Welcome to Top Lane Essentials! This League of Legends guide is going to break down a little bit of everything you need to know about Top Lane from conceptual topics like ‘What makes a Champion a Top Laner’, to the strength of the lane in Solo Queue, to a breakdown of some core mechanics you must have mastered to be a successful Top.
Watching over and guiding this process is none other than FakeGod himself! He’s taken the time to help us along our journey to mastering Top, so huge thanks to him for taking the time to help us out!
But, before we go anywhere else, let’s talk about what we can glean from our LCS betters, and what FakeGod has to say about translating what you see in the LCS into Solo Queue:
Some Champions that you see in LCS can be equally viable in Solo Queue, though the environments are entirely different, it’s good to watch and get an idea of what is strong to play. You also might learn a thing or two about mechanical plays. But due to the one-tricks, and oddball players in Solo Queue, it’s always best to simply play what you’re good at. Even if it’s not the most meta choice. Meta is good, but comfort is almost always better when you’re climbing below Diamond.
Introduction into Top - Distance and Mindset
Top Lane is a role that is going to a wide range of players, which incidentally may turn some off from the role due to the high variance. But overall, amongst the true Top Mains, you’re going to find a collective of mindsets that stem off from the Core Classes that call Top home. However, before we get into talking about the classes, we first need to talk about Top’s position in relation to every other lane on the Map.
Since you’re furthest away from Dragon, one of the good things about Top Lane is that if you’re in a skills-based matchup, if you’re the better player, you’re going to absolutely control your side of the map.
The man said it best. Top Lane is at the top Summoner’s Rift. This lane is one of the Rift’s two Solo Lanes, and its nearest and most defining neutral objectives are Rift Herald and Baron. This means that Top Lane is the furthest lane away from Dragon, which at this moment in time, is the most vital objective in a game.
And if your team is struggling, since you’re so far away from the biggest objective, you can’t really help them. Well, you can but you have to take the extra steps during the laning phase. Things like TP plays, roams with your Jungler, or roaming Mid. But really, only later after the laning phase can you actually start to help your team, which is one of the biggest drawbacks of Top overall.
This physical distance from the game’s most important objective really creates a separation from Top in relation to the rest of the map and is why the lane has been coined an ‘island’. It’s not uncommon for Top Laners to only see each other throughout the entirety of a game since their lane has so little influence over a team’s ability to take Dragon. This distance also promotes the lane’s core classes and creates several distinct approaches to the game which I think are summarized perfectly within the lane’s classes.
The Top Lane’s Classes and Subclasses
Historically speaking, the three main Classes for Top Lane are Tanks, separated into Vanguards and Wardens. Fighters, which are separated into Divers and Juggernauts. And last but not least, Slayers, separated by Assassins and Skirmishers.
Despite these being the three common classes to call Top home, it’s not uncommon to see weird Meta shifts where Mages, Enchanters, or Marksmen make their way to Top. Again this is due to the isolated nature of the lane, and as such, you can run ‘untraditional’ picks in this lane that benefit from draft flexibility/known matchups.
But, we’re going to focus on the core and break down each of them with a quick TL;DR.
Tanks - Vanguards and Wardens
Tanks are bulky melee Champions that get into the thick of fights and are excellent at disruption and soaking attention from the enemy team. Tanks often have higher base resistance numbers than other classes while also providing some sort of easily accessible defensive CD that increases their defensiveness at a moment’s notice. Tanks handle burst damage extremely well, and thus are great into Mages and Assassins, but their designs cause them to falter a bit in extended fights causing them to lose to DPS focused Fighters and Marksmen.
Despite their general weaknesses in 1v1 settings due to their low mobility and damage, Tanks are a natural selection for Top due to the lane’s isolated nature. The isolation of Top allows Tanks to farm and reach thresholds where they become ‘stat sticks’ and are capable of fulfilling that attention soaking role in Mid/Late-game teamfights.
