Climbing the solo queue ladder is an obsession to many League of Legends players, including myself. The attraction of streamer stardom or the potentials of professional play are alluring to the hardcore for the same reason movie stars are to the masses—fame is enticing and performing for money turns dreams into careers.
I’ve been playing League for close to two and a half years, my ability to write about League of Legends is somewhat respected, having written several popular articles for Goldper10 and being picked up as a Liquid Legends Writer.
But despite this knowledge about the game, I don’t perform well. Like a football fan who can break down defensive formations but isn’t strong enough to compete, I simply do not play as well as I analyze. If I did, I could be in the professional scene at this point, but alas my gift is not in mechanics—I can tell you how to play Ahri but I cannot consistently execute her myself. The former makes me an alright teacher and analyst, but the latter means I won’t be in the Challenger Series anytime soon.
So what’s the point of all this babble? It isn’t to lament on my endeavors as a solo queue warrior. It’s to share things with you that have helped me or friends of mine climb the ladder and improve our own play.
If you have any knowledge of my Youtube career, you’d know I have made several hundred videos focusing on guide related content. I created an entire walkthrough of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 on Master Ninja Mode; videos on every mini-game in Red Dead Redemption; several Call of Duty gameplays featuring an analysis of the game; I’m moving into League content, either connecting videos mine with articles I write or casting them into the furnace of Reddit. So let’s give you the Mangaka treatment and dive into my own tips for League.
Practice the Fundamentals
Duncan “Thorin” Shields discussed the principle of mastering the fundamentals a few weeks ago, and I believe it is the most important thing you can do to improve your play. In his video, Thorin uses the anecdote of his CS:GO guide to reach a professional level of play covering all the fundamentals of the game, and readers reacting with “but I know this already.” Thorin then went on to point out the difference between “knowing” the fundamentals and “unconsciously applying them,” and I want to address that.
This practice revolves all around muscle memory: Wikipedia defines muscle memory as “procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.” Basically, by performing an action several hundred to thousand times, you can engrain the motion into your muscles and then be able to perform it without thinking. Batters in baseball will practice their stance, basketball players their jump shots, and League players their CS and ability combos. The key element to this is the “several hundred to thousand times:” just going into a custom and practicing Leblanc’s double chains combo five times does not make you a master: doing that thousands of time so you can perform it flawlessly on command does.
This principle of muscle memory is the reason why some people will tell you to main a single champion in ranked to climb. They want you to learn that champion inside and out and become comfortable on it, to the point where you know exactly how to play them in what situation. It is better for you to do so rather than shuffle between the 3-4 flavors of the month picks every game in the long term.
I will add this point to this concept however: maining a single champion is dangerous because it limits your effective champion pool. If that champion is banned, picked, or disabled, and you’ve played your second choice champion only three games ever, you’re in for a bad time. So instead of reading the letter of the law, let’s understand the spirit: every time you want to learn a champion, practice the hell out of them. Practice them until you can play them on auto pilot, then once you do, use them when appropriate and go on to mastering the next champion. If you’re a person who has a hard time spamming a champion, I suggest you get over it if you really want to master them.
If there is one thing I would rate over game knowledge, it would be the understanding of yourself. Think of it this way: you could be the best Azir player in the world, capable of controlling your soldiers in ways no one else can; every ultimate shifting the tides of a fight; you could be the best, but if you worry too much once you hit that “Match Me with Teammates” button in the ranked queue and you can’t perform, it doesn’t matter. This concept of overthinking your play which in turn leads you to make more mistakes or take no action at all is called “Analysis Paralysis,” by researchers and “choking” by athletes and fans.
If you feel pressure in ranked and you are more emotional, than you need to come up with strategies to prevent your stress or reduce it so you can play at your normal level unabated by emotions. Psychologists have been looking at ways to reduce stress, and one thing they’ve noted in golf players is singing. By singing, you occupy your brain with a meaningless task and distract yourself from the pressure.
