League of Legends can be overwhelming to analyze… So many different decisions go into every game that even experienced players frequently misidentify the causes of victory or defeat! Despite this complexity, there’s a special recipe for success that ensures you have the necessary tools to compete. The first step to dominating the Rift is, without a doubt, winning your lane! To accomplish this, more than anything else, you need to understand how to break down matchups. This will improve the odds of playing your lane situation correctly. While top lane and mid lane are – in many ways – worlds apart, these strategies do apply to both. Let’s get into it!
Understanding Win Conditions
Win conditions are critical to understand from the get-go. “What does it mean for my champion to win lane?” is a question you should ask yourself every single time you’re at the loading screen. Some more questions to follow up with:
- “Should I attempt to kill the enemy laner?”
- “Do I just try to farm safely and avoid dying?”
- “Would the team benefit if I push the enemy champ under turret and keep them from roaming?”
Fortunately, your champion’s win condition stems from its ability kit and as a result, will not change based on matchup (in most cases). This means that once you can figure out a given champion’s win condition in a particular lane, you’ll know it forever!
The next step after identifying your champion’s win condition is to identify that of the opposing champ. Obviously this can be tougher if you’re not familiar with his or her skills and mechanics, but with a little research and experience things should become clear.
Now, how do your win conditions interact with each other? To better explain how this all works, let’s walk through an example together! You’re playing Ahri. In this scenario, your expected opponent for middle lane is Lux.
How to Win Solo Lane: Ahri vs. Lux
Ahri, a highly mobile mage / assassin, has a fairly straightforward objective: farm safely during laning phase while trading harassment using Q at opportune times. Our general win condition is to reach Level 6. At this point, we’ll have ultimate and be able to kill our lane opponent or roam to another lane and get kills there. In essence, our early-game goal is to hit Level 6 safely and use our mobility to make plays anywhere possible on the map!
Now that we know our win condition, let’s examine that of the enemy laner. Lux is an immobile control mage who relies on skillshots and scales extremely well with items. She has a similar overall goal: to survive laning phase without falling too far behind. Afterward, she’ll focus on impacting the game via safe turret sieges and obliterating people from afar with her spell combos.
With both our own and the enemy’s win condition identified, we’re now able to ascertain the ideal plan of attack for this matchup. In this case, we’re going to want to kill Lux if possible to deny her win condition while also accelerating our own.
As Ahri, we want to find roaming opportunities. This punishes Lux’s inherent weakness of subpar mobility. After all, Lux can’t keep up with our movement without risk of being ambushed should she choose to help out. On paper, we can conclude that Ahri has a favorable matchup, which would (generally) be correct here. However, there’s much more for us to analyze to ensure we leave the laning phase with an advantage!
The “Nature” of the Matchup
Defining the matchups comes down to one fundamental concept: comparing champions and determining what makes one stronger (or weaker) than the other. This means breaking down two key factors: how the champs’ kits interact with one another and their effective health. From a new player’s standpoint, understanding just one of these can be overwhelming – let alone both! For our example situation we’ll take it in steps, so it becomes an easy process to follow!
What is Effective Health?
At the most basic, a champion’s effective health (also called effective HP, or EHP) is their health pool and anything else that may influence it. The number of factors that define a champion’s effective health can be daunting at first glance!
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll cover the most common components: shields, heals, potions, Runes / Masteries, and resistances. Figuring out who has more EHP is easier in practice than in theory. It can be as simple as asking: “Is there anything that heals in this matchup other than potions?”
EHP: Ahri vs. Lux
Let’s assume both Ahri and Lux are running the same Runes / Masteries / Summoner Spells as well as starting items. Overall, this is a fairly common occurrence. Now let’s break down what makes their effective HP differ.
First off, Ahri’s passive, Essence Theft, makes her effective HP extremely deceptive to novice laners. If used correctly (ideally using Q on a large minion wave, as it heals for each enemy hit), it can swing our HP from dangerous to safe levels. Other than that, Ahri has no other tools in her skillset to affect EHP during early laning phase.
Now let’s examine Lux. Lux’s W, Prismatic Barrier, is a two-part shield. It grants an immediate initial shield, then shields her again for the same amount after the projectile returns to her. Overall, the mitigation from her shield is extremely low during lane phase, as she only puts one point into it until very late game. Her shield is rather negligible, but it is better than nothing.
