This topic was what was voted for so here we go. Reading lanes is perhaps one of the more "difficult" things to teach since it is largely learned by experience, through trial and error. Reading lanes is the ability to be able to see a lane and figure out whether or not that lane can be ganked, this includes paying attention to minions movement, champion placements, predicting ward locations and most importantly, time. I have always wanted to do a thread about this but found it very difficult to explain especially without having prepared tools for it. I figure I can explain the concepts of it here and later explore some more in a follow-up thread.
The idea of reading a lane is being able to guess how the lane is going to go simply by looking at it. I do not exaggerate when I say that this craft is only mastered through a lot of practice. Reading a lane poorly can have consequences that range from simply wasting time to utterly losing your teammate's lane. It requires a high level of patience and attention. You cannot be lazy if you want to dominate through sheer lane reading. However, if you master reading lanes you will be able to maximize your ganking potential, prevent ganks and even dupe wards.
Your most important tool is the mini-map. Worship that thing and pay attention to it as if you had paid it money for a lap dance. Pretty much all the lane reading tactics require you to pay attention to the mini map - at least if you are not on voice communication with some of your teammates. I will be bringing up at how the minimap is used for reading lanes in this thread or in future threads to expand on this. If you do not use the minimap much, then you best get used to it. Keep in mind that this is universal to all lanes (and jungle) since reading lanes is something gankers take advantage of.
This is the most basic form of lane reading and hopefully many players already understand this. If the minions are amassing on one side, then the lane is likely to be pushing against the other side. In simpler terms, players know if a lane is pushing or being pushed. Knowing this simple concept will allow a ganker to figure out if their target will be near their tower or away from their tower. A more advanced concept is that an experienced ganker could also predict what actions his gank target may take and prepare tower dives or ambush ganks or even invasions against a jungler but these will be explained in a later thread.
The most obvious (again hopefully) use of this is to be able to predict where the minions and the target will be by the time you arrive and/or from what direct you should approach the gank. Is the enemy champion at your teammate's tower? A gank from behind or a strong direct gank will punish them severely. If they have a ward blocking their backs (and sides) then the only option is a direct gank!
Think of the minions as a "soft wall" that you have to get around or through in order to murder the gank target. Imagine how your approach will make your teammate react and your target react. Is your teammate in position to help? Will your opponent be able to juke you by simply walking or will they have to burn escapes? Is this easy to explain without visual cues? Yes it is.
The clip above is a perfect example of proper minion reading. The enemy Kha Zix is heavily pushing the lane at the same time I have a teammate that sucks at pushing it back early in the game. After I obtain my blue. the enemy minion wave is being reinforced by yet another wave with a cannon minion. This guarantees the lane will be pushed hard against my teammate. Additionally, the enemy Kha Zix is playing ridiculously aggressive. I could gank from the (bottom) side but the Kha Zix would simply run up the river and potentially juke us with bushes and line of sight. A direct gank would just be stupid because neither Kassadin or I are strong at direct ganks this early. The best option would be to loop around and gank him from behind as he, and his minions, are heavily pushed up. The bonus comes from the fact that he leaps in to harass Kassadin as I am going in. There is no way he could have survived that gank. While one may see it in the video as something rather simple - this thought process becomes second nature to a lot of junglers. You would be surprised by how many players would have just gone to gank from the side and potentially let Kha Zix get away even with a sliver of health or - because they are forced to chase - they run into another of the target's teammates (the jungler) who manages to save him or potentially turn the tide.
Minion movement ties in with the most important factor of lane reading which will be explained later in this thread. All these ideas will be explored more in later topics as they take awhile to dissect at least beyond the scope of this article.
Champion Placement has already been explored a bit by minion movement one but it has some of its own factors to consider as well. This one is more heavily influenced by the mini map than the minion one is for example. By paying attention to the mini map you will be able to tell if where you are headed is dangerous, pointless or good. This goes hand in hand with reading wards as well.
Let us say you are heading up river to gank top lane. As soon as you hit an area near the baron pit the enemy top lane backs off a bit or positions themselves farther from the river. This could mean you just hit the ward. If you keep going, which would mean you are fully crossing the ward now, they completely back off or they skill shot check the fog of war. This immediately tells you that it is pointless to try advancing from your current direction.
