A master player's guide to improving as a support
Hi, I'm molamola, a brazillian masters support player. I've played in high elo amateur leagues as a mid laner, before I decided to switch to support this year. My goal with this guide is to give you advice that will both help you to climb during the current support meta and help you improve as a support player even after the meta shifts. I hope it can also help anyone looking to start playing support, but this guide will probably be more effective if you already have a good grasp of the fundamentals of the role and are looking to improve.
To facilitate reading comprehension, as this is a very extensive guide, I've organized the contents of it in two categories:
A. Pre-game stuff
B. In-game stuff
In case it isn't clear, the A category is about theory and information that you need to know before playing, while the B category is about in-game analysis and execution. Feel free to use these bullet points to facilitate your reading. Each topic in the A category will also have a TL;DR in the bottom, but before jumping onto these topics, there's something we first need to discuss:
What is the current bot lane meta?
The current bot lane meta consists of mainly scaling AD Carries. Jinx, Zeri, Jhin and Vayne are currently the top four AD Carries, with Kai'Sa being slightly behind. With that, the new objective bounty sistem and TP changes, the current support meta consists mainly of enchanters, as they're the support class that scales the hardest and synergizes the most with the current ADC meta picks. Many of the current jungle meta picks are also carries that can benefit greatly from enchanters' peel, and the Senna/Janna changes cemented them as two of the "best" supports right now.
These are the ten most picked supports in Plat+ right now. Notice how most of them are enchanters, with the exception of Pyke, Blitzcrank and Thresh, three champions that counter these squishy supports. The other two outliers are Senna and Lux, the former recently got a big buff (and is a scaling utility champion in a way) and the latter being a safe pick that synergizes with some of the top ADCs and does okay into both enchanters and tank supports if played well.
How should you react to this? Well, there are two things you can do: You either get with the meta, or find a way to counter it. I've made it clear this guide is about the latter, as I believe the way to counter this current meta is not only the best way to climb, but also a great way to improve as a support player in general, I'll explain more about that later. Now, onto the guide. Enjoy your reading.
Mindset and playstyle
So, now that we've established what the current bot lane meta looks like, you're probably wondering: How do we counter it? Well, that's a question of mindset and playstyle.
With the current meta consisting of scaling picks in the bot lane and early game/carry picks in the jungle, the best way to counter that is by disrupting your opponent's gameplan, instead of 'playing by the same rules'. Be proactive and play aggressive, and don't allow the enemy bot lane to scale for free, while at the same time giving your jungler more room to grow. As a support, you shouldn't play passively, and that's why going against the current meta is a great way to improve as a player, because it forces you to be proactive and make things happen, instead of just waiting for them to happen. Many support players are too passive, specially if they learned the role by playing enchanters, and that hinders their evolution as a player because that's something you need to grow out of as a support. You are the one player in your team who doesn't have to CS, so all that extra time and focus should go on your planning and map awareness. You must always ask yourself "what are my advantages?" and how to disrupt your enemies. Do that at every point of the game, that alone will give you an edge over supports that don't play proactively enough. Think of what you want to do this game, and what your enemy wants to do, and then try to figure out how to stop them while also executing your own gameplan. An example:
You're Karma/Jinx against Kai'Sa/Nami. Your early levels are way stronger than the enemy bot lane's, specially level one, so you want Jinx to get ahead so she can snowball and Kai'Sa wants to play safe and scale, so take control of the bush early and harass them with your RQ combos and shove the wave to put them under their tower. Q them constantly, auto when you can, get presence in the lane. That's the most important part, you need to have presence in the lane. Don't play reactive, play to win.
Now, what champions does this work with and against? Almost all of them. You can play like this on enchanters, tank supports, mage supports, catchers, anything really, and it works against most bot lanes too. Of course, it's important to know your limits and how much you can do without overextending. That's why you must practice until you get comfortable with what you can do, and watch other people play that matchup too if that helps you. You can't play too aggressive as Lulu against a Nautilus, but you can still harass him if you play the lane right. Always be mindful of the ADC matchups too, you don't want to be trading autos against a Caitlyn and her ranged support if your ADC is a Lucian who can't help much because of the range difference, for example. Sometimes you'll be in a very unfavourable matchup where you can't do much, it happens, but that's not the case most of the time. Don't fall into the trap of playing too safe, sometimes you have to risk it to learn and improve in the long term.
