Solo-Queue Team Composition: The Tragedy of the Commons



Mon 15th Apr 2013 - 5:15pm

Rampant Idiocy: I'd like mid, but I can fill.
Summoner 2: Top
Summoner 3: Top
Summoner 5: My best is AD Carry, but I can support.
Summoner 4 has joined the lobby
Summoner 4: I call mid!
Rampant Idiocy: Well, no, I called it.
Summoner 4: Its clear on my screen that you haven't said anything yet.
Rampant Idiocy: But you just...

And as such, the team's communication died a sad, lonely death. This week I'm going to look at one of the most tragic things about ranked solo-queue - when teams refuse to communicate over team composition. Team composition can win or lose us the game before minions have spawned, so it is amazing that its neglected so much. A good team composition can win you the game even if your team isn't as innately talented as the other squad, so picking one up can be the advantage you need to climb the ranks of your League.

Why is Communication So Hard? - The Prisoner's Dilemma

Its a good question, really, as cooperation is in the best interest for everyone on the team. So why do so many people enter champion select and start spamming roles? Well, to understand this, its neccessary to understand a common Game Theory game called the Prisoner's Dilemma.

In the Prisoner's Dilemma, two criminals are caught after robbing a bank, but the cops don't have enough evidence to incarcerate either of them for the robbery, but they can both be put in jail on a weapons charge. So they split up the criminals and ask them both to defect on the other. If neither of them defects, they'll both spend a year in prison, but they'll get out and be able to spend the money they stole. If one of them defects, they get away scot free, while the other spends life in a maximun-security prison. However, if they both defect, they're both put in prison for 20 years and the money they stole is forfeited. So, what do the criminals do? Its in both of their best interests to cooperate, but they don't know if the other person is going to defect.

The Prisoner's Dilemma

The game for you game theory enthuisiasts. Image courtesy of

Since they aren't sure if they're going to be defected on or not, their only choice is to defect, as it assures them a higher pay off, no matter what the other person chooses. Anything is better than going to prison for life. So, what does the Prisoner's Dilemma have to do with champ select? Its the same sort of game, except the choices have changed. If you choose to cooperate, and your teammate chooses not to, you get stuck in whatever your least favorite role is, so in my case Jungler.

However, if I refuse to cooperate, and he chooses to cooperate, I get to go carry as a mid laner. If we both refuse, while the team is worse off and has a lower chance to win, we both get positions we're at least comfortable with. If we both cooperate, the team is in a better spot overall and we probably will get roles we enjoy. It is different than the Prisoner's Dilemma, however, is that we have the ability to communicate, and so we won't suffer from the incomplete information that the people in the story do.

However, even with communication, it doesn't ensure our cooperation. You might say you are the best Twisted Fate in the world, but I'm no more willing to believe you now that you've said that. Communication, while it helps, doesn't inherently change the outcome of the Prisoner's Dilemma, because there is no trust. So how can you make people willing to trust you in champion select?


Getting a Role - Bargaining

Basically, you have about 3 minutes to bargain with your teammates and try to get a team composition worked out, before the first pick is made. While you're yelling about roles, you also are yelling about bans, so theres tons of information, insults, and picks being shouted out. So, in all this chaos, what exactly are you supposed to do? First, make it clear what your preferences is, but don't start out by screaming "mid or feed". That sort of brinksmanship kills all the cooperation that could have been developed during the period, and makes it clear to the rest of your team that you are going to defect. Instead say, "I'd like X, but I can fill. My worst position is Y". By being polite and making your preferences known, you make it clear to your team that you are willing to cooperate and that you are going to be willing to make concessions.

In order to bargain you have two ways to do it. You either make a credible threat or a credible commitment. Well, you making a credible threat is completely counter-intuitive to this exercise. Thats what the whole "mid or feed" thing was about, as it just ensures discontent and invites team dissention. By sacrificing the role you most want, however, you can make a credible commitment to the team's overall best interest. By making this commitment, you say that "I want this team to succeed". If you don't want to sacrifice your role, you can also attempt to mediate dissent in your team. Basically, this portion of champion select, you need to install yourself as a stable force in your team.

After you've been given a role, its time to talk team comp. Don't allow others to derail the composition conversation, otherwise you might end up with the Zyra, Caitlyn, Fiora, Ryze, and Rammus. I realize that's an extreme example, but I've ended up with teams that have absolutely no synergy that result in our team being steamrolled in teamfights. Now, you don't need to set up a completely professional composition, but look for teams with synergy. Be a stickler in particular for synergy between your Support and Carry and your Jungler and Top Laner, as those two pairs need to cooperate the most for your team to succeed. 


Simple Team Compositions

Now that you've established roles and the counter is slowly approaching zero, talk about what type overall team composition you want. If you end up going all out on one of these compositions, it will give your team a defined goal and will give them a clear path during teamfights. Here are the five simplest compositions (that most other compostions are variations of) that you can talk your team into during champion select. In each section I'll give a number of champions who can fit these compositions, however they are not an exhaustive list of such champions.

The Poke Comp

Because 1.1 k damage spears are fair.

If you've played a ranked game, you're probably familiar with this composition. The reason is that it is possibly the easiest team composition to guide your team into, as the goal of the team is to harass the heck out of the opposing team. Now, while there are some All-Stars in this composition such as Jayce, Nidalee, or Urgot, these aren't entirely necessary for a functional poke composition. This composition also gives the Carry and Mid player the most variety in their champion choice, while the Top laner is slightly cornered in his potential choices, although champions that give your team the ability to turn your harass into an instant fight are very powerful. Junglers should focus toward strong disengaging champions, while Supports such as Nami and Sona give poke while giving you powerful disengage abilities. 

