Strategy with Samuel: Defeating the Dive Team Composition

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Strategy with Samuel, a weekly blog that will examine high level strategies used by professional players and break them down so that you can use them in your own play. Today’s article will examine the aggressive, infuriating, and devilishly clever dive composition and why it works, and how to beat it.

The Three Rules of the Ladder

Mimicking the compositions and play of professional teams is, by its own right, a great strategy. They bring expertise and practice to the table, and for that reason, they frequently see things that we–the average players–do not. However, without a mentality that reinforces these strategies, the picks and bans, positioning, and team fights become moot.

Therefore, utilizing this mentality is just as valuable as understanding team strategy. I have distilled them down into three components that will henceforth be known as the Three Rules of Ladder:

  1. Communicate everything.
  2. Be positive.
  3. Never flame.

The first rule is probably the most important. When teams like Gambit or World Elite play on stage, they have microphones, months (or even years) of practice, and the luxury of knowing their teammates’ moves before they even happen. Contrast this ready communication and foreknowledge with the few lines of text squeaked out between last hits, and it’s no wonder why the coordination in solo queue is sometimes lacking. Communicate everything–from where you’re headed, to what objectives you want to take, whether or not you need a gank, and whether or not you understand the plan. Anything you can say will help put everyone on the same page.

The next two rules work in tandem. The second one (Be positive) is essential not only to the performance of your team, but to the fun you have playing the game. Look, you are (likely) not in Challenger league, your team is not competing for one million dollars, and therefore you should get something out of the 45 minutes you spend with these strangers. Keep a positive attitude and look at the advantages of your particular situation or what objectives you can take instead of repeatedly typing “it’s over”, “gg”, or “______ fed”. Along with that, do not flame! Tilt helps no one. Psychological studies have shown that “venting” does not relieve angry emotions like we think it does. Furthermore, the player you are berating is human! Do you think Malphite meant to give up that many kills? Probably not, and yelling at him isn’t going to make his ultimates during critical team fights any more accurate.

The Dive Composition

Now onto the “Dive Composition”. The reason the dive composition works is simple:  when a team has a strong frontline with turrets to back them up, you frequently have to wait for them to make a mistake or be surprised before you can get a kill. The dive composition creates opportunities where there previously were none, squeezing blood from a stone and jump starting the snowball before the opposing team can carve out any room to farm. In the mid-game, assuming a successful laning phase, the dive composition provides pursuit potential and even assassination potential as turrets fall and map vision is lost. Finally, should the contest go to the late-game, the tanky jungler has reached full strength and inhibitor turrets are hard to defend, as even applying poke damage from afar leaves the opponent susceptible to hard crowd control and heavy burst damage.

The characteristics of a dive composition are pretty straight-forward. In general, the lynchpin of the strategy revolves around a tanky, mobile jungler that can withstand turret shots and provide enough crowd control to hold the target in place so that the damage dealers can get in, get the kill, and get out. Because the jungler’s initiation is key, the damage dealing members of the team are generally mobile as well, allowing them to get into the fight and get out with as little risk as possible.

For this reason, certain champions fall into the dive category more than others. They include:

Aatrox Hecarim Kennen Master Yi Shyvana Varus
Ahri Janna Kha’Zix Nasus Singed Vayne
Akali Jarvan IV LeBlanc Nautilus Sion Vi
Dr. Mundo Jax Lee Sin Nocturne Thresh Vladamir
Elise Kassadin Leona Riven Tristana Volibear
Fizz Katarina Lissandra Rumble Trundle Zac
Graves Kayle Malphite Sejuani Twisted Fate Zed

Each of these champions provides some kind of stun, burst damage, mobility, or crowd control that is ideal for the objective of holding a target, preventing their pursuit, and finishing the kill while ensuring escape. However, seeing one of these champions in the draft does not make it a dive composition. It takes a combination of these champions to signal that the dive is on.


The Draft

The first problem with the dive composition is identifying it. Let’s take a look at a couple of recent drafts in the European LCS to see how we can identify the dive composition before we miss out on our chance to thwart it.

Lemondogs vs Gambit

In this game Lemondogs had first pick. They quickly banned Sona, Shen, and Aatrox, eliminating the sustainability and lock-down of Sona, the split-push of Shen, and the strong, aggressive champion Aatrox. In this situation, as in most other professional games, Lemondogs had the luxury of match history and experience to guide their bans. When playing solo queue, however, the same principle can be applied, regardless of your knowledge of your opponent:  ban lynchpin heroes like snowballing AD carries or assassin mids, “OP” champions, and strong initiators.