As a final note on mindset, focus on your own gameplay. Sometimes you'll lose because of a bad ADC or team, that can happen, but that won't be the reason you can't climb in the long run, so focus on playing as best as you can. Focus on improving. You're the one who dictates the bot lane, if you focus too much on other people's mistakes, you'll end up playing worse yourself. Still on that note, don't rage queue, you'll just play suboptimally and tilt yourself even more.
Don't play reactive, play to win; Always think of what you want to do and how you can disrupt your opponent's gameplan while also executing your own; Be aggressive, always ask what your advantages are; Practice and watch other people play, learn your limits; You're the support, you need to make things happen.
Your planning should start at the champion select. You don't want to end up in a bad matchup where you're forced to play with a disadvantage because you counterpicked yourself, or picked a champion that has anti-synergy with your ADC. That said, keep in mind that you shouldn't pick something you're not comfortable with just because it's good in your current game, as many counterpicks in the bot lane can be played around, so prioritize picking champions you're comfortable with.
As a side note, if you want to play proactively then you should avoid picking purely scaling champions that promote a passive playstyle like Sona, Soraka, Seraphine and Senna. While there's room for proactiveness while playing them, you are very limited to what you can do compared to other supports. You can still pick them, but avoid doing it often. If you want my opinion on what to ban on the current patch, I ban Janna because she's both very popular and very strong at the moment and I want to avoid Top Jannas with Smite in my games, but you can ban whatever champion you want. Now, onto the actual topic:
Matchups and counterpicks
All supports have favourable and unfavourable matchups, assuming both sides are playing optimally, but since that's not usually the case in SoloQ, many unfavourable matchups can be played around.
As an example, we have the Morgana vs. Pyke matchup, where Morgana is a counterpick to Pyke because of her Black Shield nullifying his entire kit and him not being able to break it since he has no magic damage, and she can CC lock him if he goes in. Makes sense, right? Well, sort of, because the cooldown of Pyke's Q is 10 seconds at level one, meanwhile Morgana's E at level one has a 24 second cooldown, so if Morgana uses her E to counter Pyke's Q, he has a 14 second window to hook her again. A good Pyke player will abuse that 9 second window to engage on the enemy bot lane with either a hook or E+Flash combo, so Morgana has to hold her E for as long as possible and only use it if it's really necessary. She still needs to be good at dodging Pyke's Q, otherwise her shield will be always on cooldown and she'll be wasting a lot of mana. Eventually Pyke will be able to engage on her or her ADC if she keeps doing this. She can't just throw her Q all the time either, or she loses the threat that the ability represents. The same is also true for a number of other "Morgana vs. engage support" matchups, so even though everyone knows Morgana counters Nautilus, Leona and Alistar, she still has to know the limits of the matchup.
Also keep in mind that supports often have more than one counterpick. Using Pyke as an example again, if you're not comfortable playing Morgana (or just not comfortable with that specific matchup), you can pick a tank champion like Nautilus or Taric, who can CC him if he goes in and peel for their ADC, leaving Pyke vulnerable, while also being tanky enough to not be threatened by him. They don't have the same control of the wave as Morgana, and have the disadvantage of being melee, but they can be better than her against Pyke depending on the situation, and you should always favor them if you're more comfortable with their kits.
Speaking of counterpicks, something just as important is having synergy with the ADC, or at least not having anti-synergy. You don't want to pick Soraka if your ADC is a Draven, for example, because while one wants to play safe and scale, the other needs to play aggressively and get an early lead, so you'd be essentially sabotaging your own ADC's pick. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't win the lane or the game with this bot lane duo, but it will lower your chances, specially if you're against a highly synergistic bot lane duo. So, if you want to counterpick your opponent, try to favor the picks that still have synergy with your ADC. If your ADC is a Samira and you're against a Pyke, try to pick Nautilus over Morgana, for example.
