Uncoordinated teammates are perhaps the most frustrating part of playing League. There simply isn’t enough time to conceive and communicate a plan before the situation changes, rendering plans made useless. Even if there was a way to do so (e.g. voicechat) there would be disorder and disaster in choosing which voice to listen to in the chaos. However, there are some principals that guide coordination between teammates, and understanding them will help you be on the same page as your teammates as well as avoid several common but nasty failures.
To understand these principles, let’s first look at how different roles work with each other. There are essentially 3 basic roles (which hybridize to create more): Tank, Support, and DPS. Instead of covering this all at once, we’ve segmented this discussion into three parts. Let’s start with tanks.
Tanks: What they are and How they Work
Tanks want to control enemies- making those enemies vulnerable to attack from damage dealers. Leona, Malphite, and Nautilus are pretty close to fulfilling the classifications and expectations of a tank, being the quintessential examples of what a tank is.
Imagine every champion in League was given 30 skill points to invest however they chose into the Support, Tank, and DPS categories, but there were mandatory minimums (maybe they have to put at least 2 points in each category). In such an example Leona, Malphite, and Nautilus are the ones that invested the maximum possible skill points into being tanks. While a champion like Mundo can theoretically be more durable (having more effective health due to his incredible healing and the way it scales with both HP and resistances), simply being durable isn’t the focus of a tank. Mundo doesn’t lock down targets for others to focus down nearly as well, which is the objective of a true tank, but rather tries to duel them amidst the chaos, which makes him a fighter/brawler.
Understanding that a tank prepares the enemy for destruction, it makes sense that they are initiators, and because they are initiators, they are the first ones to take damage, and because they take more damage, they need durability, which is what the role is mostly known for. What’s more, they can stack all this durability to extend their life on the battlefield. To make use of all this durability, they position themselves aggressively, getting directly onto their targets to draw their attention. This doesn’t physically force a target to be disabled, like a stun would, but it does the next best thing by making them deal with someone who is designed to not die easily, so that they aren’t working on the targets they would want to on your team. In this sense, tanks are CCing enemies simply by drawing their focus and being giant meatshields- a process called zoning.
Being an Effective Tank for your Team
Because tanks are designed to set their targets up to be DPSed down by someone else- essentially holding the target still with its arms behind its back for someone else to beat on- it’s easy to see that what makes a good tank is not just the ability to maximize their CC and zoning potential (e.g. hitting several targets with a Malphite ult, or keeping the Marksman off of any other target for the whole fight), but to do so in conjunction with their teammates. For example, if Leona gets onto a priority target with her Zenith Blade, she’s tempted to stun them right away, but unless she has a dive buddy that can follow up on the Zenith Blade catch as quickly as it carries Leona in, the only person who can take advantage of the stun is Leona herself. A far better plan is to wait on the stun while soaking damage until Leona has a teammate who can do something with the stun. The same is true of zoning- unless someone is able to do something with the zoning, it essentially just turns a 5v5 into a 4v4, and depending on the tank/zoned target, might cost you your life for a few seconds of getting Vayne out of the fight. If the zoned target has most of their team’s kills/farm, this might be worth it, otherwise there are almost certainly better options.
When zoning, the goal is not just to keep a target away from an area (like right next to your carry), but to herd them into a specific area (like next to an angry Baron or into a Ziggs minefield). In any good team comp there will be at least 2 people that want to get on priority targets, which means there should always be someone else that you want to be herding them towards. If the other person is an AoE tank, then you’ll probably want to herd the carry towards another person or two on their team so that they all get hit together. If its an assassin you’re working with, then you want to force the target outside the ring of their team, on the same side that your assassin is on. If its a ranged damage dealer like Nidalee you want to put them in a place where no one on their team can body block spears. Before engaging a fight, you should know what kind of follow up you have, and where you want to zone your target because of that- the difference between bunching them up for a Ziggs combo and spreading them out for Nidalee spears is the difference between winning and losing.
“But wait, how do I control where the target goes? That’s up to them, right?” Ultimately, yes, the target gets to control where they go, but you can influence that decision heavily with a little bit of planning. Nautilus, and other champions with displacement, can use those abilities to control the placement of their target, but even champions that don’t have displacement can use themselves to guide the direction of their target. Let’s say I’m Malphite, and I know that right after ulting into their team, Vayne is going to ult herself and tumble away to start kiting me as I attempt to zone her. I want my ult to hit as many targets as possible, but while they are up in the air, I can maneuver around Vayne, knowing that she will need to kite backwards, so that if she steps backwards she’s right where I want her (in a Ziggs ult, next to a Kha’Zix, open to a Nidalee spear, etc.). She then has to either step into a deathtrap (although she may not recognize that it is one), or use her tumble end up right next to me and suffer a beating while my teammates continue to position for her. The same is true of any tank that wants to zone- its all a matter of positioning yourself so that, as Malphite would say, they must choose between a rock and a hard place.
Some Final thoughts on Beginning Fights
Getting good engages is a simple yet important part of being a tank. The goal of an initiation is to get your team off on the right foot- going into the fight with some sort of edge. That may be something as simple as engaging on the closest target, whether its someone you particularly want or not if you have more people there if you have a massive gold lead, or if they have important skills (probably ultimates) on cooldown. Otherwise, it’s looking for an opportunity to make a catch on a squishy target, or a chunky target that has been harassed down, which might require some flanking. At the end of the day however, how the fight is played out often carries more impact than how the fight starts. Like a tank holding a target for his DPS, the initiation sets the team up for good play, and having your full team on board with the imitation so that you can work with them is vital.
I love feedback, and I love talking League even more. Please drop your thoughts into a comment below . Also be sure to tune in next week as we continue to dissect these roles!