A Look at Competitive Pick and Ban Strategies with an Emphasis on Individual Pick Phases
The Pre-Game is a term given to the pick-ban phase. Because of the constant patches that are released the specific heroes that you ban or pick differ drastically depending on the patch you play on as well as the team you are playing against. Despite this ever changing aspect of the Pre-Game phase there are overall aspects that do not change from patch to patch that you can use to help draft a good team while denying the enemy team a good draft.
The image below shows how I will be referring to the pick and ban phase. Note the the left team is Blue team and has first pick and first ban.
The most unchanging aspect of the Pre-Game phase is the aspects that you want on your team. Some are more important depending on the patch you’re playing on as well as the team that they enemy is drafting; however, all aspects are ALWAYS worth examining when looking at the team you are picking.
The above picture illustrates how I will be referring to Champion Select.
Mix of Damage
Early Game Strength
Late Game Strength
Splitting Power / 1v1 Potential
All of these factors, as well as many others, are aspects that you should consider while drafting a team comp. Many will be devalued depending on the enemies team comp. One of the most efficient ways to influence your team comp is by changing the comp that the enemy picks.
Bans: Bans are done in many different ways in competitive League of Legends. Similar bans may have drastically different reasons and may affect teams differently depending on the specific circumstances of the team.
The most common reason for a specific ban; and, usually the most important ban, is to ban a champion simply to make sure the enemy team does not get that champion due to a lack of practice with other heroes. This strategy has to do with preparation for a specific match; if you know that their support player has played Support A for a vast majority of their recent games then you can ban it to force them to play something new that they have not practiced enough. Because Pro Players practice for such a substantial amount of time a day it is more than likely that the person you're banning out is comfortable on a number of supports other than the one you banned. This strategy can still work and continues to be successful towards low - tier teams and against players with small champion pools.
The other reason for removing a hero from a specific player is simply because the player is so skilled with the hero. Your team is using a ban knowing that the enemy player will be able to find another hero that they are comfortable with; however, they will not be on a hero they are dominant with. This strategy is similar to banning in an attempt to force a player onto something they are not comfortable with; however, works against the opposite type of player. This strategy works primarily against top tier players who show their dominating performance with a champion consistently. As a caution this strategy should not be used merely against champions that you are scared of.
Many times teams will ban Support A simply because it is strong in the meta and their player does not have the experience required to play that hero. This ban accomplishes a similar point as the above 2; however, speaks to a glaring weakness in the team. If you are forced to ban something because of this it not only removes the ban from another ban that may be vital, but, it also makes your strategy predictable. If you consistently ban Support A when other teams prepare for yours they have some knowledge of your strategy which allows them to split up the possibilities and predict much closer as to what your plan is.
The ban that requires the most thought is banning heroes that counter your team comp. This may appear to be simple because you can simply think about what champions counter your strategy and ban those. The issue with doing that is it allows the enemy team to take a guess at what comp you are going to use. This strategy is less used simply because it poses more of a risk than banning specific players heroes. If they figure out what you are planning to do they can ban your strategy and put you into a circumstance you are not prepared for and where you must forge a new comp without having any bans to help or they can wait and pick those champions that you wanted to form a similar team comp that you have helped them ban the counters for them.
Bans affect the pick phase in a indirect way that could make or break your team comp. Bans force other heroes into the spotlight. If you ban Shyvanna from top lane, or your opponents ban her, then Mundo immediately becomes a much more contested pick. This strategy can be used to create a safe first pick if you are scared of being countered and have first pick. You can ban counters to a specific champion or a group of champions then have a substantially safer first pick. This may not result in a winning lane; however, may allow you to have an even lane while dealing with the scare of being countered after your first pick. This strategy is not as potent in metas when one champion outshines the rest. When one champion dominates and you have first pick you know you can pick that champion so banning its counters may go to waste if the enemy team bans it.