- Vanguard - The Engager
Vanguards are the first Subclass of Tanks and are focused primarily around engaging fights. They often come equipped with quick or tricking crowd-control effects that can catch an enemy off-guard and set them up for allies to follow. Common Top Lane Vanguards are: Malphite, Maokai, and Sion.
- Warden - The Defensive Line
Wardens oppose their Vanguard contemporaries by being the more defensive option of the Tanks. Wardens are excellent at creating difficult zones for the enemy Assassins or Divers to approach. Further, once a Warden is on top of an enemy target, it’s hard for that Champion to escape through the Warden’s close-range crowd-control. Wardens are not great engage options, and instead rely on playing around vision or can act as a follow-up engage to another Champion. Common Top Lane Wardens are: Poppy, Shen, and Tahm Kench.
Fighters - Divers and Juggernauts
Fighters are melee Champions that focus on getting into fights and dealing a ton of damage once they’re in. Though they’re not as defensively minded as Tanks, they’re capable of soaking a bit of attention throughout synergistic effects with in-combat regen mechanics like Lifesteal and Omnivamp, and through synergy with Keystones like Conqueror. Couple their in-combat healing with their typical short-range and flexible mobility effects, and Fighters can come across as rather ‘tanky’ in the right situations. Naturally, their synergies with extended fighting mechanics allows them to excel against Tanks who lack the damage to effectively deal with them in long fights. and Assassins who lack the ability to burst them down.
Despite all this though, Fighter mobility and regenerative effects are often situationally tied to combat. So, getting a catch on them, locking them down, or kiting them out are effective ways to deal with them.
- Divers - Feet First Into Hell
The more mobile of the two Subclasses, Divers are great at singling out a target, isolating them from their team, and then bursting them down. Divers trade off their ability to burst and isolate by being far less tanky in comparison to Juggernauts and Tanks. Divers are Champions that typically look for side or flank engagement and often are perfect secondary engage options for after the enemies have their eyes forward and locked onto a primary target. Common Top Lane Divers are Renekton, Camille, and Irelia.
- Juggernauts - Daring You To Get Close
Juggernauts are far less mobile than Divers, but what they lack in mobility they make up for in tankier stats. Juggernaut Champions, like Wardens, excel whenever opponents are within their immediate range, and many of the tools that Juggernauts have at their disposal often revolve around dragging in or keeping in their enemies in proximity of their abilities. Common Top Lane Juggernauts are Darius, Garen, and Nasus.
Slayers - Assassins and Skirmishers
Our last category of Champions are the Slayers. Slayers are split between Mid and Top in terms of where their Champions like to gravitate towards. Assassins typically prefer Mid over Top due to their mobility and desires to roam and impact the map at large. While Skirmishers are your bread and butter split-pushing Champions. They love being in a side lane and outplaying their enemies before knocking down their turrets. For the sake of our content, we’re going to focus on Skirmishers since they’re more common.
- Skirmishers - Playing Alone
Skirmishers, or Duelists, are strong side-laning Champions that provide great sustained DPS that is capable of cutting down Juggernaut and Tank alike. These Champions also come packaged with situational defensive abilities or unique utility that enable them to outplay their opponents to secure clutch plays. Common Top Lane Skirmishers are Jax, Fiora, and the newly released Gwen.
With this in mind, what I think defines a great Top Laner, regardless of Class, is how blindable they are. Again thinking about comfort, so for me, I like playing Champions who have a very clear identity even if they get counter-picked. An example is Renekton, he’s got strong ability to dive onto the backline, but he can also play front-to-back okay if needed. In general, for Top Lane, you’re going to be blind picking a lot. And Top is probably the role that cares the most about getting a good matchup. So, you want to have picks that you’re both comfortable with and are strong blinds from any of the Classes to help round out your comp.
