TL/DR: Learn to recognize opportunities, and take them.
Solo queue players are a cursed lot. Our situation sucks. We have to play a team game by ourselves, and we’re judged by the results that we achieved along with total strangers. It’d be one thing if it was a team we played on and practiced with alongside players we know; if we suck, we suck. But man, sometimes we just get burned by the matchmaker.
But hey, that’s life, isn’t it? We’re not going to get the first job we apply for or get a date with the first person we ask out, unless maybe if our parents are billionaires. Failure’s a part of life. Isn’t that what Rocky said? It’s not how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit? Getting to Diamond’s like showing up to the party in a cool car, few people really care how much work it took to get it, just that you got it. If it takes 50 games or 5000, who cares? You got there.
Okay, great. That’s why most people are here. They’re here to keep moving forward. Except...will they?
ONE SIMPLE TRICK! ADC MAINS HATE HIM!
These posts are legion; for they are many: What champ do I pick? How do I beat this champ? What runes or items do I buy? How can I carry feeders?
Dammit, this isn’t a 2AM infomercial for weight loss. All that stuff that takes place before the loading screen is not going to save you. There’s no magic bullet like “play katarina”, “mpen runes” or “buy a sightstone”. It’s like walking into a boxing gym and seeing no one sparring, but instead seeing a heated discussion on whether the Everlast gloves are better than the Winnings. In boxing, if you intend to win, you need to know how to land a punch. In LoL, if you intend to win, you need to know how to get ahead. From there, you need to recognize when to follow on for more or when to back off.
WE ARE ALL HELPLESS
Let’s stick with the boxing metaphor. Laning’s like a boxing match where there are targets in the ring that light up. Punch one when the light is on for a point, that’s one CS. Of course, all these points are worthless if the other guy lays you out by getting close enough to hit all of Riven’s Q attacks, Ahri lands the charm, Caitlyn tags you in the face AGAIN, or if Thresh or Blitz lands that hook.
Hit your opponent and you’ll win. Get hit and you’ll lose. But, missing hurts and really needs to be avoided. So, how do we hit our shots and dodge theirs?
Well, the entire act of laning revolves around taking the minions for gold. That’s the name of the game. But, there’s a problem that most don’t see: you have to do damage to the wave, and it leaves you exposed. Use an ability, and you can’t use it again until it’s back. Use an auto, and you’re stuck in place for a moment. Right then, right there, you’re helpless. If the other guy has a skillshot or attack on the way as you stop to shoot a minion...open wide, you’re about to eat some damage. It goes both ways, if you can predict where he’ll be, you can land a hit. Be it an autoattack or ability, you can punish the guy for exposing himself when you’re in a position to hurt him.
LIFE IS TIMING
What’s stopping the other guy from not shooting the minion at all, and just shooting you? Unless he’s someone like Ezreal and you’ve got a minion to block his Q...nothing, really. He’ll lose that one CS, but it’s certainly worth it if he can eat a chunk of your health bar. How do you know what his intentions are?
This isn’t an MMO, where the boss follows a script and all you need to do is not stand in the damn fire. You’re playing an actual person, you need to be able to get into their head. You will need to learn to consistently predict what your opponent is doing and what their intentions are. Every CS, every wave. Each time, you’ve got a chance to hurt him, and he’s got a chance to hurt you.
If you want to improve at this, watch a replay of any game and pick a player to watch. Not you, but someone else. In fact, the best person would probably be your lane opponent. Watch a run of play and try to guess what his next move is. Is he going to take one minion now with an auto? Many at once with an ability? Is he going to stay on this side of the wave, or rotate to the other side? Why? Also, do they have a tendency that’s exploitable? Maybe they dodge backwards and try to outrun skillshots, instead of to the side? Do they use an ability whenever it’s ready, meaning that it spends more time on cooldown than available (Taric’s Disease)? Are they consistently using abilities on the minions, and not their opponent?
Back in my poker days, it’s take an hour or two to get “dialed in” and get used to how my opponents play, and to devise a strategy to beat them. In LoL, you’ve only got a few minutes. So what...that’s all you need. Take a look at what your opponent is doing and try to figure him out.
