Winning lane but losing game?
This article deals with the transition from the laning phase to team fighting, and how to turn kills into tangible advantages that win games. From general strategic advice to specific plays you can make in Solo Queue with four randoms, this article analyzes what you can do once champions have ultimates in order to transition into the team fighting phase, and where things usually go wrong.
The Late Laning Phase
Late laning is similar to early laning, in that the jungler is still highly relevant, and although they are still the most important person in this phase (barring extraordinary circumstances, such as an Annie with four kills by the time she hits 6), they are not as pronounced of a presence (unless they have a hugely impacting ultimate, like Malphite’s or Tryndamere’s), due to (1) being slightly behind in levels, (2) global ultimates being able to severely negate their presence, and (3) the ability of the mid-laner to roam the map.
Roaming is probably the biggest factor at this stage. Bottom lane is the place where most roam is focused because of the added pressure successful roam places on Dragon. However, everyone still has to be paying attention to the entire map, partly because the roam may be directed towards mid/top, and partly because roam at a different spot on the map can inform decisions on your side. If you’re top, and you see their jungler is bot, you can probably try to make a play on their top-laner. If you’re the mid-laner in that scenario you should check to see if it would be beneficial to roam down there. If it isn’t, what about making a play in your lane while their jungler is busy, or roaming top? If none of these are doable, what about invading their upper jungle and taking some camps to set the jungler back? Knowledge is power; the more you know, the more you can do.
The second biggest factor at this stage is knowing the progression of your match-up (your champion(s) compared to their champion(s)). This is always an important variable to be assessing, but especially so at this point (even though this is when most people start to stop thinking about it). For example, if you’re part of a Sona/Ez lane, and have been bullying Ashe and Leona, you still have to be careful when they reach 6, since they can CC you long enough for their jungler to come from lane/beyond wards and pick up a double kill, or simply finish you off themselves. Also, diving a Lulu/Vayne at L6 is a double/triple kill (for them) waiting to happen. Know your match-ups, how they change at each level/item, and plan accordingly.
The main difference between early laning phase and late laning phase is that objectives become much more doable, and if you can do them, odds are you should. There are too many factors that go into determining when it is best to zone enemies from farm and when it is better to take the tower, push, and roam, but if you are in the place where that decision is in your hands, do what people on your team want (which can be hard to tell unless you’re in bottom lane) because both have advantages/disadvantages, and maintaining team unity is most important to securing the win when you are in this position of power. League is about controlling your opponent to the point that you can take what you want from them despite their best efforts, as explained in my pressure article. Focusing on objectives instead of getting kills is how you win games. Forcing someone out of lane is almost as good as a kill, so don’t flash in for a kill that could result in you dying to tower if you already won the engagement.
Use small advantages (going for big ones at this point usually involves an extremely disadvantageous risk-to-reward ratio) to get the most objective control you can. Dragon would be the biggest objective, then a tower, then buff camps, then regular camps (if you can get them without missing minions), then minion waves. If you can force someone out of lane, forcing them to miss a wave of cs, then steal a buff, you have gained a lot out of the play, because you have set things up to snowball quite nicely (kills don’t give much experience, which is a highly underrated commodity since levels provide the most important stats in laning, items don’t start to matter as much until later).
Okay, enough of general stuff, let’s look at specifics.
Counter-jungling still works
If you’re dominating your lane, pushing your enemy under tower, etc. you should be using that power to take objectives. One of the main reasons why taking towers makes you stronger is that it gives you increased map control, which translates to increased control of the enemy jungle. Taking a jungle camp or ambushing the jungler at a buff is a good way to both apply pressure and snowball match-ups. Take a buff ambush for example. Maybe all you accomplish is forcing their jungler to smite it away, keeping blue off of their mid-laner. If your mid-laner gets blue and theirs doesn’t, that’s a huge edge they have in the lane (and blue is mostly useful on junglers to clear camps, which isn’t that important at this stage). The fact that counter-jungling almost never happens at this stage (at least in the ELOs I’ve been through) surprises me. Especially with mini-ult assassin like Kass, Akali, or Diana, this is an excellent way to both apply global pressure and get fed.
Ganking just got cooler
Ganking works even more now (with the drastically increased kill potential that ultimates give), just follow the rules for it from the previous article. Getting ultimates means huge power spikes for everyone, and kill potential increases exponentially. Whether it’s someone like Janna that’s super passive, or someone like Darius that always wants to fight, ultimates make kills much more realistic. If you have 2 roamers (global ult/tp top, jungle, roaming mid, roaming support), or a very good tower diver (e.g. Tryndamere, Zac, Nautilus) then you can probably pull off a dive, otherwise it is still inadvisable. If you are winning a lane hard there’s no need to risk diving, just push the tower instead. If you aren’t winning hard, then pushing the tower will help significantly in getting there. This may seem repetitive with the previous article, but really the difference in late laning phase ganks is that you should take more significant objectives than a minion wave to take advantage of the gank. Depending on comps, a gank may not even be necessary to take the objective, so the roam may just be to get a tower.
