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November 7, 2011 / realelohell

Article 12: Counterpicking strategy

In earlier articles on champion selection, I mentioned that you shouldn’t counterpick yourself before the game even starts.  However, I neglected to go into detail on the subject as it does deserve its own article.  This article is going to explain the mechanics behind counterpicking.

Why should you care about counterpicking?  The reasoning here is simple.  There are some champions in the game that simply cannot lane at all versus others.  The laning dynamic of some matchups are so skewed towards one champion that picking the disadvantaged side of that matchup and trying to win is an uphill battle straight from champ selection.  By learning how to counterpick, you can learn to take advantage of your opponent, as well as avoiding these kinds of situations yourself.  Even if you aren’t able to counterpick your opponent, this article will, at the very least, teach you how to put yourself on an even footing with your opponent.

Counterpicking and Avoiding Counterpicking (for Dummies)

Counterpicking is easiest if your opponent’s first two picks are their mid and top champions.  If they make a mistake and pick an easily countered champion…you just pick the champion that counters their pick (that was hard).  If your team is first pick and you don’t want to easily get counterpicked, first pick champions and roles that are hard to counter.  That means picking your ranged carry, support and jungle champs first.  Except for counter-jungling, which can be extremely risky if both sides pick a reasonably fast jungler, mid and top lane champions are easiest to counterpick.

Counterpicking in theory

First let’s break down a lane’s dynamics into a few general concepts.  While in lane, you can try to out-damage or out harass your opponent (thus forcing them from the lane or risk dying).  You can try to out-sustain your opponent (thus forcing them from the lane or risk dying).  You can coordinate a gank on your opponent with support from your team (thus forcing them from the lane or risk dying).  Or both you and your opponent can free-farm in a stale-mate, where neither of you can force each other from the lane nor is there a serious threat of death (in a 1v1).  See a pattern here?  What all laning situations boil down to is simply getting your opponent out of the lane so you can gain an advantage in gold and experience, which compounds into you being able to threaten a kill, after which you can then snowball, etc, etc.

Ideally, a perfect counterpick would hard counter whatever champion your opponent chooses for whatever lane (just like beating someone at rock paper scissors).  When your opponent chooses X champion for top lane (paper), you choose Y champion for top lane (scissors).  In its simplest form, a hard counter champion is essentially just a champion that can out-damage or out-sustain another (without using wriggles).  Very important note here: if your champion is unable to sustain versus damage naturally, you cannot beat someone who simply does more damage than you.  Building wriggles does not = sustain.  Keep in mind that your enemy can also build wriggles, meaning you’re back to square one: you do less damage and sustain less than your opponent.

Of course there are many other variables to consider, such as: scalability to late game, hard/soft CC, mobility, ganking power, farming ability, etc.  But at its core, if your champion hard counters someone else, your champ is either out-damaging or out-sustaining your opponent to the point where they are unable to lane effectively versus you.

Keep in mind that not all champions will have a hard counter, so don’t stress too hard over it.   

What are some of the benefits of counterpicking your opponent?

The advantage of counterpicking is pretty obvious: you set yourself up with an extra advantage to dominate someone in lane.  Your opponent has to ask for frequent ganks, lessening jungle pressure on the rest of your team.  If you do dominate someone in lane, it destroys their morale; they get a feeling of hopelessness, and their teammates will probably berate them for losing so badly in lane/dying, etc, further ruining your opposing team’s morale.  Your opponent may feel pressured to “make something happen” and do something aggressive/impulsive to change the lane dynamics.

Counterpicking in practice

People often get into the mentality of “I’m playing X hero, X hero totally destroys Y hero, so I have to destroy him”.  This kind of mentality can often backfire, as you can end up taking more risks as things aren’t going as planned (IE: trying too hard to get a kill in lane and being caught out of position by a gank).

You don’t want to get too cocky and overconfident when you counterpick your opponent.  Having an advantage in lane is one thing, but don’t try to snowball this advantage into a kill too quickly.  You don’t know for sure how big of an advantage you have in certain matchups, as variables such as runes/masteries can play a big part in mitigating your advantage early/later on.

When you have an advantage in lane, it’s best to play relatively safe until you know for sure that you can pull off a kill.  Why take unnecessary risks when you can freely deny last hits (or in extreme cases, exp)?  You should be trying to gradually snowball your advantage in cs/gold to an item advantage, which can then more assuredly threaten a kill.  Again, don’t play too aggressively initially…without a ward put down, you CAN be easily and successfully ganked.  If you are playing aggressively, always make sure you have wards down on all possible entrances.  Be ready to escape a gank, and look out for when your opponent is baiting you.