CAPTAIN OBVIOUS IS ACTUALLY A PRIVATE
Time for a tangent. I’m going to describe three players to you. Tell me: which one’s not level 30? Which one’s the Silver? Which one’s the Diamond?
* One player doesn’t click in lane except to move. You can see them autoing creeps without moving.
* Another player runs in long circles. They stop in time to shoot a minion, and resume running in circles once they fire.
* Yet another player looks like he’s having a seizure. They’re constantly moving back and forth next to their minions, covering very little ground. When they finally take a shot, they resume the constant shaking.
Yeah, I didn’t try too hard to trick you, did I? They’re in order; the first guy isn’t 30, the second guy’s Silver, and the last guy’s the Diamond. And, that’s the point.
I explain the benefits of higher APM in another post (summary: it’s easier to dodge things), but there’s another benefit that’s relevant here: spastic movements make it harder to predict when you’re going to leave yourself open while taking a minion. If the other guy can’t figure your movements out, they’re likely to not throw an ability at you, or even better, throw one that’s not well aimed and miss. How great is that?
You need to be able to deceive the other guy. You’ve got to guess right yourself, and make your opponent guess wrong. You know that part of The Art of War where Sun Tzu says “all warfare is based on deception"? Well, this is what he actually meant. You want to get into his head, but you need to do your best to keep him out of yours.
A-B-C! ALWAYS BE CLOSING!
Okay, so you hit the other guy a couple of times. So what? If he just backs and buy items he would have bought anyway, you’ve accomplished nothing. How do we actually score?
There’s a lot of ways you can put an opponent away. You can land an ability yourself, using summoners or not, and do it yourself (Kill). Your jungler could show up and help you finish him off (Gank), or even under the tower if he’s confident (Dive). You can leave your opponent and try to make a play elsewhere (Roam). Finally, you can play a 0/0 lane out and hopefully have more CS than the other guy, minding champ scaling (Points).
Kill, Gank, Dive, Roam, Points. Those are the five ways to win. It’s not any more complicated than that. While you’re in lane, think of which of the five ways is best bet.
I play Mundo top a lot. He’s a poor trader and doesn’t do much damage, and without my ult, all my abilities actually help my opponent because they cost me life. Does that mean that Points is my best bet because I’m a shitty laner, and can do nothing but lay back and toss cleavers? Close, it’s actually my second choice. I have teleport, so I want to win with a Roam. I watch bot like a hawk, and if I can swing a fight by pressing D, I will do it.
Kill? Doubt it. If somebody’s dumb enough to eat over five cleavers in lane with no sustain, maybe, but I’m not that lucky. Gank? Probably not, I’m usually far back cleaver tossing, and will probably need to hit a cleaver to succeed. With minions in the way I’ve got to either waste time walking forward (giving the gank away), or flash for it, which is betting a lot on the gank. Dive isn’t happening, I’m just not going to be realistically getting my opponent low, unless a gank failed and he stayed out while wounded. Even then, my waveclear sucks, I probably can’t get the wave to his tower.
So, ask yourself this question: which of the five ways to win is your best option? Which is the worst?
A BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE
Hey look, I’m playing Mundo top again, on the blue side. The game starts, I pick Q on the fountain because all of my other abilities suck, and walk forward to go earn my Jungle Boy Scout Merit Badge. Cleaver a bush, clear. Go into that bush. Cleaver another, clear. Hey look, the entire top half of their jungle is empty (red buff side). Cool. I ward the wraith bush, leave, and go to lane.
I am willing to bet a large sum of money that the enemy jungler is starting Gromp, Blue, Red. When he gets to red, he will be low even with the smite heal. If someone gets there to attack him while he is doing red, he’s going to be in very big trouble. An invading jungler can smite red himself to heal, and can also position so the red buff monster is closer to the enemy, so the red buff monster will help him hit his target. It doesn’t even need to be the jungler; as Mundo, I suck in low level fights, but I can still make him pee his pants if he eats cleavers and a few E punches while fighting the buff. If I was on a killer at level 2 like Ahri, it’s money in the bank.
