Surf's Up: A Definitive Guide to Wave Management in League of Legends



Mon 23rd Dec 2019 - 12:40pm

Welcome back, summoners! Today we're going to dive into some serious macro play that's known about by all but only really understood by few. A concept so advanced, yet so simple, that mastering this alone can boost you up a few tiers on the ranked ladder or be the sole difference between your winning lane and losing lane. You probably hear about it on every stream, in every professional game, and sometimes you can even get sick of hearing about it, but that's how important it is. The way you manage this thing can be the life and death of your games. More imposing than any dragon or baron in the right hands, a group of these can be worth more than any kill, and they're a surefire way to take any tower. What could be stronger than those? Aren't they the most influential pieces on the map? Wrong. Now, let me introduce the most influential player-versus-environment element on the map. The king of kings, dragon of dragons, baron of barons, ultimate gold generating, tower sieging, champion killing, pressure applying monsters of Summoner's Rift since its inception in 2009. 

The lane minion. 

Yes, that's right. Those little things that you probably don't pay attention to except for when you're hitting them. Those guys. The single most important thing you can learn about, outside of your own champion knowledge, is how to play around these little guys. 

Simply put, they make the Rift go 'round. After this read, you'll know exactly what type of cool things you can do with them, things you can do to work them to your advantage without even buffing them with Hand of Baron

I've divided this piece up into a few key sections that will hopefully make learning about this easier, more efficient, and easy to refer to in the event you forget something. The sections are: 

  • How Minions Work in League of Legends
  • The Lane Freeze (Freezing)
  • The Slow and Fast Pushes 
  • Shoving
  • The Lane Reset (Resetting)
  • The Lane Thin 

How Minions Work in League of Legends

(This is a minion wave that is centered in the lane)

For the sake of staying on topic in terms of wave manipulation, I'll be brief here as far as how the minions work. For a more in-depth analysis of this, I encourage you to check out the League of Legends Wiki's writing on minions and their behavior here. 

Minions basically spawn in intervals of 30 seconds starting from 1:05 ingame time. They grant experience to any enemy that is in range of them when they die, but only grant their gold to the target that deals the killing blow on them, hence the term last-hitting. Every minion wave consists of three melee minions and three ranged caster minions, but every third wave from the time minions first spawn produces something called a cannon minion in addition to the initial six. Minions can be targeted by certain abilities and enhanced by buffs, but in general, you want to get as much experience and gold as you can. 

The Lane Freeze

A lane freeze happens when you want to lock the position of the wave in a certain spot in the lane, so that way the minions will always meet at that point (unless acted on by an outside force). Lane freezes generally are used to accomplish a few things: 

- Denying CS and XP. Freezing the lane close to you allows you to step between the waves and control the zone around the minions, preventing your enemies from getting close enough to last hit the minions for gold and, in extreme cases, preventing them from even being in range to get experience when the minions die. No XP? No level ups. 

- Drawing the enemy away from their tower. Freezing the lane on your side of the map forces the enemy to overstep in order to maintain their acquisition of gold and experience. If they're not warding properly or if they overstep too far, this can set the enemy up to be engaged on by you, your jungler, or a roaming ally. 

- Setting up a delayed push against the enemy. This is the type of next-level stuff that you'd see in the pro games where a laner sets up a dive against the enemy laner 2-3 waves in advance by preparing a large enough wave and the enemy is unable to react to it. 

The Slow and Fast Pushes

The slow and fast pushes are ways to prepare the wave, or set them up to function in a desired manner even in your absence. Normally, the desired result is that they push towards the enemy. They're respectively called the slow and fast pushes because of the speed that your minions will push towards the enemy. But, when done properly, they will always advance towards the enemy because your minions will simply outlast and outnumber the enemies' over time. 

While fast pushing can be used at virtually all stages of the game, slow pushes tend to deny you lots of XP and can be costly to maintain in the earlier stages of the game. You generally want to use either when you're planning to do something different on the opposite side of the map and want the waves to perform a certain way because no one will be there to immediately check and respond to it. Examples could be: 

- Top: Setting up a fast push topside before recalling and teleporting to the botlane for a gank, or to the Dragon for the objective. Unless you have the spell advantage, the enemy top laner will normally respond to your Teleport with their own, leaving the wave up top to perform as you intended. 

- Jungle: Though you don't have a lane of your own, you can set pushes up in the lanes of enemies and allies who are roaming in order to help alleviate the pressure on your allies or punish your enemies for being gone. 

