5 Ways to Play from Behind in Top Lane

5 Ways to Play from Behind in Top Lane

How to Play from Behind as a Top Laner

Where is my Jungler?????” The top lane is sometimes seen as an island to some with little to no interaction from either Jungler. It is usually David facing Goliath while the rest of their teams standby and disregard the slugfest happening in top lane. While this can sometimes be true, especially when I’m playing as a top laner, most matchups are skill-based and the better player normally comes out victorious.

In this final article of the comeback series of guides by PicklePants, we will discuss what to do if you’ve been outclassed in lane and your Jungler ignores your cries for help. Remember that it is not the Junglers job to win your lane, but it is up to you to take this advice and incorporate it into your own gameplay after a rough start. Obviously, prevention is the best way of not falling behind, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

gpi dueling

1) Avoid Fighting

When you are behind, you need to avoid fighting at all costs because you will (almost) always come off worse from a trade. This is especially true if the enemy has certain abilities available to them like their ultimate. For example, initiating a trade when the enemy Darius has his ultimate up is a sure-fire way of getting yourself killed. This is why it is important that you try to minimize your interaction with the enemy laner and avoiding fighting.

Avoid skirmishes with them so you can stay in lane for longer. This will help you catch up on farm and experience, and also allow you to get gold and buy your items to help you survive the rest of the game.

If the enemy initiates a trade with you, try your hardest to get out of it as quickly and safely as possible. You can do this by using an escape ability, or by just walking away. Ideally, you will be able to use everything else in this guide such as utilizing wave management to limit the possibility of the enemy trading with you.

Additionally, if the enemy does initiate a trade, you could potentially retaliate with some of your abilities. But do not go for extended trades when you are behind. We’ve made a separate guide on retaliation trading that may help you in understanding this concept if you want to learn more.

2) Freeze the wave

Wave management is incredibly complex and differs from game to game. Fortunately, when you are behind in lane, you don’t necessarily have the luxury or choice of how you wish to manage the minion wave. This is because if you push the minion wave, or unintentionally let the minion wave go away from your tower- you’re going to find it difficult to farm safely.

When the minion wave is away from your tower, it can make it hard to farm because you have to put yourself in an overextended position. When you’re overextended, you will not have the protection of your tower to prevent the enemy from engaging on you. This means that when you try to farm, you are giving the enemy an opportunity to engage or all in you.

In this example clip, Kayle was behind. As soon as she got back to lane- I was able to kill her and chase her down as she had overextended without any way of defending herself. Because the minion wave was in an unfavorable position for herself, she missed out on a lot.

Another reason why you shouldn’t push the minion wave near the enemy’s tower is because the enemy Jungler might be able to gank you. As you’re in an overextended position, the enemy Jungler would have an easy time ganking you over and over again and you’ll be put you even further behind. While the Jungler could gank and tower dive you with the suggested wave management method, most Junglers can not and will not dive you unless they are able to kill you. If you’re relatively healthy- the chances of a dive are minimal.

The final reason you should avoid pushing the minion wave as standard is because the enemy might be able to zone you away from the minion wave which will prevent you from last hitting or getting any CS. In some extreme cases, they can also push you out of the experience zone- which will mean you will miss out on experience and fall behind in levels. Pushing will make you fall behind in gold and farm because you physically can not farm at all when the minion wave is pushed. If you try to farm when the enemy zones you- they can just all in you.

So what is the answer?

If you’re unable to push or have the wave further down the lane because the enemy can just stop you from farming, the way to approach the remaining of the laning phase is by freezing and keeping the wave as close to your tower (without losing your tower) for as long as possible.

Freezing your lane is really simple on paper. All you need to do is make sure the minion wave is not overpowered and is relatively equal. However, as you want it closer to your side of the lane, you need to have a minion deferential of up to 3 minions. With this deficit, the minion wave shouldn’t move too far away from the sweet spot as long as you’re able to keep it frozen. So, for the minion wave to settle near your tower, there needs to be more enemy minions in lane. For example, if you have 3 minions, the enemy should have 4, 5 or even 6 minions.

How to Freeze image

“If you do not want the minion wave to push against you and you don’t want to push it, all you need to do is make sure that the minion wave stays in the yellow zone. For this to happen, there needs to be no additional extra minions left alive in the lane (on either team.) If you have 3 minions alive, you want the enemy to also have 3.”

While this image shows the bottom lane, both outer lanes are the same which makes this image work in the top lane too. The green and red colors are where you ideally want to keep the wave.

This seems really simple to do consistently, but it is more complex than that- especially when you’re losing. There are a lot of other factors that can influence the minion wave and put you at a disadvantage such as the enemy being able to overwhelm the minion wave and push it into your tower. If the minion wave hits the tower, it will bounce or reset and not freeze. This will be horrible for you because it will force you to overextend for farm.

To prevent this, you need to make sure that you do not let the enemy overwhelm and kill your minions quicker. You can do this by matching the enemy’s damage in lane. For example, if the enemy auto attacks one of your minions, you auto-attack an enemy minion. If they use an ability on the minion wave- you try your hardest to match their damage. If the enemy pushes the wave and it is getting too close for comfort, you can potentially tank some of the minion aggro until your minion wave arrives. You can do this by making them focus you, and then you run into a bush to drop the aggro once your minion wave has arrived. However, this is easier said than done and is not always possible if the enemy is a threat in lane.