The victim of this invade can flash away and back, falling behind, or die, falling further behind. They MIGHT be rescued by a laner. Maybe. But if Jarvan hits that knockup or he takes two Vi autoattack resets...stick a fork in him, he’s done.
Most of this guide so far has been about laning. Junglers, on the other hand, have all sorts of helpless moments. The new jungle hurts like hell, and if your opposite number shows up while the jungle camp is also beating on you? You’re gonna have a bad time.
As a jungler yourself, you need to know and recognize when both you and your opponent are vulnerable. If you don’t know, just jungle for a game and ask yourself “if the enemy jungler’s in that bush, how screwed am I?” at every opportunity. You’ll give yourself nightmares as you realize how easy it is to kill you. After that, how hard is it to be that “enemy jungler”?
CLOSE, BUT THAT’S OKAY, HAVE A CIGAR
When you kill someone, they’re out of the game for X seconds, then they’re sent back to base, and you get gold.
When you cripple someone but don’t kill them, they recall. They’re out of the game for 10 seconds (recall time, a little shorter with the mastery), they’re sent back to base, but you get no gold.
Is it that big of a difference?
If you’re in a game when all five opponents are available to act against you, you need to think about how to get rid of one. Killing’s great, crippling and forcing a recall is pretty good too. From there, you can then decide on a tower, dragon, baron, or my personal favorite, lighting up their jungle. This is the power play, when you are actually out there getting closer to destroying the nexus. So, the instant the fight ends, you must immediately decide on what you can turn this into. If you go back to lane and shoot minions, you better be about to lose an inhibitor to them. Otherwise, you’re just pissing an advantage away. An advantage that you earned by winning a fight, and may not get again.
YEAH, ABOUT THAT CIGAR…
Want to see a bad player?
Watch him as his lane opponent leaves lane with a full or close to full health bar. Does he do anything other than ping MIA then farm passively?
If not, he’s a bad player.
As I described above, winning on Points is only good if you can’t win any other way. If you see your lane opponent leave, you have to decide what they’re doing. He could be backing, going for a buff, warding, or roaming. The first three aren’t so bad, but that last one is him attempting to win the game. What do you intend to do about this?
You could have avoided this by landing more harass or glueing him to his tower by power pushing. But, that was then, and right now he’s got a chance to swing the game. Can you respond?
If you can, you should. If you have teleport, you can spend it when they show up. You can also follow them, but be careful that they aren’t hiding in a bush to drygulch you in transit.
Sometimes you can’t respond. If you’re hurt yourself, you can’t safely cross from one lane to another with no vision. If there’s a lot of enemy minions attacking your tower, you may be losing a level or more by leaving, which forces you to succeed in that fight just to get even. Maybe you blew that teleport to get back to lane faster after shopping, and now you’re regretting it.
As a last resort, don’t just ping MIA (“?”). You spam ping danger (red “!”) at that lane.
It’s obnoxious, it’s annoying, and your teammates may think you’re an asshole. On the other hand, that enemy Akali might be collecting a double kill. Which do you care about more, your reputation among internet people you’ll never see again, or your LP?
As an aside, maybe you weren’t paying attention and don’t notice, instead trying to get every CS. Get used to farming in custom games; not only because it makes you a better farmer, but because it makes farming easier, and you have more of an attention span while doing so.
MEAT IS MURDER, AND IT’S AWESOME
There’s a TL/DR at the top, but I did want to touch on the general theme here at the end; how do you intend to win?
You NEED to have an idea of what to do to make something happen. You will not get anywhere sitting and farming until everyone groups mid for a teamfight. If you sit all day farming, the game’s going to pass you by. Farm as much as you can, but you need to remember that there’s a game going on and you intend to win it. Don’t be that Whole Foods Vayne, sitting in the corner eating grass. You need to be a meat eater.
If you don’t know how to be, that’s okay, you’ve got the internet in front of you, and people will be willing to help if you ask. But if you’re going to admit that you don’t know what to do, yet you’re going to go into ranked anyway, well, you’re going to get what you deserve.
Hopefully, there aren’t too many swear words from your teammates involved.