The Core Fundamentals of Top Lane
Now that we’ve gotten the Champion classes out of the way, and we know a host of picks and styles to choose from, get a mind from just a flavor or gameplay standpoint about who you like. Because as we transition into the Fundamental area of Top Lane, your success here is going to be heavily based on how much you actually enjoy your Champion.
So, the big fundamentals of Top are wave management, knowing strong side versus weak side, and TP usage. Of these, for lower ELOs wave management and Jungle timings should be your focus. But, as you climb, getting better with TP and understanding how to play your side of the map gets more important. But also, to tie back to the classes, Top Laners need to have a wide coverage and understanding of a lot of different matchups. So, you want to be able to play Tanks if you need to, or a Bruiser if you need to. And you need to know how to play against those as well. That, I think, comes from learning the Champions yourself, so be sure you get a good core pool going.
The first of FakeGod’s fundamentals is Wave Management. And this makes a ton of sense. Again, let us use the context of Top’s isolation and think about the most consistent way that you’re able to generate a lead in game… I’ll give you a hint, it’s not going in at level 2 every time. Instead winning via farm is the safest and surest way to get yourself an advantage. And beyond just last hitting proficiently, there are several wave states that matter to Top Laners, and there are zones that you need to apply to lanes to grasp where to begin these wave states.
1. Fast Pushing Wave
The first of these wave states is the simplest to understand and that’s the Fast Pushing Wave. Fast Pushing Waves, as their name implies, are waves that you’ve hard pushed into enemy turret range. When setting up this push you’re aiming for pressure under the turret. Fast Pushing is great when you want to quickly execute a play like a Herald, invade, or dive, and the larger your wave the better.
When looking to Fast Push, you set up the wave by getting rid of the melee minions and cannon minions in your way by hard using your abilities on the wave. If last hitting the casters should give you enough stall to get your next wave there before you do it over again. Once you have like a wave or so clumped, fast push it again into turret to set up your next roam, dive, or invade.
2. Freezing the Wave
The second of the wave states that Top Laners should learn to execute on is the Freeze. Freezing the Wave is the art of stalling the wave just outside of turret range and then positioning yourself so that if your opponent tries to last hit or contest you, that you’re in position to kill them.
Freezing is typically done when you’re stronger than your opponent, or the wave is on your side of the lane and your Jungler is on your side of the map already. Freezing in these situations makes it risky for the enemy to come forward without vision. And, if they don’t, it’s an easy kill for you. Freezes also translate well into Slow Pushes after you get kills which can put a lot of pressure on opponents when you need to move to a fight.
3. Slow Pushes
Smoothly transitioning us to Slow Pushes, as FakeGod mentioned, Slow Pushing is the art of stacking a massive wave to crash into the enemy’s side of the map. This can be done solo to create Minion pressure on an objective while you look to roam or fight with your team, forcing them to choose between the 20+ minions at the turret and the fight that’s happening, which forces them into a trade situation one way or the other. And it’s great for setting up dives as we mentioned earlier. But this is certainly a more late game tactic.
Overall, Wave Manipulation is super important for Top Lane. If you mess up your wave, and it’s in a bad spot at the wrong time then you’re extremely exposed in such a long lane. So, getting down how to properly freeze and understanding the back and forth is super important to climbing. It increases your safety, tempo, and ability to affect the maps overall. Always consider where the minions meet and from that meeting point, think about how you can affect the wave to put yourself in the safest position.
Weak Versus Strong
These are terms that get thrown out a TON in the Pro-Scene casts and in coaching sessions that you can find on YouTube. But oftentimes, players get confused by the names of these terms alone. So, before we step forward, it’s important to truly define what Weak Side and Strong Side are.
These terms change as the game evolves, because as you get into Mid Game, the team should be playing on one side of the map. So, in the situations where you are Weak Side you are on the side of the map that has the fewest friendly players. This means you’re extremely vulnerable if you’re trying to hold a turret, pressure up a lane, or take a trade. Strong Side is the opposite and basically is the side of the map that has the most number of bodies present.