- Mid: Generally, you can use slow pushes for dives, but fast pushes don't happen too often mid, because mid is one of the popular gank destinations and siege spots. 

- Bottom: Slow pushes to set up dives, fast pushes for dragon pressure. Other than this, and the occasion where you're a poke lane, you'll generally want to keep the waves centered or closer to your side of the map so you don't have to overextend. 

- Support: Help bottom with whatever control method they're trying to achieve with the wave, even if it means denying the enemy the opportunity to control the wave in the manner they want. 

To set up a slow push wave, you simply approach the coming enemy wave and kill everything except for 3 melee minions. 

To set a fast push up, you do the opposite, killing instead everything except the three caster minions. 



The lane shove is the easiest one to remember. If your minions are killing the enemy minions faster than the enemy minions are killing yours, then your wave is pushing in the direction of the enemy tower. In the same vein, to manually shove the lane is to use your abilities or auto attacks to kill the enemy minions as fast as possible so that your minions advance. This can also be called "clearing". 

(Laners that excel at poking thrive in situations where you are shoved under your tower, as they can freely cast spells on you.)

Shoving has its merits. When dealing with enemy laners, shoving the lane repeatedly can apply an immense amount of direct pressure to their tower and indirect pressure to their teammates. In some cases, it can also be a good way to draw the enemy jungler out so that you can more easily track them. 

Good examples of when you'd want to do this is: 

- When you want to roam to either help another lane, punish an overextending opponent elsewhere on the map, move to an objective, or counterjungle. This will pressure the enemy laner to first respond to the minions that you've pressed into their tower, making it harder for them to respond in a timely manner. If they choose to ignore the wave and match your roam, then they will have missed valuable experience and gold from the minions that they did not kill. 

- When you want to recall to buy items

- Once you have killed your lane opponent. I'll cover this in the next section in more detail, but just know that this is one of the cases. 

- When your enemy laner has left lane and you cannot respond at all or in a timely manner. This will force your laner to come back to catch the wave that you've shoved to the tower or miss XP and gold from not landing the last hits on the minions in it. 

- When you want to dive your enemy. This will ensure that you have a means to tank the initial aggro (threat) from the tower as you and your teammates position around it to kill your enemies. 


The Lane Reset (Resetting)

There are generally two instances in which you'd want to reset a wave. Let's use this all-too-common scenario: you and your jungler just killed your lane opponent, but for some reason your jungler is shoving the wave. You type "don't push, you'll mess up the wave", but they keep going. Who is right here? 

Well, in most cases, your jungler. 


Well, for starters, it directly puts pressure on the enemy and denies them minions and XP that they might otherwise be able to catch by simply respawning and walking back to lane. Secondly, it resets the position of the wave so that way you can still easily access the minions on your return without having to worry about the wave being frozen in front of the enemy tower or (if the wave was pushing towards you) you being denied minions 

So, for clarification, the two best times to do this are also two of the same as when you'd shove, as you'd need to shove in order to reset the wave in the first place. They are:

  •  When you have killed your lane opponent or, in the case of the jungler, after a successful gank that has killed an enemy laner. 
  •  Before recalling. 

The Lane Thin 

(An enemy that wants to freeze against this wave would have to thin some of the caster minions out in order to properly halt the minions in front of the tower. Otherwise, this wave will continue until it crashes into the enemy tower)

In order to maintain a successful freeze, you're going to have to prevent the enemy wave from getting too big to the point where it overwhelms and pushes against your wave. When you consider that the enemy laner(s) will more than likely also aware of a freeze against them, you'll have to be aware of how they'll try to break the freeze- by shoving against you. With this being said, thinning the wave is simply killing enough minions in the wave as fast as possible so that the waves are even in number. If the waves are kept in even number and the rate of killing the minions is the same between both laners, the wave should not move unless acted on by an outside force (enter: junglers). 


Ultimately, it's a pretty big concept, right? Wave management is so intricately woven into so many plays and so many lane dynamics that it's generally impossible to ignore. You can set up plays in advance, deny leads, build leads, and even position and predict your enemy the way you want- all with effective wave manipulation. 

Trust me when I tell you that this is no easy task, as even high-level pro players often find themselves struggling with this from time to time, with some of the best and most consistent players being lauded and used as teaching examples because of this. Basically, the point is that the power is in the minions. But if you can gain power over the minions, then you will have considerably more influence in terms of your games. 

With that being said, best of luck, and I'll see you on the Rift. 

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