Just In Case: Making Decisions in Solo Queue

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Professor Ryze
You don't want to disappoint a blue man with alopecia.

Have you ever asked yourself one of the following questions: “why did I fall for such a petty bait?” “how come I wasn’t ready for that gank?” “when did my teammates get a lobotomy?” “is that Faker?” “are we making the right decisions?” “am I an elf?“. You probably have, at least one time in your League of Legends life. The reason is quite simple: you haven’t heard of a beautiful thing called the Just In Case mentality. To fully understand why this system works for your decision-making in League of Legends, you need to realize something:

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

With this in mind, wouldn’t it be great if you had a solution ready for your -potential and existent- problems before they appear and get out of control?

TIME FOR A FEW DEFINITIONS

The are three major components that need to be taken into account for you to understand the JIC mentality.

Micro-decisions and micro-actions.
It’s fairly easy to confuse standard metrics like APM (actions per minute) with the amount of actions and decisions that you take in a game of League. Instead, I want you to focus on the little things. Micro-decisions are small choices you make, and they usually feel like they barely have an impact in the result of a play or the game. Trust me, when you group them they’re just as important as major decisions. Most players are unaware of these, and some think of muscle memory as their guideline to choose what to do. On the other hand, micro-actions are the spawn of micro-decisions when your ideas make their way into the actual game.

Expected behavior.
Barring League’s deplorables (intentional feeders, trolls, win traders, etc.), all players in a game want to win, right? With that in mind, you need to know how they plan to win. Some basic prompts is that they will try to: use their champion to their fullest potential, capitalize on their strengths and your mistakes, as well as exploit your weaknesses. You could also include the fact that they will pile up on you whenever they can and, yes, of course that inconspicuous brush you chose to set up a trap -or escape- is warded. Something to have in mind is that players in different tiers of the ranked ladder will typically have drastically different levels of expected behavior:

    g
g
 Bronze – Silver Gold – Platinum Diamond – Master Challenger
 Unintentionally
random behavior
Unintentionally
telegraphed behavior
Intentionally random
telegraphed behavior
3Good5You

Let’s dive a little bit into the specifics of these categorizations and how you can use that information.

Bronze & Silver:
League’s lowest tiers of competitive play are characterized by their random strategic choices and inaccurate tactical execution, but there’s a thing you can take for granted: they want to fight. All the time. Amidst the devastation brought to the Rift -because of mindless fighting, back and forth throws, and eye-popping mechanical misplays- there is hope for players that wish to exploit this status quo: telegraphed behavior. Imagine the confusion in your opponent’s mind if they realize they can’t straight-up kill you, if you don’t let them breath because you’re aware of their movements and fiesta attempts. Most players at this level are incapable of dealing with split-pushers. It’s a lose-lose situation for them. In their minds they really want to kill you and AFK push, but they also really -really- want to join the payaso party elsewhere on the map.

Gold & Platinum:
This is where things get a bit complicated. Players around these MMR levels have got enough knowledge to make assessments based on risk and reward. Furthermore, they have mastered the art of waking up from an otherwise autopilot type of play. Problem is their enemies have also cooked a somewhat decent game plan, and everyone is giving too much palpable information for their opponents to work with. How to break this system? Spontaneous and evanescent randomness, as simple as that sounds. Imagine that you’re playing with a defensive stance. Like a lot of players, you’re afraid of jungler ganks so you head to the river. They think you went and used your trinket ward until you show up in another lane to harass their innocent teammates. The interesting part happens when you do this again, pings fly, they push, and turns out you just needed to pee.

Diamond & Master:
Welcome to the film industry. In this lesson you’ll learn that Diamond and Master players are all actors with various degrees of talent and importance. Diamond V is packed to the gills with amateur movie extras -insert elo-boosting joke here-, Diamond III is filled with one-hit wonders, Diamond I houses the low-wage hard-working stunt doubles, and Master tier is the home of overrated protagonists.  Why do I make this analogy, you may ask yourself. Acting is deceiving. Players at this level use deception -from obvious to decent, depending on their division- as a fundamental part of their behavior. How do you counter this type of deception? By deceiving them into thinking that you don’t know they’re acting. Ward excessively so you see their props. Force them to play your game by removing their makeup. And coordinate information with your team, becoming the leader of your own mythbusters squad.