Comparing the two, it’s clear that Ahri has more EHP than Lux. In another sense, this means Ahri can afford to take more damage! This implies that we can take slightly unfavorable trades – but that’ll be OK because we out-sustain Lux due to our effective HP advantage.
Champion Kit Interactions
If you want to win your lane, it’s critical that you understand your champion’s kit and how it interacts with others. There are tons of interesting interactions to explore, and due to this fact, most coaches will suggest learning a handful of champs first. This is typically where people decide when one champion “counters” another. Let’s break down Ahri’s kit and see what it means for us to lane against a champion such as Lux.
Many high-level players consider Ahri’s pre-Level 6 laning phase to be weaker than that of other mages and assassins. Her passive is her one crutch to help her survive difficult lanes. However, she becomes extremely dangerous once she has her ultimate available… Ahri gets three dashes on top of the Flash Summoner Spell!.
As an assassin, Ahri waits for an opponent to make a mistake, then pounces at the opportunity for a kill. With the three dashes from her ultimate, she can dodge skillshots and reposition with ease. In particular, Ahri is a great pick for matchups against a skillshot-reliant mage!
We already have some ideas about Lux from analyzing her win conditions earlier – she’s relatively immobile and reliant on landing skillshots. She has extremely high damage output but it’s dangerous for her to be aggressive, as her early game harassment requires an auto attack to proc her passive. Putting this all together, we’re at a distinct advantage! Prior to Level 6, Lux can potentially build a small lead with her slightly stronger early-game trades. However, it’s not enough to make up for the post-Level 6 matchup where we shine!
This matchup is ours to lose (on paper)! But wait – there’s more…
Changing the Game: Junglers & Matchups
With the basics of 1v1 laning out of the way, it’s important to understand two more variables that influence all matchups. These are: the junglers!
There’s a ton of thought that goes into predicting how and when the enemy jungler will be pressuring your lane (if at all). I’ll be publishing a jungle guide in the coming weeks, which should help understand a jungler’s thought process. This is also a great subject to ask your coach or more experienced friends about! The key here is to think through how your jungler and the enemy jungler will be making their decisions of when and where to gank.
It’s entirely possible that the enemy jungler’s win condition is to set up a tent right outside your lane and wait for you to overextend towards your win condition. This possibility turns a winning matchup (such as the example here) into a 1v2 scenario, which of course means we will lose!
Jungle Pressure: An Example
Let’s build on this example. For the sake of explanation, let’s assume the enemy team’s strategy revolves entirely around Lux. They’re running a defensive comp that needs Lux to be doing well at the 20-minute mark to ensure success.
Although Lux may not have strong kill potential on Ahri alone, a jungler can change everything. A jungler can disable us with crowd control, negating Ahri’s mobility and allowing Lux to combo us to death. We’ll become sitting ducks for her spell nukes!
On the flip side, it’s also possible that our jungler is willing to help us stay ahead of Lux. As we’re advantaged in the overall matchup, it’s a pretty simple task since we can already beat her 1v1. It’d be child’s play to secure a kill on her with help. By throwing us an early bone, we can continuously keep her behind without further jungle assistance. This means our jungler can pressure elsewhere on map while we keep their team’s win condition starving for gold and experience.
Jungle pressure (or the lack thereof) should always influence the way you play your lane. Consider it a key variable in determining your win conditions!
Accounting for Player Error
“On paper” theorycrafting only goes so far… Although you now know how to analyze matchups, your opponents may not! Basically, this is a two-way street. You may find yourself in losing matchups due to EHP, champion kits, jungle pressure and so forth. Or you may be in a winning matchup that your opponent doesn’t recognize; you now have the knowledge to punish his mistakes! Study your matchups diligently and you’ll become a better player. Some matchups are much more challenging than others – if you have trouble with a particular matchup, I highly recommend discussing it with your coach!
If you made it through this guide, you should be prepared to take on anything the Rift can throw at you! Whether your matchup is an impossible grind or a walk in the park, spending just a few moments on analysis before the game will provide that extra edge that can make all the difference. Above all else, cultivate an understanding of your victory conditions – every champ is unique! With time and diligent practice, you’ll find it easy to win solo lane…. And from there, the sky’s the limit! Keep an eye out for more of my articles next week! Thanks for reading!