Bans should not be one hundred percent decided upon before the game. Against simpler teams it is not as much of a risk to have adamant bans; however, against a team that has a large support staff to back it up adamantly deciding bans before the game may prove to be a disadvantage. You should have an idea of what the enemy team is going to ban. If the enemy team has first pick and they have a power pick they have first picked repeatedly before then you don’t use your first ban on that pick. You can wait until they have banned two champions away and get an idea of their banning strategy or you can wait to see all of their bans and then ban it if they banned all its counters and leave it open if your player can play a counter that is open. Leaving this ban to last ban lets you work with the knowledge of their bans which can be helpful because you know if they banned the counters to that lane. If it is banned then you have potentially wasted all of their bans and you should use a pre decided strategy based around them not getting that hero. If you decided to leave it open then you have the ability to second pick not only the counter you were planning on playing but also another champion that either counters their team comp or was essential for theirs.
Picks(Tier One): The tier one pick differs from every other pick in the Pre-Game phase because it is the only pick that has no information about what the other team is going to play. That information is extremely helpful because knowing what they are going to play may lead to 3 possibilities, if it is a flex pick; however, knowing only what they are not going to play (bans) leads to many more possibilities along with the possibilities about where the heroes they pick are going to go. The Tier one pick serves as both a blessing and a curse. As a team you have the ability to pick a champion that is particularly powerful or is essential to the team comp you are trying to form. The issue with having the tier one pick is that if that champion is banned then you MUST have a backup strategy that involves either picking another power pick or picking a flex pick (something safe that works well in many positions or team comps). A flex pick does not necessarily have to be something that works well in multiple team comps but a hero that you can send to different lanes. This means that the enemy team picks under the assumption they can pick the counter to that hero and then you have the purple side advantage of counter picking that lane.
Overall the Tier One Pick is extremely risky as you pick with very little information about the enemy team and can be countered very easily. It can also pay off well if you are well prepared for the various circumstances that may occur and the damage of the ban phase can be reduced with good planning.
Picks(Tier Two): The Tier two picks are not only a high priority but also give away the most amount of information to the enemy team. These picks are slightly better than Tier One because you have some information of the enemy team; however, they are still similarly risky.
The Benefit of the Tier Two pick is that you have more information than than Tier One pick and can similarly take away powerhouse picks that can define the game. If the enemy picks a strong top laner you can take away the priority mid laner and jungler then forge your team comp around winning the midlane. You can also take away two powerhouse picks rather than one (assuming there are enough important picks).
With this benefit comes the huge risk. The enemy team can counter pick your heroes, but, unlike Tier One picks they know two of the champions that you are going to play rather than the one you know of them. The issue with their counter pick is that they have already committed to their Tier One pick which means that they must build a team comp that works with that hero where you can use your Tier Two picks not only to counter the Tier One pick but to form ANY team comp you want. While counter picking the Tier Two picks is a risk it follows the general trend of counter picks. The later in the draft phase you are the harder it is to counter specific lanes because you must also pick to help your team comp. A good example of this is if the Tier One pick is Zed then Tier Two can pick Sejuani, Nautilus, or other all in comps. This allows them to counter zed not necessarily in lane but in the team comp. The Tier Three picks may be able to counter the Tier Two picks in lane; however, because they have committed to the zed they are going to have issues because they can not completely rework their team comp.
The other benefit of having Tiew Two pick is that you can take heroes away from the enemy. This is the best time in the Pre-Game to take heroes away from the enemy because you can build your team comp around them, and they have not had the option to pick them. Many times these dominating heroes the enemy plays are not safe first picks so if they pick them you ban them. If they leave them open for the Tier Three pick you can steal them and use them to create your own team comp. The important thing about stealing picks here is that the other team has not had a good chance to pick those champions because they feared first picking them.
The risk of Tier Two pick that is shared with Tier One pick is that you can give away the team comp too early and allow the enemy to counter pick it. Assuming they have picked a flex pick for their Tier One pick they can work to create not only a team comp that counters but lanes that counter you if you give too much information away and force yourself into a corner.
Picks (Tier Three): The Tier Three picks is when the blue team has mostly committed to a team comp. They have shown over half of their champions so this is the first point of the Pre-Game phase where there is a substantial amount of information given to the enemy team.