Example Champions
Top Lane
- Nidalee, Jayce, Kha'Zix, Vladimir, Rumble, Elise
Jungler - Maokai,  Malphite, Diana, Kayle, Fiddlesticks
Mid Laner - Ahri, Nidalee, Xerath, Ziggs, Kha'Zix, Lux
AD Carry - Urgot, Caitlyn, Ezrael,  Corki, Varus, Kog'Maw
Support -  Janna, Sona, Lulu, Nami, Alistar, Soraka


AOE Compositions

Similarily easy to shoehorn your team into are area-of-effect comps, where the goal of the match is to blow all your ultimates at the same time and disintegrate their team. This type of composition goes into and out of vogue, with Empire (Karth/Nunu) and Curse of the Sad Bullet Time (Amumu/MF) being the best examples of it being used in competitive play. The point of these compositions is for each player to have an incredibly powerful AOE ability, usually their ultimate, and to throw them out at once (or perhaps staggered if they're all CC) to completely destroy opposing team. Of special not for these compositions are those champions that can keep people in one spot for a long duration, such as Jarvan IV, Amumu, and Zyra. These champions become invaluable in getting your entire teams combo off. Also, beware enemy champs that disperse to disengage such as Janna and Gragas, as they can disrupt your entire team's strategy. 

Example Champions
Top Lane
- Rumble, Vladimir, Malphite, Cho'Gath,  Kennen, Wukong
Jungler -  Amumu, Maokai, Malphite, Jarvan IV, Sejuani
Mid Laner - Xerath, Ziggs, Orianna, Karthus, Cassiopeia, Morgana, Evelynn
AD Carry - Miss Fortune,  Draven, Corki, Twitch, Graves
Support - Sona, Zyra, Nami, Lulu, Leona, Nunu

Dive Compositions

Where as the poke comp was designed around attempting to slowly harassing the opposing team until their health bars have been whittled away, dive compositions focus around isolating and eliminating single targets incredibly quickly. These compositions are highlighted by extremely high burst damage, strong single target CC, and lots of gap closers. Stars in this style of composition are Diana, Nocturne, Malphite, and Vi, as it is incredibly hard to stop them from erasing a team's carry from existance. Any other champion that has two of those three characteristics is also a viable addition to this sort of team comp. Fear champions like Zilean, Kayle, Yorick, who are able to make your dive futile while champions such as Amumu and Janna can stop it in its tracks. In this comp, the AD Carry either needs to dive with the team (such as Urgot) or be able to fend for themselves in the counter-attack.

Example Champions
Top Lane -
Malphite, Riven, Jayce, Singed, Rengar, Renekton, Olaf
Jungler - Malphite, Vi, Nocturne, Diana, Nautilus, Hecarim, Jarvan IV, Maokai
Mid Laner - Diana, Fizz, Zed, Lux, Akali, Kassadin, Orianna
AD Carry -  Urgot, Corki, Caitlyn, Ezrael, Graves
Support - Leona, Thresh, Lulu, Zyra, Taric, Alistar

Protect-the-Kog Compositions

Protect-the-Kog compositions are exactly what they say on the tin, the team revolves around a hyper-carry AD Carry and the protecting of such a character during teamfights. The real risk with these compositions is the confidence you have in your AD Carry's ability to position himself in teamfights. If you have trust in your AD Carry, however, these compositions have the clearest goal during teamfights -- Kog'Maw must survive. Picking up a hyper-carry is necessary for these situations, so Vayne, Twitch and Kog'Maw are the stars of these comps. Dive compositions are a nightmare for these comps, but if you can survive the onslaught, your team is in good shape.

Example Champions
Top Lane -
Yorick, Singed, Shen, Irelia, Jayce, Wukong, Darius
Jungler - Maokai, Kayle, Jarvan IV, Trundle, Amumu
Mid Laner - Morgana, Lux, Kayle, Anivia, Gragas, Karthus
AD Carry -  Vayne, Kog'Maw, Twitch, Caitlyn
Support - Thresh, Lulu, Taric, Alistar, Janna, Soraka


Split Push Compositions

Possibly the most aggrivating of these compositions to play against, the split push compositions theme is "divide and conquer". By continuously pressuring objectives on opposite sides of the map, the team forces their opponents to divide their forces, allowing the splitting team to build up an advantage over time. However, to prevent the opposing team from engaging 5 vs 3 at an objective, split push teams make good use of Summoner Teleport and global range ultimates, and rely on champions that can push quickly and escape quickly. The All-Stars in this composition are the top lane trinity of Shen, Nidalee, and Singed, who can survive in 1v2 and 1v3 situations, while having incredible pushing power. The way to counter out split push comps is good communication, and because this is solo-queue, you're in good shape.

Example Champions
Top Lane -
Shen, Nidalee, Singed, Garen, Rumble, Zed
Jungler - Jarvan IV, Shen, Xin Zhao, Volibear, Nasus
Mid Lane - Morgana, Anivia, Twisted Fate, Diana, Kayle, Ziggs
AD Carry - Sivir, Graves, Ezreal, Corki, Quinn and Valor, Draven
Support - Lulu, Blitzcrank, Nunu, Janna, Soraka



However, don't feel constrained by these compositions, and don't fret if your team doesn't fall straight into one. The goal of this exercise is to get you talking about team comp in champion select, so that no team needs to suffer Janna/Morgana again. Be calm, be constructive, and don't let someone defect on you, as you know that while it gives him the highest short-term reward, it also hurts the team.