Welcome to the Big Leagues: 10 Tips for Expert League of Legends Play

After several dozen matches, you’ve finally hit the level cap in League of Legends. You’ve grown up, and now you face rivals with hundreds of wins under their belt. The old tips (split into novice and intermediate articles here; be sure to brush up on them) will no longer give you the edge; too many people know them. It will take a lot of experience from the School of Hard Knocks to match them, but here’s a few tricks to accelerate the learning process:

1. How to play a support

Playing a support is different from any other role in a LoL match. Instead of getting as many last hits as you can, you want almost none. Instead of killing minions, you lurk in the bushes, harassing the enemy champions while trying to set up a kill for your partner or waiting to save them from one. You rely on gold-over-time items for your slow trickle of income, much of which is spent on wards, because your partner needs every piece of gold to build a late-game powerhouse.

Supports are usually partnered with Attack Damage (AD) carries. AD carries cause the most damage in the late game, but only with enough money for their items. They are also some of the frailest champions in the game, and will die quickly if caught off-guard. The support’s job is to babysit the AD carry until they grow up and devour enemy champions for lunch. Healers and tanks are standard choices for a support role, since they can protect the carry and hamper enemies.

When I play support, I focus on gold-over-time and wards. Gold-over-time runes, masteries, and items are all necessary to avoid falling too far behind from buying all those wards. You should buy around two wards every three minutes to keep your lane safe: one for the river (to see enemies approaching for a gank) and one for the side bushes (to see if they’re trying to ambush you from it). Side bush warding is extremely important: without it, you have to walk into a bush (and any ambushers lying in wait) to smoke enemies out.

Typically, I’ll buy the following early in the match as a support:

  • Initial Items: Faerie Charm (mana regen), 1 Healing Potion, 4 Wards
  • First Trip Back: Philosopher’s Stone (health/mana regen, +gold/second), More Wards
  • Second Trip Back: Heart of Gold (health, +gold/second) or Boots, More Wards
  • Third Trip Back: Boots or Heart of Gold (health, +gold/second), More Wards

After these, I have enough extra gold-over-time to afford other support items such as Aegis of the Legion (defensive aura) and Shurelya’s Reverie (cooldown reduction, temporary speed boost for nearby allies). Auras, cooldown reduction, and armor/resistance are important for surviving and supporting your team in the late game. In the early stages of game, concentrate on gold-over-time items and wards, and don’t take any last hits from your laning partner, or you will both be starved for gold.

2. Two wards will stop most ganks (and earn you some kills)

Wards are powerful: expert players swear by them. No matter what stage of the match you’re in, you can stop 90% of the ganks against you with just two wards. 150 gold every three minutes will save your life over and over again because:

  1. There are few very obvious paths through the river or jungles to the lanes (usually just two).
  2. Rather than take a winding route to sneak up on you, players charge along these paths 90% of the time.
  3. To survive a gank once you see it coming, you just need to reach your turret before they reach you, or have enough time to Recall back to base.
Summoner's Rift: Good Locations to Place Wards

My favorite spots to put wards. Green points are for the laning phase, before turrets are destroyed. Orange circles are for pushing into their territory (or protecting yours). Red points are Dragon and Baron, which should always be warded.

I always buy multiple wards when I want to push a lane deep into enemy territory. I’ll start the lane pushing by killing a wave or two, then run into their jungle and plant two wards at key chokepoints. Then I return to the lane and push as hard as I can, confident the enemy will probably charge right through those chokepoints and give me ample time to run away or hide and Recall.

Such warding also helps you get kills as well: most enemies expect you to ward the Dragon and the Baron, but jungle warding is less common. Warding jungle chokepoints is a great way to catch an enemy separated from the others, gank him, and force the rest into a 5v4 fight.

3. Recon Escalation: green wards, purple wards, Oracle’s Elixir

Some enemies will get wise to your ward usage after you’ve avoided their third attempted gank and look for ways to remove them. This is where purple wards and Oracle’s Elixir come into play and why they’re so aggravating in the hands of experts. Typical green wards do not see stealthed units or hidden items (like wards); purple wards do. Most players only break out purple wards for stealth champions like Evelynn, Twitch, or Akali, but they’re also great for revealing nearby enemy wards and pounding them into rubble. If your wards are being destroyed by their purple wards, you’ll either need to plant your own wards out of the purple’s sight, such as in a nearby bush or further down the river, or plant your own purple wards to reveal and destroy theirs. Of course, nothing’s stopping you from planting purple wards to destroy theirs first… the recon escalation has begun.

The nuke of LoL recon is the Oracle’s Elixir: it lets a champion see stealthed champions and hidden wards until he dies. A single enemy with Oracle’s Elixir can clear all your wards off the map in a few minutes, leaving you blind. However, it also costs 400 gold and disappears upon death. Killing someone using Oracle’s sets them back a kill’s worth of gold. How do you do that? Well, you can either try to focus him in team fights, or you can try to ambush him while he’s clearing out wards.

