A while ago I posted a blog about AP Ezreal. I’m not gonna link, because it’s only mildly tangent to this post. Here is what you need to know from it:
I compared the likes of AP Ezreal with other popular mid-lane mages like Gragas and Morgana, mostly in respect to the amount of damage that his abilities do, and how overall his damage output is consistently higher. That might be up for debate, but there was a central theme among a number of the responses to this along a different line of thinking. They all mentioned how Gragas and Morgana have utility to go along with their damage.
I’m not disputing that Morg or the Fat Man don’t have utility. I have a problem with that statement because it implies that AP Ezreal (or Ezreal in general) doesn’t have utility. Rather than replying to everyone individually in the comments section, I’m making this post not to defend AP Ezreal (that was for the old blog, though I will probably reference how Ezreal can showcase his utility to prove the point) but to better explain and define what I think the word “utility” means in LoL.
In general, I think of utility as anything that isn’t merely emulating stats. A bit broad, I know, but I just bear with me as I focus that definition down. Items can grant utility through certain actives or passives. To be more specific, I’ve divided utility into two main groups: disabling and enabling. Some are readily apparent and really straightforward in how they provide advantages, but I would like you to keep in mind that a lot of great and powerful utility comes in the form of thinking outside of the box and using abilities in a way that does more than damage or snare enemies. There are a lot of neat tricks in League that you won’t find written in the description of champion abilities. I’ll mention a handful of them, but you should be thinking back to champions you play and see if you can think of some hidden utility in their kits that other players might not now about or consider.
Disabling Utility: Crowd Control
The easiest and most popular way to think of utility is in the form of CC. I call this ‘Disabling’ utility because that is what it does. It prevents or disables your enemy from taking certain actions, limiting their options at any given point in the game. You can think of it has preventing or denying a possible advantage the enemy might have or gain. I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with the various forms of CC, but I’ll go over them to give an idea of the proper power each has. I also ranked each CC in terms of strength, again, based on how much they limit the enemy’s options. This isn’t to say that one type of CC can’t be more or less impactful than another, as that depends on a lot of things at the time of use, but rather gives an idea of how restricting that CC is.
These are CC’s that only minutely limit your opponent’s capabilities. Again, not to say that the power or effect they can have can’t be great, but that simply on their own they don’t put a great limit on an enemy’s actions.
Slows: Even strong slows can still be considered ‘soft’, because they don’t actually prevent the enemy from moving, attack, or using any abilities. A slowed but otherwise healthy opponent can always choose to turn around and attack you. Gap closers are an easy way to overcome strong slows. Slows can, though, be potentially more impactful than ‘harder’ CC if you can apply them in quick succession, because they almost effectively remove movement as an option. This is the main reason why Lulu is very scary in the late game when she can apply an almost permanent 80% slow.
Spell Shields/Cleanses: Abilities like Sivir’s spell shield or the active from Mercurial Scimitar, I feel, are more appropriately labeled as disabling utility, because they nullify or deny the effectives of enemy CC or abilities. I know they are not technically CC, but there are here because they work through denying power, not enabling it. I have them as soft CC because they can be tricky to time, as the enemy can simply follow up with more CC, try and bait it out, or use an ability to burn through the spell shield before following up with the more desirable ability.
These CC’s directly prevent an opponent from taking a certain action. Sometimes these CC’s are not very impactful, often because the action restricted is not particularly concerning for that champion i.e. silencing an ADC means they can still autoattack.
Silence: As mentioned above, a lot of champions like ADC’s aren’t scared of silences by themselves. Silences, though, can be used to compound the effect of other situational advantages, like catching someone out of position then silencing them to prevent them from flashing away immediately, or breaking a channel.
Snare: Similar to a silence, snares only limit the option to move (via regular moving, gap closers, or repositions) but still allow the use of attacks or non-movement abilities. They are really more to prevent them from escaping an already disadvantageous situation. Snares are particularly annoying for melee champions that can’t attack from range easily.
I will also say as an aside that for Riven especially, snares are effectively as powerful as stuns. They prevent the use of both her Q and her E, which are arguably her most impactful abilities.
These are the ‘hardest’ of CC because they completely deny any input from the player. Also sometimes referred to as ‘interrupting’ CC because they immediately interrupt any action that enemy is taking. The exception of course is in irregular movement, which can only be interrupted by airborne CC (knock-ups/knockbacks). I use the word airborne because that is the terminology that Yasuo’s ult uses and, if you’ve ever played Yasuo, you may have noticed that Yas can ult off of most knockbacks, such as Syndra’s Scatter the Weak, or Tristana’s Buster Shot (though it is a very brief window).
Stun/Suppress/Knock-ups/Fear: I’ve lumped these all together because they do exactly the same thing; they prevent any action from being taken over their duration (with the exception of using the Barrier spell). Fear is here because, while the champion is able to move, the player cannot issue movement commands and their champion moves very slowly of their own accord, denying the player any options.
Knockbacks: Knockbacks are most often used to deny an enemy of their preferred positioning. They are a little tricky to use because they sometimes require you to be out of position a bit yourself.