I hope I was able to convey the general idea of matchups and counterpicking as a support. Now, an important question is:
What do I pick if I don't know who the enemy support is?
The answer can vary. As we've established, synergy with your ADC is important, so you could pick something that goes well with your ADC if you've already seen their pick, but try to pick safe. Picking Leona when you have a Draven can end up not that great if the enemy support is a good Thresh player, so prioritize picking something more safe from counterpicks like Karma or Nami instead. If you haven't seen your ADC either, you can try to counterpick the enemy ADC. They're playing an immobile scaling ADC like Jinx or Twitch? Pick something with a strong early game like Karma or Lulu to harass them early. They're playing an agressive ADC who wants to all in? Pick something with a strong CC or hard desengage like Nautilus or Thresh to punish them if they get too close.
As a last resource, you can try to counterpick whatever the enemy team has already picked, even if they're not your laners. I wouldn't recommend it though, unless it's an extreme case, e.g. The enemy jungler picked Master Yi and you need strong CC to stop him, so you pick Leona.
Now, if you are really blind picking, there are good options for that, and I would recommend you learn at least one good blind pickable support. For starters, the best blind picks as a support are Thresh and Karma, as one is a very versatile champion that has great presence in the lane and doesn't have many strong counterpicks, and the other has little to no actual counterpicks and can win the laning phase on her own with her harass, while still having great peel for the mid game. Both can also play safe and are useful when behind, but their downside is that both of these champions can be difficult to play, specially Thresh, but if you can learn them, they're great choices to blind pick.
Other good blind picks are Lux (versatile, can pressure the lane and also play from behind), Lulu (same, but has anti-synergy with Jhin, Ezreal and mage bot laners) and Bard (versatile, but is difficult to play and has some bad matchups, and you're forced to roam).
Now, since we've talked about good blind picks, I'll take the opportunity to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum:
While you can find success maining any champion, some champions are more effective when used as counterpicks; And I'm not talking about simple "X champion is stronger when against Y" situations, but champions that are actually weaker when not against specific matchups or scenarios, and thus should not be used as generalist picks.
The champions that fit that description can vary with each player's opinion, as champion mastery does still take part in how viable a champion can be in most scenarios, but these are the ones that I'd put in this category, and that I believe most people would agree with:
Braum (good against tank engage supports, mainly Leona and Nautilus, and against Miss Fortune, Vex and Ornn, as he cancels their main teamfighting abilities);
Morgana (good against tank engage supports because of Dark Binding and Black Shield, average against everything else);
Taric (good against tank engage supports, bad against anything that has good range);
Galio (great against Leona and Thresh if you need a tank).
As you can see, they're all mainly anti-engage supports, and range from average to weak otherwise, Morgana being probably the best one when not used as a counterpick. Again, you can play any of these champions whenever you want, but they're most effective when used as counterpicks.
Rune choice is also an important aspect of the draft, but as a somewhat general rule (it applies to most, but not all supports), when you want to be proactive, prioritize runes that support that playstyle or allow you to play more aggressively. Pick Aery instead of Guardian on Lulu, and Scorch instead of Gathering Storm, for example. Also, always pick Ignite, it's better than Exhaust or Heal in almost all situations unless you're playing a pure scaling champion like Sona or Soraka, but we've already talked about why you should avoid them. Another great rune choice is Timewarp Tonic, as most supports use Inspiration as either their primary or secondary rune tree, and it allows you to be more aggressive in your trades because of the quick healing it provides.
- Good setup
- Avoid this
Avoid picking passive supports like Soraka and Sona; Counterpicking can increase your chances of winning the lane, as is having good synergy with your ADC, but don't pick something you're not comfortable with just because it's "good" in that game; Try to avoid picking champions that have anti-synergy with your ADC (e.g. Lulu with mage bot laners).;Thresh, Karma, Lux, Lulu and Bard are great blind picks, and I recommend you learn at least one or two of them; Prioritize runes that help you play more aggressively like Aery, Scorch and Timewarp Tonic.
