Don’t trip over the finish line! The Finish Line phase exists from the time the first inhibitor goes down until the game ends, and with careful yet aggressive play, you can easily snowball the game out of control with just one inhibitor- provided you avoid some very simple mistakes.
League is a race to destruction- a competition to see who dies last- where your efforts are focused around taking their base faster than they can take yours. After the first inhibitor goes down, the team that took it can push exponentially harder while it remains down. The fact that they were able to take an inhibitor already means they possess the tools to replicate the process again in a different lane, since they also gain the help of super minions. In other words, with few exceptions, the team that gets the first inhibitor should be able to “domino” the other 2 inhibitors, then crush the nexus.
The only thing that can prevent the momentum to get this kind of victory is a lack of teamwork, which stems from players focusing on their own desires. Playing with your efforts mostly focused on yourself proves useful during laning because you work largely independently. For example, recalling when you reach enough gold for a completed item will often give you an edge laning, but if you do it when your team is ready to push it will cost everyone objectives, momentum, and morale. However, the further you get from the laning phase, the more you can synergize with your team to do more together than you would apart. When the first inhibitor goes down, the end of the game is within reach, and all other priorities must be rescinded to ensure that the game is indeed ended.
Let’s say, for example, that you get the first inhibitor, and everyone needs to recall due to health/mana needs. Your team wants to push bottom, but there’s an enemy wave top that needs to be dealt with, since it will be able to take towers on it’s own if left unattended. Unless you’re someone like Shen, when you go to deal with it you have two options: you can stay in that lane and push it by yourself all the way back to enemy base, which will take at least 45 seconds longer than it takes the rest of your team to push the lane they are pushing, creating a humongous window in which the enemy team can engage a 5v4 fight, or you can clear the wave so that it won’t push for either side, and rejoin your team much more quickly. While this choice seems obvious when framed in the context of how it will affect your team, many players will opt for pushing the lane, wanting the gold and experience from the farm, because they are focused on their personal game, and getting all that farm will make them stronger as an individual. Similarly, we’ve all had that person (and although we don’t like to admit it, sometimes been that person) who goes to farm wraiths or complete an item when everyone else goes to push a tower. Simply put, League is a game where the score is inconsequential (see this), all that matters is who kills the opposing nexus first, and when the first inhibitor goes down, the potential to destroy that team’s nexus spikes astronomically, all that is required is the focused pressure of an entire team on the enemy base- just ignore everything else.
Why are inhibitors so important? Because they essentially give you a “6th man” who will push 2 lanes slightly, and one lane very hard. By doing so, you can push lanes without spending any effort to do so. So, if you push hard as a team in one lane, you force the enemy team between a rock and a hard place- if they all defend the lane that you’re pushing, minions will take their base. If they send people to take care of minions, they create a window where they can be freely engaged upon in a 4v5. In other words, taking an inhibitor gives your team a free Shen.
Taking an inhibitor also gives you more map control, because the space between the nexus turrets and areas of the map that players want to go to is greatly increased, so it’s harder for them run to safety, and leaving their exposed lane makes it hard to gather resources without losing their base. As such, taking red/blue buffs, or even attempting Baron become significantly less risky, while also being more rewarding. The reason they are more rewarding is that it’s difficult to push with your inhibitor down to take advantage of kills, yet incredibly easy when you have your opponent’s inhibitor. Add the fact that death timers are longer and you have large windows to take leads, and if those leads are inhibitors your team will snowball out of control quickly.
At some point playing League you’ve probably heard “their jungler is top, take dragon!” The reason this usually works is because, if you are quick, the enemy team will have a 3v4 for a dragon fight. The important thing here is how quickly you can get to dragon, because if you move slowly, the enemy jungler will arrive and you face a 4v4 in which you’ve taken dragon damage. Well, death timers are the “jungler is top!” of the lategame. If you capitalize on them quickly, you can take tremendous, game-changing leads. If you don’t watch them carefully and estimate how quickly they can reach you after respawning, you can make horrible, game-changing throws.
While it’s important to keep in mind death timers when calculating how late to stay after a fight, thinking about their extra length can set you up for success before a fight. Simply put, if your team has enough disengage (mobility, ranged CC, or defensive displacement) to deal with their team’s engagement tools (or if you can just whop them in a fight), you should always be fighting deep into their territory, at their turrets as opposed to yours or Dragon/Baron. If you win, you have a longer window to take advantages, which translates to more advantages from won fights. Even if something goes wrong and you lose a fight, the time it takes the enemy team to take advantages off of it will severely negate the amount of advantages they can take.
How many inhibitors should you take before you attempt to end the game? You should always take as much off of a won fight as possible- as soon as you have the chance to take their nexus (which you can calculate off of death timers and knowing how fast you push), you should. Until you get to that point, you want to get as many advantages that will make you stronger (and inhibitors will give you the most “bang for your buck”) as you can, which will increase your power so you can take the nexus. If you win a fight convincingly enough that you can push unhindered onto the nexus, do so. Otherwise, get inhibitors and get the nexus next time.
Now that we’ve established the principles of how the lategame works, let’s examine a few new plays that this stage opens up. Finish Line plays are easy to execute, so long as you take into consideration the principles above.
The Shen Phenomenom: This is the simplest of plays, and one that I’ve alluded to multiple times already. Use superminions to push a different lane than you’re pushing, and monitor their progress as if they were one of your teammates split pushing. When they get to a tower, or an opponent goes to deal with them, push hard at the one you’re at. This puts your opponents between a rock and a hard place, forcing them to make a bad decision regardless of what that decision is, and even a sloppy engage will yield favorable results.
The Rat Trap: Once you’ve taken an inhibitor, you have free access into the enemy base. With this access, you can use one member to come in through the hole in their defenses and flank them, opening multiple initiation opportunities if they stay at the turret, or giving you a free turret if they back off.
Victory Steaks: With a side inhibitor down (or any 2 inhibitors) you have unrelenting pressure on the enemy base, which allows you to force them into un-winnable scenarios using Baron. Simply push the waves, then go for an easy Baron. The important thing is to not get attached to the idea of killing Baron. If the enemy team arrives before you get Baron to 1/4 health, back off, and simply dance with them at Baron while your minions dance all over their base. If they don’t come (or come too late), you get an uncontested Baron and can resume base-breaking.
Finishing a game right means playing with confident discretion. Once you get an inhibitor you gain massive advantages that catapult your strength far beyond your opponents’, and securing the win (as only 80% of people who get the first inhib do) is really as simple as not tripping over a finish line. Working with your team, use the super minions you get to create scenarios you cannot lose, and cascade the power of minions to create a tsunami your opponents can’t stand against, paying attention to death timers to pace your aggression, and map positioning to maximize it.
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