We’ve made a rather in-depth wave management guide that can help you learn how to wave management if you want to learn more.

3) Start Building Tank

When you’re behind, you need to start building defensive items so you can still be useful and be a threat after the laning phase. As expected, you’re not going to have the most effective trades or the greatest dueling potential. This is why it’s recommended to start building some defensive items to make up for your bad start.

Most fighters or bruisers can start building defensive items and still be useful. For example, Renekton can build tank items like Thornmail or Sterak’s Gage and still do a lot of damage. Darius can also build defensive items like Randuin’s Omen or Adaptive Helm and still do a lot of damage thanks to his bleed.

The defensive items you buy depends entirely on who you’re playing and who the enemy is playing. You may opt for subtle defensive items like Ninja Tabi to protect yourself against AD champions and basic attacks, or you may go for Mercury Treads to stop some of the enemy’s CC or magic damage.

Ninja Tabi

As there are many different defensive items you can buy, I’d recommend you check out our tank itemization guide or our bruiser guide so you know what each item does, and when you can buy it. I’d suggest that you take a look and see what stats they provide and then try them out for yourself. As a general rule, if the enemy has lots of AP champions and you’re laning against an AP laner, go for magic resist items like Spirit Visage or Adaptive Helm. If the enemy has lots of AD and you’re against an AD laner, try out items like Sunfire Cape or Dead Man’s Plate.

If you’re still unsure of what defensive items you can get, head over to probuilds and look at a recent pro build. Finally, you can always rely on the Pre-game to know what items you can build.

Note that if your champion relies on getting certain items to hit their power spike and be effective. Make sure you stick to what’s needed to win the game (but be prepared to switch it up). If you’re unable to benefit from tank items- then obviously don’t buy them…

4) Invest in vision

While you should always be using your hard-earned money to purchase Control Wards, vision when behind is incredibly important because it allows your teammates to know where the enemy laner is if they decide to roam or rotate. Because you are behind, you have to respect the enemy and understand that warding can be difficult. For example, they may be able to clear your wards easily- so warding in an appropriate area is needed rather than where many may traditionally place their Control Wards.

You do not (always) want to place a Control Ward near your lane because the enemy can just clear it and you would’ve wasted 75 gold. Instead, I would suggest that you place a Control Ward in the river or near your jungle so you can help your team out. As it’s further away from your lane, the likelihood of the enemy laner clearing it immediatly is minimal. This increases the value of the Control Ward. However, this does have one disadvantage as you will not be able to see where the enemy goes if they leave lane and by the time you spot them it can sometimes be too late. You will also not be able to see where the enemy places their wards. But, you can counter both of these issues by having good awareness and taking note of the enemy movement patterns.

Of course, you should also use your trinket and place wards in the top side of the map to see if the enemy Jungler is near your lane. This will also reduce the risk of dying in lane or walking into a bait or a trap by having the bushes near your lane warded.

Top lane vision

Here are some ideal warding places if you’re behind as the red team’s top laner. Try to avoid having multiple stacks on your warding trinket at any given time and make sure you always have 1 Control Ward on the map at all times.

5) Leave the CS and just soak XP

While opinions of the matter will differ from player to player, one method of playing from behind is to just soak whatever you can and play relatively passive in lane until you’re able to get back into the game. Let’s suggest you’ve ignored our advice so far- you’re just pushing the lane and the enemy is now zoning you off the farm- what do you do?

Well, this is a far more common situation than most people imagine. Thankfully, luck is usually on your side because not every top laner is going to zone you: many in fact will push it right back towards you.

If they do zone you however, you can just stay in experience range and soak as much experience as you can and take whatever farm you’re able to. I wouldn’t recommend trying to grab farm that is far away because you will take a lot of harras for it which can force you to recall and miss out on more. Instead, just soak and take what farm you can. The experience range is really big and you can get experience from far away. But always stay as close as you can to ensure you’re in range, and to pick up some of the farm (whenever possible). Keep in mind that safety is your number one priority.

A little trick you can use is by farming with your abilities if you cannot get in range to last hit them. For example, Dr Mundo can farm with his Q because last hitting with his Q refunds the health cost if it kills an enemy. Ryze can farm with his E and his Q too- while not a very efficient way of farming, it does provide stacks on his Tear. Rumble can farm with his E at no real cost either because it doesn’t cost any mana. While this is by far the least efficient way of farming, do what you have to do to get back into the game. If you have ranged abilities or low cost ones, farming this way is fine. Picking up farm will be much more difficult if you do not have any ranged abilities or if you have high mana costs.


At the end of the day, you will inevitably lose a lot of matchups. Some champions lose more than others and some matchups are guaranteed loses. No matter how dire the situation is, try your hardest to keep your head above water: respect the enemy, and grab what you can.

If you have any questions or want to learn more, check out PicklePants stream.

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