Implied threat and punishing mistakes
The point of zoning is not to land harassment. Zoning is a tool that you use to scare the enemy away because he's afraid of harassment. This is an important distinction; you're using threats to force the enemy back simply by being there. If you're trying to land harassment against a wary opponent, it is rather difficult, and once you get to the higher levels of skill, most players won't simply let you land spells.
On the other hand, dealing damage allows you to effectively win fights, go for kills, and send the opponent away because going close would mean death. However, zoning itself is a combination of landing harassment and avoiding the opponent's attempts to do the same to you.
As we saw in Shurelia's tutorial, each character creates an implied space of control. Typically, that range is the space of that character's longest targeted attack. Characters with skillshots can threaten to the edge of the skillshot's range, but the actual area a character controls with skillshots is roughly the distance the spell travels in a half second or so. Beyond that, skillshots can be avoided on reaction. However, you can still use tricks to land skillshots even at the far edge of your range.
The implied space your character controls is a threat, and if your opponent does not respect this space, he or she will suffer continuous harassment attacks throughout the course of the battle. If your opponent is good enough to avoid this zone, you can use the implied threat of attack to push your opponent away from things he wants to do. The biggest example is last-hitting, but you can also use this in a teamfight to zone a squishier damage dealer out of the battle. Simply walking forward without committing can cause these reactions, and if your foe does not react, you can attack and get some free damage.
Mistake punishing is a very important part of zoning. There are times when your opponent will try to make an attack or cast a spell very close to the edge of your zone. If you anticipate this, you can hit your opponent while he's doing his business. In order to do this, you must be so comfortable with zoning and laning that you can do most of those things on autopilot. You need to have very conditioned reactions to properly punish mistakes. Focus on your opponent and look for what he's trying to do, then hit him when he's trying to do it. As usual, practice makes perfect.
Specific techniques for better zoning
The first trick I'll cover is nothing new to a lot of you. If you attack a target, your autoattack goes on cooldown (relative to your attack speed) for a second or so. During that time, you can issue move commands or do other things and your attack will continue to cool down. Because the cooldown of autoattacks tends to be very short, we tend to think of them as continuous. However, if you practice shooting and moving, you can minimize the amount of time you spend near an opponent's threatened space. If you're trying to kill someone, shooting (or even melee attacking) and moving lets you get a bit more movement than you otherwise would, which might lead to landing another free attack or two. Last-hitting, shooting, and moving keeps you sharp and resistant to mistake-punishing attempts. This technique has been called "stutter-step micro" and other things in other games, and you should definitely practice doing it in LoL
On the same note, a specific mistake you can punish is the aforementioned autoattack cooldown. If you are fighting a ranged attacker and he attacks something else, you have a brief window of time when his zoning is less effective. If you're close enough, you can land a free hit while he goes for a last-hit. It's a pretty big deal in high-level play.
My next trick is a bit psychological and doesn't work on everyone. One of the natural instincts of getting hit is to pull back to avoid more harassment. However, this is frequently a bad idea. For instance, if Gangplank lands Parrrley on you, it is pretty painful. However, pulling back immediately will get you even further behind. Instead of immediately withdrawing, try to land a bit of counter-harassment of your own. This is, of course, highly matchup-dependent. If Ahri lands an orb or a foxfire hit, you do
want to back away to avoid further damage. However, if she lands a combo on you (charm, foxfire, orb), you probably want to counterattack as all of her threats are on cooldown.
You can also use this to zone the enemy out. If you see an enemy spend a cooldown, you can use that as an opening to get aggressive. If you're laning against Rumble and he fires his two spears, you know his ranged harassment is down, and you can move in and potentially steal some of his HP. This is, again, very matchup-dependent. Learn the matchups as much as you can to know when you can use these kinds of tricks.Teamfights and spacing
Teamfights are messy because there are multiple allies and multiple opponents, all exerting their own controlled space. The risk and reward for making a mistake is different for each character, too. Getting in the zoning range of Taric typically means death at the start of a fight, for instance. If there's any overlap of zoning ranges or there's crowd control in the mix, you can easily eat a whole lifebar in damage for a zoning attempt. Making the right decisions is critically important.
For a squishy ranged character, the simple rule of thumb is to play passively until an initiation occurs. Once the initiation happens, begin by focusing easy-to-kill targets. If you get zoned out by someone who can either lock you down or burst you down, don't be afraid to treat it like a normal situation and stutter-step backwards. This is especially important if you're a carry or your spell cooldowns are very short. While it sucks to be unable to attack squishy targets, getting locked down by Leona and killed is a much worse situation.
If you're an initiator, we covered that in detail last week
. However, if you see any opportunity to land a big initiation, go in with conviction. Don't just dive in randomly; go in when you can land the most disruption.
Of course, no video or guide can replace hours of practice and experience. While I've given you a lot of useful tips and advice, the most important thing you can do is put all of these elements -- plus many more you'll learn by playing -- and practice them constantly. The more you practice, the more zoning will become second nature. 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.