Grouping up to fight enemies together is a concept that is old as history itself. Numerous treatises on group warfare have been written, ranging from small unit tactics to battle strategies involving hundreds of thousands or millions of combatants. A lot of the same principles of combat that are used in warfare are applicable to games and especially to team-based PvP games like League of Legends.
It might not be readily apparent how ideas like the mission of a Marine rifle team might apply to a five-player team in LoL, but there are more similarities than you think. The tools are different — for example, games use different means to suppress the enemy than real soldiers — but the tactics are surprisingly similar.
This week, we’re going to cover the beginning of a fight. Starting a fight at an advantage is important element in victory, as the opening seconds of a battle matter the most. If you can leverage an advantage early on in a fight, you can snowball that advantage into a decisive win.
Terrain and strategy
Virtually every book on military strategy ever written has a chapter on ways to create favorable battlefield conditions for yourself. In fact, most strategy books almost entirely consist of ways to make a fight unfair for the enemy.
A lot of the time, especially in LoL, your team does not get to really decide on the terrain. Due to the nature of the maps, fights generally occur around points of interest: monster camps or turrets on Summoner’s Rift, altars on Twisted Treeline, speed shrines and capture points on the Crystal Scar. Occasionally your team will be able to start a fight in some other space where you have the advantage, such as brush to ambush, walls to hop over or shoot skillshots over, and so on. You should create these situations whenever possible, especially in TT and Dominion.
Sometimes you have to fight at a disadvantage, especially if your team is in the lead. Your team will push to take an objective, and the enemy team has a natural advantage because your focus is split between the objective and the enemy team. Starting a Baron or Dragon in order to force a response is a classic maneuver, but it always puts you behind in a fight. Make sure that you can either leverage a positional advantage long enough to take the objective or quickly get away so you can avoid taking too much damage from the powerful neutral monsters.
The heart of initiating
Initiation is the art of starting fights. When you initiate, you’re beginning the battle on your terms, so it’s important to take as much advantage as you can early on. Sometimes you can simply start a fight however you want by having a manpower advantage, but I won’t go into that too much (a guide on how to win 4v3 fights is not really helpful since they are practically won for you). The main way to gain advantage in a fight is by either crippling multiple enemy team members for a short period with some sort of initiation ability, by quickly defeating an enemy so that your team then has the manpower advantage (and can clean up the 4v3 or 5v4), or by presenting a hard target that is highly disruptive.
Using an initiation ability is the most useful in League of Legends, and this is because initiation abilities are disproportionately powerful. In other games, AoE crowd controls are extremely limited and/or completely useless in PvP. In League, landing a 1.5 second knockup on three people could mean two quick kills and a handily won teamfight with no casualties. The advantage generated by disrupting three people for just under two seconds is massive. That’s what initiation is all about.
There’s no special trick to using initiations. You just have to make sure that your team is ready to capitalize on your starting the fight. If you’re not the initiator, you need to be ready to jump if your initiator dives into the fray. The initiator just needs to pick the right target to get the maximum benfit and allow his DPS to work as hard as it can in those few seconds while the enemy team is still reeling. It may even be possible to layer initiation abilities such as an Amumu ultimate followed by a Sona ultimate followed by a Morgana or Kennen ultimate. This can completely shut down an entire team for so long that there isn’t much of a fight, just a one-sided bloodbath.
Capitalizing on small mistakes
Isolating an enemy player and bursting him down is always an ideal situation. In order to effectively burst an enemy player down, a team must catch him slightly out of position and unleash as much damage as possible before his team can react. This requires the victim to make a mistake, though there are a few situations (like Blitzcrank’s grab, Urgot’s swap, Singed’s fling, etc.) that can force an enemy player into a bad position. If you happen to catch an enemy player out of position and can stun or snare him, unload with whatever you can but try to save your actual teamfighting powers (like AoE ultimates and such) for when the enemy team engages. This method of isolation is more common in other games or at lower levels of play. In League of Legends, top players tend to avoid making positioning mistakes that cost them fights.
The best thing you can do in a fight is avoid putting your team in these situations whenever possible. Don’t get caught by Blitzcrank grabs or other abilities that can isolate you, and make sure that your team can counter if you’re the one your enemies choose to focus on. If you’re unsure of the enemy team’s positioning, always assume a defensive posture where you are harder to get singled out.
When fools rush in
Sometimes a strong initiation ability isn’t available, or perhaps it is on a squishier character like Sona or Zyra who needs an opening to land it. Diving into the enemy team is dangerous, but there are ways to do it in a way that leads to an advantage.
Characters that can make themselves hard targets are a great choice for these kinds of fights. Jax is a great example with his Grandmaster’s Might and Counter-Strike active, as he is very hard to hurt. He can go into the enemy team, and if its members choose to attack him, he will weather much of their damage with less risk. Your team can follow up behind him and use that opening to use traditional crowd controls or other abilities to take out enemies while they are busy dealing with Jax. Any character with strong resilience, such as Poppy or Leona, can also open a fight in this manner, creating windows of opportunity for your team.
This is a bit of a last resort, since it can backfire. If your team is slow to react, the initiating player may find himself quickly killed, even through his superior tank. Timing is critical when using these kinds of initiations. In other games, this kind of initiation is popular due to the lack of true initiating abilities; a tough disruptor charges in and uses knockdowns or damage to threaten the enemy, and your team moves to capitalize while the enemy team has to choose between wasting damage on the tank or potentially isolating team members locked down by him.
Turning a bad start around
Counter-initiation is a bit tricky. If the enemy team engages a fight, you can respond by using initiation-type abilities to disrupt the opening alpha strike. Any AoE crowd control can be quite useful for this, and abilities such as Lulu’s ultimate are especially nice. Lulu can protect her ally with bonus health while simultaneously knocking nearby foes skyward and slowing them after they land. Many supports excel at this role.
The trick to counter-initiation is to limit the damage caused by the enemy team’s initiation. If half your team is caught with Malphite’s Unstoppable Force, it can be tough to weather the storm long enough to land Sona’s Crescendo to lock them down in response. Try to stay a bit spread out so that enemy initiations are less effective, but not so spread out that you are easily isolated. Some initiations like Amumu’s Curse of the Sad Mummy or Galio’s Idol of Durand make this hard because they are so large that avoiding the AoE inevitably makes it harder for your team to jump into a fight.
In general, you want to start a fight with your initiations more than you want the enemy team to engage on you. However, if the enemy team lacks powerful fight-starting options, you can use yours to be an effective counter to a bad situation. It’s especially useful if you’re starting a fight at an objective and the enemy team has to respond to your taking the objective down.
Wrapping it up
The opening seconds of a teamfight are the most important. Make sure that when your team initiates, you’re ready to commit with full force. If you can leverage your strength to take an early manpower advantage, you can limit the enemy’s response. As always, good luck and have fun!