Everyone is aware of how important vision control is while playing support. It's one of the key aspects of the role, after all. I noticed there's not much comprehensive up-to-date content talking about vision control, which is understandable, really - the basics on the topic have already been covered long ago and not much has changed since. That said, this guide wouldn't be complete without a section tackling the subject. Because yes, many people can have problems with vision control, usually in the form of inefficient warding, but we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. I won't be getting into many specific ward spots in this guide, as those vary wildly from game to game, but I'll talk about the main points behind warding, starting with:
Why and how should we approach vision control?
The main point of warding and controlling the vision on the map changes throughout the course of a match. At the early game, wards will mostly be used to gather info: It can be to see the enemy jungler coming and avoid a gank, to confirm his location and see how aggressively you can play depending on it, or if you can set up a play, etc. Any ward you put down during the early game has to give you info of where someone of the enemy team either is or isn't, that 'someone' usually being the jungler. If you can make your enemy laners waste a ward (e.g. If you stay on a bush and they're forced to ward it), you already have an advantage.
In the mid to late game, where you control the vision is where your team's "territory" is. If you have control of the vision around the enemy's blue buff, for example, you can set up plays on that side of the map more safely, meanwhile the enemy team can't enter that area without risking being picked off or engaged on. When behind, vision control is important to know where you're allowed to go safely, and when ahead, it's important to increase the chances of your plays working and forcing the enemy team into a bad position.
With all of that in mind, there is one major point that you must always consider when thinking about where to ward: efficiency. While you as a support have access to an unlimited supply of wards, you still can't have more than three wards and one control ward down at the same time. That means you must be efficient with your warding: Aim to cover the most amount of areas and different paths you can with a single ward. To maximize the amount of vision a ward gives, it's important to avoid putting them too close to walls, as they obstruct the ward's vision, and ward the edges of bushes when possible. Don't risk yourself to do that though, it's okay if warding near a wall or not in the edge is the only safe way to way at the moment.
When it comes to control wards, prioritize using them to clear vision, but it's okay to use them as normal wards if you need to. Since they last forever, putting them on deep spots where they're unlikely to be cleared can also be good, specially if you have a teammate who can TP to them and flank the enemy team during a fight (e.g. Wukong, Riven, Kennen, etc), but be sure to alert them so that they're aware of that potential play, but don't expect it to always work in a soloQ enviroment unless you're duoing.
We'll still explore a bit more on mid game warding and vision control later in this guide, so for now, keep in mind that efficiency is key when warding, specially in the early game. I'll close this section with two warding tricks that can be useful:
I recommend you practice at least the first one, as it's easier to do consistently, and you'll probably use it more often. Don't get frustrated if you have difficulty, it may take a lot of attempts until you can do it consistently.
Warding is important for info gathering in the early game and setting up plays in the mid to late game; Be efficient with your ward usage, try to cover the biggest area possible with each one; Avoid warding too close to walls, that'll lower the vision the provide; When warding bushes,prioritize warding the edges if possible; Control wards should be used mainly to clear vision, but it's okay to use them as normal wards if you need to.
Loading screen and early laning phase
So, you just got through the champion select and you're staring at the loading screen. How you'll approach playing the actual game will be dictated by what champions are in each team, and how you expect each player to play based on that. That said, you should focus mainly on the bot lane and the junglers, as they are the ones that'll influence your game the most at the start. I'll give you an example:
With all of that in mind, you can start to think of what to do when the game starts. What I would do is ward the middle bush of the bot lane, to avoid getting cheesed at level one while walking to lane. Now, we also have to look at the junglers, Rek'Sai and Rengar. Rek'Sai wants to either gank or invade as soon as she gets level 3. Since your top laner is a Malphite, she'll probably prioritize ganking mid and bot, because it's better to get the two carries (Kassadin and Jinx) ahead than ganking a Malphite who doesn't need as much resources (that concept is called weak side and strong side). You also win the 3v3 against the enemy bot lane and jungler, as long as your team can focus down a single enemy and no one get picked off by a Thresh hook. Knowing that, getting pressure on the bot lane is really important to give Rek'Sai the space she needs to invade Rengar, and getting the enemy bot lane low on HP opens the possibility of a dive.