Distracting yourself from the game sounds oxymoronic: “shouldn’t I focus entirely on the game?” Well yes, but you shouldn’t be thinking about each little detail as you play. If you overthink every step you take, you’re going to choke. As The De-Textbook by Cracked authors states on the subject, “There is… no quicker way to sabotage yourself in a high-pressure sporting scenario than to focus. Once your body knows the mechanics of the sport, you’re better off not thinking at all. That’s because the pressure to do well forces your brain into emergency mode that overrides all the muscle memory you’ve built up from months, sometimes even years of training. The results can be disastrous, because brains, as it turns out, are notoriously bad at sports.”
So there’s some science behind my telling you to relax, now back to stress reduction: find ways to keep yourself calm. I mentioned singing, but you can also get some stress balls to squeeze as you play so you can quietly vent. Whatever calms you down is what you should do, just be sure to forget about the mistakes and let the negative go so you don’t stew over the games. “Master yourself, master the enemy,” says Master Yi.
Adjust to the Ingame Meta
We’ve all been insulted for champion picks we make which aren’t meta. Some of them are extreme, like Vayne top or Fiora jungle, while others were picked in earlier days, like Swain mid or Vladimir top. There are some people who see what the pros use and then try to copy it, or assume that anyone who doesn’t do that isn’t as good as them.
What people don’t understand about competitive play is that we’re looking at the top level of play. We are looking at players who spend hours practicing their champions and compositions, giving them more versatility than the rest of the gaming populace. The competitive scene takes into account every champion available and focuses on a clear set of goals to win—Season 5’s team fight meta was born out of the changes to towers, Baron, and Dragon, which created in environment where in order to break through the enemy’s base, you’re going to be reliant on the Baron buff for the minions and the Dragon to improve your teams scaling into the late game. These heavy focuses on objectives creates an environment where split pushing is close to nonexistent (unless patch 5.5 changes that).
This does not translate into solo queue.
Solo queue is not a premeditated affair: unless you only play one champion, you have no idea what you are going to pick, and you certainly don’t know what composition you will have until your team locks in their picks. People will pick their own champions: they will grab Shaco jungle when you already have a Zed mid lane and your top isn’t a tank. They will first pick Kog’Maw while every assassin is unbanned because they banned Blitzcrank, Annie, and Morgana. People will do their own game, and because of that, every solo queue game is going to have its own meta.
This idea of individual metas is the science behind counter picks: Swain is an alright pick, but if you pick him into Renekton top he is a great pick because he can’t be bullied out by the furious gator. Malzahar isn’t popular because he is an immobile mage who doesn’t provide much utility if he falls behind, but he shuts down Zed incredibly hard if the two remain close in the laning phase because if Zed tries to all in, Malzahar can just ult.
Not everybody looks at what the strongest picks are; they grow attached to certain champions and want to play them. Some people do follow those OP picks, and either they take the time to master them or they just lock them in with no experience, thinking that champion will carry them and then fail spectacularly because they can’t execute. Now if someone does come along and plays those meta picks well, then those blind comfort picks can be punished incredibly hard because on the global scale the meta picks will outperform off-meta picks more often than not, barring counter-picks.
The point is that solo queue is more volatile than competitive play, and more picks are viable there than in professional play. So open your mind to the possibilities—if you can create team compositions with every champion in the game, you can shape any solo queue team. Just be sure that the compositions you build have a clear set of win conditions and the champions you pick for solo queue compliment your teammates’ picks.
Fight the Fear
Ranked can be scary; queuing up to gamble your LP is when you put your elo where your mouth is. It’s where you make yourself vulnerable to flaming; expose yourself to trolls; really test the mettle of your skills. For some it’s easy to get emotional, and for others it’s just another game. To those of you petrified or worried, cleanse that emotion in the fires of your training. Silence your mind and let your muscles remember your practice. Prepare for your internal conflicts and transform your volatile core into an unshakeable foundation. Don’t worry so much about what the pros do—do you, and do it well.