There are lots of questions that frequently pop up about top lane. What champions are good top? What is top all about? How do I “win” top lane? What is there to know about the so called “Island Lane?”
top lane is an island
With Dragon being such an important part of the early and mid game, junglers often have less reason to spend time helping their top laners. Instead, they focus on helping the other two lanes. By focusing ganks on top lane, a jungler creates less pressure on the other lanes, which means they are lending assistance to one person at the expense of three others. The indirect effect of camping top is creating fewer chances for a jungler to kill the Dragon. The Dragon is worth 190 gold to each person on the team and provides a large amount of experience (significantly benefiting top lane), so it’s hardly a wonder that junglers try to focus their ganks on lanes besides top. Killing these laners or forcing them back enables you to take Dragon safely without the enemy contesting the kill. The result of this is a lane where it’s generally up to two players to duke it out with minimal intervention from their teams.
Characteristics of a good top laner
Champions need several things that together create a powerful, self sustainable presence in top lane. These things include sustain, the ability to trade damage, a strong 1v1 or dueling capability, tools to escape, strong poke, burst, CC, and the ability to keep on a target. It is these main features that, when mixed, create the potential for a strong top laner. Let’s take a closer look at one of the best top laners presently and see how her kits relate to this list.
Let’s look at Elise and her human form abilities first. Elise’s Q is a %Current health nuke, and her W is a homing nuke. These abilities are incredibly powerful, impossible-to-ignore poke damage, and give her strong wave-clearing power. Her E gives her a fast-traveling stun, so long as it hits an enemy champion, which gives her both CC and an escape tool. Her ultimate transforms her into a spider, granting her extra movement speed to chase or escape from a target. In addition, she gains magic damage on hit, which enables her to trade hits with melee champions. In her spider form, her Q deals %Missing health damage, giving her an incredibly powerful execution ability similar to Lee Sin’s Q, which enhances her dueling ability. Her W gives her a small degree of sustain, and serves as a powerful melee steroid for her and her spiderlings, further enabling her to trade and duel. Her E in spider is a unique ability, allowing her to become immune to damage and spells, keep on targets, or escape from jungler ganks.
Now, with all her abilities wrapped up, what do we have? Well, frankly, everything. Short of strong sustain, Elise has every single one of the traits mentioned earlier. The combination of all these things are what make her an incredibly powerful top laner. If she lost, say, a fair amount of power from her Q, she would lose a significant amount of dueling and poke power. If she lost her E, she’d lose her CC, ability to escape, initiation, and some trading power. Like all champions, it’s a combination of her abilities and how they work together that makes her a powerful top laner with few solid counters.
A home for snowflakes
Top lane is, similar to mid: A lane for champions that either desperately need farm to be relevant in the mid and late game, or champions that have some of the tools previously mentioned but shouldn't be in another role or lane. One example for the former case is Irelia. Irelia is a champion that, without farm, is one of the most useless bruisers imaginable. With farm and the levels a solo lane provides, however, Irelia is a juggernaut who will violate your carries in a myriad of ways that you’ll never find polite company discussing. An example for the latter case would be Malphite. Malphite excels in the jungle, but if jungle is taken, and the team still needs a powerful initiator, a champion that’s good for shutting down certain top laners, or carries later in the game, Malphite is a good pick to go top. Finally, top is also a lane for snowflake champions that won’t necessarily do well in the jungle, but can’t really go to mid or bot lane because they either won’t fit the meta or don’t have the tools those lanes require. That said, not all snowflake champions can really go top and expect to win. Some champions simply don’t lane well or fit in the meta presently, and are too weak to win their lane or even function.
having an effect on the game
Everyone has an opinion on who the winner of top is. The winner of top is the one who killed the other the most! No, the one who farmed the most won top! No, you’re both fools, first to take the enemy tower won! These attitudes are misguided; they don't facilitate winning or playing a team-focused game.
The real winner of top lane is the one who will be most able to impact the midgame, and by extension, the late game.
For example, let’s look at a hypothetical scenario of Malphite versus Elise. At 20 minutes, the Elise has taken Malphite’s tower, amassed 180 creep kills, and 2 kills on Malphite, whereas Malphite has 140 farm, and 2 deaths. By the 3 victory conditions listed above, Malphite has completely lost his lane regardless of how you look at it. When team fights roll around, though, Malphite has items because he still managed to get some farm. Because he has items, his ultimate, tankiness, AoE attack speed slow, and his ability to run people down can devastate the enemy team. Meanwhile, Elise is able to drop stuns, a bit of poke, soak damage, and brawl to a limited extent. In your opinion, who do you think has more impact on the game? By extent, who do you think really “won” top?
My answer would be Malphite. Unless he is deprived of items and unable to impact the game, Malphite is the clear the winner. “Winning” the lane in gold, towers, kills, etc mean nothing if you lose the game because your opponent had more influence outside the laning phase. Don’t let yourself get tilted or angry just because you’re behind on gold and levels in lane. Always remain calm, and realize that you can impact other phases of the game and help your team win in a variety of ways. There is always a way for you to recover and impact the game, whether its split pushing for days to force the enemy team to send people to stop you from taking their towers, or farming up while your team gives the enemy team the run-around until you can come in and crush face.
The only limitation on your skill in top lane is your ingenuity, cleverness, and - most importantly - your attitude.