Support champions can be tremendously impactful in skilled hands, but aside from the odd Lulu solo lane it all seems to happen on the singular duo lane in the ever present marksman-support set-up.
It was not always so. In the past, support champions have seen play in almost every position on the map. With options for duo lane supporting, solo laning, and even jungling, support champions enjoyed unrivaled strategic adaptability.
Emphasis on the past tense, however. Since then almost every single support champion has been reworked in some manner to fit the duo lane support role, and that role only. Most of the new support champions are designed in a similar fashion, which makes playing them outside the duo lane practically impossible. It’s almost as if Riot is trying their hardest to make sure they fit into existing strategies as seamlessly as possible.
Supports have, in more ways than one, become bound to their carries.
Brief history of the bottom lane
After dedicated junglers became the norm very early on in the game’s history, only one non-solo lane remained. The position of Dragon, an important early-game objective, standardised bottom lane as the duo lane.
After some initial confusion people realised that since the duo lane is splitting experience points, champions that don’t rely on levels particularly much tend to fit the lane best. Thus, the AD carry-support bot lane was born. This all happened four years ago in Season 1.
The story of support champions doesn’t quite end there, though. Their high utility and versatility made them solid picks for many other map positions.
Zilean and Soraka were played in mid, as they could hold their own while providing great global assistance to their team; Zilean with his passive (which used to be global), and Soraka with her ultimate. Shortly after his rework in season 2, Alistar saw play both as a very roamy jungler and a bursty AP mid laner.
Janna was played in the mid lane, as her kit was useful for roaming and objective control. Lulu was played on both solo lanes, often picked for her strong laning and mid game poke. These days she’s mostly picked for her safe laning and for team compositions oriented around protecting a single carry, such as the juggermaw.
Not many support champions have seen play outside of the duo lane past Season 2. Champions like Karma, Soraka, and Alistar briefly broke out of the duo lane, but these escapes were always met with swift nerfs.
From jack of all trades to master of one
Support champions have seen a lot of changes, but at what cost? In an effort to maintain the support-carry duality Riot reworked most support champions to better fit the zero-gold support bill, causing a number of problems. The amount of viable item choices was reduced, making most support champions only good on the duo lane. It also started a period where supports spent the majority of their gold on wards, since most items were too inefficient or expensive.
However, with the introduction of support-specific gold-generation items and the Sightstone, supports now have more gold to spend on items. Support-oriented high tier items like Mikael’s Crucible and Righteous Glory have also played their part in making supports feel more than just ward bots.
Even then, one can but wonder if sacrificing all that strategic diversity has been worth it. On their mission to make carry-hugging feel like fun gameplay Riot has all but eliminated any other playstyles support champions have enjoyed in the past.