Taunts: I feel like taunts have a lot of underappreciated power. They are harder CC’s than silence because a silenced opponent can still run away. Taunted opponents have no choice but to sit and watch as their Ziggs futilely auto’s the tanky Shen. If the taunt-er is out of attack range from the taunt-ee, then a taunt can effectively work like a stun or fear, since even autoattacks are being denied by the range gap.
The moral of the above story is that CC gives utility by denying options or advantages from the enemy, the strength of which depends often on the situation. But there is another way to give utility, and it is less often built directly into a champion’s kit and more often comes about by smart, lateral thinking on part of the player. Think back to when Thresh’s lantern was not an object. You could place interactable objects, like wards or a summoned minion (Tibbers!) on top of the lantern to deny people from using it. That is a form of disabling utility, as it prevented peopled from benefitting from one of Thresh’s most powerful tools.
Enabling Utility: the Hidden Power of the Champion
In contrast to disabling utility in the form of CC, enabling utility grants the player and/or his allies an advantage. Nothing is denied from the opposing team, but it is often impossible to prevent or counter this utility directly. The best bet is simply to try and accumulate your own utility and hope that it is better for the situation than what your opponent has. Some of these kinds of utility are straightforward and immediately apparent, and are listed below. Though I’m sure you might think of some situational clever uses of these utilities other than what I’ve mentioned.
Barriers/Shields: Barriers enable their benefactor take more damage than they normally would not be able to without dying. This could allow a jungler to tank an extra turret shot during a dive, or buy enough time for reinforcements to arrive to turn around a fight. Good use of barriers requires good timing.
Healing: In a similar fashion to shields, healing (be it Astral Blessing, lifesteal, spellvamp, etc.) enable someone to take more damage without dying, though their effectiveness is often felt over a longer time scale than the instantaneousness of a barrier.
Repositions/Gap Closers: These either enable their user to overcome range deficiencies to quickly move to a target, or allow them to take bigger risks in terms of positioning. Usually the faster, the better these are. These can often be denied by using airborne CC, though a certain few ‘blinks’ are instant and can’t be interrupted.
Stealth: Stealth is a tricky one to grasp, as every stealth champion uses it in a specific way. It usually revolves around preemptively ‘deflecting’ attacks from the enemy. Even if they know you are there, it is difficult to aim your skillshots well when they can’t see your exact position. You can also think of these as temporarily freeing a champion from having to position well.
Wards/Revealing: In contrast, wards or abilities that grant vision are all about information and enabling the player to make the best informed decision, be it for positioning or moving about the map or grouping around Baron. Some abilities have revealing an area or struck enemies as a direct effect (Kog’maw’s or TF’s Ult) or have them as an intentional but not explicitly stated effect (Akali’s shroud or Orianna’s ball).
Utility out of a Hat
Some really impactul utilities are abstract effects enforced by the player using a skill in an unconventional way. The most common is checking bushes with an ability. While the ability itself might not reveal the bush or any enemies struck, you can imply the presence of something in those bushes because the ability interacts in a specific way when it hits a target. This is often in the form of the ability’s particle effect disappearing, the ability detonating, or a certain sound effect being produced. In the case of Ezreal, his Q disappears when you hit something. In the specific case of Ezreal, you can also confirm a hit with any of his abilities by noting whether or not you gained a stack of his passive. Even if your passive is fully stacked, you can still see the duration reset.
Globals or semi-globals are another great example of abstract utility. There are here under abstract because while the actual effect is very direct, the specific application of that effect can vary greatly across abilities and the situation. In the most general of terms, it allows a player to have presence and impact on multiple parts of the map, almost doing two things at once. For example, the enemy mid-laner decides to roam to gank bot lane, and the jungler needs to respond. They can choose to follow the mid laner and counter gank, but they still may arrive late and simply be there to defend the turret. Or they could go mid and push the unattended tower, pressuring an objective but leaving bot lane defenseless. If, however, your jungler is Pantheon, he can quickly shove the wave to the tower, and then use his Ult to go bot and be in time for a good counter-gank, or do it in reverse order; he can run down to bot to scare off/kill the mid laner, then ult into the mid lane to pressure that tower. In Ezreal’s case, he can use his ult to either split push two lanes at once, or impact a fight from across the map without having to spend time travelling a great distance.
Conclusion: Utility is Everywhere
I really want people to understand that “Utility” and “Crowd Control” do not mean the same thing. Conflating the two severely limits the way you look at the aspects abilities. Smart, innovative League players are all about finding utility in places outside of the tooltips for abilities or items. Just think about all those times you saw a Wukong stand still to trick people into thinking he had stealthed. Or people who cheekily placed wards on top of themselves to cause people to attack the ward instead of moving. Leblancs using their clone to body-block skillshots. Akalis throwing a shroud over the wraith camp so they can Shadow Dance through the wall. Finding little tricks like this is what will separate good players from great players, because these are how you can squeeze every bit of potential power from the tools given to you in-game.