Laning is an art that I have come nowhere near perfecting. This doesn't necessarily mean I'm clueless about how to lane. Many art critics are terrible artists themselves, but they know what makes good art. Good laning is an art. There are a lot of people who are higher elo than major players like HotShotGG, Reginald, etc. but very few can consistently beat them in the lane. Though they aren't always better team players in solo queue, they are INCREDIBLE laners who know how to get into the mind of their enemies, predict their moves, and win despite ridiculous odds.
So what does it take to be a top-tier player? You have to perfect your laning in a series of steps. This starts with a bit of mechanics, but I'll get into psychology soon enough.
0) Pick a favorite champion for laning.
Yes there is a step zero now shut up and do it. The champion you pick to "main" will be the one who will most likely carry you up through ranked games. My pick was Teemo. It's not a great pick, but it's fun and he can be effective if you play him right. Here are a few champs that players mained early on in their careers.
- Back in the day, Reginald was an amazing Sion, from what I've heard. I don't know if this was his first "main" but it's a strong possibility.
- Dyrus obviously mained Jax. Later, he got really good at Singed too, and from these two champs he branched out into new champions.
- TheRainMan is a fellow Teemo player. Like with the others, you really don't see him do it much anymore because it's not a competitive pick. But when he does, wow.
1) Get good at CS.
- Believe it or not, TheOddOne mained Annie in season one. He wrote a guide for her that probably exists somewhere still. Back before people were aware of how to counter Annie, it was the easiest elo ever.
Get amazing at CS. Start by playing a 1v1 with a bot in a custom. Do not harass, do not even TOUCH the other guy. Just CS. See if you can get 100 CS in 15 minutes, then 14 minutes, then 12 minutes. After that, take it into some real games. Harass if you must, but focus mainly on CS. At first, you'll get ganked a lot cuz you're so zoned in on hitting every creep. As you get better, it'll feel natural and you can easily watch the rest of the map while CSing. I am still in the stage where I have to watch very, very carefully, so I am pretty susceptible to ganks (except with Teemo!).
PROTIP: If you can consistently get high CS despite having difficult lanes, your elo will raise as long as you know the basics of how to play your champ. If you win in CS every time by 15-20 mins without giving up kills, you will have a much, much better chance of winning the game.
2) Get good at controlling your lane.
I don't mean harass, I mean telling the creeps where to be. Harass is nice, but it takes an incredible level of skill and concentration to both CS and harass. So you need to take it in steps. Step two is telling the creeps where to be. If it's early game, you want the creeps to be as close to your tower as possible without your tower shooting at them. Damage the creeps too much and you push. Damage the creeps too little, and the enemy resets your creep wave while you lose CS to the tower. Now, what does this do for your game? For starters, without even saying a word, you are telling the jungler, "my lane is gankable." If you are showing good creep control, your jungler will know that you are a skilled player, and he will do what he can to get you fed. Creep control is the #1 factor I look at when determining who I want to gank first. If it's 5mins and you are constantly at his tower, you're not worth my time and you're probably not going to know what to do with the extra gold my gank gives you.
There are, of course, exceptions. Say bot lane, for example. Because you have a support who keeps you relatively safe through wards, heals, and various enemy CC/debuffs, you can push. If you push, I as a jungler will take this as a sign that I want to lane gank. This means I come in behind you where the creeps can't see me, and I wait. When a jungler does this, regardless of what lane you're in, you NEED to respond appropriately. You NEED to let the lane push back. if you keep letting the creeps be just before his tower, I wasted my time because that lane's never going to push back. You need to either back off and let him counterpush, or hard-push it to the tower and reset the lane.
tldr: If you are in control of the creeps, it does several things.
1) The enemy laner is at your mercy
2) Your jungler will want to gank for you
3) You can create new objectives for yourself like counterjungling and ganking other lanes
3) Get good at harass.
Now that you're an absolute pro at CSing and telling the creeps where to be, you are already very, very capable of psychologically crippling your opponent. If you make it easy for you to CS and hard for him to CS, he's already having a bad day and chances are his jungler can't even gank for you. Now, if you physically harm him every time he tries to get the few CS that are available to him, you're gonna break him completely. You can begin learning how to harass in normals or in 1v1s, though in normals you must be aware of the jungler. If you are outharassing your lane enemy, the enemy jungler is going to gank you whether it's an easy or difficult gank. So for basic harass, I'd recommend 1v1 with a friend who is better than you. You also want to watch streams a lot here because different players use different harass techniques. Basically your goal with harass is to punish your enemy every time he comes in for a creep. This is really big in mid/top lane, though certain ADs can harass very effectively too.
Teemo example: Teemo is great at trading shots with people because his poison means he's going to end up doing more damage. VS old top laners like Singed, Garen, etc. he could just shoot shoot shoot all day long, and there was nothing you could do about it. Now he's gotta play careful - shoot when they CS, immediately back off, and blind/shoot them when they try to trade auto-attacks.
4) Combine it all.
Now, the hard part is, in addition to harass you need to have CS and lane control. Don't miss CS for a free 50 damage. More importantly, you still need to keep creeps close. If you're keeping the other guy off CS, your lane is going to push. You are the prime target for a gank if you do this. You're pushing, you're out-CSing, and your enemy lane is whining about how his jungler never ganks for him. You're gonna get ganked. A bad laner (like myself) will manage to push the lane despite being out-cs'd/out-harassed, but good players will take advantage of their own weakness and force you to push. In mid and bot this is not a big deal, but in top, LANE CONTROL IS CRUCIAL.
So how is your opponent going to react if you're 100% in control of that lane?
- Option 1: Your enemy wants CS, but you are preventing him from getting it. He will ignore all danger and get it anyway. Best-case scenario, you are going to get a lot of kills. A high-sustain champ, however, will eventually build to be unkillable. When I play Warwick, I almost always get beaten to a pulp by five minutes. But then I get tankier and tankier, and eventually your harass does nothing. After a while, I can even fight you on my own terms and, with ganks, win.
- Option 2: Your enemy wants to stay alive, so he is going to back off from all but the easiest CS. He will CS under a tower. Some champions are very, very good at this, some are very, very bad at this. If you're vs Irelia, for example, you do NOT want to get him to an under-the-tower situation. If you're vs Warwick, you do. Be aware of your opponent's strategy, and do whatever you can to keep him off CS. VS Irelia, harass less so he has a chance to push the lane. VS Warwick, harass heavy to make him take as long as possible to get to that unkillable phase.
- Option 3: Your enemy fights back. I had a Riven the other day who knew he was hard-countered by Kennen. Kennen knew it too, and he played that way. My Riven got first blood on Kennen because he forgot the CS and straight-up fought the little squirrel. If you outclass your opponent, fighting back is going to lead to his death. If you're not careful though, you are gonna get yourself killed - especially if ganks are involved. An easy win can turn into an easy loss because you let him trade harass and kills with you. You do NOT want to trade kills with your enemy, because some hard-counters become hard-countered after a certain point in the build is reached. Early-game Riven can wreck early-game Malphite because his tankiness is not yet enough to stop you. If you trade kills though, you're shutting yourself down around 10mins.
Note that with all options comes the possibility of ganks. If you're pushing hard, you are gonna get ganked. Depending on your champion, it may or may not be difficult to escape a gank. Lee Sin and Riven are fine with pushing; Warwick is not. Note also that not one of the above lane match-ups is a free win for you. You need to earn your win, and any type of laner can get the jump on you if you let your guard down.