Sunday, May 13, 2012

League of Legends: Lane Freezing

League of Legends is a game that goes through several phases. At the start of the game the players are mostly concerned with earning gold and experience to get more powerful. At the end of the game the players tend to group up and try to overpower the other team and crush their base. Between those two extremes are plenty of shades of grey where the different teams will alternate between powering up and using their existing power to try to gain permanent advantages. (Often those advantages will be in the form of more power but it can also come from denying the other team power or permanently destroying parts of their defense.) One of the key things people talk about during the powering up phase of the game is 'freezing the lane'. People in game will yell at you if you don't do it. Guides will tell you to do it without explaining why or how. It's been a nebulous concept for me for most of my time playing the game. Only recently, while playing Yorick, have I stumbled across a good way to actually 'freeze the lane'. I just got out of a game, for example, where I was up 4 levels and 100 creep kills on the opposing Warwick thanks to lane freezing.

As some background, every 30 seconds 6 computer controlled minions will spawn on each of three lanes. These minions walk along a predetermined path and will attack anything that gets in their way. There is rudimentary AI for what they'll attack if they have the option. (Enemy champions who are attacking friendly champions, enemy minions, enemy buildings.) When these minions die they grant experience to enemy champions who are nearby. Also, if an enemy champion gets the killing blow on a minion they earn some gold which is used to buy items. Left to their own devices these creep waves will come close to mutual destruction each time they meet since they're the same size and power. Random chance in terms of who attacks who will result in one side having a straggler or two survive. These stragglers will walk forward a little bit, run into the next creep wave, and die while doing a little damage. They'll also delay the movement of those creeps. This causes the next meeting point to be a little closer to the enemy base, and for the enemy wave to have taken some damage. The same team is likely to win this fight and by an even larger margin. Eventually they'll make it to a turret which will wipe them out. This will likely cause the next creep waves to meet in the middle again.

Aside: look at that ward coverage bottom!
Now, consider what happens when you add a champion to the mix on one side but not the other. A champion will do significantly more damage per attack than an individual minion would so the side with the champion attacking the whole time will clearly win the fight. It turns out because the champion causes the first minion to die faster it's a really substantial gain and they'll win the fight by a mile. They will very quickly end up fighting near or at the enemy turret the entire time. The turret will take damage and eventually get destroyed (this is how you'll start trying to win the game in the mid-late game). This sounds good in a vacuum but you have to remember the other team has five champions somewhere as well. Fighting up near the enemy turret puts you in a vulnerable position, as seen in the screenshot. I'm the green circle in the upper left hand corner of the map and am fighting near my own turret. The green face a little below me is my friend in the river. If the enemy champion was fighting up near my turret he'd be very gankable. My friend would be able to come up on him from behind and the enemy would have nowhere to run. He'd have to go through my friend who would be slowing/stunning/damaging him the whole time. There's a very good chance he'd die. This would give my friend and I gold and experience. It would prevent the enemy from gaining gold or experience while he waited to respawn. This is clearly good for us and bad for them.

The enemy needs to back off, but if I want to earn gold I need to be attacking the enemy creeps. The situation should quickly reverse itself. I'll help my incoming creep wave win the fight and they'll press into enemy territory. If I don't help then the enemy creeps will quickly reach my turret and get annihilated. In a 'fair' game I'll push out and wander away while he pushes out and then wanders away. We'll get equal time earning gold and experience and power up at the same rate. Fair isn't what we want, though. I want to dominate my opponent! I want MORE money. I want MORE levels. Then I can crush his puny body beneath my guitar!