Remember, circumstances can easily change in lane.  If you do have an edge against a champion, but they manage to get a few successful ganks off and come back to lane with extra gold (or you end up dying to them), don’t assume that things will be the same.

Example of random counterpick:  Try this top lane matchup out.  Teemo (hint: rock) versus Wukong, or someone like Wukong [melee, no sustain] (hint: scissors)

What to do when you get counterpicked

On the flip side, you want to do your best to avoid losing matchupsDon’t get hard-countered yourself.  Don’t pick someone with no CC, no harass, and no sustain and get countered by a champion that can harass and sustain versus you.  Similarly, don’t pick a champion that has inadequate sustain versus another champion who can damage over that sustain.  You are going to get destroyed in these situations.  Getting hard-countered is no fun.

If you do somehow get hard-countered, make sure you inform your team well in advance that you will need help.  You can often take advantage of your opponent’s overconfidence by having your team gank early and/or frequently.  Any initial advantage in counterpicking can be offset by enough extra gold from kills/assists/cs.

Example of counterpicking gone terribly, terribly wrong:  Teemo versus Wukong again, except this time Wukong has Xin Zhao ganking for him at level 2.  Teemo uses flash to escape, but Xin proceeds to gank multiple times, killing Teemo every time.  Wukong now has enough extra gold to be a threat to Teemo himself.

Stalemates

Now there are going to be some champions that you simply can’t win versus.  These champions are usually able to (at the very least) farm with impunity.  Take Sion for example.  Sion has one of the best farming abilities in the game through his shield (W).  He can clear out an entire creep wave with 1 spell.  Why was he not played at all until recently?  Prior to his recent upsurge in popularity (many patches ago) he was a top pick/ban (for top lane).  Unfortunately, he was the recipient of many, many nerfs, which made him get destroyed by many other top lane champions.  He was thus forgotten and not played for a long time.

However, recently (as of Graves/Shyvana patches), he has become a top pick/ban (again) for solo queue games.  What’s with his recent popularity again?  He was only given a tiny buff to his base mana pool at level 1, a hardly comparable buff compared to the numerous nerfs he received previously.  The reason why he has become a top pick/ban again, is his strength in “countering” popular mid picks (like Kassadin).  He does this by being able to clear creep waves instantly (taking little harass), and being able to gank other lanes or jungle as needed (with mobility boots).  His ganks are especially strong in solo queue as there is often a lack of communication and warding.  This type of “counterpick” doesn’t threaten one’s own lane opponent, but rather “counters” the opposing team by being able to gank frequently and (potentially) successfully.

Versus champions that can simply clear waves without taking much harass, it is imperative that you pick someone who can also clear waves quickly and has a decent gank.  In all likelihood this kind of lane will usually turn into a farm fest as neither player will be able to leave lane (or else the other player can quickly take tower).  It is only going to be a stalemate if you can keep up with your opponent’s cs while denying your opponent the opportunity to help his/her team out.

Example of farm-fest lane: Sion versus Morgana.  Both champion’s (coincidentally) W skill can clear creep waves quickly.  If Sion decides to gank a lane, Morgana can clear waves and either push mid or help counter-gank whatever lane Sion goes to.

Conclusion:

Counterpicking is a pretty simple thing in theory, but with so many variables in play, and so many frequent changes to the game, it is difficult for me to simply publish some sort of “counterpick list”.  The only way to know for sure if a champion counters another in lane is to experiment with matchups yourself, preferably with a friend in custom games.  Keep in mind that individual player skill does play a big part in lane.  Champion “X” may have a distinct advantage versus Champion “Y” at “Z” elo, but if you move up to ”A” elo, that advantage may be less pronounced (or non-existent).  Don’t be obsessed with counterpicks.  Ideally, people won’t be dumb enough to purposely counterpick themselves.  If you do end up counterpicking someone, keep in mind that your advantage in lane can be offset by many factors.  Also, picking a hard counter may be useful in lane, but may also have a negative impact on your team past the laning phase.  Finally, learn from all your mistakes and experiences.  If someone counterpicks you and destroys your champion in lane, be sure to record his item build and check for your opponent’s masteries and runes after the game.  You can then try out your opponent’s champion (and item/rune/mastery build) versus the champion you used, and see if the results are the same.

Cliffs/TLDR:

– The principles behind counterpicking are deceptively simple, though the variables that affect it are frequently changing.

– It is easy to counterpick and avoid being counterpicked.

The advantage you get from counterpicking a champion can be mitigated or enhanced by many variables.

– Don’t be obsessed with counterpicking – it may not always be possible, and may even hinder your team’s chances of winning.