Someone on your team should have an Oracle’s as well. Since it paints a big bullseye on them too, I recommend it for tanks, beefy champions, or someone who hasn’t died often during the game.

4. In Ranked & Draft modes, your order determines your role.

This is why learning every role with multiple champions pays off. Your most effective role for Ranked and Draft matches isn’t determined by your preferences, nor by your teammates’ preferences: it’s determined by the order you choose champions.

  1. In Draft/Ranked games, you pick champions in a set order. The first player on one team picks first, then the first two players of the other team pick champions, then the next two players on the initial team pick, and so forth.
  2. The enemy team can see which champion you’ve chosen.
  3. The first champion chosen could be counter-picked by five different players. The last champion chosen could be counter-picked by one player, tops.

You want the roles that are easily countered chosen last. Here’s my recommended order for choosing roles, from first to last:

  1. Bottom Support
  2. Jungler
  3. Bottom AD Carry
  4. Mid Lane
  5. Top Lane

A support is first choice because it’s less of a threat than any other role, so it’s the least likely to be countered. The jungler’s second because most laners will focus on countering their rival in-lane, not the jungler that could occasionally gank them. That leaves the bottom carry, the mid laner, and the top laner as our last choices.

I placed the bottom AD in third because their support can cover their weaknesses, making it harder to counter them. That leaves mid and top lanes. I chose top lane last because from previous experience, champions who dominate top lane are usually more of threat in the late game than the mid lane champions.

I expect a lot of argument on which order to pick roles in, or what times you should ignore the order and pick a powerful champion just to deny the other team. For example, if the other team doesn’t ban Shen, someone on their team will play him if given the chance. You can also set up a really good bottom lane combo instead of focusing on top and mid lane matchups. If you’re in a well-coordinated team, you can even swap champions after choosing them. There’s a lot more strategy in the pregame here; the more you consider it, the better you’ll do.

An explanation of LoL draft mode.

Picking champions in Draft mode. The left team picked their important top & mid lane champions early, giving the right team a chance to counter both of them.

5. Starve the enemy: zone them out.

The advantage to weakening an enemy, instead of killing them outright, is that it makes the enemy choose between retreating from a lane (losing gold and XP) and staying to farm (at the risk of getting killed). If they’re trying to farm, zone them to starve them. To zone an opponent, simply move past the enemy minion line to drive him away from your own minions, denying him experience and gold. A good zoning has three conditions:

  1. The enemy minions should be advancing close enough to your turret to give you room to zone. This is easier if you last hit to avoid doing extra damage to enemy minions.
  2. The enemy laners should be at a disadvantage to you: either from being outgeared, outskilled, or low on health or mana.
  3. You should ward the river. Champions being zoned out of lane will demand a gank from the jungle. Since you have to over-extend yourself to zone, you will make a tempting target.

6. Know when to leave your lane.

Don’t stay in your lane, oblivious to what’s going on around you. My nastiest opponents always leave their lane when they get an opening. I’m busy pushing minions away from my turret and before I can shout “Mid missing!”, my lane rival and their jungler are killing my jungler. On the flip side, my best games have come from me rushing to my jungler’s aid to turn a death into a kill, or finishing off a weakened opponent in top lane because they thought they were safe after killing my teammate. Map awareness is not just seeing your opponents; it’s also about looking for opportunities and quickly acting on them.

7. Check the scoreboard regularly.

I mentioned checking the scoreboard for respawn timers in my last article. It actually has much more info than that:

  • Inventory: You can see every item each player owns. If you know what your enemies are focusing on, such as ability power or armor, you can tweak what items you build to counter it.
  • Minion Kills: The more minions they’ve killed, the more money they’ve earned, the more dangerous they are.
  • Kills/Deaths/Assists: Another measure of how dangerous they are. More kills and assists means more money. (Rule of thumb: 1 kill = 15 minion kills, 1 assist = 5 minion kills) Note any enemies that either have many more kills than the rest of their teammates or have barely died. The former should be your priority in team fights, while the latter should be ignored in team fights (unless he also has a lot of kills) and ambushed by 2-3 teammates when he’s alone instead.
An example of the LoL Scoreboard

A quick look at the scoreboard shows Zyra, the enemy's caster, is leading their team by several kills. I decide to build Magic Resistance first in response.

8. Invade their jungle, but move fast.

A jungle invasion is when your entire team piles into the enemy jungle at the start of the game to get a few kills and perhaps one of their buffs. This often works against teams caught off-guard, since their jungler is only accompanied by two or three teammates instead of the whole team, but it can also backfire without good coordination and timing. I’ll just cover the basic jungle invasion here;

First, you want to gauge how strong your team is in a Level 1 fight. Since you each only have one ability, direct damage abilities are less useful than crowd control (stuns, slows, etc.). You want a team that can tie down an enemy champion while you wail on him with basic attacks.

