Improving our skillshot dodging skills

League of Legends screenshot

Although the term “skillshot” was a new word for me when I started playing League of Legends, the concept of avoidable attacks is something that is very intuitive for even novice gamers. Skillshot is just a fancy term that roughly means “dodgable attack” in MOBA games. Although the official terminology sometimes differentiates between ground-targeted AoE and true skillshots (which are generally projectiles or groups of projectiles), that distinction is not really necessary for us. If it can be evaded, we’ll call it a skillshot.

Dodging skillshots is something that is fairly easy to develop skill for. It takes only a little bit of mental effort to dramatically improve your ability to evade them. It’s also a skill that can always be improved with practice. We can always react to them faster or predict them more reliably. This makes it a good area to improve on because we can always get better.

Getting in the mindset

The most important thing to know about dodging skillshots is that the enemy champion has them. If you forget about Nidalee, she will make you pay with spears that do 50% of your health. If you forget that Morgana has Dark Binding, you will never succeed in chasing her, and you will frequently die to her combos. If you hide in the bushes when playing against Sivir, it only takes one surprise Boomerang Blade to chunk off 15-20% of your life.

Is it just me or are most of the characters with skillshots girls? What does this say about the League?

Regardless of skillshot gender equality, we can be sure that skillshots are deadly. Most skillshots are balanced around their difficulty, meaning that skillshots tend to do more damage, have better effects, and have shorter cooldowns than targeted abilities. For a really silly example, Cassiopeia’s Q deals far too much damage for its tiny cooldown and low mana cost. It also gives her a useful buff and allows her to follow up with her targeted Twin Fang spam for terrible damage. If you consider how hard it is to actually dodge the ability, just the fact that it has a tiny delay (probably under .5 seconds) between when you click it and when it hits lets the developers give it really imbalanced properties. Ziggs’ Bouncing Bomb is another good example, although the mana cost on it is a little more balanced.

Knowing your opponent has skillshots is really important. For a very long time, I thought that Pantheon’s spear throw was a skillshot and tried to juke him while fleeing. This turned out to be a bad idea (since he can close faster on a juking opponent than on one running in a straight line), but until I actually looked up the ability, I didn’t know I couldn’t dodge it. I just assumed that because it did a lot of damage and Nidalee’s spear was avoidable, Pantheon’s was too. Oops!

League of Legends screenshot

Of course, this emphasizes the point that matchups are important. You don’t have to memorize every character in the game all at once. That job is reserved for obsessive fanatics like yours truly who don’t like getting caught with their pants down on a champion’s launch day. For everyone else, just concentrate on learning the enemies that give you the most problems. If you play against bots and Leona’s sunshine is not brightening your day, look her up on the wiki or check out her champion spotlight. No matter what character you’re playing against, info about him or her is only a Google search away.

If you know what an enemy champion’s threats are, play around them. Don’t use the same tactics against every champion; it will get you killed. For instance, Morgana is relatively helpless for quite a while if she throws out her Dark Binding and misses. Dodging it is very high reward, so your gameplay against her should revolve around dodging it. Once you’ve avoided it, make her pay. Other characters are different, though. Ahri is not especially vulnerable unless both her orb and her charm are down. Xerath is dangerous only if both his ultimate and Mage Chains are recharged, and he’s a kitten if both of them are on cooldown. Nidalee is always a threat after level 6, as she can turn around immediately and pounce on you in cat form even if she can’t hit you at all with her spears.

As always, practice makes perfect. Playing lots of games will help familiarize you with the strengths of various characters. Although a lot of experts will tell you otherwise, playing against bots is extremely useful for learning the strengths of enemy characters. If you’re having trouble dodging Amumu’s bandage toss, play against him a bit and practice.

Bots are useful for teaching skillshot avoidance because they throw their skillshots in predictable ways. This would seem counter-productive, since humans are much more random and adapt to adversity, right? In practice, that is not the case. Humans are extremely predictable in how they throw skillshots, and the most frequent scenarios during which they don’t throw the skillshot directly at you tend to be mechanical errors in aiming rather than the result of any real predictive skills. Playing against bots allows you to play against mechanically perfect opponents who are predictable; this is often better than playing against humans, who are not mechanically perfect but are still predictable. The reason bots are easy is more their strategies and AI exploits than anything else. In actual direct confrontations, bots are actually pretty scary since they have perfect mechanical precision.

League of Legends screenshot

And now for an anecdotal story about skillshots

Once upon a time many months ago, I was playing Yorick on Dominion. Upon traveling to my happy-land of bottom lane, I noticed that an enemy Nidalee had taken it upon herself to be my lane opponent. I happen to play Nidalee and was pretty cognizant of her likely threats and the Yorick vs. Nidalee matchup. I was confident that Yorick beats Nidalee in a solo lane, whether that lane is a top lane in Summoner’s Rift or a bot lane in Dominion. As it turns out, my assessment of the matchup would be put to the test this game.

As I ambled down the lane to engage with minions, Nidalee quickly became a victim of my aggressive harassment. She hit me with a spear, which I mostly chalked up to my own failings at dodging, and I continued to be aggressive. Yorick’s harassment is kind of strong, and Nidalee’s healing was not really enough to offset it. I easily gained control of the health relic, and predictably Nidalee threw a spear at it, which I dodged, and then I claimed the relic. It was trapped (unsurprising), but the relic is worth more damage than a rank 1 Nidalee trap, and it gave me mana back too, which Yorick kind of needs. As it turns out, the spear I dodged at the relic would be one of very few I would avoid that game.

This Nidalee player was surgical. She would throw this spear inbetween my minions to chunk off a third of my HP. No matter which way I dodged, Nidalee’s spear would be waiting for me, beckoning for me to give away more of my health. Fortunately, Yorick gets a lot of health back from his E, and hampered by my continued control over the relic, Nidalee eventually lost her point. As it turns out, even though her player was clearly better than I, Yorick still wins the matchup (I like being right!). She would go on to hurl spears at me from the fog of war and capitalize on ganks from teammates, and we eventually lost the game. She left the game immediately before I could compliment her on her masterful spear-throwing skills, so her identity will forever remain a mystery to me.

The moral of this story is that some advice on skillshot dodging just doesn’t help against psychic players. There are layers of mindgames that can be played once you know that they know you know how to dodge skillshots (read it again; it makes sense, I swear), but that is stuff you should not worry about. In 99% of games even at fairly high rankings, a simple change of direction will avoid most skillshots. Most players throw skillshots in two ways: They lead you, or they shoot directly at you. A quick turn is all it takes to avoid that Amumu stun.