It’s hard to tune into a League of Legends game without hearing a lot of jargon thrown around: rotation, objective, scaling. In this series, I’ll try to clear up some of the jargon one term at a time, by explaining just what it is and showing how teams execute it in game. Without further ado, let’s get to it. The topic of the hour is one of the most mentally taxing – and yet conceptually simple – plays in League of Legends: The Split-Push.
Split-Pushing is a very simple strategy. All things being equal, if you have 1 team member that is stronger than all of their players 1v1, they have to make a choice: send two people to stop him and allow a number’s advantage elsewhere, or let your split-pusher take incremental advantages over theirs. As such, it relies on two important conditions:
If your split-pusher is two weak, they can stop him with only one player, negating the purpose of the strategy. On the other hand, if the rest of their team is too strong, your split-pusher needs to help with the team. There are currently several dominant split-pushers in the meta, but Nidalee is at the forefront. However, champions like Nasus and Jax also make solid split-pushers. There are really two types of split-pushers: early game lane bullies, and late-game monsters.
The bullies, like Nidalee, want to get ahead early, by making aggressive plays to zone their opponent out of cs, or better, pick up early kills. Balls shows off lane-bully Nidalee by putting on a clinic against Complexity, starting with a level 4 1v1 kill.
Once they are ahead, they need to constantly press their advantage, drawing more and more pressure to top lane, allowing their team to make plays elsewhere. If the opposing top laner leaves, however, they should follow, so as to keep on the pressure. Gragas tries to roam bot to make a play, since he’s unable to lane safely in top, and is already pushed out. However, Balls uses teleport to follow, cleaning up a 2 for 1, and helping his team pick up dragon.
Even though the lane is ahead, Meteos doesn’t stop putting pressure on it, and with good reason. Balls needs to be strong enough to handle a continuous 1v1 – and escape any ganks that come his way – before the split-push can really take effect.
Not long later, the first top lane tower goes down, and the split-push begins in earnest, as Balls picks up Trinity Force, and at that point, Gragas really can’t hold the lane, losing his line despite being under his inner turret, which falls shortly thereafter.
At that point, Balls rotates away from top lane – as both exterior towers are down – and he takes up permanent residence in the bot lane. This is the turning point for a splitpush. If Complexity sends any champions to stop Balls, Cloud9 can take an easy baron elsewhere. If they don’t, Balls will take bot lane objective after bot lane objective. He takes the bot outer turret, and Complexity tries to respond with a kill on him, but Cloud9 picks up an objective immediately: mid outer tower.
Eventually, Balls is able to push in on the bot inhibitor, taking it down, and securing the win for his team shortly thereafter.
As you can see, early game bullies can make strong split-pushers, and jungler help early on only makes them more dominant.
On the other hand, some split-pushers simply want to lane safely until a power spike, but become so strong as to be entirely immovable. Jax and Nasus are definitely the top two options for this role, and Dignitas’ ZionSpartan is known for his mastery of both champions. He showed off his chops on Nasus in Game 1 vs TSM. The first difference you’ll notice is this: there are no highlight reel posts for quite some time. TSM is up 9-4 while ZionSpartan’s Nasus is 0/0/0. This is because there are rarely early plays to be made on a champion like Nasus early on against an opponent who knows what they are doing. But when his chance to strike comes, he takes it immediately.
In nthis clip, he has been split-pushing bot, forcing Maokai to stay there. His first action is to join the rest of his team at baron and take baron, but TSM picks up two kills. However, it is only once TSM overextends that Dignitas decides to pick a fight, and ZionSpartan picks up his first kill onto Maokai.
That fight gives him enough gold to get Frozen Heart, reaching 40% CDR, and that is the spike he was waiting for. From that point on, he pushes relentlessly. The push power of Ziggs and Corki forces TSM to keep 4 mid, or lose a tower, and this allows Nasus to simply tank the tower down.
Eventually, ZionSpartan reaches the inhibitor, and Dyrus’ Maokai is simply unable to stop him, and he takes it down neatly.
This pressure on bot forces TSM to go for a baron to try to get something in exchange for the inhibitor, and Dignitas pulls off what might be the coolest baron steal I’ve ever seen, with Kiwikid baiting in the team of TSM while the rest of Dignitas bursted down the remaining health of baron.
The split-pushing continues for another 11 minutes of the same, so I’ll skip to the good part: eventually, ZionSpartan teleports in and takes the rest of the base while his team prevents TSM from returning to defend.
That victory was quite reminiscent of a victory by Cloud9 over Coast in the last week of the Spring Split, another split-pushing clinic.
Split-Pushing is not a strategy for the faint of heart, as it requires the split-pusher to not make any mistakes, and the team to not lose track of where anybody is. As you can see, there is rarely one big play with a split-pusher, but instead a series of small plays that lead to a victory. Essentially, a split-pusher has to make constant clutch decisions, and never be wrong. However, if he can outplay his opponent, he can pull off the victory.
What are your favorite split-pushing moments in the LCS?