Solo queue and organized play share many things. They share the same map, champion balance and game code. However, they require very different mindsets. In organized play, the level of coordination changes almost every aspect of how the game is played. In order to successfully transition from playing alone to playing in a group, you need to learn new skills and change the way you play.
One of the biggest differences between solo queue and organized play is how quickly tactical information can be shared. In solo queue, the two main methods of communication are pinging and chat. Both require players to use their mouse or keyboard for things other than playing the game. This means that players have to choose between communication and performance during intense moments of game-play. In organized play, teams have access to voice chat.
Voice chatting has become trivially easy to use over the years with programs like Discord and Skype. Although it requires players to learn to manage one more skill in game (saying the right thing at the right moment isn’t always easy), not having to type or ping as much provides a distinct advantage. Additionally, information can flow much more quickly given how much faster it is to speak than to type.
This affects the game in a few ways. During the laning phase and in mid-game, it is much easier to track the position of the enemy jungler and call out missing lanes. In addition, pings tend to be much more clear when they are accompanied by voice communication. Rather than spending time wondering whether that missing ping is a genuine concern or a teammate expressing frustration, one can focus on the game. As a result, general map awareness tends to go up dramatically for all players.
As a result of this increased map awareness, the vision game becomes much more important. Each ward gives a huge amount of information that can be used by the whole team. In solo queue, vision is typically only as useful as the decisions that it helps you make. When you play as a group, information gained from wards can be shared with the whole team through voice chat. Being able to track the enemy team allows everyone to make smarter plays across the map. This is why professional teams put such emphasis on purchasing Sightstone and Tracker’s Knife as soon as possible.
Because of the increase in total wards placed, vision denial becomes much easier to take advantage of. Pink wards and sweeping lenses go up in value, because they are more likely to be useful at any given moment. Also, denying vision itself is more valuable for the same reasons that gaining vision is valuable – any time you are seen, it gives the enemy more time to react to you.
Speaking of reacting, ganks and roams are both easier to coordinate and more difficult to pull off successfully. Without proper vision setup, teams simply react more quickly than in solo queue, and plays fail more often. However, being able to cooperate on how you want to play the engagement in real time makes for more effective skirmishes. For pick-style compositions to work, teams need to learn to deny vision in a coordinated way, instead of simply hoping to not be seen.
With the increased level of coordination, fewer mistakes occur each game. This changes the resource economy dramatically, because players simply die less each game. With overall less gold and more experience than a typical solo queue game, different champion picks and builds become more effective.
Champions with more reliable, level focused power curves are favored. Meanwhile, champions which rely on the chaos of solo queue to generate early gold leads through kills become much harder to succeed with. Ability ratios don’t matter as much, given that champions have fewer items in general at similar game times. On the flip side, base damages become much more important, given that advantages tend to manifest more in experience leads. Rather than relying on skill to generate early leads, and raw numerical scaling to end the game, players do the opposite: relying more on raw numbers to win the early game, and skill to close the game with smart macro play.
Speaking of macro play, during the mid and late game, it is much easier to coordinate the actions of multiple people at once. Many teams favor communication centered around a dedicated shot-caller who quickly make high level decisions for the team and issue orders. While this style may be valuable for it’s simplicity, it falls short in several ways in the long run.
When teams rely on a dedicated shot-caller, there needs to be more total communication each game. First, tactical information is fed to the shot-caller, then they feed the plan of action back to the team. It is much more preferable to have five players that have a common understanding of the game. This allows voice to be freed up from the plan, and be used solely for feeding information to one another, trusting that each player will come to similar conclusions given the same information.
When a team begins to have that level of common understanding, they can begin to explore play-styles which require more constant communication. 1-3-1 split-pushing, forcing picks, and playing the pressure game become easier to handle. Certain duelists and assassins start to become viable again to support those strategies. Overall, a more punishing, aggressive, but calculated style begins to dominate.
In addition to the previously mentioned effect that the altered resource economy has on champion picks, competitive drafting brings a new element of difficulty to maintaining a champion pool.
In solo queue, the optimal strategy given a large amount of playtime is to focus on a limited set of champions which perform different strategic roles. A Jungler or Top-laner might play one tank, one assassin and one duelist. This allows them to be flexible in what they bring to the table, and pick favorable match-ups.
Typically, a player will have at least one champion which they feel very comfortable picking in almost any situation, for when they are high up in the draft order. To supplement, they may train one or two alternative picks, which may be more situational, for when their main gets picked or banned, or the correct situation arises. To summarize, champion pools are shallow and diverse.
In contrast, most players training for teams focus on developing deep, specialized champion pools. Most teams focus on learning one or two styles of team composition. Often, there are several champions which can perform the same function in the mid to lategame. Players will learn multiple alternatives so that they are more difficult to ban out, and so they can be well-practiced on the macro.
When playing by yourself, the only information you can reliably trust is that which you gather yourself. The more information you can process at once, the more informed you are. Personal map awareness and advanced camera control are easier to take advantage of. The only useful wards are the ones which you directly benefit from. Pinging smartly is crucial and necessary. In organized play, the exact opposite is true. Good teammates are reliable, pass information along, and make use of the information you provide them – and, because of voice communication, haphazard pings can be made up for by clear voice coms.
In solo queue one has to keep teammates at arms length. Typically, the rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t make a play if it requires your teammate to play above average for their rank for it to work. Because you are matched with new allies each game, performance is difficult to predict, and tends to stay relatively constant over a large number of games if you don’t climb. It’s worthless to bring up mistakes with your teammates because even if they actually listen to constructive criticism (an unlikely scenario at best), you’ll probably never play with them again. The only common denominator in all your games is you, so the only improvement that matters is your own.
Meanwhile, in team play, one can always act with full trust in one’s teammates. Even if they mess up, you can always review after the game and address the mistake. If they are a good teammate, they will be actively working to improve, and next time it will be less likely to happen. Over time, they will learn to respond correctly, and together you can approach the limits of what is possible.
In order to be successful in team play, you must recognize that there are many things which change when coordination improves. As map awareness becomes better, vision control becomes more important. As the resource economy changes, different strategies, champions and items are favored. When the amount of trust you can safely rest with your teammates increases, along with the way you make decisions around them. In many ways, it feels like a completely different game.
There are two big takeaways.
First, not everything the pros do is worth copying. When the environment is so coordinated, what is optimal changes. Just because it’s the best thing ever in pro-play doesn’t mean it’s worth anything in high ranking solo queue, to say nothing of low ranking solo queue.
Second, just because you are good at, bad at, or enjoy one mode of play does not guarantee that you will have a similar experience with the other. If solo queue frustrates the hell out of you, and all of this sounds exciting, give playing on a team a shot. The League boards and Reddit are full of teams looking for new players of all skill levels. Who knows – maybe someday we’ll see you on the LCS stage.