Sometimes roaming happens in a way that ganks turn into fights with 3-4 people on each side. The important thing to remember here is that people still aren’t deep into their builds, so base stats/abilities are what matter most. That means tanks and supports still do significant damage (and tanks aren’t that tanky), and ADC’s are still not putting out that much more damage than others (unless they are Draven, MF, or Vayne). Usually the stars of early team fights are mid/top-laners in terms of damage. As a rule of thumb, taking the ADC philosophy of killing the closest thing to you is the best idea so that you avoid letting yourself get baited and outsmarted. Taking into account scaling and composition types should help you determine whether a fight is likely to turn out in your favor or not. If not, playing more defensively may cause them to do stupid things (like tower diving) which can swing things back in your favor.
Dragon and Baron are risky objectives because you are guaranteed to take damage from them (probably a lot), and if you are interrupted they start to reset, whereas towers can be taken gradually. Unless you have a very good boss-fighting comp, you need vision control (pink on boss area and/or greens covering all routes the enemy team can approach from), or know that they will be unable to respond (due to being dead/recalling/being top). Because Dragon is a higher risk objective, it is also higher reward, because T1s eventually go most of the time anyways. Use the “1/4 rule” whenever doing Dragon/Baron under all but the most extreme circumstances: if Dragon/Baron is above 1/4 HP when the enemy team arrives pull off (and fight/dance/flee), if it is below 1/4 HP focus it down fast before leaving. Strong AOE abilities, like an Amumu ult, will take complete advantage of bunching up in the choke-point at Dragon, as well as the choke-point between Dragon and Purple’s blue buff, skill shots, like Nid spears, will be easier to land on targets running through chokes (less juke options, higher likelihood of running in a straight line), and divers with gap-closers will find it easier to catch you as you take extra time to walk around terrain/corners. Be highly aware of how terrain in these areas affects you and you will save yourself a lot of pain.
Shen, TF, and Karthus are some of the most popular champions because their global ultimates are easily forgotten about by other lanes. The problem in Solo Queue is that allies often forget about these as well, or the person with the global/teleport isn’t paying attention to plays at other places on the map, and doesn’t respond in time. If you can communicate with pings ahead of time (whether you have the global ult or want help from it) that helps a lot in making up for allied map awareness. If you are in a lane that could receive help from a global ult (e.g. botlane vs. Shen) know that you have to play more passive because that global will be directed at you. Champions with global ultimates gain pressure in other lanes at the cost of pressure in their own lanes, and so if you are going against the person with the global (or teleport) then you need to be keeping them under constant pressure so that they aren’t able to use that ultimate in another lane.
Baron for Dragon
This is a supremely risky play, but can be one of the best ways to come back from falling behind early. Baron spawns at 15 minutes, but because early Barons are rare, it is often not warded and forgotten about until at least 20 minutes, usually 25. If you know the enemy team is going to take Dragon and you can’t stop them, this is the best place to try for a desperation Baron. Much of the time they will even go back to base after they kill Dragon (if not all, at least a few of them) and so they can’t respond to your play. The only thing you really need to make this work is 5 people who are willing to go for it (perhaps even 4 if you have a good Baron killer (Karthus, Vayne, Cho, etc.), and the ability to anticipate their Dragon play. Wards on Baron/Dragon can definitely help, but aren’t strictly needed. Again, this is a good desperation play, you should really only consider it if you can’t contest the Dragon (but are still able to group as a team simultaneously).
Support is the most popularly misunderstood position in Solo Queue. While they usually lack damage after early levels, they provide significant utility at all stages, which synergizes well with damage to create high kill potential. Because of this, supports are often very good at ganking, even more so when they are underrated. In my experience as a support main, the best time to have support roam is when they are losing lane to the point where they have lost their tower. In this scenario the ADC can farm safely from the T2 without assistance, and all the support can do is sit, watch, and soak experience. Instead of this, the support should roam and gank lanes (sometimes coming back to their own lane and ganking it with help from mid/jung), while the ADC farms and gets more individual experience. There is potential to do this when a lane is winning hard to the point of taking the enemy tower, but only if the ADC is willing to go from winning hard (so probably playing aggressive) to playing very safely in a 2v1 and farming near tower. However, the scenarios where this is worthwhile are very few in number.
Putting everything together
The late laning phase is a time when people often try to “carry hard” and end up going too aggressive and throwing their lead away. Snowballing is a process that occurs slowly at first, increasing drastically later on. Other people don’t apply any pressure with their advantage (usually just wanting to farm up) and let it slip. If there is no pressure being applied, the enemy team is free to operate how they want, as opposed to having their actions dictated by your team. In both cases, objectives are typically ignored (which is why they are both inadequate strategies). Learning the proper passive/aggressive balance for each individual game is a skill that can only be developed through time & practice on Summoner’s Rift.
As always, I encourage you to add, argue, etc. in the comments.