Why you might not be as ready as you think you are – a checklist on what you need to know and do before playing ranked
Note: For a printable version of this checklist for ranked play without all the tips/explanation, click here.
Also, this blog assumes you are close to level 30, or have hit level 30 already and you know the basic terms involved. You can also use the terms placement matches and ranked matches interchangeably here. The list is divided into two parts because it’s well… exhaustive. We’ll cover game sense, mentality, and post-game analysis next time, but you will find the full list of bullet points in the document above.
A cautionary tale…
A friend of mine started playing back in early Season 2, when there wasn’t any metagame established. AD carries would go mid, there would be bruisers all over the place and no one knew how to jungle properly at the lower levels. He was a Starcraft 2 veteran, and a player in the MLG CoD scene, so was very competitive by nature.
When he saw the ranked ladder, he was familiar with the concept from SC2 – as soon as you mastered the basics you can jump right in and start climbing. So he took it upon himself to level to 30 as quickly as possible, practiced a few champions he thought were strong (he favored Critplank and full AD WuKong at the time).
He dominated most matches in normal games, and so thought ranked wouldn’t be any different. And so, he picked Critplank, ate oranges, did well the first game, but then was convincingly defeated for the next few placement matches. He was trapped in the lower ranks for a long time, got frustrated with the system, and wouldn’t touch ranked until he got much better at the game and managed silver at the end of S2.
Figure 1 – This isn’t going to happen every time…
What was the point of that anecdote? Getting to level 30 does not mean you’re ready for ranked ladder matches. To avoid the seething rage of 4, (or 3 if you’re duo queuing) anonymous strangers across North America (or EU, but who am I kidding, the servers are down constantly), you’d better have your champion roster down pat or lord knows what swear words they can and will chuck at you.
Okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit – not every game dissolves into an exchange of verbal abuse. From my experience though, from all 5 accounts, with 50 placement matches played, I’ve muted around 80 unpleasant people. Riot has done some tweaking so for the most part you will be playing with people that have fewer than 10 ranked games played, and this could either be a curse or a blessing. You could end up with an excellent player on your team, but the chances of that smurf being on the other team is technically higher, as you are not that smurf, and you’ve already taken 1/5 spots on your team.
So what should you know and do before deciding to start ranked queue?
Expectations – throw them out the window
Do not ever go into your placement matches with any expectations – either about your teammates, or about your results. In most of my placement matches I’ve had teammates that varied wildly in skill. I’ve had AD carries that were hitting CS benchmarks, but also Gangplanks that would run Teleport and Clarity as summoner spells. This is absolutely normal, and you should keep calm – if you feel that the game is not winnable, dodge, but if you’re good enough you should be able to carry the first few placement matches until you reached a level where players respect the current metagame and run some of the more “accepted” champions.
A quick explanation of the League system
If you didn’t know, the old system from Season 2 was based on Elo. You started at 1200, and you would gain or lose on average about 40 Elo for the first 8 games, and it would decrease steadily from that number onwards, down to about 15~20, for the first hundred games, and less as the number of games you play increased.
There are fluctuations on that number, depending on the overall Elo of the team, which side you were on, but gains/losses were fairly similar. Right now, the system is different – MMR has replaced Elo, you can no longer see it, but that doesn’t change the fact that your early placement matches will be exactly the same as under the previous system. The only thing that will be different is the end result, if you go 8-2 in NA you will most likely end up in Silver I with 0 League Points but a higher than average MMR. In the old system, that translated to ~1480 Elo, in Silver League, with only about 3 more wins until you reached Gold, which was 1540, changed to 1500 afterwards.
In the new system, you would have to win about 7 more games in a row to reach Gold V, but it also meant you cannot drop from Gold V, and so your league would be “locked” in. It doesn’t seem like Riot will be changing the system drastically going into Season 4, with the exception that you can no longer lock in your 5th tier division if you purposefully lose games and expanding the Challenger tier.
Figure 2 – Season 2 ladder rankings, as you can see 1500 was quite good back in the day…
Let’s move on to the actual checklist.
This is the stuff for even beginning to consider playing ranked games.
- Do I WANT to play ranked? Have I played some draft normal games to get a feel for it?
