However, supports are less like MMO healers and more like the shortstop in baseball. He's not a baseman, but that gives him flexibility to be where a baseman can't be. He's constantly in the thick of the action, and his team regularly relies on him to make plays. In League, the support's freedom from farming gives her the freedom to roam, to fish for aggressive opportunities and shut down the enemy. She can even wander into mid lane or the enemy jungle in search of these opportunities. Far from a shrinking violet, the support is one of the biggest playmakers on her team.
I got my start in LoL playing support, and it's a role I inherently understand well. I'm not really happy making aggressive lane plays and would prefer to relax and let my mechanics win my games for me (hence why I like ADC), but when thrust into the role of playmaker, I do reasonably well. For team leaders or just people who like to make others play by their rules, support is the role of choice.
Why support helps the ADC
We touched on this a bit last time, but the support and the ADC are traditionally a pair. It's rare for an ADC to lane alone, and in a composition without an ADC, traditional supports are less useful compared to someone who can create opportunities and shell out damage. Many supports can do double duty, such as Leona; the Leona/Jarvan lane is a matchup to be feared, for instance.
The main reason supports lane with the ADC (if present) is that the ADC is the one person on the whole team who cannot pull his own weight in lane. The ADC will rarely, if ever, create an opportunity for a kill in lane. In high-level play, the chance that an ADC will actually remove his opponent from the lane is astronomically low. If a lane becomes a situation of ADC vs. ADC, it becomes a very lame farm-fest where nothing happens. Supports change this dramatically.
Consider the other roles for a moment. Mages have a lot of combo or burst potential and can rip away 50-80% of an opponent's health bar on a good opening. Bruisers can stick to an opponent and kill him before he can get to safety. Tanks can't really do much with a support since they lack damage (though supports themselves make decent tanks). ADCs can kill an enemy if they can get the enemy to stay in the lane or if the enemy makes a pretty large mistake. Mages and bruisers don't need a support to get their kills, and tanks aren't getting kills either way. ADCs get a huge benefit from the ability to keep people from running away, which is one of a support's key jobs.
Some supports contribute to their lane by being murder machines. Leona and Blitzcrank are the most infamous examples of this. They don't need much itemization as their base numbers are fairly good, so they just patrol the lane and look for opportunities. If anything ever gives them the shot to set up a kill, they dive on it. If the ADC is not asleep at the wheel, these characters guarantee kills if they get an opportunity for it. I've played Vayne/Leona (as Vayne) more times than I care to count, and almost every time I go 3/0 or better in lane. It isn't because of my magnificent Condemns (they're not) and brilliant aggression (I'm passive). I just farm and harass a little bit and bide my time. It's Leona who does the work, happily bashing people in the face with her shield so I can collect 300 gold.
Some supports just contribute to the lane by making it really irritating to be in lane with them. Sona is the perennial example of this. It is the most annoying thing in the world to lane against a good Sona because she constantly hits you with Q and Power Chord any time you try to do anything. Fortunately, good Sona players are few and far between. These supports just disrupt your ability to lane, and might not ever actually set up kills. That doesn't mean they don't happen, though. Enough annoying harassment by Sona or Lulu eventually adds up, and if the enemy stays in lane too long, it might result in tragedy for them. I like playing Graves/Lulu (as either character); Graves gets the shields and gets to be a bit more aggro (and Graves loves being aggro), while Lulu gets to be annoying constantly. If the enemy drops below 50% life or so, Graves can probably secure a kill with his spells and the aid of Lulu's Glitterlance (and possibly her ultimate).
Some supports do a little of both (like Janna), and others don't quite fit any mold (like Taric). The point remains, though. All of them run their lane and force others to play by their rules. Very few ADCs create that kind of gameplay on their own, but when paired with a truly dynamic support, their "DPS with flavor" gets to shine brightly.
Ever been jungling, happily going after your blue on the purple side, only to have Olaf, Blitzcrank, and Lux storm up into your face and completely ruin your day? More than any other character with a lane role, the support is capable of leaving her lane to bring her trade elsewhere. Some supports, like Sona or Soraka, aren't so good at this. Others, like Blitzcrank or Taric, create huge alarms if they go missing for more than 20 seconds. Shen is especially frightening as a support as he can be anywhere in three seconds. A foe who hides in brush for three seconds might emerge with Shen beside him -- a truly scary thought. If you want to be like Shen, just pack Teleport as a summoner spell and teleport to ally lane wards. When you throw Crescendo from the bushes, the enemy probably won't know what hit him.
As a jungler, I tend to eyeball my bottom lane just to see if I can get support for invasions. This is doubly true if I'm on the blue side since I tend to view the blue buff as more important (since interfering with the enemy jungler is more important to me). If the support is fairly competent and a good roaming character, I can usually count on her to back me up when I dive into the enemy jungle looking to steal blue. If the enemy jungler is on his game (actually gets his blue on the correct timer), I can start the fight and my support and mid will probably be there to help out, where only his mid might be there. If neither mid shows up and the enemy jungler isn't getting his blue, I can feed blue to my support and she can have infinite heals or shields or stuns or snares or whatever her kit has.
Some people take the roaming support role on with gusto and go traipsing around the map like a second jungler. I don't like this because it completely relies on the support to create kill opportunities, but it can be devastating. Unfortunately, it leaves your team's ADC alone, but if your comp doesn't have an ADC, a roaming support can be very effective.
Supports are extremely diverse, and trying to say all supports are a certain way is kind of doing the job an injustice. Soraka doesn't secure kills at all, for instance; she actually relies on poking, harassment, and long-term sustainability. Ever played Nidalee/Soraka? Nidalee has huge base attack speed, good autoattack range, and an attack speed steroid in her heal, while Soraka brings mana sustain for Nidalee and a second heal. It's like a double support lane! I find it pretty amusing, at least as long as one of us isn't dying to some ridiculous burst combo.
As I mentioned at the start of the column, supports aren't constricted to helping ADCs, either. Want to run Leona/Jarvan or some other aggressive melee combo? Who says you can't?
However, this also means that as a support you have to be on the same frequency as your lane partner and pick an appropriate character. More than anyone else, the support needs to be a team player, as she's the only one who works with someone else. You might say that the ADC fills that spot, but he does not. The ADC is practically playing a single-player game (exaggeration; please keep the rage out of the comments) while the support does the multiplayer part of the game.
Supports aren't for beginners, in my opinion. It's better for beginners to pick up and learn bruisers, mages, or carries and practice mechanics. It's only once those basic elements become more clear do supports really have a place. If you're past that initial beginner curve and want to learn one of the most strategically demanding jobs in League of Legends, try support!
We understand what it's like to climb the skill ladder in League of Legends. The Summoner's Guidebook teaches you the tools you need to get a competitive edge. Whether you're climbing the ranked ladder, playing Draft Dominion, or getting crushed by intermediate bots, every enemy has a weakness. And every Thursday, Patrick Mackey shows how you can improve improve on yours.