In another scenario, say you are invading the enemy jungle or trying to weave your way to a certain location and a lane you are even provoking just disappears, such as mid lane disappearing when you enter the enemy jungle through the wraith camps. This is your immediate signal to ward an escape path or just bail. They may know you are in the area and they may be coming after you. You cannot watch all lanes at the same time so you have to make use of the mini map here. If you notice several of the players disappear from the mini map that just signifies danger. Conversely if you notice them pop up elsewhere it just opens up the enemy jungle to be invaded on the opposite side of the map. That means that if the enemy mid laner shows up bottom then you will not have to deal with them if you choose to invade a part of the enemy jungle that they are far away from.
If the enemy laner is ever near a bush or a line-of-sight defended area then that can be the best place to initiate a gank from. Take mid as an example, if the enemy laner is leaning towards one of the side bushes heavily then it is advisible to initiate your gank from there. You may simply be able to open up with your crowd control or even just walk up to them and stab them to force out their escapes. Loop ganks on mid are difficult (due to most ward positions blocking them) but they are often the strongest. These are initiated when the enemy laner is near a location that gives you fog of war advantage and you simply bust out. It is a lot easier to understand if you can visually see it, so while this is a season 2 video it is the best example I have at hand (note it is only the first Hecarim scene that matters).
Those are four basic examples of how champion placement or movement can give away what the enemy is planning. There are more advanced concepts in this reading, but I cannot go through all of them here. However, I will explain one advanced one in this article.
If you become experienced at reading champion movements (or reading lanes at large) then you could also predict where the enemy jungler may show up. If you see that your teammate is not placing themselves correctly and doing some dumb things then they may be a target for the enemy jungler. If you see the enemy laner start playing aggressively such as trying to position themselves to be able to initiate a gank or trying to harass your teammate down then that could signal and upcoming gank. You can prepare an appropriate counter gank by following the same procedures already detailed. Keep in mind they can bait out your counter gank too for a counter-counter gank if your teammate gives away that you're preparing for one. It can go on and on.
In this video there are two clips and pay attention to the mini map and how the enemy players move and do not react. The Ryan Gosling Lee Sin clip shows the enemy Master Yi ganking top lane. He does not kill my teammate or do extensive damage, he then starts walking back to the jungle and towards me meaning there is no ward in this location. An ambush gank is ideal and I initiate it. A huge fight ensues and he dies - though honestly he could have walked away. The second clip shows me clearing mid until I notice the enemy Lee Sin walking towards top. He makes it to the bush and then backs off a bit. This makes me think he noticed me leave mid via watching his mini map. I hide in the bush for a bit until I notice him walk back up yet again. I know I can make it to the blue golem area by the time he gets down so I beeline to there and hide behind a line-of-sight protected area. Lee Sin walks up, I ambush gank him, he tries to run and dies. I notice Kha Zix heading up here as well and I do the same to him. In all honesty, the second death was just dumb. This clip also shows on the mini map how my teammate reacted to the enemy jungler coming up to try to gank them. The Lee Sin should have understood that he could not gank Quinn the first time he went up there because she backed off. He read the lane wrong/slowly and paid for it.
One of the funniest comments I receive in my videos is the whole "omg you're fighting vs scrubs they don't ward" which tends to be a very ignorant statement. A lot of my targets do have wards I just know how to dupe a lot of them. Ward duping can be very complicated and I am probably not the best at teaching this concept. You really need to be very experienced at this game to be able to completely understand how to gank secure targets. It is easily explainable on how to do it in the early game though. Later in the game when people start buying an unpredictable amount of wards it gets difficult.
I already explained a bit of this in champion placement. Essentially if the enemy behaves different all of a sudden and you are nearby that may mean you just triggered a ward and they are preparing for you. To be on the safe side if they do not react and you feel there should obviously be a ward there then that means they have a counter gank prepared or some other measures to deal with you so do be cautious.
I will explain how to read ward drops early in the game since a lot of lower level games can be decided by doing this properly. First and foremost, you NEED to know how many wards the enemy decided to start off with. Check their items as soon as you can count up their gold. Always assume that, if they had to the gold for it, they bought a ward if their total item gold worth does not sum up to starting gold. It really helps if your teammates let you know where the enemy has placed any wards and if they did it in front of them (aka side bushes). Either way you have to pay an enormous amount of attention the mini map during the first few moments of the game. If you see the enemy support roam - take notice of how many wards they had before they disappeared and how many they have coming back. If they come back with less than before then you can assume they placed them from wherever they may have just come back from. A special thing for being able to tell where exactly they placed it will be explained in the next factor.