We're in a tricky situation. I need to achieve all of the following:

  • Get the fight to happen near my turret.
  • Keep the fight from getting all the way to my turret (or it will reset).
  • Get the killing blow on most if not all of the enemy minions.
  • Somehow cause the extra damage I deal to not cause my creeps to win. Despite them getting to the fight first because it's closer to my spawn.
Yes, I am rocking a top hat with the Slash themed skin!
In the above screenshot you can see me fighting against 7 enemy minions (red health bars). My new minion wave is about to arrive from the right. You can see my turret in the upper right hand corner. Note that it can almost, but not quite, attack the minions which are fighting me. I was standing out where I am and taking all the hits from the minions to prevent them from getting in range of the turret. Now that my creeps have arrived I'm going to walk away. The enemies will start fighting my new guys. In a short period of time 6 new enemy creeps are going to join the fight as well. 13 on 6 is a fight my creeps will lose in a real hurry. This is good for me, because it means the fight isn't going to get closer to their turret. It's also such an overwhelming advantage for the other team that my own attacks aren't going to be enough to swing the fight in my side's favour. 

If I wanted to I could pretty easily wipe them all out. I have some spells I can cast to do damage and I could autoattack the whole time. I see people do this (incorrectly) all the time. I'm not going to do so. I'm going to stand around and only get the killing blows when I can. My ultimate goal is to have my creeps all die off while killing off a comparable number of theirs. Then I intend to tank 5 or 6 minions without attacking them until my next creep wave shows up. Left to my own devices this situation should actually never end. As long as I keep enough of the enemy minions alive between waves and can heal up the damage they do to me while I'm delaying them I will be fine. Yorick has a healing spell (it does damage too, but I try to get killing blows with it instead of autoattacks if I need the healing) so he's particularly well suited to this task but anyone with some healing potions or life leech should be able to do it I would think.

How do you break this situation if you're the other team? Well, violate one of the four things I needed to have happen. I can't make the fight get near my turret on my own. I need help from you to make it happen for the most part. So, don't push the lane into me if you can help it! As it stands I have to spend time tanking your minions to keep them from getting into my turret. Coming forward and wiping out my minions puts you at risk of being ganked but it will drastically increase the amount of time I have to spend tanking minions. In fact, since I'm standing there you could attack me too! Get a friend to come up and gank me. You won't kill me (look how close my turret is!) but all you need to do is dislodge me and funnel your creeps into my turret.  Standing around and harassing me when I try to get the last hits in could work, but you'd still be vulnerable to a gank. Buy wards and liberally coat any path my friends could take so you can see them coming and run when it's dangerous and press me when it isn't. (I've actually told my jungler to stay away so you're probably not actually in danger...)

Yorick is again well suited for countering these counters. His ability to throw damage onto someone at range who's trying to push a lane is really strong. A true ranged attacker (Ahri maybe) would be able to clear the wave and push him into a turret but most solo-top champions in the current metagame have no chance. In this game I was up against Warwick. What was he going to do? He has no area of effect spells. He has no ranged attacks. If he wants to walk up and kill a minion he's going to eat 40% of his health in damage from me. And since it's all spells I won't even pull minion aggro!

He did end up breaking my frozen lane twice. Both times it involved getting his jungler and/or his mid laner to gank me. I didn't die either time and had lots of money to spend when I went back to base so I didn't mind so much. He'd get to kill a couple waves of creeps and then we'd get right back into the same situation. If he was really on the ball he'd try to do the same thing back to me but Yorick again has the tools to break out against Warwick. I can walk up and drop my spells on his minions and push him into the turret. (Or kill him if he tries to just tank everything.) The game ended in an enemy team concession at the 23 minute mark (the rest of my team was also winning their lanes) but I ended at level 15 with 6.7k gold. Warwick was level 11 with 4.6k gold. He got a player kill when he wandered off to join a fight in another lane while my lane was frozen but that's a lead that's pretty substantial. 


Caspur said...

Good read, I too wasn't sure what "freeze the lane" meant. I hadn't thought of tanking the minions to they don't reach the tower.

Robb said...

I play mid mostly, so I can't tank 7 minions - I find you can achieve similar results with closer to 1 caster minions, and take less damage - but it is a more fragile situation, and you have to be more wary of your cannon wave.