- Ranked queue is stressful even for the best of us, unless you’ve gotten so used to the game that you stopped caring. A loss gets under our skin, so make sure that you absolutely want to play ranked for the challenge, and that you’re having fun while doing it. If you’re miserable and every loss makes you regret it, then why bother? Don’t stress yourself out over a game, and have fun.
- Do I know the metagame? Do I know what the phases of the game are?
- The metagame is established, especially in North America. 1 Top, 1 Mid, 2 Bot, 1 Jungle, and with Role Picker confirmed, it doesn’t seem like the ‘general’ metagame will be changing drastically any time soon. Although this may change in the future, for now it’s what North America is used to.
- Have I read some guides on the game?
- This is more or less for your benefit. Honestly you probably wouldn’t be able to understand most of this post if you haven’t read some guides already. I’m talking about specific guides for your champion. Advanced techniques are also good, and make sure you brush up on general terms and mechanics (orb walking, unit blocking) of the game.
- Have I watched a few streams?
- Streams on twitch.tv are great for you to get some general knowledge of the game. If you decided on the roles that you like to play, then watch some specific streams dedicated to those roles.
Figure 3 – A great way to find out more about the game is to watch livestreams
A wise old man once told me that half the battle is won during champ select. I don’t think that’s true, but I wouldn’t completely disregard it either. There are obvious scenarios – if you end up with double jungle and duo mid, while you’re the only sane person that goes AD Carry, things are probably looking pretty dire. If your brain is telling you to dodge – DODGE immediately. You don’t lose anything except a queue timer, where you can do other productive things like look at videos of cats on YouTube or browse Reddit, or even better, Cloth5. But hey – I’m not here to tell you what you do with your extra time, I’m here to tell you that you should not hesitate, and go against your gut feeling of “everything is going to be okay,” and turn that into “run the hell away and don’t look back.” Those games are a sunk cost of your time.
Figure 4 – If it’s looking like this, don’t do it. Dodge. Not worth the stress or time.
- Am I able to play at least 3 roles proficiently, including support? With at least two champions for each of these roles? Do I know what to ban?
- If you only know how to play Middle lane, and the first pick takes it, chances are you’re not doing yourself or your team any favors. Know at least 3 roles well, and know how the other 2 roles work, so if you’re forced into it at least you will be able to do something/not feed.
- Also, this goes in hand with knowing what to ban. You can check for the champions most banned on websites like lolking.net
- Am I able to recognize most of the skills of the champions used in competitive ranked play? Have I seen most of these champions in action at least once?
- I’ll cover this a bit more in depth in another blog on the loading screen. You need to know what a champion does, so you can anticipate the other player’s actions. If you walk into a game blind, you’re asking for trouble. Know what the most popular champions can do, and then you can counter-play as well.
- Am I able to ignore other people in champ select and play what I know how to play? Can I resist the urge to counter pick a champion I might not do well with?
- Too often I see entire teams throw at champ select by forcing the poor fool into a pick that they are not comfortable with. Too many Amumu junglers that can’t deal with counter-jungle, too many Malphite top laners that only build Sunfire and never use that TP spell other than to return to lane faster, too many Shen players that don’t rotate their F1-F5 keys to keep track of other lanes on the map and use their ultimate when necessary. Don’t be forced into a pick – pick what you know.
- Now this also means that if you pick Singed into Vladimir, you’re likely going to have a bad time, but again, if you know your champion’s limits, just your laning phase does not determine the outcome of the game.
Figure 5 – No, if they’re open you don’t HAVE to pick them. Ignore those who say otherwise.
- Do I know what summoner spells I should take under every circumstance? Have I practiced using all of the common summoner spells available?
- This includes Flash, Ignite, Barrier, Ghost, Teleport, and Smite. Less common ones include Heal and Cleanse. Now if you never Jungle or AD Carry, some of these don’t apply to you using them, but you should know what each of them do, because again, counter play. Don’t get barrier baited, know the cool downs, these are all important.
- Do I have the right runes and masteries for the champions I use?
- This one is a bit hard to generalize, as there are a lot of possible rune and mastery pages. Most champion guides will go into detail about masteries and runes, but for the most part, you can have two rune pages for 3 roles and still be successful. One could be AD and the other could be AP.