Always assume a larger area is off-limits than average. You do not know exactly where they placed the wards so assume it could have been multiple different spots. With that assumption in mind, any of those spots are danger zones. After taking all the above into account, simply take advantage of potential blind spots and go gank the lane - sometimes this involves taking a very long path or cutting in between walls with wall hops. That said, if they see you coming then you will know you messed up and a ward saw you but at least you now know where the ward probably is.
It is also VERY important to know when they were placed. If you have the approximate time of their placement down then you can you can plan ahead and ambush them when they try to replace the wards or just go for a gank through their new blind spot.
In the video for both examples the most common ward dupe is the early bottom lane gank. It is very predictable really that most supports will ward tri-bush and side bushes while leaving river exposed. The first one shows me as Dr. Mundo and the Soraka had only one ward left. Soraka had placed a ward in the tri-bush and in one of the side bushes while having used her explorer ward earlier to scout double golems. My teammates informed me about the side bush wards and I saw her disappear to place the tri-bush ward. I simply went for a long gank through river making sure to hug the wall just in case. I show up for the gank and they die - simple as that. The Skarner scenes shows a similar situation actually. The enemy Janna had no crucial wards down and thus they were obviously blind. They were also incredibly pushed out and Tristana decided to try going in for a kill. This made the gank insanely easy to approach and equally as easy to kill the Tristana. I had not intended to gank bottom lane, I was hoping to go for top but I noticed the Janna's lack of warding and their super aggressive positions. This made me consider bottom lane an easy gank which is usually hard for a Skarner pre-6 to gank.
Time and Place
Time and Place has already been explored in all the other concepts in bits and pieces. Champion placement allows you to initiate powerful ambush ganks if you measure their movement and coordinates versus theirs. Minion waves allow you to figure out if you could get to a lane in time before an opportunity disappears or if an opportunity will likely appear within that time frame. You can guess invasion safety by having figuring out how long it would take for the enemy to respond to you even if they knew you were there.
Time is simply the most important concept and this one comes heavily from experience. Simply knowing how to move about the map is not enough. You need to know how everyone else moves and could move around. A good example of this involves ward duping. Let us say you are watching top lane and they have a ward. The enemy top lane goes off into the fog of war and disappears for a very brief moment and comes back without a ward. The amount of time they took could tell you where they placed the ward. Since they took very little time that could mean they placed the ward in the river bush or nearby. If they took much longer to return to the lane then that could mean they placed it further down the river - or that they are even roaming. If mid lane disappears and has been gone for longer than you feel they should be gone, especially if the minion wave is pushing against them, you can predict they are roaming or hunting you down.
Time allows you to create opportunities or it denies you of opportunities. The mini map comes into play by allowing you to pay attention to a dozen things at once. Where are you in relation to where you want/need to be and where everyone else is. This is difficult to teach people because it is gained through sheer experience and practice.
In these video examples you can see me take my precious time doing certain things yet still show up at the right time to turn a lane around. In the Rammus one I cleared my blue and was thinking of performing a direct gank at bottom but I noticed Singed pushing top lane with Riven hopelessly trying to push it back. I measured how long it would take me to get there and I figured I would arrive by the point that Singed barely gets the minions to the tower and hopefully he had not backed off. I go all the way from Blue to top lane and secure a kill. The first Xin Zhao clip shows me clearing parts of my jungle while I wait for Elise to be pushed up to my teammate's tower. I arrive in time and easily commence the gank for a kill. The next clip shows me once again clearing part of my jungle and walking through the side bushes to hide myself and I arrive at the right time to ambush the Elise for another kill. It is all about measuring how long every action will take you and weighing it against an imaginary timer you have going before opportunities become to difficult or disappear.
Have you ever seen those junglers (or gankers) that simply show up out of nowhere and you're stuck asking yourself, "Where the hell did they come from?" This is why. Players who have this down understand opportunity cost and can read lanes perfectly. They make incredible use of their resources, time and enact a great deal of pressure without much cost to themselves. This in turn also can make certain match ups very stale as players will try to find a single mistake in the others play to take advantage of. It's a beautiful game of chess.