The Summoner's Guidebook: Winning LoL games takes good decisions

Patrick Mackey
P. Mackey|02.07.13

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The Summoner's Guidebook: Winning LoL games takes good decisions
The Summoner's Guidebook Winning LoL games takes good decisions
Decision-making is a broad topic, so I am a bit hesitant to cover it directly. It's the little things that contribute to victory in League of Legends, and decision-making is not a little thing. It's a big topic with a lot of ground to cover. As I've said many times in the past, experience is the best teacher, and I can only tell you what to look for.

However, I wanted to bring the column back around to talking about what it takes to step up your game. By now, you've heard me talk at length about mechanical things -- things like last-hitting or aiming skillshots that you can sit down and practice. I've talked more on narrow things like how to make a good team composition or execute ganks. Now I'm going to begin to put everything together and talk about what things you should think about before you click to move on the minimap, place a ward, or ping your team to go for dragon. Good decisions win LoL games, and whether you're a pro or an amateur, you can improve on the choices you make.

Going for a gank

I'm going to revisit my column from two weeks ago when I wrote about ganking and discuss the most important part: When and where should you gank? It's something I avoided previously because it really deserves more than a small paragraph or two.

The first step in picking a gank is to take a look at the game state. In a normal game of Summoner's Rift, you can see four enemies in lane most of the time. Additionally, you can see any parts of the map that your allies, minions, and wards can see. Before you go for a gank, take a moment to take a mental snapshot and try to ask yourself a few questions:
  • What is the status of the enemy laners? Are they MIA? Is anyone low on health? Is one of the lanes pushed up? Is there any situation I can potentially take advantage of?
  • What is the status of my allies? Is one of my lanes losing? Do I need to come up and cover for a teammate to give her some breathing room?
  • What position would give me the most support in a gank? What is the ultimate status of my team and enemy? Has anyone spent any essential cooldowns that might be helpful in a gank? Do allied champions have abilities that are useful in locking an enemy down?
  • What is the mental state of the ally I am coming to help? Will he blow my cover? Will he just withdraw? Will he get mad if I help him?
  • Where is the enemy jungler? Is he clearing, or should he be in a position in his jungle to put him in a particular place? Do wards cover the area he might approach from? Is there any way he might have sneakily hidden in a lane bush?
  • What are the status of my buff camps? Are they up? Will they be up soon? What about my enemies? Do they have any buffs coming up that I can steal?
These are just a few of the questions I think about when I'm going for a gank. For instance, I might move in for a gank against a Sona lane just to burn her ultimate. This might be a big deal if a dragon fight might be happening soon. If my gank can spend a few critical abilities such as Flash or a key ultimate, it might be worth my time to go even if I am pretty sure it won't get a kill. Just be careful not to die to the ability you're trying to bait.

It's worth mentioning that I am a very cautious jungler who relies on counter-jungling to stymie the enemy mid lane (stealing the blue buff) and who steals enough jungle camps to cripple the enemy jungler in midgame teamfights. I gank very conservatively and only when it's convenient. This may not be your style, and this style is probably not the most effective one. Don't let the questions above hamstring your desire to gank; instead, let them guide you toward the most effective choices of where and how.

The Summoner's Guidebook Winning LoL games takes good decisions
Grouping up

It was nearly a year ago that I wrote about tempo, and it was then that I talked about the midgame and grouping up. Getting the dragon early is a pretty big deal. Winning an early teamfight at dragon and then slaying the dragon is a huge deal. Getting an early dragon steal so your enemies cannot is also a big deal. Any advantage you can get in the midgame helps put your team ahead.

When do you group up? The best answer is "when you've successfully ganked or made an enemy retreat to base." If you are ganking for mid lane and the opposing mid lane flees for his base, you have a small window of time -- roughly 60 seconds -- when your mid lane ally can do as she pleases. If you coordinate well, pulling your team to the dragon or bottom lane and starting a fight can result in a big win. If you can force another foe out of commission while you are in that power play situation, you have a strong shot to take the dragon's global gold. If you're playing a character particularly suited for doing so, you may even just take the dragon with just the help of your mid lane, while the enemy is unaware.

The best time to team up is during these power play situations. Even if the dragon is down, grouping up to siege a turret can get your team a lead and start forcing the enemy to make tough calls. If a buff is about to come up, pinging the buff and calling teammates can secure the buff while the enemy team can leverage fewer people to help. If you're lucky, you can snag the enemy jungler while you're there, too.

It can be tempting to roam around as a team in the midgame. However, this is not the best idea. One of my wiser commenters said that once the midgame starts, it's important to keep up on gold and experience. The team that is killing things, whether it is creeps or players, is the team that is getting ahead. You'll need to split up to do that, but it's important to be safe as well. Ward the likely approaches to your farming space and clear out shortly after you've done your business. Don't linger and be subject to a 4-man gank.

You can also use lone farmers as bait. If your enemies are bloodthirsty (and many are), they will move to jump a lone ally clearing minions if they don't think anyone is there as backup. Your job, of course, is to make them wrong. Once, I was playing Vayne and happily farming minions while allies, coordinated by my jungler, moved to a likely approach spot. The area near me was warded, and my allies had ample time to notice the two enemies coming up on me. What the enemy thought was a power play quickly turned on them when a 5v2 ended in two quick kills for my team. To sweeten the deal, the other three opponents were close by, also interested in my blood. Four opponents died, and we took several turrets during their respawns.

The Summoner's Guidebook Winning LoL games takes good decisions

As I alluded to above, my experience is not yours. My experience is that wards win games, that the best fights are the ones when my team outnumbers the other side, and that it's more stable to last-hit and counter-jungle than try to risk big plays. I have numerous friends, some higher in ranking, who play more aggressively. The most important thing is to learn. You need to learn when your ganks or power plays work and when they don't, and more importantly, why.

Sometimes bad plays work out because the enemy is unprepared or unskilled. Sometimes your approach was perfect and there was virtually nothing the enemy could do. Other times you execute well and make a good decision but someone else bungles your attempt. Sometimes you mess it up all on your own. The most important thing you can do is understand those reasons and use them to recreate advantage situations that lead to victories. Good luck and have fun!

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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