The Summoner's Guidebook: How do assassins work in League of Legends?

The Summoner's Guidebook How do assassins work in League of Legends
In case you didn't notice, the title of this week's column is a question. It's not because I know the answer; it's because I've been thinking a lot about it lately and don't have a really good answer.

Assassins are in a strange state when it comes to teamfights. In League of Legends, there's a period when teams tend to group up to fight over objectives. This marks the midgame in Summoner's Rift, it happens after altars unlock in Twisted Treeline, and it occurs anytime both teams know where the other team is on the Crystal Scar. We've discussed teamfights a lot already, but what is troubling is the presence of assassins in these fights. Assassins are best when they're able to jump in and kill an unprepared target, ideally before a teamfight starts. Once that's done, their team can jump in with a numbers advantage and take the objective or wipe out the enemy.

When both teams are grouped up ahead of time, assassins lose a lot of their might. Assassins can't kill without exposing themselves to heavy risk, which makes them a liability to their team until they jump in. After they jump in, they're still likely to be the first ones to get focused down.

What do we do about this? What's the solution? I don't have a clear answer -- but I can still share my observations.

The Summoner's Guidebook How do assassins work in League of Legends
How do I kill people?

It's no surprise really that I'm a risk-averse player. If I am going to dive into the chaos of a teamfight directly, I like to be an initiator or tanky bruiser with some big survivability tools or enemy team-wrecking tools. If I'm gonna die, I want to die knowing I forced two or three of my opponents down with a powerful initiation or completely shut down the enemy DPS and forced them to flee while my allies ripped apart the tanks.

Up until recently, I thought assassins filled a similar role in that they were supposed to dive in, wipe out a key DPS opponent, and get out, possibly helping to clean up afterwards. Unfortunately, every time I do this, I get smeared into the dirt. Obviously I wait until the fight actually starts, but if even two enemies train on me, I tend to get wiped before I can finish one of them off. Even if I manage to get a kill, at best my team traded DPS for DPS, which is not exactly a win situation.

The problem is that if I wait too long, the enemy team gets to apply all the power of five people; if I'm a top lane character, the enemy top lane bruiser gets to DPS while I wait to make something happen. If I'm a mid lane character, the enemy mid gets to unload his full burst combo or DPS or whatever while I'm doing nothing. Even if I kill him, I also have to deal significant damage to another person to contribute equally to the fight. If it's a character like Orianna or Cassiopeia with an amazing teamfight ultimate, I basically have to kill her before she uses it or there is no way I am contributing enough.

So how do I make myself useful then? How do I win those fights without just getting "lucky" and picking someone off before the fight starts?

The Summoner's Guidebook How do assassins work in League of Legends
How not to be an assasssin

Recently I fought against some wonderful Shacos and Teemos who would hide, wait for the teamfight to end, then come out and ambush in the hopes of cleaning up. Even if they got a singular kill, almost always their silly attempts ended with a quick death and my team still taking whatever objective we were after (typically an enemy turret). I'm pretty sure that is waiting a bit too long. If the perfect storm occurs and everyone on the enemy team is really weak, this trick might work, but even then the assassin has to survive the alpha strike of three to five surviving people. He might not even get to attack more than once before he is CCed and killed.

Another option is to try to come from an unexpected direction and attack from behind. I've had to deal with that, and while it does zone me out, I usually end up killing my assassin by kiting him -- at least as ADC. If the assassin doesn't kill me, as the ADC I can just go back and shoot at the closest easy target, or if there isn't one, shoot minions or jungle creeps to lifesteal enough to get back in the fight. It might be different for mages, of course, but if it happens to an ally mage, I tend to just shoot the assassin in the face (or tackle him if I'm a bruiser), and if it happens to me as a mage, I tend to lay down whatever CC or burst I have and kite the assassin, and allies tend to collapse on him. It rarely ends with anything better than an even trade.

In fact, what bothers me the most about assassins is that any time I see a successful assassin in teamfights, it's always one on my team. League of Legends is a game about concentration, and it's incredibly hard to think about what my assassin is doing when I'm trying to focus on what I should be doing, what my enemy is doing, and what my other key teammates are doing (initiator being #1). I generally don't pay attention to other DPS allies, and even then I generally only watch the backline to see if I need to respond to someone diving on our damage dealers. Then the fight ends and we aced the enemy team with no deaths, and our Akali has picked up a double kill. Did she just jump in at the end and kill steal? I don't think so, to be honest. She did something to end the game at a positive kill-death ratio, but because my concentration is on doing everything I need to do, I can't really watch to find out what she's doing.

Unfortunately, LoL Replay doesn't like my new computer, either.

The Summoner's Guidebook How do assassins work in League of Legends
Successes with assassins

Astute readers will note that I play Kassadin, who is an assassin and pretty much can't be played any other way. However, Kassadin is a bit different than other assassins in that he is a ranged mage assassin. His gap closer, Riftwalk, can be used to hop into spell range without making him stuck in melee. Because his spells also have good range, he can hold Riftwalk to hop out after throwing his nukes. If he's against an isolated foe -- especially a mage -- he can toss Null Sphere to silence, then Force Pulse and Riftwalk on top of the mage and swing away with Nether Blade. However, if there's a big teamfight, he can just Null Sphere the best easy target, Force Pulse the enemy group, and Riftwalk back to safety. He's an assassin built for my kind of play.

The other assassin I actually do well with is Evelynn. To be honest, I would play Eve regardless of how well I use her (I play Akali and I'm horrible with her), but Evelynn holds a special place in my heart. In teamfights, I tend to hang out on the edge of the main fight and spam Hate Spike and run away if anyone tries to attack me. If anyone bunches up, I slam my ultimate and DPS like crazy until I notice my shield starting to take damage, then run away while hammering on Hate Spike. Overall I end up doing pretty well, and I have the bonus that I am also an assassin who can catch and kill individuals who are out of position. Evelynn also is an amazing scout, since she can approach the enemy closer to provide vision for her team. Her stealth is a fantastic tool in the early stages of a fight, since Eve can frequently provide intel on where her opponents are without giving up too much about her own team's positioning. It also usually means that, despite being a close-range character, she is often nowhere near the event horizon of a teamfight, avoiding many powerful initiation abilities.

Other than those two, I've had little luck with real assassins. I've played terribly as Diana since she was nerfed (not complaining; the nerf was kinda warranted), and even though Akali was my first assassin, I am still horrible with her in any situation, whether it is in a lane on Summoner's Rift or roaming on the Crystal Scar. I tend to do better as the "assassin" approaches the "bruiser" category, characters like Jax or Poppy who have gap closers and burst damage but are not really assassins. I also do just fine with mages that have the assassin tag, such as Ahri (who totally isn't an assassin at all). In fact, the main reason I can play Kassadin is due to the fact that he has mage-like tools, even if he is built to be an assasssin.

In the end, I might just not be cut out to play assassins. I know there's some key skill I'm missing, and I think that's what bothers me the most. More than anything else, assassins are sort of a black hole for me, a gap of knowledge that I don't really understand. Even with other people's guides, I feel like there's something fundamental missing that good assassins take for granted but is key. Either way, I don't have that skill, whatever it is.

Maybe someday I'll be able to wear that Nurse Akali skin without embarassing myself.

We understand what it's like to climb the skill ladder in League of Legends. The Summoner's Guidebook teaches you the tools you need to get a competitive edge. Whether you're climbing the ranked ladder, playing Draft Dominion, or getting crushed by intermediate bots, every enemy has a weakness. And every Thursday, Patrick Mackey shows how you can improve improve on yours.

This article was originally published on Massively.