As some of you may know I recently achieved Diamond in solo queue after many many months (see my immediate response here) and the man (lich?) that got me there and the specific method for doing so was not one which I expected to work but in hindsight makes quite a bit of sense. The following is my analysis of the final push to diamond that I did over the weekend.
The day of July 8th started the beginning of an extended losing streak that would bring me from 67 league points in Platinum 1 all the way down to 55 points in Platinum 2. During this 27 game period I went an abysmal 10 - 17 including a pair of 5 game losing streaks. Those of you that know me understand that I'm all about "not tilting" and remaining psychologically stable in the presence of unstable conditions such as losing streaks but this streak was one that really got to me. I was growing frustrated, playing champions I didn't play very often out of frustration, not experimentation. During this 27 game run I played 16 different champions which around the amount I play in a given month of games (between 60-80 typically). I wasn't raging but I was taking a lot of risks, playing champs out of desperation, and generally not performing well.
Something had to change...
This is about as classic a tilt situation as you can find. What happens when you go on tilt? You start thinking emotionally and not logically. I wasn't being rational. How did I get to where I was before this losing streak? I played champions I was comfortable with, despite nerfs/buffs, and remained consistent by playing to my strengths as a player (focusing on lane and not roaming, farming well, and denying/controlling vision instead of creating map pressure with ganks). In my frustration I began trying to do too much and was trying to force ganks and jungle invades that were just not solid strategic options. I was playing over aggressive in lane and not calculated like I usually do. I wasn't spending the money on wards like I usually do (you could say I spend too much). In so many words I was trying to compensate for team deficiencies as well as poor play in previous games. I was "overplaying." This is the opposite of my normal approach to solo queue.
The Strategic Solution
I've always been able to reel it back in during tough losing streaks by going back to basics. The acronym K.I.S.S. ("Keep it simple, stupid") is what I usually default to in competitive times of need. During my losing streak I was "overplaying" and trying to do too much so I started thinking specifically about a hard stance in the opposite direction.
So what is the opposite position? What can I do that will force me to remain consistent each game? Well first I needed to identify what is consistent from game to game. To me there are very few things that remain the same from game to game in League. One of those things is you and how you play the game. The other is parts of the game itself, namely minions, income, and objectives. Minions and objectives are always the same each game but it's up to you whether you get them or not. Perhaps the most cliche advice in League is "just farm well" but most people don't actually do it, including people around my rating. Another cliche bit of advice is that "minion gold is more consistent than champion kill gold" which is correct in most situations. So according to this concept I just needed to improve my farming from game to game to recapture that consistency. Seems relatively sound and simple to me, but often what seems simple is quickly forgotten and you return to those bad habits, so how was I going to actually put this concept to work.
The previous month in my Advanced Solo Queue Statistics VLog I actually discussed that my overall farming numbers were down in the previous 2 months and that was a goal to improve on for this month. Normally I just try to focus more on it during the game but this clearly wasn't working and I had to do something to force myself to get better at it and this is where I started to really start putting together the concept that would completely reconstruct my in game approach to consistency.
The Karthus Effect (Vanguard of the Consistency Solution)
Once I recognized that income was the main obstacle preventing me from being consistent during the losing streak the first step was to improve it, but the second step was to maximize it if I was going to focus solely on that facet of the game. I needed somebody that could farm well and provide inevitability by doing so. Ziggs, Karthus, Lulu, Ryze and Orianna were the first to mind. Ziggs had provided a lot of success for me but with some slight nerfs in previous patches and more incoming I decided against him (at least temporarily). Orianna, while safe, can really make huge mistakes in team fights if you miss your ult. Lulu was never something really comfortable for me and her late game is solid but not what I would call something that provides inevitability. Ryze provides the inevitability but can be kited but the popular hyper carries (kog and trist) and doesn't provide any wave clear except when ulting.
So it was down to Ziggs and Karthus. I started to break it down further using some analysis techniques I learned from Magic the Gathering. Both are great when they're ahead (as most champs are). Both champs are good at parity (an even game). When behind Ziggs has the edge because of his insane wave clear but Karthus isn't as bad as you'd think and even has some tools that can make him better in certain situations. Both champs possess certain intangibles but I feel Karthus has the edge here. Let me explain because this is a key part to the champion and it actually sort of reflects on my "winning means more than KDA" mentality.
One of the main strengths Karthus has is that he has "guaranteed damage" because of his passive. Assume you get instantly killed in a team fight. You have that second, and 7 more seconds to dish out AOE damage (and shred from wall), as well as your ultimate and however many Q's. There are fights in which you die and can still deal out thousands of points of damage allowing your team to do the rest which is incredibly useful when compared to those times where you get jumped on as Cassiopeia and you're dead before you even get to ult. So you get guaranteed damage when you're ahead. You get guaranteed damage when you're behind (even if it takes suiciding into the middle of a team fight). And you get guaranteed damage when it's even. This allows you to initiate fights, split push with teleport, soak damage and cooldowns for your teammates, and the most important thing, DEAL TONS OF DAMAGE.
Oh yea, that was another problem I was having during the losing streak. I wasn't actually affecting the game at all. I wasn't farming well and therefore, wasn't doing a lot of damage. The damage made me realize that another way to remain consistent from game to game was to just pick champs that "always" get their damage down. I feel you're starting to see why the Karthus pick makes sense.
I could easily, and safely farm (not the safest but close enough). I could ALWAYS get my damage down in fights whether behind or ahead. And because of the passive, I could start the fight in a pinch if my team didn't have the decisiveness to do so. It all adds up. Karthus was my own personal remedy to my consistency problem.