Challenger:
OK, so, here’s the thing. This is the highest level of solo queue play, only surpassed by professional leagues. Suffice to say that at the top of the ranked ladder almost everyone behaves like a poker-faced 4D chess Grandmaster playing Game of Chicken. Good luck.

Zones of influence.
Imagine for a second that around each champion we could see a huge circle representing the range of their abilities with a few additions like how much those ranges could vary with dashes or blinks at any moment. That is a champion’s zone of influence. Being aware of this concept is paramount since it lets you know if you can hit your abilities, and if allied or enemy abilities will have a say in your play.

A champion’s zone of influence could be compared to the tower range indicator that is available in Coop. vs AI games.

THE SYSTEM ITSELF

Now that you know the basics about what fuels the JIC system’s gears you’re ready to understand what it is and how it works. Each of these topics deserve their own article, stay tuned for them in the coming weeks!

The Beginning of the End – Pick & Ban Phase
In some games, the most important decision you’ll make resides in champ select. Ask yourself: is there a super strong, high-priority, popular champion in the current meta game? Ban it. Don’t risk the chance of your opponents getting their hands on said champion, or an unskilled ally taking it with zero experience. Ban that champion, just in case.

Other times your team is hovering great champions but you think something’s missing. Maybe your team lacks a tank, magic damage, engage, or disengage. What to do? See if you have a champion in your pool that has whatever characteristic you think the draft is missing, just in case nobody else does. I highly recommend that you read my buddy Atherton’s article about the importance of tanks in your team compositions.

Champion select is over, everyone is getting ready and timer is counting down. You really want to copy the summoner spells a pro player used in competitive or a streamer the other day, until you realize something: they have a lot of healing, easy to hit crowd control, or a hyper-carry champion. Maybe that Ghost won’t do you any favors against them, don’t be afraid to take Ignite, Cleanse, or Exhaust respectively. Just in case you need them.

FBI Ain’t Got Nothing On You – Profiling
Research the cards you’re playing with; an incredibly underrated practice to execute during loading screen. Look up the win ratios, runes, and masteries of the other nine players in your game. It lets you know if there are any adaptations that you need to make to increase your chances of winning: utilize win ratios (both in ranked and with the champion they’re playing) to get an idea on how much you want to rely, respect, or play around other player in your game. If your allies are laning against what looks like a smurf one trick pony, warn them about it. Maybe one of your enemies is in a huge losing streak, be sure to inconvenience them. One of your allies isn’t doing so hot in their series, camp for them. Just in case.

This doesn’t mean that they -or you- should play super passively and scared or super aggressively and unafraid, it’s just data you need to make timely and informed decisions.

Gee, this Ryze forgot his runes and masteries. He has no potions!

In terms of runes and masteries, sometimes people use odd setups. It doesn’t hurt to be aware about some spooky all-armor runes, or a very aggressive mastery page for a tank. In- game you want to constantly check how everyone is doing. You can judge a champion’s strength by the numbers: level, CS, how many turrets their team has, and items. Every time you can, check if that pesky enemy mid laner has gotten a Zhonya’s Hourglass before you unleash your spells on them. Pressing the tab key works just as well as clicking on your opponent’s champion.

360NoScope Preventer – Positioning
You need to know this much: if a hostile ability can hit you, it will. Playing around the nuances of abilities is the key to make a highlight reel of jukes. How often do clocks make a ticking sound? How often do you issue a movement command for your champion by clicking the map? Every second. The answer to those questions is the same for this one: how often do you need to consider your champion’s position (current and future) and zone of influence against your opponent’s position and their zone of influence? Every second.

