with her spears. Any character that has self-healing is also decent, though you might find healing difficult if your self-healing is melee range. This also means that lifesteal and spellvamp items are very good in ARAM. Anything that heals is wonderful, since you cannot return to base to heal and must rely on passive health regen or health packs.
Long-ranged harassment is also really good because many battles end up at a tower with neither side having minions. In this situation, even attacks that are stopped or reduced by minions (such as Blitzcrank's grab, Sivir's boomerang, or Nidalee's spear) are great. Just don't get caught by the enemy's harassment while you do the same!
Likewise, because minions are quickly destroyed by both teams, placing minions on the field (such as Heimerdinger turrets or Yorick ghouls) to unexpectedly block Blitzcrank grabs or Nidalee spears can be really effective.
Always be mindful of what your team is doing. If you have an Amumu on your team and he lands a bandage toss, you need to engage right away because his ultimate is probably coming. In general, if you see someone throw down an ultimate, you should probably enter the fray immediately and cut loose with as much firepower as you can. A victorious teamfight lets you potentially suicide or push down the enemy turret, and as in all games, it also puts your team ahead on gold. Sometimes it's necessary to commit even if you don't think your team can win the fight because killing many of the enemy team members can stop them from pushing, especially if someone on your team survives.
Above all, have fun! If you're playing to practice, don't worry as much about winning as you are about doing well. If you're just playing to have fun... wellm have fun! This is the only time you guys will ever see me type those words. Just sayin'.
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