A sole champion walks into the hidden enemy team.

This scout was going to make sure the enemy team didn't invade. He was a bit late.

Second, you need to quickly set it up together. If you can get into the enemy jungle before they can, you’ll likely get an early kill or two. Your team can’t trickle into their jungle or else they’ll be picked off; instead, you have to buy your items as quickly as possible and immediately rush into their jungle together without hesitation. If you can’t do that, you might as well stop before you get yourselves killed. This quick coordination makes it hard to pull off a jungle invasion when you’re in solo queue instead of a premade team, but it’s often an easy first kill if you can.

Successfully countering a jungle invasion also requires quick action, but not coordination: you just need to immediately set up a watch along the river before the enemy team can arrive. Speed is of the essence; if you’re too slow getting into position, you could walk right into their ambush. Quickly retreat if you see the enemy team approach and warn your team to back off and invade their jungle instead. If they’re going to steal your blue buff, you might as well steal theirs in return.

9. Counter jungle.

Junglers screw with each other by entering their opponents’ jungle and killing their monster camps, depriving them of gold and experience. If you’re lucky, you can also catch their jungler unaware and get a kill off them as well. Just keep in mind that you’re behind enemy lines, where the enemy jungler or their laners can easily surround and kill you. Only counter-jungle when you have plenty of health, and keep an eye on adjacent laners; if you can’t see them, they might be coming to kill you.

Wraiths are the easiest camp to counter-jungle. It’s on the edge of their jungle, but it’s also right next to mid lane, making it easy for their mid laner to cut you off if you’re caught. Wait until your Smite is available and their mid laner is occupied, then attack their wraith camp. Your Smite should nearly kill the big wraith. Finish it off, killing the little wraiths if you have time. Try to leave one of the little wraiths alive; it will prevent them from respawning until the last one is killed, setting back your rival jungler further. (This respawning trick works on all monster camps, even the blue and red buff ones.)

Shyvana attacks a Nocturne trying to steal their blue golem.

Shyvana sees Nocturne try to steal their blue golem, thanks to a ward, and intervenes.

If you’re feeling gutsy, you can steal their red or blue buff camps to really set them back, but this requires some preparation. Venture into their jungle and check out the camp you want to steal. If the entire camp’s dead, their icon will disappear from the minimap. It will reappear when they spawn. If you put a ward in the bush near the camp, you can also see if they’re attacking it. This is an excellent time to jump them, getting the buff and a kill in one swoop.

Once you get the hang of jungling, you should start to predict the enemy jungler’s location based on how long it takes to clear jungle and where they were last seen. This will help you steal their camps while they aren’t looking or catch them unawares. Planting wards in their jungle makes it much easier to predict their actions, of course.

10. Taking the Baron

Killing the Baron gives your team a huge attack buff that can ensure victory or turn around a defeat. It is not an easy task, though, especially when the enemy team fights you over it. Almost every match has at least one team fight over the Baron, so you should know how to handle them.

Purple team prepares to fight Baron after placing 2 wards.

Purple team prepares to fight Baron after placing 2 wards to warn them of incoming enemies.

First, you have to properly ward them. Most teams make sure the Baron’s entrance is always warded, which makes it tough to take it by surprise. You’ll want to place a purple ward there; it will reveal the enemy’s wards so you can remove them. It’s also a good idea to ward the enemy’s approaches to it so you can tell if they’re going to fight you for it.

The best time to kill Baron is when you’ve decimated the enemy team and still have plenty of health yourself. Attempting Baron while both teams are at full strength is risky; I’ve seen many teams kill Baron, only to be wiped out by the enemy counter-attack. Use the wards to keep an eye out for approaching enemies; if they attack, focus on them instead of the Baron.

Even if the enemy team’s crippled, they might still try to steal Baron from you, either by doing a suicide run in to get the last hit or using a big ranged attack. Place a ward on the other side of the wall surrounding Baron to notice enemy champions trying to steal it. If you have Smite, you should use it to finish the Baron before its HP gets too low. That will prevent the enemy team from stealing him with a weak attack.

If your team’s still in good shape after taking Baron, go on the offensive immediately. Otherwise, call a retreat and regroup; you don’t want to die right afterwards because the enemy jumped you before you could heal. Be aggressive when you have the Baron buff, but don’t get cocky; it makes you powerful, not invincible.

I’ve covered a lot of the general tactics here, but the best way to get better at LoL is through experience. I’ve played over 500 matches myself and I’m still learning and refining strategies. These tips will get you started, but experience is still the best teacher, so get out there and play some matches!