Once the draft begins, there are two things to remember:  1) if you pick first, choose a strong, well-rounded champion that does not give away your strategy or open you to counter-picks and 2) if you pick second, set the tempo of the match by choosing a good tandem or a strong mid and a support with good initiation. In this case, Lemondogs select Elise, a hero whose strength at the time was clear, without giving away their strategy. For the next two selections, Gambit take Zed and Thresh, a strong mid and a support with good initiation.

The Zed pick doesn’t give away the composition yet, but it does suggest that squishy fighters will be removed from the team fight as quickly as possible. For this reason, Lemondogs select Lulu and Kennen, champions who provide mobility and crowd control. Kennen will then be able to avoid the roaming mid assassin with his own escape mechanisms, and Lulu will be able to polymorph or slow the roaming mid, should her AD carry become threatened.

The next two picks from Gambit are Jarvan and Varus. Normally, the initiating jungler and AD carry with CC ult by themselves wouldn’t tell us everything, but paired with Thresh’s box and lantern and the roaming assassin mid, it is clear that Gambit want to close the gap, hold their opponent in place, and burst them down, then use their available tools to get out. This is officially a dive composition. Lemondogs respond in turn with Vayne and Karthus and we’ll discuss the importance of these picks when we take a look at their games. Gambit round off their draft with Vladamir, whose escape ability and burst damage fit the dive like a glove.

ATN vs Gambit

In this draft, we will see that Gambit is actually the one receiving the dive treatment. Gambit have second ban and remove Twisted Fate, Elise, and Shen, again limiting the available pool of strong champions without pigeonholing their bans into one strategy or another.

The first pick for Alternate is Lissandra. If Lissandra says anything, it is “I’m coming for you.” Her mobility and the powerful ultimate that give her equal protection and lock-down potential are perfect for early-game aggression. However, without seeing the supporting cast, we cannot assume that this is the strategy, so Gambit pick Varus and Sona–a strong duo bot lane that can apply their own pressure while stemming the aggression of Lissandra, should the roam occur.

Next, Alternate take Graves and Blitzcrank. In both of these cases the champions selected are designed to close the gap, either with the Blitzcrank Rocket Grab and Overdrive, or the Graves Smoke Screen and dash. The Blitzcrank pick is a tricky one, simply because it does not scream dive composition, though the underlying potential is there when coupled with Lissandra and Graves. Gambit select Renekton and Karma. Renekton provides survivability in the case of a 1v2 and Karma provides lane clear and mobility for each lane. I will discuss the reason for these picks a little later.

Finally, the Alternate Malphite and Vi make one thing clear:  Alternate is gunning for dives. The Unstoppable Force of Malphite and the ultimate of Vi are ideal for a dive composition, so Gambit select Kassadin, a strong mid with the tools to survive early.

Defeating the Dive Composition

The strategies that Lemondogs and Gambit developed to beat the dive composition focus on two different goals respectively:  1) creating a wall of vision and lane presence to keep from getting caught off guard, and 2) gaining early map control through mobility to push down towers and crowd out the spots from which the opponent can dive or assassinate.

This first strategy I have dubbed “The Wall.” Let’s take a look at its components and see how it works.

The Wall

The first component of The Wall is the level 1 positioning. In Lemondogs vs Gambit, Lemondogs start on the blue side and send Elise to the bottom tri-brush, Karthus to the jungle entrance south of the mid lane, Lulu and Vayne to the blue banana brush, and Kennen to the blue golem jungle entrance. This creates a wall of vision and confrontation that looks for invasions early. They then push Lulu, Vayne and Kennen toward the red-side red buff to place an aggressive ward. Lulu wards the top, red tri-brush, and with all entrances for a blue invasion covered, they rotate bottom to help protect red and ward their jungle entrance south of the mid lane and their bottom lane tri-brush. They start with the standard 2v2 bottom and 1v1 top to prevent any inherent structural weaknesses and now have full vision of any potential excursions into the blue jungle.


The next component is the early laning. Lulu’s slow protects Vayne who also has Tumble to help avoid ganks, Karthus’ wall and Defile slow down the assassin mid lane pick a bit while punishing his opponent should he get close enough for melee attacks. Elise ganks top to prevent the early snowball from a key damage dealer, and Kennen uses his mobility to thwart ganks. The entire goal of this composition is to “weather the storm” of early ganks and simply secure farm.

The reason this strategy works is because it leads into the final component:  the team fight. The Wall keeps early ganks from happening, and uses enough crowd control to protect Vayne. In addition, should the enemy use their dive capabilities to get into the middle of The Wall, the massive AoE combination of the Karthus Defile and Kennen Slicing Maelstrom combine to devastating effect. Securing farm builds the tankiness of Elise, the strength of Kennen and Karthus, and builds momentum for Vayne.

