Teaching ourselves LoL matchups
I’m always looking for things to teach players in the Summoner’s Guidebook. We have, however, covered a lot of the low hanging fruit in one way or another. In League of Legends, and virtually every other asymmetric competitive game, matchup knowledge comprises the huge bulk of information that is truly useful to read about. This week was originally going to be a counter-Ryze guide, but then I decided to cover a broader topic to help reach more people.
I don’t really like discussing specific character matchups largely because the character you’re using matters almost as much as your opponent’s. What does Ryze do against Kassadin in lane, for instance? The answer is not a whole lot if the Kassadin is decent. I could write a counter-Kassadin guide, but a lot of it wouldn’t be usable by Ryze. Instead, this week we’ll discuss how to think about the opponent’s kit and develop a strategy to win on your own (or at least survive).
Size of the zoning bubble
A character’s zoning presence is probably the single most important thing to know when laning against him or her. You don’t have to know exact range numbers, but knowing really, really helps. Let’s go back to Ryze: The biggest reason for all of his problem matchups is his relatively short spell range. Anyone with a way to harass Ryze from safety has a good chance against him, but the characters who really hurt are those with superior range on targeted abilities. A character like Ashe (as unlikely as that lane matchup might be) can zone Ryze safely since both her autoattack and Volley reach much farther than his spells and she applies slows on both, while Ryze has no gap closer other than Flash (though he could Cleanse, too).
The closer you know a character’s guaranteed range and his or her “fuzzy” range, the better off you’ll be. Knowing Graves has 25 less range than most standard carries is a huge deal. Knowing at which levels Tristana begins to outrange other characters is also really useful.
It’s also important to note how much relative distance advantage something is. As Graves, I know that 25 range is not very much, and I can walk that distance in a little under 1/15th of a second, so all I need is a bit of mental distraction to weasel in. On the other hand, it takes around a third of a second to close the range gap with Caitlyn, which is very difficult to do since most people can make some reaction in a third of a second. In order to get in on Caity as Graves, she needs to make a positioning mistake.
In general, under 50 range advantage is not really reactible, but you can use it to poke safely in some matchups. Around 100ish is pretty significant, but someone can still sneak in if you aren’t dilligent. More than 200 range advantage generally keeps your opponent from getting in without eating damage, and even that’s not guaranteed. If someone has that much more range than you (typically via skillshot spells), you will have to bait skillshots or use gap closers.
Most characters’ kits, especially those created in the past year or so, tend to have unifying gameplay elements that work together. It’s sort of uncommon these days to have characters who lack a lot of internal synergy. If you’re suddenly thrust up against Syndra or something, it’s really important to know what those harmonics are.
Way back when Elise came out, I was not particularly scared to lane against her because I understood the harmony inherent in her set. Even on the first day, I was sure she wasn’t going to do something unexpected because I had thought of things like spider dive into girl mode into stun into spell combos into spider mode already. It’s hard to trick me with new stuff these days.
When I was a tiny nublet, I didn’t understand Ryze’s mechanics, specifically the concept of using non-Overload spells to create Overload chains. I looked at his passive and thought, “Oh, he must want to spam Overload to get his other spells back faster!” Fortunately I’m a little less bad now. Always look for unusual ways an ability can be used, and try to read into the letter of an ability. Kha’zix can use his evolved spikes to harass while healing himself if he aims one of his sideways spikes into the minion wave while he throws the center one at the enemy. As Khaz, you might want to look for opportunities for free healing like that, and against him you probably want to try to angle yourself so he can’t do it.
Trying to figure out how your opponent’s moveset works on the fly is a pretty hard skill. Look for obvious combos (like snare or stun into combos) and try to deny the opening move. A good example is against Vayne (or Poppy), who can hit you into walls and stun you. Keep a good eye on where she is and don’t give her a good angle to hit you into a wall. I almost never get walled by either character, but in virtually every game where they are opponents, I see teammates get wallstunned over and over. If you know what the opponent can do, try to use that knowledge to figure out what she wants to do, then stop her from doing it!
If you want to develop this skill, I highly recommend playing collectible games like Magic: The Gathering or deckbuilding games like Dominion. I actually took a lot of skills from Magic into MMOs, which I then took into board games and then into League. Any game where you have a lot of different elements to evaluate and choose from helps you develop this skill very quickly.
Working together makes this harder than it needs to be
The one thing that really tests my valuation skills in League is not lane matchups or anything 1v1. Full team compositions are what really put your ability to the test.
A long time ago in my League career, I got blindsided by a Shen top/Nocturne jungle/Twisted Fate mid team. It would have been even worse if their support had picked Teleport. In case you don’t get the comp right away, they basically ruled the post-6 laning phase because all three of them could be at the site of any confrontation. It was dangerous to even go out into the middle of the lane because Nocturne would ult in with Shen’s ult going and TF would teleport behind you with a stun card ready. For me as the bottom lane carry, it was terrible because it usually ended up as a 5v2 if I ever tried to last-hit. It didn’t even matter that their late game comp was kind of weak; they wrecked us so hard early that we didn’t really get to play.
Looking at a team composition and trying to make sense of it before the game is really helpful. Not every team fishes for something like Lulu/Shyvana, but enemy players aren’t picking their characters at random. Heck, even when they are (because of ARAM), understanding what your team and the enemy team can do together helps create predictions for how to play.
In my support article, I discussed a lot about how the support really needs to pick to work with her lane partner. Sona/Vayne is not the greatest lane comp ever, so if you see your partner pick Vayne, it’s probably better to pick another character. On the other hand, it’s also important to adapt. I’ve played Soraka/Vayne (as Vayne), and rather than whine about how Soraka is a terrible teammate for Vayne, I just went super-aggro with Tumble and did a lot of shoot-Tumble-Condemn three-hit combos. As it turns out, having infinite mana and a license to trade hits can work out for her. I’d still rather have Taric or Leona or Blitz, but I’m not going to yell at my support. If my partner wants to play Soraka, I’ll change the way I play to fit what she can do.
Adaptability is really the key to rapid improvement in LoL. New champions come out every couple of weeks, and even old ones that you rarely see pop up every now and then. The first time I laned mid against Swain, I got totally buchered because I didn’t know how to deal with Torment at all. Do you?