What is a “matchup”?
League of Legends really isn’t that much different from a fighting game. Sure, MOBAs get a little messy when it becomes more of a 5 on 5 brawl, but the 1v1 and even 2v2 aspects are very similar to their button-mashing (just kidding) brethren.
What do I mean by this? Every time you head to lane against an enemy, you are engaging in a matchup. A matchup is the dance of interactions when two champions clash. Their different stats, weights, strengths, and weaknesses are pitted against each other. A certain ebb and flow is created where each side has certain advantages they would like to exploit and look out for.
Let’s consider a classic fighting game example using common archetypes. Imagine two characters, one quick character with tons of mobility but weak attacks, against a slow character with powerful attacks.
Although the two characters are very different, they should have a similar chance to win if they play their cards right. The win condition of the quick character is to stay just out of reach and keep a constant flow of attacks on their bigger foe, whittling them down over time.
The heavy character may have a tough time landing a blow, but one hit can be enough to severely cripple and then finish off the quicker character. They’ll have to play defensively for the most part and wait for the right opportunity.
Each player has a different win condition and play style that they must play toward. It’s also crucial for them to know how their opponent wants to play. For example, if the quick character doesn’t emphasize their mobility and instead tries to trade blow for blow with the heavy character, well – it’s gg.
Matchups in League
The same sort of thinking can definitely be applied to League. No matter your role, the champ you play and the champ or champs you’re against, create a matchup that you should be aware of.
Top and Mid are most like the 1v1 fighting games, while the 2v2 of bot lane is more of a co-op battle. Jungle is a tad different because it’s more of a chess match but it still applies. There’s a big difference in the way you have to play as an invading Jungler against another invader when compared to if you’re against a supportive Jungler.
Before a match begins, you should have a good idea of your plan of attack and things you should be aware of. Going into a matchup unprepared will probably lead to an uphill battle, even if it should otherwise be a favorable fight.
In this article, we’ll cover the different techniques for learning a matchup, starting from the basics and gradually diving deeper.
Learning a champion’s abilities
This seems pretty obvious – after all, how can you fight against something when you don’t know what they can do?
The reality is, many players, especially those at lower levels, don’t know the intricacies of the champions they play against.
They may have a basic idea, but probably don’t know the specifics. For example, most players will know that Thresh has a hook ability, Death Sentence. Out of those players, only some will know how long the hook’s cooldown is (20 sec at rank 1), and even less of those players will know that the cooldown decreases by 3 seconds if he lands the ability.
This may not seem like a big deal, but being able to know and understand these intricacies can give you small advantages that combine to turn into big leads over time. You’ll also make less mistakes and avoid dying in situations where you shouldn’t have.
For example, If you thought that a missed Thresh hook cooldown was somewhere around 12 seconds instead of 20 at level 1, you may have played 8 seconds passively when you could have been punishing the window.
Likewise, if you falsely thought that the hook was simply on a 20 sec CD and didn’t know about the decrease from a landed hook, you may leave yourself vulnerable for an easy kill by not knowing that he’d be able to throw another sooner than expected.
Learning the little details of every ability for every champ you run into will take time to absorb. To keep you prepared in the short term, make sure to use our Pre Game tool to give you a refresher on the big things.The feature will give you advice on the major things to look out for (and by the way, the advice is curated by our Challenger coaches). Play around these tips and you should have a good shot at playing the matchup well without tons of prior knowledge.
Understand what a champion wants to do
Just like in traditional sports, it’s important to know your opponent’s playbook – basically what they’re looking to do in order to win.
Every champ has cues that hint at their goals and win conditions (think back to the quick vs heavy character example in the intro). If you can understand these cues, you can have a much better chance to prevent your enemy from playing to their win conditions.
Let’s take a look at Nasus’s signature move, Siphon Strike:This ability is one of the most obvious tells of a win condition in League of Legends. The key phrase is “If Siphoning Strike kills its target, Nasus permanently gain 3 stacks, double to 6 if its target is a champion, large minion, or large monster.”
The word permanent is a huge hint to us that the longer the game goes, the more powerful Nasus becomes. Nowhere in the description does it state that there’s a limit to his stacks, so we can infer that it can stack infinitely.
If you’ve never ran into a high stack Nasus check out this next video (if you have you may want to skip out of PTSD).
So knowing that Nasus’s win condition is to get as many stacks as possible, how can you play this matchup? There are a few ways to go about this, but it basically comes down to denying stacks and trying to end the game as fast as possible.
For example, you can play a champ that excels in the early game such as Pantheon. The tradeoff for Nasus’s huge late game potential is a weak early game, he simply can’t do that much damage without stacks. So if you can put him behind early with a lane bully like Pantheon, he’ll have a tough time farming and may not even get to a good amount before the game ends.