- Generic champions that can fit under the AD category that can be played in 3 roles are for example, Jarvan IV, Lee Sin in Jungle, Jax, Riven in Top Lane, and Corki, Caitlyn in Bottom lane. Generic champions that can fit under the AP category that can be played in 3 roles are for example, Elise, Zac for Jungle, Morgana, Kayle, for Middle Lane, and Zyra, Sona for Bottom lane.
- Do I have a general idea of the team composition we’re going for?
- I’m not too big on team composition in solo queue, especially in your early placements. If you play well, you will win most likely. However, if all the roles have been picked except a certain role, please try to respect pick order and fill in the role. Meta is important, believe it or not, and keeping team morale up is just as important in champ select as it is on Summoner’s Rift.
- However, there are certain champions that just go very well together. If there’s an Amumu, try to pick Sona if you’re supporting and you know how to play Sona and Janna, Area of Effect Crowd Control works very well together.
Figure 6 – Can’t tell what’s going on? Then you did it right. Wombo Combos are all about giant circles of doom.
The loading screen is a great time for you to calm your mind and get ready to play at your best. The checklist for this stage of the game is short, but also important.
- Have I taken a look at my champion matchup? Do I know what my opponent can use against me?
- If you are in a lane, you should know your opponent’s skillset and play accordingly. There are things like mechanical skill involved, and you could end up being outplayed, but at least you should know what you’re getting into when you go in lane.
- As a Jungler, have I considered which lanes and champions are the easiest to gank? Which lane of mine are the easiest to gank so I can counter?
- Assuming you’re at your early placements, the first question is much more important. There’s a lot of Jungle theorycraft out there, but honestly, for your early placement matches, as long as you put enough pressure on each lane, you should have no problem. If there’s a particularly easy lane to gank, for example, an exhaust, ignite Leona, you should be camping that lane every opportunity you can get.
Figure 7 – A Jungler’s paradise…
Mechanics is a core part of the gameplay – you need to be able to land skillshots, dodge skillshots, CS accordingly. Here’s a checklist to see if your mechanics are up to par level.
- Am I able to last hit? Am I able to last hit under pressure?
- Practicing last hitting in a custom game 1v1 with a bot is fine and dandy, but when you have someone else harassing you during the laning phase, you need to make sure that you can either keep up, or you will fall extremely behind very quickly. There is no quick fix; all mechanical skill comes with time and practice.
- Do I know my role in a teamfight?
- For Top laners and Junglers, the role is usually to initiate, and be a general nuisance to their back line and act as a front line. Top laners are tanky, still do boatloads of damage, and attempt to initiate fights.
- For Mid laners, the role is to land skills, delete people off the map, or support the team with heavy burst damage.
- For Supports, peel for the Marksmen, or the most fed member of your team. Use all crowd control on the most fed person on their team.
- For Marksmen, hit whatever is in front of you, and never stop hitting until they are dead or running for their life. Don’t run around like a headless chicken trying to find the right target. Right click an opponent, and if you are under attack, kite and keep hitting. Not doing damage? Then they’re too fed or you didn’t build properly. See the game sense section.
- Can I land skillshots? If not, can I play champions that don’t rely so much on skillshots?
- Skillshots require, guess what, skill. If you aren’t the best Ezreal player on the planet, don’t worry, you don’t have to be. Just make sure you pick up a champion that isn’t so reliant on hitting skillshots, common examples include Ryze, Jax, Garen, Akali, Caitlyn, so on so forth.
Figure 8 – Having a 100% chance of hitting ultimate doesn’t mean missing all your other skills is A-Okay.
- If I’m Jungling, can I hit smite?
- You need to become a beast at stealing Baron and Dragon. A steal can change the entire pace of the game. Not only does it put pressure on the opposing Jungler, it raises your team morale by 220%, a number that’s 100% factually correct.
- If I’m laning, can I lane properly without feeding?
- Every death is a mistake, there’s no doubt about that. But playing so safe every game with no snowball potential is just as bad. Knowing when to be aggressive and passive in lane is knowledge acquired over time, but make sure you have the mechanics to back it up. Dying a few times in exchange for kills is okay – dying multiple times because of a mechanical error is very bad for your MMR.
As for the rest, we’ll cover them next Thursday!