Applying the Solution
I've always been a late game player. I thrive in that situation for whatever reasons but the challenge of being that kind of player is to get to that point. I'm not a mechanical beast or hyper talented or anything like that but I do have a strong mind for the strategic and macro points to the game and I team fight really well for a player of my rating. My best games are ones where I can farm up before I outplay. I'm very much a season 2 style player or if you need a modern player to compare to it'd be Easyhoon from SK Telecom T1 S.
There are certain challenges that make this difficult in solo queue (although it's even harder in arranged 5s). People tend to play aggressive more than passive, people tend to lose harder (or win harder), and building team comps isn't exactly something that happens in every solo queue game so they become very snowbally in one direction or the other (especially in high platinum but this is a different topic). These extremes can cause a lot of distractions. Maybe you feel pressured to gank because your top lane is getting stomped. Maybe you feel that trying an all in on your opponent is worth a shot. Maybe you start building completely differently or, in my case, playing different champions to "make up" for other people's deficiencies. All of these are bad adaptations and distractions. Your goal should be to make the other team play the game on your terms or in a way which benefits you.
I was picking Karthus into matchups that I knew were bad even going as far as to blindly first pick him (which I wouldn't advise). I ran teleport/flash most of the time and would simply never gank or leave lane unless it was almost a guaranteed kill (read: worth more than continuing to farm). People would try to counterpick (most often with Orianna) or play overly aggressive because "hey Karthus is an easy kill." I wouldn't care. You could kill me a million times (ok that's a bit extreme) as long as I get my farm. A lot of times people would kill themselves trying to "outplay" me. I'd often use teleport just to get back after purchasing to not miss any farm. My build varied but it often contained Rod of Ages and Zhonya's as my first two items. A couple of games I was able to get a Rod of Ages on the first back. There were games where I'd die more than 10 times but have 40% of my teams damage and we'd win. In other games we were behind and because I could continuously get my 8-10 seconds of "guaranteed" damage we could fight other teams off of objectives. I'd frequently approach 10 creeps per minute as well as jungle camps.
The Psychological Shift
In one of my previous blogposts titled "Results Oriented Thinking" I mention that when playing a game with high variance (like League solo queue) one of the only things you can control is your consistency from game to game and the quantity of games you play. A person does this by eliminating risk and improving the "bottom line." An old coach of mine used to say that "you don't need to very win, just win." Karthus was literally enforcing this mindset.
On Karthus you don't care about dying. You only care about farming and providing that inevitability (read: winning). You suddenly don't tilt as hard when you get camped because you simply don't care because your damage is going to happen regardless and if they win before that point then good for them but I am certainly going to MAKE THEM BEAT ME. In other words I was presenting a threat that HAS TO BE DEALT WITH, but there isn't really a good way to deal with it without a lot of coordination. I went from thinking Karthus was terrible in solo queue because you couldn't "outplay" people to realizing that, when you're matched against even or more skilled players than you, that outplaying is much rarer and more difficult. Karthus was actually doing the opposite of what a lot of people think he does. He was reducing risks.
Consider this example:
The enemy mid laner and yourself are exactly even in terms of mechanical skill, decision making, etc. Your rating (in my case Platinum 1) says that this is mathematically the case. Now of course this isn't always true but for the sake of this example let's assume it's at least close to the truth. You decide to all-in your opponent. Odds would say that, excluding champion mismatches, each player has a 50-50 chance of winning or losing the exchange. Assume the same for ganks, jungle invades, 2v2 skirmishes, etc. 50% isn't bad or good, it's exactly even so over the course of 100 of these decisions, you'll succeed in 50 of them. A professional poker player would quickly be out of a job if his win rate was like this.
Earlier on I mentioned that "minion gold" is more consistent than "champion kill gold" and the reason that this is the case is because there is A LOT less risk involved with minion kills. If you had the option to take a road that has a 60% chance to lead you to a point (in this case a certain gold total) vs a 50% chance to lead you to the same point, wouldn't you take the higher percentage? I know I would, and that's exactly why I started doing this.
Farming is lower risk than pretty much everything else in the game. Decide you want to gank bot lane? You take on certain risks. Going to help your jungler steal their red? That's perfectly fine but understand the risks. For me the simplest way to eliminate these risks was to "AFK farm" and play a champion in Karthus that guarantees that at least some of his damage resolves and provides a means through which farming can be done safely and provide a degree of inevitability. Karthus also makes other players play the game the way I want to. I reduce risk, start a snowball, and eventually present a threat that says "Can you deal with this?" and from there I capitalize on raw power and enemy mistakes.
This isn't for everybody. To most people this is boring and you could actually make an argument that it doesn't really improve you as a player (which I both agree and disagree with). Personally I like winning and this isn't that boring a way to do it in my opinion (what other clothy wants to just run into the enemy team and that's often the correct decision?). There are times where your teammates will rage for not following on a gank, or maybe you dive to start a fight and your team doesn't follow up. I'm not trying to say that this is the "technically correct" way to play but what is? All I know is that if you eliminate as much risk as you possibly can you raise your floor ("bottom line", worst case scenario, etc.) and in a game where it takes a lot of grinding once you become evenly matched this is the difference between 51% and 52% win rate.
Now it's time to bring the (wall of) pain to the ranks of Diamond and lay waste to my opposition.
Until next time...
Any questions about specific in-game techniques, builds, numbers crunching, strategy, etc. I'm more than welcome to answer and discuss. I just wanted to share the mindset (CONSISTENCY) and technique, albeit sort of extreme, that actually got me out of a division that I'd been stuck in (Plat I) to a goal that I have had for a long, long time.