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The Summoner's Guidebook: Upping my kill-death ratio

Patrick Mackey

Those of you who have been reading WRUP know that I've been playing a lot of Kassadin lately. He's an assassin with a very high skill cap, and he's ridiculously powerful in Dominion. Kassadin is also kind of hard to play. He has a lot of strange mechanics, and his powerful tricks are somewhat unintuitive. Recently, I had a small epiphany that dramatically improved my skill. This improvement improved more than just my Kassadin game; it boosted my overall skill level with every champion in League of Legends.

Before I made this development, I was performing terribly. I ended up playing a lot of bot matches because I felt my execution with Kassadin was really awful, and every time I went back to PvP games, I felt more and more behind. Suddenly, after a string of bad decisions cost me a match, I realized something I was doing wrong and went on to begin dominating. I went from getting focused down early every fight to utterly demolishing teams and causing enemy players to second-guess fighting me 1v1 even with both of us full on life. What's the secret, you ask? I'd like to tell you, so read on!

The school of hard knocks

I love assassin-type characters. My champion roster consists largely of AP casters, and the vast majority of those are characters with very high burst potential. I like stealth, I like ambushing, and I like turning a fight around in a single moment. Unfortunately, assassins have a bit of a learning curve, and despite unlocking my first real assassin (Akali) months ago, I really didn't understand how to actually play an assassin until recently.

My problem, and the problem with many League summoners, is that I would get spiked down very quickly upon engaging in combat. Even with powerful escape tools like Shaco's Deceive, Akali's Twilight Shroud, or Ahri's Spirit Rush, I couldn't seem to get to the point that I could actually dive in, burst people, and chase stragglers without eating a full lifebar of pain from the enemy team. I ended up switching back to zoning characters (including a lot of Ahri played more like a mage) and had a lot more success, since my zoning skills are much better than my committing skills (maybe this is why I'm single).

I initially hated Kassadin. I first played him fairly early on in my League career during a free week, and I played terribly; my awful play cost me a few games during that week. I just didn't get him. It wasn't until about a month ago that I finally understood that Nether Blade was only for cleaning up fights and building Force Pulse stacks. After a few good games during a Kassadin free week about a month ago, I decided to just spend the IP on him and see where it took me.

Unlike before, when I had no clue what I was doing, this time I felt like I had a pretty good map for what Kassadin could actually be when played well. I played a lot of games as him, but something was missing. The same things kept happening with other assassins; I'd get spiked, and it would make me cry on my keyboard. Still, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I was pretty determined to reach it.

League of Legends screenshot
Getting to the point

I finally hit a breakthrough playing with a friend of mine. I had just played an absolutely terrible game, and he had been a bit critical of my sloppy decision-making during the game. Rather than get upset and take it out on him, I stood up from my desk, went to my living room with a bottle of Gatorade, and paced around wondering what went wrong.

I was sure it wasn't my execution. I'd actually learned a couple of new dirty tricks, and they had proven disgustingly effective in previous matches. My reflexes and conditioned responses were very solid. I was hitting the keys I needed to hit without any thought or hesitation. When I wanted to do an "impossible Riftwalk" through a wall, it just happened because I had practiced a lot doing that exact thing. I regularly hit people with smartcasted Force Pulse at the very tip of the range -- immediately after Riftwalking to the perfect spot. I knew Kassadin, so the problem wasn't my skills with him. It was my skills in general.

I realized that I'd done a lot of really dumb things in that game, and I knew exactly what I'd done wrong each time. When I sat back down in my chair, I told myself exactly what I need to do to get better.

"If you're not at an advantage, don't pretend that you are."

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That was clear as mud

That advice is actually pretty common sense. Don't engage in a fight you can't win unless you have an ace to swing it in your team's favor. Wait for the right moment to commit to a fight so you can cause the most punishment. And perhaps most importantly for most League summoners, don't be afraid to zone until that moment is nigh.

As an assassin, I always assumed that I was supposed to engage right after the initiator. After all, the sooner I fired a burst off, the sooner I could fire another one. This can be true, but it's not the whole story. I also assumed that I was supposed to go after the high-value squishy targets like mages or carries. Again, this can be true, but it's not the rule.

The initial engagement of a teamfight is a giant ball of chaos. It's like putting eight (or 10) champions in a blender and finding out which team wasn't totally pureed at the end. Diving in right at the beginning will inevitably end with your being turned into an assassin-smoothie.

People often make mistakes in positioning, and you should always take advantage of those. Unfortunately, they often don't happen right away. The initiators are often the only decent targets, and going after soft targets causes you to overextend first. However, if you and your allies target the enemy initiator, enemies will inevitably overextend to come after one of you. This is your moment, and for an assassin, it's the most important moment in a fight.

Sure, as a general strategy, Kassadin should focus on spellcasters, but I found that by picking out the people who strayed a little too far or even just firing my burst at the enemy initiator and waiting the few seconds to recover caused a huge swing in the number of teamfights my team won. It also dramatically reduced my deaths and massively increased my kills. Obviously characters with slower-recovering bursts should not expend their combos, but spammy mages like Ryze, Ziggs, and Cassiopeia should throw fast-recharging attacks at the first warm enemy body until a better target shows up.

This also leads into ultimate timing. There's a strong tendency to save your ultimate for something important, and then you go through several teamfights with your R off cooldown. I recently played an awful game of Summoner's Rift in which our Sivir waited until late in the fight to use her ultimate. She was chastised heavily by our team, but it's important to remember that having these long-cooldown abilities causes us to want to save them for the perfect time.

In general, it is better to use your ultimate a little early and not get the perfect Sona ult that stuns the entire enemy team than it is to use it late when you've already lost the fight. This is something I learned fairly early on, but it seemed appropriate in an article about timing when you join the fight.

Later in my exciting post-revelation play, we came across an Olaf who was on the losing end of a fight. His teammates were coming up behind him to reinforce, and he was in retreat to meet up with them. Rather than wait for them to arrive, though, he turned around, hit Ragnarock, and was subsequently pounded into paste before his allies even made it to the battle. Naturally, his friends all died because of his mistake, and we pushed ahead to take their capture point.

The lesson of the day is this: Don't be that Olaf.

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.

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