This is the draft of an article I am thinking of sending to Brokenmyth - I’d appreciate hearing forumer’s thoughts, feedback etc before I do so.
A bit more than a year ago I published a series of articles trying to define and establish a strategic approach to playing 5v5 VG. There have been quite a few changes to gameplay since then (particularly move speed changes, and changes to hero tankiness & ambient gold/experience). As such I thought it was time to comment on what I see as the state of play of the strategic understanding of 5v5 both in competitive play and in general high tier ranked play.
Its been interesting to see the community develop its understanding of the gameplay in 5v5 especially post the recent changes to the jungle.
It seems to me that at least at the tiers I play at people often now have a good understanding of the early game and laning phase in terms of working their lane successfully, but that they tend to try to continue to apply that same understanding and behaviour for the whole game, which then works against them and their team.
So what should players do in the early game? Lets break it down role by role.
Bot Lane (ie WP Auto Attack Hero - could potentially be played out of other lanes if the match up is better)
In early game bot lane’s job primarily is to get as farmed up as possible - this means playing safe and hitting those CS. Bot lane is likely to be one of your team’s primary damage threats in late game and their focus needs to be on getting there as fast as possible. While they can potentially (if early game oriented) potentially dunk on the opposing top laners, and often it is bot lane’s turret which is taken first if your team is doing well these are lower priorities than farming up safely. Pushing should only be done with plenty of vision and support from at least one other player to ensure that bot can escape with their life if the enemy jungler comes in for a gank, or the enemy mid rotates down the river. Safe cautious farm oriented play will put your team in a dominant position in mid to late game.
Mid Lane (CP AoE damage hero - could potentially be played out of other lanes but suits mid due to the CP Buff’s proximity and the usual ability of this sort of hero to farm safely solo).
Like the bot laner Mid is going to a primary damage output in late game - dropping heavy AoE damage on the enemy team. A very basic understanding of VG Team fights is that mid outputs indiscriminate damage against the whole enemy team, whilst bot either finishes off the stragglers or picks off high value enemy targets. So again farm is the most important thing for a mid laner, which means playing safe and only pushing if you have support (a dead mid cannot farm). As mid you do go directly against your opposing mid most of the time, so if you can put them behind and dominate mid that sets your team up to dominate in the later game, and controlling mid makes it easier for your team to rotate using the river for quick ganks. If you see an opportunity to take a turret, gank or protect bot/top it is often worth taking it from mid, as long as you can be safe while you rotate and mid won’t get the turret pushed or lose much farm by rotating. If your jungler rotates into the enemy jungle to try to take a buff you should either rotate with them, or push out your lane and prepare to rotate if they need support. Likewise if the enemy rotates into your jungle you should do the same.
Top lane is an interesting role at the moment since you can either play it as a secondary damage dealer, or as a provider of team utility. Having a secondary damage dealer is useful if you aren’t able to get bot or mid online since it gives you a back up, and if they get taken out you can clean up the fight. However it is often hard to farm as a secondary damage dealer and to hold top against what is often a 2v1 because you don’t have the sustain to be able to clear the waves. If you go down this path I’d recommending drafting a top which counters the enemy bot laner (at least and preferably both bot and jungle). Alternatively you might draft a utility top laner like Ardan or Cath whose job is going to be to provide immense CC in team fights. However they too can struggle to hold top for long. So at the moment Top is dominated by heroes such as Lance, Grumpjaw, San Feng, Joule who provide both significant CC, hefty tankiness and high damage outputs for the team. Top’s job is again to farm up, but also as much as possible to try to put the enemy bot laner behind by disrupting their ability to farm, punishing over-extension, freezing the wave to force them forward and so on. If the enemy top laner is smart enough to play safe and freeze their lane under their turret, then rather than over extending and risking getting ganked it might be better to rotate down to mid for a gank/ to siphon ambient (if the Captain sees you doing this they should rotate to bot). Likewise if your jungler is invading the enemy red buff you should push out your wave and rotate to help them, and if the enemy is invading your blue buff you should drop to help defend this if you can do so safely.
rather like top many heroes can be successfully played from the jungle and the type of hero largely dictates the playstyle of the jungler depending on whether they are going for a secondary damage dealer, a single target assassin, team utility or flanking/ganking. The jungler should take the majority of the jungle farm (although mid might take CP buff and bot WP buff sometimes) as well as gain ambient gold from the lanes they rotate through. Their rotation should involve ganking enemy lanes and potentially stealling enemy jungle creeps if they can do so safely. At very high levels of play junglers should be signalling to laners which lane they intend to rotate to and whether they are going to try to gank in which case the laner should freeze the lane to try and draw the enemy into over extending or they are going to push, at which point the laner might push in the lane to prepare to push their turret with the jungler’s support. The rest of the team should move and rotate around the jungler - in many ways their force is the pivot point, the fulcrum which dictates where your team pressure is applied.
