Breaking down the skills to win in League of Legends

The Summoner's Guidebook Breaking down the skills to win in League of Legends

Although seasoned League of Legends veterans might suggest otherwise, LoL is a hard game with a lot of complexity. Even though the Summoner’s Rift metagame (and to some degree the Dominion metagame as well) is fairly solidified, expert players tend to take the numerous skills to win for granted.

This week I’m going to go over a basic rundown of the things that help you win and separate you from the noobs who just play mindlessly. Even the players who exhibit poor skills in one area might perform well in another, and it’s easy for us to assign blame due to any poor performance at all. This means we really need to focus on our weaknesses and get them up to speed.

Experts will find this kind of thing a no-brainer, but there are plenty of players who have no idea about all the things they need to perform better. This week, we’ll cover all the major skill areas and why they’re important.

Mechanics or execution, it’s all the same

The ability to control your champion and do the things you want him or her to do is referred to colloquially as “mechanics” in the RTS genre, while in other competitive disciplines it’s called “twitch” or “execution.” Your champion and camera are controlled by a mouse and keyboard, and the basic skills to hit the correct buttons in combat are simple to understand and hard to master.

I mentioned a while ago that one of my early experiences with the game included a Miss Fortune who did not know how to press QWER to activate her skills. There are players that don’t memorize skill ranges and have to rely on the casting templates and range rings to feel their ranges, and of course, there are players who are poor at last-hitting.

Mechanics bleeds into strategy because having better mechanics allows more strategies to be viable. A basic example is Alistar’s W-Q combo; when done right, it lets him get into range and stun his enemy even if using Headbutt would normally knock the enemy away. When done poorly, it hurts his teammates by knocking the foe out of range. Mastering this combo makes him threatening in many more situations. Last-hitting is also a pretty good example, since it’s a strange hybrid of good timing and instincts combined with zoning and awareness. It’s a hard skill for a reason.

Don’t be suckered into thinking that mechanics require talent. Even old guys like yours truly can develop good mechanics with practice. A 10-year-old girl or a 50-year-old grandpa can learn and practice execution fundamentals and improve. It just takes practice.

The Summoner's Guidebook Breaking down the skills to win in League of Legends

Game sense and map awareness

Map awareness is another very easy skill to understand, and the most basic levels of map awareness fall under the umbrella of execution. It takes mechanical practice to get used to looking at the minimap periodically while doing other things. If you’re not looking at that minimap, you can’t possibly make decisions based on the information you see.

Recently I was supporting for a Kog’Maw as Taric, and we had good ward placement in the river. The enemy jungler came up the river for a gank, and I began retreating almost immediately. I also clicked a retreat ping on the area where he was, and someone else on our team did too. Kog’Maw didn’t retreat, though! He saw me back up and started backing up too, but it was a bit too late for him. He got ganked pretty hard, and although I stayed in to heal him and attempted to stun the jungler, it didn’t help and Kog died (I ended up stunning Janna due to a misclick anyway, fail!). Being aware of what is going on can save your life.

Map awareness is bolstered by the ability to ward. Good ward placement is critical, but don’t worry as much about where you’re placing wards as long as you’re placing them. Good skill in placing wards comes with practice and experience. I’d write a guide on the subject, but there are at least 100 better ones as warding is pretty well-trodden ground. However, wards don’t mean much if you’re not watching the minimap to see when enemies appear. I find that if you spend money on wards, you work to make them work more. Wards win games.

However, there are times where information you can see doesn’t illuminate what’s happening. This leads into the important skill of “game sense.” Game sense is the ability to see an imperfect picture of the situation at hand and correctly make decisions about enemy strategy. In the late midgame, the entire enemy team missing frequently means an attempt at Baron Nashor, for instance. In Dominion, multiple missing enemy champions usually means backdooring, jungle ambushes, or ganks coming for the bottom lane. Game sense is something you just have to get a feel for. I usually work with what the “best” choices for my enemy are (such as doing an objective or counter-jungling) and reacting to those options. If my opponents aren’t doing the most problematic thing, it usually helps to know that they are not more than knowing whatever useless thing they are doing.

Zoning and positioning in a micro scale

Although I feel that micro-level positioning is generally one of my stronger skills in League, I also feel that I have much to learn in that area. When I was a newer player, I was frequently out of position as a DPS champion (mage or carry or whatever), and when I got jumped, I’d flip out and blame the tank. Now I know better: I need to be in a good position to attack when the tank goes to engage, but I need to play more safely and focus on keeping myself alive. The DPS of a dead carry is zero, but a kiting one, especially with the Lizard buff, will go on to clean up an entire team as the fight swings in her favor.

I use the term micro-positioning to refer to spacing that is measured in tens of range units rather than hundreds (or thousands), and those few pixels can mean the difference between getting caught by a snare or juking it. Recently I played against a support Shen (is this a new meta or something?), and because I had a good idea of where to be in the lane, I could react to the dashing noise Shen makes by walking backward to get out of range every time. The few times I did get caught by his dash, his teammate Graves wasn’t there to help because I was pretty familiar with how far Graves can dash and poke.

Tank positioning is important too. It’s not enough to just be “in front” in a teamfight; you have to avoid giving away damage to the enemy and find a good opportunity to initiate a fight. I’m not a very good tank player (I play tank Udyr, but I just run around like a bully bear-punching people), so I can’t say too much more on the subject of tank positioning. However, it is a lot harder than it looks!

The Summoner's Guidebook Breaking down the skills to win in League of Legends

Know the matchup

Of all the skills I have in LoL, I think my ability to guess at a matchup is probably what makes me kind of unique. I can go into a matchup I’ve never played and have a good guess at how it will go, including things like, “Well, if he’s good, he will be annoying, but if he doesn’t pay attention to X, I’ll win for sure.” I was playing with a friend recently, and he was upset that our top Tryndamere was feeding against Teemo. He said to me, “Tryndamere should just own Teemo,” and I had to explain to my friend that Teemo’s strengths shut down Trynd’s. You would think that a cute fuzzy yordle would stand no chance against a barbarian king, but that matchup is actually so bad that Trynd should have asked for a lane switch.

Knowing every champion in the game is a skill that is pretty hard and takes practice. Fortunately, you don’t have to actually play the game to know every champion, but you do need to watch a lot of videos and read a lot of guides. Even then, there are matchups that aren’t obvious without feeling them in action. I have little experience in mid lane, and even though I can guess at a matchup, I rarely have the mechanics to avoid the enemy champion’s gimmicks. Recently I played a bot match and got destroyed by Swain. That’s the beginning and end of that story. I hate Swain.

On the other hand, I recently laned mid as Graves when two people “called” bottom lane in pregame chat. I went up against Cassiopeia and destroyed her by dodging all her skillshots. Apparently Graves is pretty good against Cassiopeia; it’s something I guessed anyway (since he can dash out of range if he gets poisoned), but playing it really helped cement that.

If you know what every champion in the game can do, it’s hard to get surprised by something that happens. When I was a noob, Tryndamere’s ultimate was unfair. Now it’s just another game mechanic that can be countered. Once you know what the enemy can do, you can guess at what that character can do relative to your own and come up with an idea of how the match might play out and what you need to do to boost your odds. Sometimes there isn’t a way to win; that’s called a bad matchup. It’s important to know those, too, because you can abuse them from the other direction in the future.