Core Skills: Anticipation

One of the most fundamental requirements of any game is the ability to anticipate the actions of your opponents. There is no ultra quick way to immediately master this skill because the only way to know what people are likely to do is by experiencing it.

There are at least two sides to each experience (one for each person present) and you get the most out of it if you put yourself in your opponents’ mindset. If you push your lane to the enemy tower, you can imagine what the enemy jungler is thinking: That guy needs killing.

If your own jungler is on the ball, or you mention it, you can anticipate the enemy jungler gank in this way and have your own jungler get into the mix.

Take this farther. Every moment in lane, you need to get into the head of your opponents — and not just the one a few feet from you, but all of them. What are they planning, what can you do to ruin their day without them anticipating your actions.

Anticipation requires an understanding of what your champion can do and what each of your enemy champions can do, because that gives you sense of their limits and how far any given action will take them — in the sense of movement rate and positioning, damage, and crowd control.

Anticipation also requires an understanding of the different roles. Knowing that a jungler started with red buff, might lead you to guess where he’ll be in a few minutes… and if he doesn’t show, where he might go after that. Where would you go if you were in his shoes?

As you gain elo, people’s behaviors change. They do more intelligent and efficient things, which can help you if you begin to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. Efficiency beats ignorance, but can make you predictable. Anticipation beats predictability. So, while efficiency is another core skill, you can’t be predictable against good opponents.

On a macro-scale, wards are a great tool for helping you predict where people plan to go and what they plan to do.

On a micro-scale, fights are won through positioning, strategic retreats, and timely engages. I’ve talked before about harassing people as they go in for last hits on minions, forcing choices. This is a form of anticipation — you know they want that minion, so you can take action by either harassing them immediately before getting the minion with the intent of making them miss the minion, or immediately afterward with the intent of avoiding their return basic-attack damage because their auto-attack will be on cool down.

When you don’t know what enemy champions are capable of doing or who they combo their abilities, you are at a major disadvantage. You have no hope of anticipating their next series of actions. This is why it helps to play every champion at least ten games. Just to understand them.

Over time, you’ll play against people who are really good with specific champions and it will help you in future matches anticipate what offensive and defensive actions your opponent might take that are optimal.

For example, when trying to kill Vi, I might step directly in the line of fire of her charging Q, just so that she hits me and stops rather than leaps away. On the surface, it looks like I just was an idiot and took damage, but on a deeper level, I was blocking her escape and the damage was a trade I chose to make.

I could give countless examples of actions I know different champions might take to escape and start anticipating when they are going to do it. A Ziggs can only satchel charge away and leave me behind if he can put it directly between us. If I’m already in the direction he hopes to go, he can’t go that way to safety. I know what he wants, and I have my own plan as to how to stop it.

One of the reasons I’m not going to enumerate the billion little things I think about when playing certain champions against certain other champions is that — beyond that it would take too long — my own actions may not be optimal. You should find the best course of action on your own through practice and experience.

The only thing I can teach you is this simple strategy:

Always put yourself in your enemies’ and allies’ mindset, by asking:

What will they do if they take the best action possible?

Maybe it seems over simplified or maybe too much Yoda wisdom. I’m sorry if it does. Trust me though, it makes a huge difference in often you win by stepping out of your own head long enough to figure out what your opponent wants to do and how they are going to do it.

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