So, how to guarantee lane pressure? Well, first you need bush control. What I would do here is to run straight at bot lane when the game starts, ward the middle bush and then recall to get Oracle Lens at base. The ward is important to guarantee you won't be cheesed while walking to the lane, and Oracle Lens is important to clear the enemy's bush vision and maintain the pressure you put on them while standing inside the bushes. Then, when the lane actually starts, you have to harass the enemy bot lane as much as you can. Focus on harassing the one with the least potions, since forcing them to waste their potions gives you an advantage, as they can't fight you while being low on HP. Cheesing the enemy bot lane by standing in the front bush and harassing them when they come to the lane is also great if your jungler is starting top side, so always ask the jungler if he can start top side in case you want to do that.
Abuse your range advantage and try to harass the enemy bot lane while trying to not get hit by Thresh's Q and E. I've mentioned these three points before, so you can see how important they are to win this matchup. Try to make mental notes like these to help you remember what you have to do in order to win each matchup, then write them down on a notepad before the game starts. After the game, go to that notepad and write down what worked and what didn't, and why. Did you get hit by too many Thresh hooks? Was the enemy bot lane able to play around the range gap? Do you think any of these mental notes is just flawed and doesn't work in this matchup? etc. That'll help you memorize what works and what doesn't in each matchup, so you'll be better at recognizing what's the best way to play in each lane through experience, helping you improve in the long term.
Your early warding should also be heavily influenced by the matchups. In the example I gave, you're against a Rengar, who won't be able to gank you at the start without set up from his laners, so warding the river at that point of the game isn't that important, but if you were against a Nunu or Jarvan, who can gank as early as level 2, you should ward the river as soon as the laning phase starts (or ask your ADC to do that). Make notes of these warding habits too, as they will help you get better at laning against different junglers.
Also, two quick notes, as I couldn't fit them anywhere else in this section: First, warding at the start of the game and then getting Oracle Lens is viable and I encourage doing that in any matchup where you can fight for control of the bush, and second, use Spellthief's Edge and avoid Relic Shield if you're playing an enchanter/mage support; It rewards you for taking the opportunities you can to harass the enemy lane, and you'll usually stack it earlier than a support with Relic Shield, so you can start warding earlier.
Mid laning phase
"Mid laning phase" is how I refer to the laning phase post first recall, and around the 8 minute mark, as that's the time the Rift Herald spawns. How you'll play this will vary depending on how the early laning phase went and I can't give you much advice since it's heavily dependant on your own analysis of the state of your match. Maybe the lane phase was actually quite passive and you want to keep it that way so your ADC can scale, maybe you won lane hard and want to take down the tower as fast as possible, maybe you lost and want to try to leave lane to get a lead somewhere else, etc. When you recall for the first time, you should always look at the map and figure out what you should do now. Never run straight to lane out of habit, either do it for a reason or go do something somewhere else on the map.
Always take your champion into account when roaming; A scaling champion like Sona doesn't want to roam that often, and when she does, she has to take a safe path to the place she's going, so she isn't picked off, meanwhile catcher and heavy engage supports like Thresh and Nautilus have great roams and can do that as soon as they hit level 2 or 3. That's the aspect of the role where champion mastery matters the most, macro-wise, as you'll get better at recognizing the best time to leave lane with experience on the champion you're playing.
Speaking of "when to leave lane", always consider why you'd want to leave lane now, and if it's safe to do so. I'll try to explain it with an example that's relevant to the current meta:
At the 8 minute mark, the first Rift Herald spawns. It's a very important objective, because it can give plenty of resources to your team's carry in the form of first turret and plate gold, which is great in the current meta of scaling bot laners; It can also be used to take down mid lane turret and give your team more space to play aggressively, etc. You should always ask yourself wheter or not your team should get it at the 7 minute mark at the latest, and decide wheter or not you should go there too. Maybe you can't leave lane because your ADC will be dived, in which case you should ask him if he can go with you, maybe you can leave because the enemy support is going to the Herald too and your ADC isn't in danger, maybe your top laner or mid laner can carry and you want to help them snowball with Herald, or maybe your top laner is behind and it's better to play for Drake instead, etc.