Captain’s role is to keep their carries safe, provide CC and healing for the team and often to maintain vision control. Captain heroes unsurprisingly excel in this role. In early game the Captain should try to help pressure mid, rotate to relieve pressure or to gank other lanes, and to support the jungler on invades or in responding to invades. Its a role that requires you to be at all places at all times so expect a bunch of sarcastic thumbs up pings from your laners when you arrive just too late to save their over-extending lives.
Transitioning to mid game
The transition point to mid game is not that clear, but effectively it is when you should switch from primarily farming to primarily trying to take objectives and win team fights. My usual rule of thumb is once your turret or the enemy turret in your lane has dropped you need to change your behaviour. Two of the mantra’s I try to drill into the teams I have coached is that “it is not your farm, it is the team’s farm” and it is not your lane, it is the the team’s lane”. Both of these apply at this point of the game. While farming is still important, treating it as if you have a divine right to be the only one who clears your lane is a mistake, clearing that lane is important to keep your team’s turrets safe and your time and fire power is likely to be more useful elsewhere. Here is a very common example of what not to do as a bot laner:
You have won the early game, out-traded the enemy bot laner, got a couple of kills, and with the help of a timely gank by the jungler pushed and took the first bot turret, awesome! Now you think, “well I got one turret might as well sit here in bot lane Doing what worked and push the second turret”.
Wrong! This is inviting a collapse onto you, especially if you keep on solo pushing your lane and after a couple of those any advantage you might have gained will have been handed over to the enemy as a bounty… well done! For bonus points you can ping your teammates for failing to support your glorious efforts.
Instead once your team has taken bot your team should rotate its Attention to the next most effecient objective for it to focus on, be that top, mid or a dragon. As bot laner you are one of the primary damage outputs for your team, so whilst you ought to keep on farming its a waste to simply park you in bot lane where your strength cannot really translate into map pressure and if you are left by yourself without support you become a juicy target for the enemy to shut down and get a turret. There are two or three viable options then - 1. Continue to bot lane but to rotate up the river frequently to gank/push mid. 2. Lane swap with top and push top turret. 3. Have another team member clear bot while you camp and push top or mid consistently until they drop. Each of these involves letting go the idea that you should stick to your lane, and the 2nd two also involve letting go of the idea that bot lane farm is yours exclusively to take. However they also give your team huge map presence and pressure. If your team can have its fire power concentrated its going to be very difficult for the enemy to either defend/contest objectives or avoid handing over kills.
Similarly as top laner if you have managed to push and taken the enemy turret, or if your turret has fallen, its often more effective for you to start rotating to other lanes than to stick in top and try to push that further - someone still needs to protect top and clear the lane of waves of course - but that doesn’t have to be a specific player as long as someone will do it.
Successful mid game play is all about rotating as a team or sub team to defend and contest the highest value/most vulnerable objectives available, whether those are buffs, turrets or dragons, while maintaining the farming capacity of those heroes which are going to be highest impact in late game (usually Mid and Bot).
Transitioning to late game
Once several turrets have fallen (usually at least one in each lane) the game space opens up. This is when vision becomes ever more important, and also when it is vitally important to stick together - while split pushing can occasionally work, more commonly at this point given the lack of vision and the general speed of movement it is asking for a gank, and to hand over control of the game to your opponents. If they can take out one of you without losing someone in return then they can either force the team to contest an objective 4v5 (almost certainly losing) or they can create a period of dominance for themselves by taking one of the dragons. Several games at WESG 2019 were lost on the basis of a late game call to split push that handed over team fight control to the opponents.
Late game is currently won or lost on team fighting, split pushing and rat tactics will only take your team so far - they might get you back into the fight but unless your opponent has zero map awareness and no ability to coordinate, they will not win you the game, what will win you the game is successful late game team fighting. This involves each member of the team performing their part:
Mid should be dishing out large scale AoE damage whilst remaining in a safe position (usually near and behind other team members). Bot should be poking and chipping away as well as executing targets who get caught out. The top and support will typically be protecting Mid & Bot as well as tanking damage, providing CC and pick offs. The jungler will typically be looking for opportunities to flank and to finish off low health targets, hopefully without being picked off themselves (as a side note Junglers who go in alone into what turns out to be a 5 man group are just killing themselves - its rarely a good idea for a jungler to initiate combat).
To be able to do this the team needs to be disciplined - you aren’t going to win a fight if bot is off farming their lane, or worse they are getting ganked, so for the most part rotate as a unit and as rapidly as possible - clearing and pushing lanes is important - but it also gives the opposition vision of you and they can use that to sneak an objective if you don’t have vision in place.
Its extremely important not to make marginal or risky calls - don’t be tempted by that gank if you are alone and you don’t have vision on the rest of the enemy team, most of the time its a bad move. Likewise trying to steal their CP buff might be neat if you pull it off, but again if you get locked down you probably just threw away the game for the sake of a single buff.
Instead as a team determine the highest priority target and focus your resources on that. Even if you don’t agree with the team its better to go with them if you can’t change their mind quickly since you will be more effective doing the wrong thing together, than the right thing apart.