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13 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. fireissafe / Nov 8 2011 8:09 am

    Great read! Could you possibly include a list of who counters (hard or soft) who? Thanks for your effort.

    • realelohell / Nov 8 2011 3:42 pm

      Sorry, but the whole point of writing that article was that I didn’t want to just make a list of counters. 😦

      • NikoBolas / Nov 9 2011 8:15 am

        What about some examples at least? Surely there are some quintessential counterpicks to at least start from.

      • realelohell / Nov 9 2011 11:21 am

        Ok, I’ll use some historical examples:

        Singed (back when people still played him) top versus Teemo (actually Teemo does very well versus a lot of champs with no sustain that depend on being in auto range/autoattacks for damage)

        Then again Vladimir beats Teemo.

        AP Taric (before his AP ratio nerfs and changes) used to beat Jax top lane (before his nerfs and changes)

        Top lane Fiddlesticks did (and still does very well) versus many of the bruisers that are often put at top.

        Kassadin does very well versus many AP mids…unfortunately he did terribly versus ranged champs mid (which was a real possibility in the past, though not now)

      • Cyndikate / Mar 30 2012 6:38 am

        Woah. Fiddlesticks can top lane? I had no idea.

  2. Crushing Nuts / Dec 5 2011 7:37 am

    Very good article, but I want to know who counter Nasus top, Sion top and Shyvana top…

    • realelohell / Dec 5 2011 9:19 am

      Nasus is pretty impossible to get out of lane with the right setup, because he can just come back into lane and counter…your counter. Though I’d say Riven probably does very well versus Nasus. The main problem with Nasus isn’t so much the laning stage, but late game; if you have enough CC, and your other lanes are doing well, he can fall pretty easily later on. Also, lots of Nasus players tend to focus farm too much on their farming to the point where they will neglect teamfights forever. If you can leave your lane (IE: if your tower is down) for some reason and force 5v4 fights (for dragon etc), you’ll have a pretty good advantage over him later on.

      Sion is not good at all top lane, and if someone is playing Sion versus you top they’re basically throwing his main solo queue strength away (the ability to gank every lane).

      I haven’t really laned versus any Shyvanas top, but again, if you look at her character design, she just deals damage and has no cc. Should be very easy to gank (repeatedly) if you’re having trouble laning versus her, as she has pretty much no way to escape/stall ganks.

  3. Crushing Nuts / Dec 5 2011 11:38 am

    Thanks for your answer, I don’t realy know which champions is good to pick to be solo line top, who do you suggest? And I have some difficulty to pick a good champion that fit with the team… How can I know that?

    • realelohell / Dec 5 2011 12:09 pm

      the current meta for top lane champs are “bruisers” – champions that can tank damage/deal damage/have sustain (IE: Gangplank, Irelia, Nasus, Tryndamere, Cho’gath, Lee Sin, Nidalee, Renekton, Udyr, etc. It’s up to you to figure out what role (within the role of top lane champion) that your team needs – IE: a champ with initiation or cc or damage or tankiness, etc.

  4. Crushing Nuts / Dec 5 2011 12:33 pm

    You said frequently to not counter-pick yourself, but I don’t know who counter who. How can I learn this, I play over 700 games in normal and 20 games ranked, but with the experience I got, I can’t say who counter who…

    Seriously I read all your article and you did an awesome job! I hope all your tips and hint will improve my game, I learn so much!

    • realelohell / Dec 5 2011 6:25 pm

      Then don`t worry too much about counterpicking (especially if you`re new to ranked and at low elos) at the moment, it gives you a relatively minor benefit (and requires a lot of experience/knowledge to understand) compared to improving your game in other ways.

  5. Cyndikate / Mar 30 2012 6:48 am

    Yeaaaah. Now I read this article the game after I attempted to counterpick a stun heavy team with Irelia. I thought Irelia would be the perfect choice against an all CC heavy team simply because of her passive +mercury treads, and being one of the safest top laners. We lost the game because I didn’t know how to use Irelia’s passive to my advantage. I couldn’t get a Trinity Force in time either. We had no tanks so I was the only one who could initiate.

    Now reading this, I’ve learned that if I can’t counterpick, it’s that big of a deal in low elos anyway. I was way too overconcerned with counterpicks that I couldn’t stay focused on what role my own team needed.

    • realelohell / Mar 30 2012 11:14 am

      Irelia isn’t a counterpick versus a stun heavy team anyway….like I said in the article, when you get counterpicked/counterpick others, the idea is that you have countered them in lane. You pick a champion that is stronger than your lane opponent and thus you’re able to impose your will on them during the lane phase.

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