I have spoken about Match-ups before and gave an overview about how you would approach figuring out a match-up. But as I have done champion notes, I have run into some major misunderstandings of how counters & match-ups work. This is problematic as match-ups are important to the game, but if you and I do not have a common understanding of the concept, then my notes on match-ups will not benefit you. So the point of this post is to create that common understanding of match-ups and what the word "counter" really means in League of Legends.
Let us start with the concept match-ups. A match-up is basically what happens when different champions face each other. This can be in the lane, in the jungle or a combination there of. The idea is that each champion has their own unique strengths and play-style. Pitting those various unique strengths against each other creates a situations where one type of strength is better or weaker than the opposing strengths. If that definition sounds odd, that is ok. I think most of you understand what a match-up is anyway, I just wanted to try to define it. The following will be more specific.
How many of you come from a fighting game background? If you have, then this should just be a reminder. But for those of you who do not, this is the format I will use to describe how match-ups work as the fighting game community has probably spilled more ink over match-ups than anyone else in gaming.
The fighting game community uses a best of 10 series to describe how match-ups work. a 5-5 match-ups means that out of 10 matches, each character would win 5 times. That means that this match-up is purely skill based and about as close to even as you get. A 6-4 Match-up is in favor of one character but not enough that good solid play cannot over come it. Not by any means an auto-lose, just tougher for one character. 7-3 describes a very tough match-up for one character and you can almost say they were counter-picked, but that does not mean you cannot win, it is just really hard. 8-2 approaches the nearly impossible range.
However, there are a few assumptions that are made about match-ups.
- Both players know that match-up and how to play it.
- Both players are playing their characters at a sufficient level of play. Generally thought of to be the highest level or near it, for those characters.
- No assumption of outside interference (easy in a 2 character fighting game, very difficult in the 5v5 of league).
Those assumptions are the basis for making those match-up numbers. Notice that those are some pretty big assumptions. So the variability of match-ups changes a lot from personal perspective. If I know how X vs. Y works and you do not, I have an advantage. If we are not playing at the top level of play, the match-up could change drastically. Then there are other players, but that is how match-ups work in League of Legends. There is no 1v1 in a game of Summoners Rift.
How Counters really work
There are two types of counters in games.
A hard counter means that by having the counter, you pretty much win. Red Alert 3 used this system. Even if you had more troops of one type, so long as you had the counter, you would win. This is also common with vehicles in a lot of games, you need to use the appropriate type of weapon to drop the target or it will be largely ineffective. Many people have a misconception that most counter picks are hard counters, when they are not. Most counter-picks are actually soft-counters
A soft counter is when you have an advantage over the enemy but your advantage is not nearly enough for you to simply win by having it. It does require decent play on your part, but you can win it if things go correctly. For example, Vayne is a counter-pick to high health champions. That does not mean she instantly wins against Mundo/Cho'gath, but if her team line backs for her, she can take down champions with massive health pools faster and easier than many other choices. Jax is considered to have a positive match-up against Riven, that does not mean Riven just loses, but Jax does have an edge in a 1v1. So you might say Riven was "counter picked" but the actual meaning is vague as she isn't hard countered in lane, just potentially soft countered. And I say potentially because of the above assumptions, if one of those are off, then the theory match-up can change dramatically.
Strategy vs. Tactics in Match-ups:
Sometimes when talking about match-ups, someone might say something like "Do this, do this and that, win lane." You try it, you fail and you get raged at. The person doling out advice missed quite a few steps in there. To illustrate some of what I am talking about, I will use two terms. Now you might get into a argument with me over the use of the words, but quite frankly it is not important. These words are used and misused all the time, so for the purpose of this discussion, run with my definitions.
A tactic is a set of individual actions or set-ups that are apart of an overall strategy. For example, if I tell you how to win a Renekton match-up, I tell you to all-in someone at lvl 2 using a full AD rune page. Diving into the enemy champion at lvl 2 and the use of highly offensive runes are tactics that are apart of a greater "win early game" strategy. Most people talk about tactics and believe they apply in all situations. Most champion builds are tactics that are apart of a greater strategy. Adhering to the same tactics (and as such, the same strategy) all the time will not help your understanding of the game and cost you wins.
This is a loaded word but here goes. A strategy in league of legends (in regards to a match-up) is a general principle of how to play. If you are in a highly aggressive match-up, you could adopt the "win early game" strategy and snowball from there. Or you could adopt a more defensive "Counter his early aggression" strategy and punish him for trying to be so aggressive. You could even adopt a general "wait and see what he does" strategy and adjust based on that. A strategy is inherently more flexible than tactics as the tactics can change but the strategy remains the same.
When approaching match-ups then, you need to understand what each champions general strategy is and what your champions strategy is. Then adopt what tactics you can take to either get your strategy to work or what you can do to shut down their strategy.
Understanding the strategies involved is the heart of how match-ups work.
You identify their strategy based on their tactics, then adjust yours to stop them. If you see they have a full AD rune page, you can bet early aggression in on the table. Ran Teleport instead of Ignite? We can assume they will not be trying to kill you by themselves. So if they do suddenly start playing aggressive, you can make a quick guess something is up.
Counter-picking and match-ups is almost an art. There are a lot of assumptions made about match-ups and that leads to massive discrepancies in levels of play. This is part of the reason you see people succeed with playing just one champion, they know the match-ups so well, they can outplay even when they are actually at theoretical disadvantage. Let me make one final thing clear as well, just because you were counter-picked or you counter-picked them, does not mean you lose/win. It just changes the nature of how the fight works. Hopefully this makes match-ups much more clear to everyone.