Warding also comes into play here; Leaving lane to clear vision and put a ward on the top side is a good way to help your team secure Rift Herald even if you can't be there yourself. If you're playing a ranged support and you have Spellthief's Edge against a melee support, then you may already have your wards avaliable by the time Herald spawns, so you can set up vision there and guarantee your team can take the objective, as the enemy support won't have their support item stacked by that point.
Now, even if you start improving on roaming effectively, it won't matter much if you can't capitalize on the advantage that succesful roams give you, which leads us to our next point:
After you do a sucessful roam, preferably even before you attempt it, you should already be thinking of what to do next; Ask yourself "What can I do with this advantage?"; If you ganked and killed the enemy mid laner, think wheter or not you can use that numbers advantage to take Rift Herald, Drake, or gank another lane with your mid laner; If you can't do any of that (e.g. Your mid laner is too low on HP or mana), help them push the lane so they can recall, or go back if you're both too low and the enemy jungler can come and kill you both. Of course, that's just an example, you'll have to exercise your thinking during your own games to improve on this.
Using our Rift Herald example, if you do get the Rift Herald, you have to think of where you want to use it, and how to create a good situation for your team to use it. Converting leads from roaming also plays a part in this, as you can create a numbers advantage through killing the enemy mid laner or jungler, and then using Herald on mid or bot; You can also get the enemy bot lane so low on HP that they can't defend against a dive, etc.
Bot lane matchups can also give you an early lead, as they dictate who has the upper hand at the start. Having the pressure of a flash + Leona Q into a Sona will force her to play from behind and you can capitalize on that to get your ADC ahead and take Drake; Having the HP advantage in a Karma vs. Leona matchup because of your harass will make her unable to engage on you without risking death, so you have room to play more freely, etc. We've already talked about the importance of bot lane matchups in the Draft and Loading screen and early laning phase sections, but it's important to reinforce it, because having a one-sided matchup for the enemy can and will lose you the game against good opponents who can abuse that.
Mid and late game
I can't really comment much on these topics because of how volatile the game can be at this point; How you'll play this portion of the game heavily depends on many factors, some outside outside of your control, and some not. Try to recognize your win condition (Is your ADC a good carry? Does your team have a really good engage and follow up? etc) and play around it; Always prioritize playing towards and warding one side of the map, usually the one where there's an important objective your team wants to get, wheter it's a turret, Rift Herald, Drake, etc. If the objective is an Epic Monster (Herald, Baron, Drake), then always start controlling vision at least 1 minute before it spawns if you can, but don't put yourself at risk of dying for that, always ward where it's safe for you to go.
Everything I've said about converting leads still applies here, but the correct play to do may not be as clear in this portion of the game, and sometimes there may not be a "correct play" at all, just multiple options that you can choose. It's specially important to not throw your lead; That doesn't mean you have to play extremely safe, but take calculated risks, don't do something that has a chance of backfiring and putting your team behind.
All of that still applies if you're losing during this portion of the game, you just have to play more carefully; Maybe you can't fight the enemy team, but that doesn't mean you can't pick off an overextended enemy; Vision is even more important in this case, as you don't want to commit to a play and end up losing because you didn't know the enemy team was nearby.
That was a really small section, but that's because it's something very difficult to talk about, and the only real way to improve at this is through playing the game and gathering experience on what works and what doesn't.
I hope I was able to help anyone reading this get a better grasp on what it takes to improve as a support player. Much of what I wrote here is knowledge I got while playing in my previous team, listening to my coach lecturing our support and from various other guides and resources avaliable on the internet, while some of it (namely the Draft section) was what I learned while playing SoloQ as a support, so I hope at least some of it was new to you.
Here are some other useful links if you want to improve as a support:
CoreJJ's "How to Support" Playlist
[SUPPORT] Former LCK and LPL support player "Destiny" explains how to carry as a support.
Good luck on your journey and climb.