Coaching to Gold: A guide to playing top lane

Known as the island to many, the top lane has always been a lane where players could test their mettle against other players in an isolated 1v1 situation. Eventually, the loser gets pushed out of lane and the winner takes over one side of the map, becoming a huge nuisance for their enemies.

Dealing with a fed splitpusher or beefy tank in the top lane can be one of the most aggravating experiences in League of Legends for the simple reason that they have the largest global impact due to the Teleport summoner spell and can apply pressure to any point on the map.

So why not be that nuisance and pick up a some easy LP along the way? This top lane guide will go over the kinds of champions worth playing, the easy way to win lanes, and the ways to use Teleport optimally in an effort to get you up to gold.

Picking a champion

Splitpushing choices: Fiora, Jayce, Kennen, Fizz, Kled

While splitpushers make up the majority of solo queue top laners, a variety of champions can be played on the island. Generally speaking, splitpushers can create pressure on the opposite side of the map and draw attention from multiple enemies which can help give your team the edge they need to win their respective lanes. Once they do that, they can also duel effectively and stall any roaming enemies by either trading kills or escaping their pursuit.

Tank choices: Gragas, Nautilus, Shen

Tanks are another option in the top lane. Though not as flashy as splitpushers, tanky champions still do enough damage early and are easy to climb the ladder with due to the fact that they come with less of a mechanical burden on you. They are also more simple to itemize for, as they can build up enough tanky stats before most teams have access to damage. This makes them an even greater nuisance in the early game and allows for an easier snowballing effort.

Harassing in lane

As covered in previous articles, part of being an effective lane is identifying when you’re able to win trades against opponents. In top lane, knowing what your opponent has in terms of durability and sustain is really important to determining whether or not you can push them out of lane. Pushing someone out of lane and forcing them to use their Teleport is a great play that can net you a larger advantage as it gives you the option to use your Teleport proactively.

Understanding your lane opponent’s trade pattern and how they’re likely to attack you is key to winning the lane, but more important than that is understanding minions and the damage they deal at early levels. Understanding lane minions can very well be the difference between winning or losing a trade, so don’t underestimate those little guys as face-tanking their auto attacks is not recommended. If enemy minions do attack you instead of your own minions, it will also push the lane, which will make you more susceptible to ganks. For more general information on harassing in lane, read our guide which covers what to think about when harassing and how to exploit your enemy’s movements.

Wave control

As a top laner, you’ll normally be alone in lane in the same vein as your mid laner. The major difference between the two solo lanes, though, is that the top lane is much longer which means that where creeps are colliding has a greater impact on how you lane against your opponent. If the waves collide near the enemy’s turret, it’s really hard to push up and harass your opponent unless you have information on where the jungler is and how safe you are from ganks.

As a result, how you control where creeps will be is a clever way to climb effectively. Most pros do this intuitively, and are able to see the position of waves and predict where they’ll be if left unattended Though Gold ELO does not require that kind of foresight, you’ll find yourself building up massive advantages if you can get the basics down.

So when managing side waves, just try to remember the following:

  1. Minion waves on your half of the map will eventually “bounce,” meaning that they’ll start to build up and rampage on the other half of the map.
  2. Melee minions are very tanky, so clearing caster minions and last hitting melee minions are an easy way to create a slow pushing army of minions.
  3. Click on minions on occasion to see whether they get the bonus damage and damage reduction. This will further help you understand how a wave will push.
  4. Leaving three or four minions alive outside of your turret is normally enough to freeze the incoming minion waves in the same place they were held at.

Using Teleport

One of the major ways in which the top lane is different from other lanes is the fact that top laners take Teleport as one of their summoner spells. Because of this, the top lane highly influences the rest of the map due their ability to be in any lane at any point.

Teleport in the early game can be used in a few ways:

  1. Coming back into lane with an item advantage.
  2. Giving up top pressure to gank another lane and secure first blood and/or first tower.
  3. Matching the teleport of your opponent to maintain pressure.

For the first situation in particular, this can be a great strategy if you leave the wave in an awkward place (such as slightly pushing in your favor). This can allow you to come back, push in heavily, and use that priority you've established to completely take over the enemy's top side jungle with vision and through denying plants and jungle camps.

In each of these situations, you want to be proactive in looking around the map. The F1-F5 keys will help you do this, by centering your camera on your allies. Remember that Teleports can be canceled with hard crowd control, so try to avoid using Teleport in front of enemies who have it.

Later on, you want to figure out how exactly your champion works with Teleport. Are you a good flanker who wants to Teleport behind enemies, or a big tank that wants to be in front of the fight for your team? Are you a splitpusher who wants to use teleport to build up waves and stretch the map, or are you a teamfighter who wants to constantly teleport into skirmishes and teamfights? Answering these questions in the pre-game lobby will be important to being a successful top laner.

Gabriel Zoltan-Johan is a News Editor at theScore esports and the head analyst for the University of Toronto League of Legends team. His (public) musings can be found on his Twitter.

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