This is the point where blue team has declared their team comp for the most part. If there are multiple flex picks then it may be unclear as to the complete comp; however, the overall strengths and weaknesses are starting to become apparent. This is the point when you look at your team and ask what fits well and the most defining aspect of the Pre-Game phase.
This phase is interesting because it is the beginning of the two phases where you can pick away the champions needed for the enemies comp. You have double the information you have given to the enemy team so you can infer more from them than they did for their Tier Two picks. At this point they might have declared a team comp without actually picking specific champions required which means you can take them and for a similar comp that outclasses theirs. If their picks are fairly flexible then you do not have that option as much and this phase is more important to take the picks that make your comp work well.
Building a team comp can be hard because you can never be sure that you will be getting the picks you want without the enemy taking them. If you start picking them too early you know that they can counter your comp or outclass it by stealing your picks. If you wait too long to take your important picks you may not get them. This phase of the game is important because the enemies first attempt to steal your power picks are immediately after this stage and so you should put a higher priority on the picks necessary for your comp rather than the ones that are not as vital. Because it is very likely that after this phase the enemy will have an idea of what your plan is and might steal those picks from you during their next phase.
This is also notable as generally the last phase to get powerhouse picks because they will most likely be all gone by the next time you get to draft. The short version of the Tier Three picks it is pick what you need because it is probably your last chance.
Picks (Tier Four): The Tier four picks is when you have a decent amount of information to work with. You know all but two of their picks and are more than likely to know where at least one of them is going.
You should at this point know roughly what comp the enemy team is playing or at least the possibilities for the comp they will play. This is the safest moment to steal picks (if open….probably not) or solidify your team comp. The next pick phase the enemy will know all but one of your picks which means there is not a lot of room for surprising them and keeping your comp hidden. Because the chances of that are next to none then the best thing you can do is to solidify your comp and make sure you have what is necessary to make it work.
The most important aspect of the Tier Four picks is possibly knowing what you’re going to pick as the Tier Six pick. Because by the next time you get to draft there will be 15 champions not open you MUST plan for the last pick. If the bans are heavily geared towards mid and you were planning on leaving your last pick for mid do you have a hero up that fits with your team comp and counters theirs? Will that hero work in their team comp and does their mid laner play it? If the answer to both of this is yes then you have an issue because they are likely to pick that hero and leave you with a substandard comp. Picking that hero now and allowing them to counterpick may be a better option for the team.
Predicting their Tier Five pick is important because this is the draft phase where you have a lot of information to work with. Are their picks open that are necessary for their team comp? Do those picks work in your team comp. This is your last chance to take their picks and potentially your most potent because you have a very good idea of what they are going to play.
NOTE: Saving counter picks for late can be risky because you risk it affecting your team comp and hurting you overall
Picks (Tier Five): Tier Five picks are the point where your team decides everything about your comp. You have completed your draft and you must play with the team you have chosen. This phase (along with the other ending ones) is fairly simple because there is so much information to work with it makes deciding what to pick substantially easier. There is one important thing to consider with the Tier Five picks however. You should have a good idea of what they are going to play with their Tier Six pick you can see what heroes are open that they play and which of those fits into their comp. You can proactively force them into picking that hero into a countered lane or picking something that does well in lane against your Tier Five pick but does not fit into their comp. This strategy is VERY dependant on not only the previous picks and the bans, but also the champion pools as well as the position left open. Because of this it is hard to give hard advice about how to approach this particular phase.
Picks (Tier Six): Not much to say about this phase. At this point you should already know what is good to pick and the Tier Six pick should be fairly simple. The base guidelines are still applicable (counterpick not only their lanes but their comp and fit your comp) and most of the time that should be enough to pick for your last pick.
The one exception to this rule is if you are planning to bring out something surprising as a last pick and have forged your team comp around it. This is helpful in the beginning aspects of the draft phase because you do not reveal as much about your team comp. In this case this may be the most important pick for you because that teemo you picked in the Tier Two phase is not top but actually Jungle which means you can counter pick their comp with full knowledge of what their plan is.
Flex picks are best chosen where to go here because you can pick counters with full knowledge of the enemy team. If you have flex picks and are thinking about sending them to other lanes then this is probably the most important phase of the Pre-Game..