It is a concept discussed widely since the birth of League of Legends more than 10 years ago, but the true nature of counterplay in League of Legends is just as dynamic as the game itself. While there are a great number of factors that contribute to how well you counter your opponent (or vice versa), we’re going to break down the main things you can look out for from game to game to give yourself the greatest edge over your enemy!
The first thing to consider, before we dive into any methods of countering your enemy, is to analyse what it actually means to “counter” someone in League of Legends. For the sake of this article and your greater understanding, we are going to define it as such:
To “counter” in League of Legends is to play in a manner that both exposes the weaknesses and lessens the strengths of an enemy player.
Sounds simple enough, right..? Well, it actually is that simple once you break it down and look at the key variables that set you apart from your opponents from game to game. Those factors are champion selection, itemisation, summoner spells and playstyle. Let’s break it down.
The most commonly referenced method of “countering” an opponent takes place in Champ Select, and it is picking a certain champion in response to an enemy’s choice of champion. This method is based on the logic that there are inherent, mechanical differences between specific champions in the game that favours one over the other, creating a power imbalance before the game even starts. Let’s analyse a couple of examples of champion counters that currently exist in League of Legends:
Jayce v. Tryndamere
Tryndamere is a champion known for his close quarters, all-in engages with the capacity to chase people down and outlast more damage than he probably should, thanks to his ultimate. Jayce, on the other hand, is a highly versatile champion that is capable of denying engages, poking down his enemies from range and remaining mobile as he changes between his Hammer and Cannon forms.
Starting with the obvious advantage in the matchup, Jayce’s Mercury Cannon gives him a ranged attack to kite with, allowing for permanent harass to keep Tryndamere oppressed during the laning phase. Tryndamere’s E, Spinning Slash, is his main method of gap closing when he intends to fight any enemy, and is negated by Jayce’s Hammer Form E, Thundering Blow, as he knocks Tryndamere back. Assuming Tryndamere is capable of getting close to Jayce even after this exchange, Jayce’s ability to disengage using his passive (Hextech Capacitor) and his Cannon Form E (Acceleration Gate) grants him all the extra speed he’s likely to need in an escape.
Malphite v. Lucian
This matchup differs to the Jayce vs. Tryndamere matchup in one very important way: Malphite still counters Lucian even though he is melee and Lucian is ranged. The use of a ranged champion against a traditionally melee top laner can be a powerful tool for success, but Malphite’s kit is built to withstand this kind of punishment.
Lucian’s potential to poke through the early game is the only real threat to Malphite, but is severely reduced by Malphite’s W, Thunderclap. While Malphite is shielded by his passive, he gains extra armor to take greater punishment by Lucian, which only grows stronger as his build improves. His Seismic Shard allows him to comfortably disengage from those unfavourable early trades and move away from Lucian’s Relentless Pursuit with greater ease (Unstoppable Force can serve the same purpose, when he eventually learns the ability). Additionally, his Ground Slam reduces Lucian’s attack speed, which can render Lucian’s auto attacks and auto attack resets far less useful than they may ordinarily be.
“But wait a moment,” you may say, “Malphite’s kit is very dependent on his armor, Lucian could have an easier time against an AP Malphite than a tankier one.” To which I would say “absolutely!” So let’s move away from champion counters and into something a little more tricky.
The champion you play is nothing without the correct items in their inventory. There’s nearly no more important factor in League of Legends than the way you build your champion, and for that reason we need to pay respect to the way you can (and should) build your way into countering your opponents.
With the great item overhaul of preseason 11, many players’ knowledge of the game was challenged by a new shop daring them to try different builds. That being said, the concept of building to counter the builds of the enemy team is a timeless concept. To do this, you need to consider a few different factors:
How powerful you are compared to your opponents
If you are ahead of your enemies, you can opt for more aggressive options in your build to extend your lead and use your advantage to get the rest of your team ahead. On the other hand, if your enemies have been growing more powerful than you at a faster rate, it is likely in your best interest to purchase defensive items or ones that work to disable your enemies. Let’s take the example of a Shen in Top Lane who got an early gank from their Jungler that snowballed them into a lead in the early game; after building his Sunfire Aegis, he may opt for a Titanic Hydra as the second component in his build, for extra kill pressure early when he travels around the map with his ultimate. On the other hand, say the enemy jungler ganked Shen and put him behind in the early game, a defensive second item is a better alternative to ensure he’s not killed as he can be useful in a teamfight.
Your team composition
What your team is building can be just as important as what you build when it comes to closing out a game of League of Legends. Finding a balance within your team of damage, utility and tank is ideal for securing victory (although sometimes your team composition simply may not allow for it). The best example of this was highlighted in the previous example of a Malphite who builds AP vs. one who goes for the rock solid tank build. Both have their uses, but depending on what the other members of his team were building, he might have to reconsider his build path; as an example, a Malphite who is playing on a team with an AP Mid Laner, Jungler and Support should almost never build AP as his usefulness will be diminished when the enemy builds Magic Resist.
What your opponents are building
As in the previous example of an enemy building Magic Resist to counter an AP-heavy team, you can counter your opponents by thinking on your feet and opting for specific items because of the items your enemies have chosen. This is one of the most defining characteristics of a high level player compared to an inexperienced one, as being able to be flexible and having the knowledge to counter your opponents in this way requires an understanding of how certain items interact with each other. For example, an enemy Mid Laner who builds into a Riftmaker gains 15% Omnivamp, which can easily be countered by an item with Grievous Wounds for healing reduction. You should constantly be checking on all items in play to see how you can best build around them.
Summoner Spells and Playstyle
These two points will be discussed under the same section as your playstyle is very often dictated, at least in the early game, by the Summoner Spells you take (and vice versa). If your opponents have a very clear game plan going into laning phase, skirmishes and even teamfights in general, you can change your own playstyle to counter their efforts.
This can be achieved simply by choosing your Summoner Spells based on the matchups you’re in, if you have the confidence in your team to do so. For example, taking Teleport alongside Flash in the Mid Lane is typically the most valuable Summoner Spell you can choose, however there are certain matchups (like Malzahar, Cassiopeia, etc.) where Cleanse can prove to be a more useful choice to counter your opponent’s greatest playmaking ability. In the Bottom Lane, an enemy duo with huge kill potential early on (like Pyke and Jhin) may be best faced with Exhaust rather than Ignite, as your ability to survive in fights can be more valuable than the Ignite’s damage over time.
This logic carries over to the later stages of the game, where you can plan your attack and hold your abilities for when specific situations arise. Abilities such as Mordekaiser’s Realm of Death, Malzahar’s Nether Grasp and even Lissandra’s Frozen Tomb have the potential to change the way a fight plays out by eliminating or neutralising one particular enemy for a certain amount of time, and if that can be used on an enemy that would otherwise win the fight for their team then unwinnable games suddenly become winnable. The key is identifying which pieces in the enemy’s strategy are the most valuable and taking them out before they can pop off.
Any and all of these methods of countering your opponent can be used through your games to shift the tides and put yourself ahead of the enemy team. Being aware and staying conscious of the counterplays that exist within each of your games can bring your skill to the next level as you climb the ranks in Season 11. GLHF!