Particularly during the laning phase, you use hundreds of clicks -sometimes unconsciously- to reposition your champion while farming, harassing, or dodging skillshots. You and your enemy have a very telegraphed expected behavior: you want to hit, kill, zone each other and farm. Use this knowledge to shift your auto-pilot micro-actions into informed micro-decisions that result in accurate and relevant micro-actions.

Quantum Leap – Vision & Pings
How cool would it be if energy levels could be warded and electrons pinged “on my way!” to their next position? -Don’t mind my bad science jokes-. Well, turns out that can’t be done but it is definitely doable and encouraged in League of Legends. The simplest example of this comes from two questions: what do junglers do? Farm jungle mobs and gank. Sounds simple, right? It is. All junglers have to start their jungle route somewhere: find out where by paying attention to which players arrive late to their lane. If that jungler can early gank or invade, warn the appropriate players immediately. Otherwise, warn all other lanes that they could get ganked in the following minutes. Just in case. Ward brushes or fog of war patches that they could use to move around the jungle into your lanes.

Remind yourself and your teammates that junglers exist, that your enemy laner is missing (even if they just went back to base). If you see a jungler on one side of the map, let the closest lane know they could be in danger using pings, or a quick message in chat. MayDuke has a great article on How To Play Against Assassins where he describes the proper way to ping threats to your teammates. Even when you don’t have this kind of information, it’s smart to play closer to where your jungler is. In case a fight erupts, they won’t be too far from you. The middle lane is particularly useful to represent the concept of strong side (where your teammates are) vs. weak side (where your opponents could be).

These dummies aren’t killing my blue trinkets.

When it comes to objectives -buffs, turrets, dragons, and Baron Nashor-, vision isn’t a support-only thing. Regardless of your role, if you feel that vision is necessary, drop a ward or kill the Scuttle Crab to guard the river. Just in case. Enemies don’t have to stand on top of -or pass by- your vision for you to make informed decisions; if they’re not there, they have to be somewhere else.

Saving Private Ryan – Shadowing Your Allies
Let’s face it, you can’t control the actions of your teammates. Their decisions are their own to make, and sometimes those could be -for the lack of a better word- dumb. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use them for your devious master plan. When a player is over-extending, split-pushing in a long lane, the obvious reply from the enemy team is to neutralize them by sending someone who can waveclear or duel. Some other times they will send one or two more members to secure the kill.

The JIC mentality calls for you (if, and only if, you can’t get a bigger reward elsewhere on the map like a Baron, Dragon, or structures; we call this cross-map play) to follow your teammate in their questionable course of action to try and prevent a negative outcome: stop them from dying, getting kills by baiting the enemy team to use their heavy-hitting or utility spells on a single player, or outright killing whoever responds to the splitpush. This also applies to aiding your allies when they set out to control vision or defend an objective. You want to be there by their side just in case.

Dance Like Nobody’s Watching – Exceptions
And we arrive to a big disclaimer. Despite all of the things that you now know, people that adhere to the JIC mentality should have this in mind: misplays can happen. I’m sure you’ve heard -or said- things like “why didn’t you heal me?” “where’s your exhaust?” “why did you run away?” “where’s the followup?” “team? TEAM? TEEEAAAM!?!?”. For this system to work you should act like most of the things your team can do are a plus, something you don’t really need for your decisions and plans to function.

As you know, League of Legends is a game that is purported to require a lot of team-play and cooperation. In solo queue, this concept is far from the truth since it’s hard -at most levels of play- to find strangers willing to follow when somebody else leads, or lead when others want to follow. Having said that, in all tiers of play it’s easier to convince your team to follow your lead if you’re hard-carrying (time to go down and train those fundamentals).

IN CONCLUSION

Our virtue, represented by the JIC mentality, must exist between extreme reliance (your team will follow your calls and do exactly what you need them to do) and extreme egoism (your team won’t follow your calls and they won’t do what you need them to do). Always consider, things could go south. Therefore, your decisions must be crafted in case your team misplays, you misplay, or your opponents outplay you.

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Rolwen is a League of Legends enthusiast, player, and coach. He is made out of 10% ward debris, 20% game knowledge, 30% scientific research, and 40% bad jokes.

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