Practice makes perfect

League of Legends screenshot

If you haven’t noticed from previous editions of The Summoner’s Guidebook, I emphasize practicing new techniques a lot. Practice is the only thing separating novice League of Legends players from experts. Talent can help speed up the process, but the best summoners are those who work hard to improve their skills. No pro player got to where he is today by playing only one or two games a day.

However, merely playing a lot of games doesn’t make you a good player. In fact, the wrong kind of practice builds bad habits that are hard to break. When I first got into League of Legends, I knew quite a few people who also played the game. Although a few (who are semi-pro players) are still much better than I am, I became vastly better than the rest of my peers in a very short amount of time. Want to know my secrets? Read on!

Playing vs. studying

Whenever I pick up a new game, I’m pretty insatiable when it comes to learning new stuff. This is my first major secret. Unless you are a very high-skill player (1600 elo or a strongly positive win/loss record), the best thing to improve your game is not playing — it’s reading.

At least once a week, you should spend an hour or more reading guides on LoLPro or Other LoL strategy websites are great too, including this column. However, LoLPro and SoloMid are written by professional gamers. While I might be able to convey information in a more novice-friendly way, I cannot pretend to know as much about League of Legends as the pros do. Sometimes you’ll disagree with something said on a strategy website, but in most cases, the experts probably have experience or insight that you do not.

Write down or take notes on key concepts that you learn from what you study, and read your notes before you start playing matches. Practice the stuff that you wrote down. If you do this, your skill will improve exponentially until you reach the expert levels of play. Once you’re an expert, you’re expected to know all the things that an average website teaches you, but there are still random tidbits you can learn from reading.

The extra hour or so you spend each week studying will save you literal months of practice time in the long run. I know level 30 players who are worse than I was when I was below level 20, and studying is the major reason why.

Watching competitive matches

Once you’ve reached a certain threshold of skill, watching pro-level streams or tournament videos becomes a viable alternative to reading guides.

The skill in watching videos is actually less about how good you are and more about how humble you are. Bad video-watchers see a stream and point out all the mistakes and criticize the pro’s play. It’s really easy to say, “I would have dodged that skillshot there” or “I would have seen that gank coming.” If you could consistently play better than the person you are watching, you would be a pro League player, making money off your LoL streams. You are probably not, so don’t criticize those whom you are watching. The pro player is leagues better than you are, and he gets paid to do what he does.

Good video watchers try to understand why the top players make the decisions they make. When a pro does something that is contradictory to what you believe, good video-watching skill lets you say, “Well, I’m probably wrong and he’s probably doing something smart.” Yes, sometimes pros do stupid things, but don’t dwell on them. You’re watching the stream to learn. If you’re just trying to get an ego boost, go play against bots or something.

League of Legends screenshot

Going to play against bots or something

Bot matches don’t make for very good practice as an expert. Intermediate bots make a lot of mistakes, and they have a formula that’s pretty easy to predict and punish. However, there are a few things that playing against bots is really good for.

The first big thing is that bots allow you to practice mechanical things in a more controlled environment. I cannot stress how important this is, especially for lower-level players. If you’re bad at last-hitting, don’t play against humans. Play against bots and practice. Humans will make it hard to perfect the art of last-hitting while avoiding their harass. Beginner bots are the right level for you to get an idea for what it’s like to have an opponent in the lane while still letting you practice last-hitting.

In fact, if you’re planning on playing Summoner’s Rift a lot, don’t play against humans until you are very confident with last-hitting. You can almost ignore strategy if you’re good enough at the mechanical aspects of the game, and last-hitting is a huge part of that.

There are other mechanical things that bots make good practice for, and the biggest one is zoning. After a lot of repetition, you get very familiar with the difference between 575 and 600 range. I originally learned most of my zoning skills playing against humans, but now when I pick up a new character, I almost always play against bots. Getting the feeling of the exact range of your abilities takes practice. Once you’re really good, you can be clicking away from the enemy right as your character releases her projectile attack. No amount of studying can teach you to feel the distance between these ranges. You just have to play it out, and bots are the best way to do so in a controlled environment.

You should also play against bots any time you’re learning something new. New jungle routes, new characters, and new builds should all be tested against bots first. This is the most common thing for people to do, and it is the least effective use of bots. However, it can build some familiarity and give you an overall idea of what to expect.

Whenever possible, practicing specific things like jungle routes or zoning is better than just “practicing a new character.” New characters are very broad, while jungle routes are very specific. The more specific your practice is, the more effective your practice will be. This is true regardless of your practice opponents.

League of Legends screenshot

How much practice is enough? How much is too much?

The amount of practice you need is highly dependent on the gametype you are practicing. You can’t use time spent as a judge of the amount of practice you need because if you play for an hour a day (a good amount of practice time for most non-League games), you’re getting in only one game of Summoner’s Rift — and a lot of that hour isn’t even practice; it’s going through the motions of winning or losing. That’s hardly enough.

Every time you sit down to play League, you should commit to at least three games. If you’re just practicing general skills, these should be PvP matches. This means that if you’re planning on practicing Summoner’s Rift, you should probably set aside at least three hours of real time when you’re going to be doing nothing but playing LoL. If you play less than this each session, you will gain skill a lot more slowly.

The reason you should play at least three games per session is because playing several games allows you to reflect and compare those game experiences together. It also reduces the impact of a fluke win or loss and gives you a better picture of how you really measure up.

Three games is a minimum, though, and more is better. There is a limit; you should take a break every three to four games and take notes on how you’re doing. Whenever I die, I like to write down any noteworthy mistakes I made while I’m respawning. It’s best if you keep a physical notebook and a pen or pencil next to you while you play so you can write down random things you observe while playing. If you have LoLReplay, take a break every few games, watch as many of them as you can, and pause to take notes often.

LoLReplay helps a lot because you can relive your failures in a more objective way. I know that when I play, I often miss key things that come up when I re-watch the replay. Sometimes it’s pretty embarrassing to watch the replay of my games, but it helps improve my skills a lot. In fact, if you are really religious about watching your replays, you can play fewer matches. If you identify every mistake you made in a match and make notes on how you can improve, those notes are worth playing a half-dozen or more matches.

Even if you watch your replays, you should play at least two games each session. If you’re playing Dominion, you should play more; you can get in two to three games in an hour, and much more of that time is spent getting actual practice time. In Summoner’s Rift, the first 20-25 minutes are the most valuable, and the game quickly degenerates from there to a state of “why hasn’t the losing team surrendered yet?” If you are looking to improve in Summoner’s Rift and your team is losing at 30 minutes, surrender. Even if your team could come back, there isn’t much actual practice to be had after that point, and any comebacks will be more due to the failure of the enemy team than any hard-fought victory by you.

If you follow these easy tips, you should easily get to an advanced level of play in a month or so of practice. If you’re already an advanced player, these are the only methods that will get you any higher. Grinding games will not get you to the top of the ranked ladder; study and dedicated practice are what turn experts into champions.