To give an example of a Weak Side play-state, if you’re Top and you see both the enemy Top and Jungle on your side of the map while your team is clumping around Dragon, this is a situation where you are the Weak Side player. Your goal in this situation is to either generate pressure at the right time and force a response from both players on your side of the map and thus prevent them from moving towards your team down bottom. Or, it’s to play extremely safe and collect what you can without giving anything on your side.
It’s all about how strong you are individually. And yes, you might have 5 kills over your opponent laner, but until the physical numbers of Champions change on your side of the map, in a situation where you’re 1 versus any number greater than 1, you’re the Weak Side.
So, in situations where you’re playing Weak Side, your enemies have to make a decision. Either they match you and create a one versus one situation to also match the strongside with the same numbers, or they force a trade and try to make a play on you on the Weak Side since they’re not strong enough to contest the Strong Side with even numbers. So, you have to think about how strong you and your team are in comparison to the enemy when you’re playing ‘Weak Side’ because there may be situations where you’re just trying not to give away too much when playing on the weaker side.
The Never Ending Debate - Teleport versus Ignite
Generally speaking, Teleport offers more utility throughout the game. It allows for the map-wide plays and pressure by allowing you as the Top to farm safely on a weaker side of the map, while still having the capacity to join your team in a moment’s notice. Additionally, if your lane starts off a little rough with an early death or back, Teleport allows you to recover the tempo and get control of your lane again by keeping you in experience and gold range.
Ignite is a far more ‘pub-stompy’ option and can be considered in matchups where you want to just hard win your lane from the start and snowball out of control. You don’t have the same utility for yourself or your team, but you bring a ton of lane pressure since, in most situations, you’ll be opting for damage against their utility. And at a lower cooldown, should you be in an already winning matchup, Ignite is worth consideration if you truly believe yourself able to hard stomp a lane.
Ignite is also an option on Champions that have excellent evasiveness and mobility. It’s not uncommon to see Champions like Quinn, Camille, or Kled opt for Ignite over Teleport since they already have such high functioning roaming/mobility tools at their disposal.
Again though, as you climb higher and higher, trading becomes far more accurate. Players don’t need to Ignite to make up for their lack of understanding on their damages the further you climb... Additionally, Teleport becomes more of a staple selection thanks to big TP plays that can occur in higher communication and map awareness ELOs.
Ultimately, I’d say get used to playing with TP and truly understanding your Champion’s damage outputs without ignite, so that as you climb you can more smoothly transition your mindset into that more macro focus style that becomes prevalent within higher ELOs.
Lastly, Recommended Champions
I mentioned before having a good core pool of Champions is important. Because as a Top Laner, you’re one of the best roles to round out a comp. You’ve got Tank, DPS, Burst, and Support options. So, I recommend these Champions for those that are beginners to League or to Top Lane itself: Sion for your Tank pick, Garen for your Fighter/Bruiser pick, and Jax for your Skirmisher pick.
Each of these Champions are solid beginner prospects for Top Lane and brings exposure to perhaps the biggest three styles of play in Top. Additionally, each of these Champions is extremely light in the mechanical execution department, so if you’re just getting a feel for the game and pace of the lane, you don’t have to worry to much about pulling off high mechanical combos.
Also, there’s unique builds beyond just the standard pages you can find on websites like U.GG, ProGuides, and more. Getting into the one-trick communities of these Champs will show you unique play styles to really spice up your time just getting to know these Champions.
That’s a little bit of everything you need to know to get started with Top. Huge thanks to FakeGod for sitting down with me and offering all the insight into this piece. Good luck to him this Summer, and good luck to the rest of the lads on DIG. I hope the information here is a great jumping point for you to be able to get into the role that has, weirdly, been one of the more stable roles over the past few seasons. Good luck in Solo-Queue everyone!
If you want to see more of FakeGod, you can find him at: