League of Legends: Mastery before adaptability

In the game League of Legends, there are more than 75 different champions to choose from and each fills a role typical of the traditional archetypical trinity of role-playing games.  There are healers, tanks, dps’ers, rogues, warriors and wizards of all sorts.  The common belief that all players should learn and be able to use any of those types of champs effectively is widely accepted as the norm.  And for ranked play, this is certainly very true.  Focusing specifically on a single champ can leave you high and dry in ranked play if your favorite happens to get banned.  The most popular way to avoid this, of course, is to learn many different champs filling all the different roles.  This helps players not only adapt to their team’s needs in any given circumstance, but also broadens a players understanding of the game as a whole.

With that said, however, normal (unranked) play is a whole different ballgame.  Normal play is determined by what is called a “Blind pick” (as opposed to the Ban/Open Pick one experiences in matches where ELO is on the line).  What that means, in essence, is that every player on a particular team is free to choose whichever champ they feel like playing.  Only occasionally do players actually have any real concern for team composition or necessary roles.  For example, I’ve found myself in countless games without a tank, or even in the worst cases, without any real team-fight initiators at all.  But this discussion is not about team composition.

This discussion is about champion mastery versus player adaptability in normal, unranked games and why I believe champion mastery far outweighs the importance of being able to play several different champions and/or roles in those situations.

I believe the school of thought that states that players should learn a number of champions does not apply here.

In my own experience, I can say with confidence that I have mastered one champion.  Out of all the characters available, I’ve learned as much as I possibly can with Sona in the confines of unranked play.  I say this, because I’ve played hundreds of games with her and have faced nearly every possible matchup.  I’ve played Sona against a Sona.  I’ve played Sona against Xin Zhao.  I’ve played Sona against every other champion out there, with the exception of Vayne (who was only just released earlier this week).  I know how Sona stacks up in terms of range, durability and mobility.  I feel confident that I can approach any game with Sona and win with very few deaths (0-2) and a very high number of assists (often more than 20).

So what does that say about me as a player?  Nothing, other than the fact that I am consistent with Sona.  Otherwise, I know nothing, and that’s why I only play unranked games.

The reason I say this is because of my recent experience with Vayne.  When I enter the fields of justice with Vayne, I feel as though I have started from scratch, and must re-learn the game anew.  With Sona, I feel confident being aggressive against a champion like Irelia because I know that I will not only be able to outmaneouver her, but I have a very distinct range advantage and a superior form of healing.   Alternatively, with Sona, I know to maintain safe distance from champions like Taric or Sion.  The ranged stun those champions have can put Sona in a very bad situation.

With Vayne, on the other hand, there is definite danger aggressing Irelia.  Irelia’s Bladesurge has approximately the same range as Vayne’s auto-attack.  Moving into that range puts Vayne in jeopardy due to her fragile nature and Irelia’s high burst damage.  Add to that Irelia’s ability to heal with Hiten Style, and Vayne is simply out-matched.  For me, this lesson was hard-won.

But that just brings the point home all the more dramatically.  In order to be as consistent with Vayne as I am with Sona, I’ll need to relearn all the possible match-ups against her.  Not only that, but Vayne has an entirely different style of play.  As a support champion, Sona requires very little gold and needs to be close to the action in order to be effective.  Her healing, speed boost and even her ultimate all have a range that requires her to be on the heels of her carries and tanks (albiet at a slight distance and safely behind those she supports).  Vayne, however, is an assassin type.  She requires a great amount of gold and a strong initiator ahead of her.  Sona can initiate team fights with her ultimate.  Vayne is effectively useless until someone else has committed to a fight.  Only at that time can Vayne truly bring her weapons to bear, behind the scenes, and seek and destroy that enemy support or ranged carry.

Sure, I’ll be able to fill a few different roles by playing with Sona, Nasus, Vayne and Galio, but will I be consistent?

I believe taking the time and making the effort to master a single champion at a time is the best foot forward in the direction of success in League of Legends.  Yes, being able to play several different champions and roles makes a player more versatile, but focusing on a single champion at a time allows a player to become consistent.

If one were to become serious about competitive play (or “going pro”) one should very seriously consider spending the time it takes to learn several different champs, certainly.  But I highly recommend doing so one character at a time while maintaining good practice with those champions who are already mastered.


League of Legends: The Only Strategy

Currently, in the game League of Legends, there are two maps: Summoner’s Rift and Twisted Treeline.  I have to admit here that I haven’t played Twisted Treeline as much, because it is a 3v3 map, and I prefer the larger, more epic, 5v5 battles one experiences in Summoner’s Rift.

With that said, however, I’ve played enough of the game, both in pre-made teams and solo-queues to know that the game really comes down to a very simple formula for victory.  By following a few easy-to-remember rules, any team can achieve victory against virtually any other team.  Before I get to the Only Strategy, I would like to cover a few simple reminders that really underline and stress the importance of the Only Strategy.

1) Stay in your lane.  If you absolutely must leave your lane, follow the suggestions below.

  1. If you are in the top or bottom lane:
    1. If you must buy an item, wait until the current creep wave is at least near the break in the brush along the wall.
    2. If you are low on health, tell your partner to hug the turret until you return.
    3. If your solo-mid teammate has just fallen or needs your assistance to defend the middle turret, warn your lane-mate, and move to hold mid until your solo teammate returns.
  2. If you are mid, and have not taken teleport, or teleport is currently cooling down:
    1. Ask a top or bottom laner to hold mid until you return.  DO NOT leave the lane until your teammate arrives.

If your team has a jungler, then the above rule(s) are even more important.  When in lane, always fight defensively.  Your highest priority is to last-hit creeps and stay alive.  It is paramount that you make as much effort as possible to stay in lane.  There are several reasons for doing so, and the most obvious reasons are xp and gold.  Not as apparent, but the defense of your turret is the only real reason to be where you are.

And this brings us to the Only Strategy.

Think of the outer turrets as a “best of 3” series.  Also think of them as the only turrets that really matter.  The whole game is decided by which team can destroy at least two of the enemy turrets before two of their own are destroyed.

“But this is preposterous, sz.  How can you assume the whole game will be decided by only the first two outer turrets on either side?”  It’s simple.  If the enemy team has been dominant enough to destroy two of your outer turrets before you could destroy two of theirs, then probability dictates that they will most likely continue that trend and begin an inexorable push down mid that will ultimately lead to a surrender or destruction of the nexus.  It’s very simple.  If your team hasn’t given enough priority to turrets in the early game, then it is also very likely to not pay them the same mind as the game progresses…  or, even if your team does shift priorities and begin to push turrets, your defensive position is weakened and the enemy’s advance is strengthened by virtue of one of the most basic tenets of military dominance: Divide and Conquer.  Your team will be split between offensively pushing your enemy’s outer turrets, and defense, while your enemy will be solely focused on offense and pushing your inner turrets.

To assure victory in every game you ever play of League of Legends on Summoner’s Rift think of the early game as the most important and follow this very simple rule:

The first team to destroy two of their enemy’s outer turrets before losing two of their own will eventually win the game.

League of Legends: A guide for new players

A few things before I get to the good stuff.  First of all, if you don’t have patience enough to read this guide in its entirety, just stop now.  Go away.  You won’t learn anything here.  Otherwise, read on.  Second, I understand that most of these tips are common sense.  However, most of these things are not immediately apparent to players new to the game.  In fact, I would even wager that there are some long-time players out there that could benefit from what I have to say in this guide.

So, on that note, let the guide begin!

Character Selection/Team Composition

There are a number of things to be aware of when you select your character, and most of these are related to the rest of your team.  In a 5v5 match, each team should have a good balance of offensive and defensive champions; having a tank, an off-tank, a support champion, and both AD and AP carries is considered optimal.  I highly recommend reading this guide (or any guide on MOBAFIRE, really).  It not only provides excellent suggestions on how to play each role, but also offers the reasoning behind why each role is important.  Being able to adapt to any role based on the choices of the rest of your team offers the best chances for success in any game you play.  But for most new players like me, this is really just a moot point.  To use myself as an example, I only know how to use one champion effectively — Vladimir.  Attempts to use any other champion almost always results in dismal failure.  In time, that will change.  But for now, as I grow and learn as a player and adapt new playstyles and archetypes, it will have to be as it is.

That being said, I believe finding your own prefered playstyle is key.  Selecting one champion to serve as an anchor for you to be free to learn the mechanics and nuances of the game, in my opinion, is a preferable start on the road to being an accomplished League of Legends player.  Becoming mired in a large selection of poorly played champions can only serve to hamper your mastery of the game as a whole.

Zone and Map Awareness

To start, I think that you should watch the following video several times.  Once is not enough.  If you have never seen it before, this video will instantly improve your game at least two-fold.  I guarantee it.

Learn to lane like a pro. Watch this video NOW!

As each game progresses it is important to be mindful of your own creep waves.  A quick glance at the minimap can allow you to assess potential opportunities to destroy unattended turrets.  At the same time, doing so can also allow you to defend turrets being pushed by the enemy team.  Turrets are the true objective of the game, not your K/D ratio, nor your team-kill score.  Destroying enemy turrets while defending your own is an effort toward certain victory.  Being aware of creep waves will allow you to do so — they peel back the fog of war as they march.

The minimap also offers information on the position of enemy players who are not obfuscated by the fog of war.  This is important throughout the game, but I believe it is most important during the start of the game, which is commonly referred to as the “laning phase”.  At this early stage, having an eye on enemy champions can save your life and allow you to stay in lane gaining experience and gold.  Pressure can be applied to an entire team simply by stepping out of view.  If one of your teammates calls “mia” (which is short for “missing in action”) watching the map for those champions to reappear can relieve the map pressure caused by the fog of war.  Similarly, you can assess the awareness of your opponents simply by stepping into the enemy’s fog of war for a moment or two and watching how the other lanes react.  If they immediately go on the defensive and pull away from the xp-line or move toward their turret, then you know your lane opponent has called out a warning that you are missing.  You can use this to your advantage as well, if you notice that one of the other lanes isn’t responding to the threat.  You can probably take this that they are unaware that you’ve gone missing, and are probably a good target for ganking.

To reiterate: calling “mia” can give your teammates a chance to defend themselves against possible threat and stay in-lane.  At the same time, using enemy fog of war can provide an opportunity to assess the awareness and responsiveness of your opponents.  Watching the movements of enemy players can improve your game drastically.  As much as you can, glance at the minimap.  I promise that you will not only improve your own game, but you will assist your team in improving their game as well.

Overconfidence & Aggression

There is a point in a player’s development when a breakthrough occurs.  They “click” with their chosen champion, and notice an immediate improvement in their own overall performance.  As I mentioned above, this happened to me with Vladimir.  As far as I know, there is a champion out there for everyone, as I’ve read threads on the official forum about this phenomenon, and it seems as though everyone has a different “go-to” character.  But when this happens for you, a hard lesson will soon follow.  A lesson on overconfidence and undue aggression.  Becoming overconfident is a pitfall I’ve fallen into far too many times to recount, and I’m sure is the same for many other players out there.  Heed this warning: don’t assume you can walk into any fight and win simply by virtue of your champion mastery.  There’s an old saying that goes, “No matter what, someone, somewhere is bigger, badder, tougher, stronger or better than you.”  If you’re religious, this is universally true.  Otherwise, you can count on probability to back it up.  Even those guys that are at the very top of the game ladders lose sometimes.  Even they are not infallible.  And I’ll guarantee that they have learned this lesson at least once, if not a number of times over for each champion they have mastered.  The point is simple.  Playing defensively, especially in the early game, is the best way to increase your chances of success and victory.

That’s not to say that aggression should be avoided.  In fact, the nature of the game makes that assumption wholy untrue.  At some point, you will have to aggress.  And when that time comes, I suggest taking a cautious approach, rather than diving in head-first and hoping for the best.  Testing the waters of your opponent’s skill is much safer.  Poke your opponent and step back.  Take a few jabs if you have to.  But each time you do, be sure to absorb your enemy’s reaction.  Do they overextend?  Do they retreat?  Observing these things can allow you to better position yourself offensively, or set traps for your opponent to walk into.

Kill Stealing

Finally, I want to make a quick note about the concept of “kill stealing” or “KS” as it is commonly called.  There is no such thing.  League of Legends was built from the ground up to be a team-based player-vs-player game.  As eSports go, keeping this in mind is crucial to being an effective and respected teammate.  I don’t recall ever hearing a professional sportsman complaining that his teammates are stealing his touch-downs or home-runs or slam-dunks.  Your own personal stats are important, yes, but not to the detriment of team cohesion.  In this game, it is never good to assume that you are a solo-god and can easily destroy your enemies without help from your own team.  Any player that does so is surely a feeder waiting to happen.  Either that or they are nowhere to be found when a critical team-fight occurs.  So, for the sake of your team, the game’s community at large, and your own experience, please, for goodness sake, don’t take “kill-stealing” to heart.  I’m certain that your teammates had no intention of taking your thunder, but instead, were simply trying to help.

If you enjoyed this guide, please leave a comment.


Ok, well, now that we have that out of the way, and I can declare myself the undisputed FIRST poster on this blog (not like you had a chance anyway) we can move onto other, much more important things.  Such as the contents of my ashtray and which of the butts is longest.

In all seriousness though, I’ll try to blog regularly about gaming.  This might include gaming reviews, play guides, rants, and whatever else I feel like going on about in a round-about manner using words to express myself in the most openly public manner possible (i.e. by way of blogging).

Before I begin, however, I need to get a few things off my chest.

First, I loath blogs.  Well, more accurately, I loath bloggers*.  Blogging is like a really long-winded version of twitter (which I also despise).  People in the world seem to feel that whatever floats around in their vacant skulls is interesting enough for an unimaginably vast audience such that the internet provides.  All manner of ineptitudes exist in the great digital beyond, all of which are subject to criticism by an infinite number of illiterates with a penchant for using internet slang for words like “you”, “are” and “for”.

Which brings me to my second issue.  If you, my dear reader, are one of those Great Unwashed, then GO AWAY.  I desire neither your cretinous comments, nor your moronic opinions.  If there is one thing that disgusts me more than the faceless masses of idiots that use twitter, then it must be illiteracy.  If you cannot distinguish the difference between “they’re”, “there”, and “their”, then you are NOT WANTED HERE.  Seriously.  Just click the little ‘x’ in the top-right corner and take your idiot-self outside where I encourage you to fling yourself into oncoming traffic.

Despite all of that, I write here because I love video games.  Games are my life: I live them, breathe them, dream them.  I cannot remember a time in my life when games were not at the forefront of my thoughts.  I can honestly speculate that my need to talk about them here, in a blog (of all things) is probably due to the fact that my girlfriend (who I love and adore) is my anti-thesis.  I have no social outlet for my gaming experiences, and thus, here I am.  Spewing my every thought to an unwashed mass who probably cares as much about what I have to say as I do about their opinions.

Anyway, if you do decide to return, then I hope you enjoy what you read and would appreciate whatever comments or criticisms you have to make, so long as they’re cohesive, intelligent and literate.

*Note: I recognize the irony of saying so in a blog — the very medium being criticized.  However, I enjoy my own blog quite a bit, whether or not I fit the description of the very people I claim to detest.  So there.  Neener neener.