Other methods include asking for extra ganks from your Junger, playing a ranged champ that can zone him off the wave, and using crowd control options to keep him away even if he gets stacks. The big takeaway is that once you identify the stacking of Siphon Strike as his central win condition, you can create a strategy around making it hard for him to make the most of it.
Let’s take a look at what may be a less obvious example, Aurelion Sol’s Comet of Legend:
This ability gives huge hints to what Aurelion Sol wants to do, take a second to think over what may be his win condition…Got it?
Alright, let’s see how you did. The first thing you should notice is that the ability doesn’t do any damage and instead opts for increased movement speed. Next, you should notice the part about “ignoring terrain and unit collision“, and that “taking damage from champions or turrets will end Comet of Legend early”.
Taking these into account, there are a few things we can observe about playing the matchup. From the get-go, it’s obvious that Aurelion Sol is a mobile roamer. Not only does he get a big boost of movement speed, but he can also fly across the rift’s terrain.
This gives us the hint that we should do everything possible to keep him in lane such as taking Ignite or keeping pressure on taking his turret, or you can find the means necessary to keep up with his insane mobility, perhaps taking a champion like Taliyah or Galio, to keep up with him.
Play the champion yourself
You know that old cliche about walking in someone’s shoes (or whatever) to understand them? This actually holds true when trying to learn a matchup. Researching a champion’s abilities can be effective, but it doesn’t really capture the “feel” of actually playing a champion.
Have you ever played against a champ and thought, “Wow, they seem crazy strong”, but when you actually play them yourself, suddenly they don’t seem as powerful as when you played against them? This is partly because when you play a champ, you may be noticing the vulnerabilities in their defenses and feel how long their cooldowns truly are.
If you can spare the blue essence, it may be worth purchasing a champion that’s giving you difficulty so you can get reps in the Practice Tool or some Normals. If you’re low on blue essence, you may have to take note of which champs give you trouble and keep an eye out for when they pop up on the free week rotation. Another option is to get a Public Beta Enviroment (PBE) account since every champion is automatically unlocked, just keep in mind that they may have slight changes due to buffs/nerfs.
When you play as the champ, try to get a feel for their rhythm and flow of their cooldowns. Do they have high burst combos with long gaps in between? Or do they rely on a constant barrage of skillshots? Understanding their attack patterns can help you understand when to make the trade or go in for an all-in.
Take note of which champions gave you a hard time in games, what about them felt difficult when interacting with the champion you were getting a feel for? Apply these things to the next time you play against the champion and try to make it difficult for them in a similar way as you felt.
Seek out how better players handle the matchup
If you understand how a champion works, know what they want to do, and have played them but still don’t know what to do against them, the next step is to find out what other players who main your champ handle the matchup.
The upside of League being such a popular game is that there are thousands (millions?) of other players that play your champ and have ran into the same matchup that you may be struggling with. Try to find the best players for your champ and observe what they do. There are tons of point of view (POV) videos on Youtube such as this one:
As you watch, play close attention and compare to your own play and mentality. When do they look to make trades and all-ins? How do they build when playing the specific matchup? Do they play safe and stay at bay or do they look to play aggressively? You’ll most likely discover some tricks or techniques that you hadn’t thought about.On Twitch, you can sort by champions and find channels that are currently playing your champ. The upside of this is that you can sometimes talk to the player’s directly in chat and really pick their brain. The downside is that sometimes, less popular or off-meta champions won’t get streamed as much so it can be difficult to track down a main who streams.Your next bet is to find the dedicated communities for your main champion, these are usually found on Reddit or Discord. Here’s a list of the subreddits for each champ, you can usually find a link to a connected Discord from there. A quick search can usually help you find past discussions, tips, and tricks on different matchups. If you’re nice (and checked to make sure your topic hasn’t been covered before), the communities will usually be open to answering your questions and helping you out.
When it comes to matchups, remember that the meta may shift and transform over time due to buffs, nerfs, and players just figuring new things out. Take the time to keep track of major changes such as the addition/subtraction of new items and runes, and champion reworks. Be sure to watch the new spotlights when a champion is released because it will help you understand their win conditions and play patterns.
I also recommend following us on Youtube, Discord, and Twitch. Every week we release Counterplay videos like the one above which break down how to beat different champions. Our Discord has a coaching channel where you can ask our Challenger Coach, Moriarty, how to play matchups. If you don’t use Discord, our Twitch channel holds Q&A’s every week on Thursdays/Fridays at 1PM PST if you’d like to ask Moriarty questions there.
Thanks for reading, we hope you found this article helpful. Leave us a comment below if there’s anything you thought we missed and you’d like to share your thoughts. As I mentioned above, be sure to follow us on Youtube, Discord, and Twitch for more awesome content.