The members of the team itself have no strong initiation, but this is mitigated in a couple of ways. The first is through positioning; the dive team should never be allowed to surround the wall. This includes consideration for creep waves, physical barriers like walls, and turrets. The momentum in each lane should be steadily and patiently pushed forward. In addition, both Kennen and Karthus grab Zhonya’s Hourglasses to allow more time for their punishing AoE to take effect.

Eventually in the late game, Vayne is so strong and the AoE damage of Kennen and Karthus so potent that the tools the enemy team opted for become a hindrance. A lit meant for engaging becomes kit used for retreat as the creep waves, damage, and steel curtain of the team push the base down and secure victory.

Figure 4: Then this happened

Pros: This composition allows for a strong late-game presence. With Zhonya’s as safeguards and a strong Vayne decimating all comers, the push becomes virtually unstoppable as the burst damage of the opposing team is mitigated. Furthermore, it does not require the early game coordination of the dive. Simply securing farm, playing safe, and keeping an eye on the mini-map are the keys to growth.

Cons: This composition requires quite a bit of coordination in the late game. While the tools are there for the team fight, without the coordination required to keep the lanes pushed and stay together with the correct positioning, the dive composition finds space in the jungle for surrounds, backstabs, and pick-offs, which can make up for an early-game loss and topple the wall completely.

Alternate composition: Elise, Nunu, Lissandra, Twitch, Nami

The Famine

The alternative option discussed here today is called “The Famine.” The concept is simple:  gain map control by using mobility and creating mismatches and “starve” out the enemy team’s ability to farm and find space for ganks and assassinations.

If we take a look at the team composition of Gambit in their match against Alternate, we can see how this strategy operates. Renekton provides a mobile, tanky core that can also deal damage to anchor the team. This pick is essential because of Diamond’s decision to go with a squishy jungler. However, what they gain from Karma is enhanced mobility and wave clear in any lane Diamond enters. Varus is a strong pick whose ultimate can stop the retreat of the enemy team, while Sona’s sustain keeps pushes going. Finally, the Kassadin pick provides a level of security while he farms with Rift Walk that eventually develops into a potent offensive weapon as well. Rest assured, in this instance Alex Ich is looking for mobility to help push lanes, not roam for ganks.

Figure 5: Kassadin farms bot; core protects mid

The reason for this is because of the core component of The Famine:  early lane push. Gambit immediately opt for the 2v1 push in the top lane to create a mismatch. Karma makes her round through the jungle and then heads top to join the duo and the combination of wave clear and security against harassment damage leads to a quick turret kill, which slows Malphite down early. You will note in the VoD that Karma even forfeits some jungle camps just to push the lane down. Meanwhile, Renekton’s mobility and tankiness combined with his ability to clear creep waves quickly prevents Alternate from getting the return tower despite the mismatch. The duo top then becomes the duo bot while the Karma/Renekton tandem head top to continue pressuring the lane, using their mobility to keep Renekton safe.

Figure 6: All camps up, still pushing top

While the pairs of Karma/Renekton and Sona/Varus keep the lane pressure up wherever the threat lies, Kassadin uses his mobility to stay safe while farming the other lanes. After much struggle (Alternate’s aggressive play and some questionable team-fight decisions by Gambit lead to some holes in execution) the end result is that Gambit have more farmed champions than the enemy team, greater tankiness, better map control, which leads to objectives, a stronger team fight, and an eventual victory.

Pros: The late-game potential of this team is also quite great with the added bonus of snowballing into the late game easily. While The Wall possesses one real focused hypercarry, The Famine can utilize multiple carries and opens the chances for one hero snowballing, even if the others should cede a couple kills early.

Cons: The early-game potential of this composition is limited to the coordination of the team. Gambit’s communication translates into extremely coordinated momentum. However, even the Russian giants have trouble maintaining map control against the dive and Alternate nearly make them pay as a result. Ultimately, this composition is about intelligent utilization of mismatches and available resources, which is not an easy task in a solo queue.

Alternate composition: Nasus, Lee Sin, Zed, Ashe, Janna

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, what you really want to know is, how does this help me? Very simple. Follow the three rules of ladder, recognize the dive composition coming, know its strengths and weaknesses, and try to tailor your own champion picks in a way that thwarts your opponent’s primary goals. Hopefully, just by seeing how your opponents intend to operate, you’ll have a leg up and be able to leverage that knowledge into a promotion or two.

That’s it for me folks and remember, always be next level.

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