Itsa mea! I have a little more time on my hands than I first thought a few weeks ago, and this idea has been bubbling away for a little while. I've been playing a little more carry than usual recently, and have been largely disappointed by some of the support I've been receiving, so here's a small effort to improve that.
Playing support well is an art more than a science, but the more I've done it, the more I've come to rely on that lovely clock that's top and centre of the screen.
The clock is an excellent guide and reminder for what's likely to be happening at various points of the game, and a useful reminder of what you can and maybe should be doing at these times.
I've already spoken at considerable length about picking the right support for the job - you can read these thoughts here and here.
At this point in the game, you should be actively trying to be communicate with your team and finding out what you're going to need to supply. Are you the only support? Are you part of a trilane? An aggressive trilane? Who are you going to be partnering with in lane? What items do you need to supply for the team?
Making a good choice here is essential - you don't want to be stuck with a more gold dependent semi-support if you're going to have to play as a hard support. You can't necessarily go roaming or semi-jungling if your carry has all the lane presence of a dried rat at a crow festival. You want synergy, and the right abilities to help your carry and other potential allies out as much as possible.
I think you can categorise most support heroes by what they can provide in three distinct areas:
Ok, you've just spawned, by now you should know what you need to provide for the team, and these are your priorities:
If you're in the safelane, by now you usually want to be in position to either contest a starting rune, place your ward, and/or block creeps. Your exact placement will depend on the situation and where your allies are.
You do need to be somewhat careful here - being snook up on by 3 aggressive offlaners and first blooded is not a good start for the team. Make sure you have good vision of the immediate area, a safe path of retreat, and ideally some allies in the area.
Proceed towards the lane, being careful not to block creep camps spawning at 00:30. If you're part of a trilane, you probably want to remain hidden behind the trees if you're going to attempt first blood. You may even have got an invisibility rune and can position yourself very aggressively.
If you really doubt you can get first blood, or are unsure how many enemies will be present in the lane, you may want to stay closer to your tower and friendly units until you see the lay of the land and are confident there are no nasty surprises waiting for you. This usually comes about when every enemy hero has revealed themselves on the mini-map, and/or they have likely junglers.
Before this point, you should have a good idea of what's in your lane, and the relative position of your creeps.
If you're not part way through killing the enemy hero(es) or worried sick that your partner(s) can easily be first blooded, you can slip away from the lane and take our first steps to controlling it.
If for some reason your lane is already pushing forward too far, you can pull the creep wave at 00:40, and then double pull it using the hard camp located nearby. Ideally you won't have to do this, but it can be necessary in some situations.
Otherwise, stack the easy camp at 00:50-00:53. You can then pull the creep wave at 01:10 if necessary.
There's a bit of a gap between these timings, and you should fill it with the usual support stuff - harassing offlaners, trying to setup kills, and denying creeps, as appropriate.
You have another option to pull at 01:40, and can also do an extra stack on either the nearby easy or hard camps nearby at 01:50.
At this point, it's well worth remembering that a rune will DEFINITELY be spawning nearby at the river. Have a quick check to see if their offlaner is still in lane, or is making for that spot, and the location of the enemy mid. If you think it's safe to do so, head for the rune spot.
Obviously first priority for that rune is your mid, but they may not be interested, capable of getting there, or have already headed for the other rune. Let your mid take the rune if they want it, but otherwise grab it for yourself.
The kind of rune available, and your hero choice inform what you can do next. Invisibility runes are probably the most useful, and you can either sneak up on their mid or offlaner if you think you can setup a kill on either.
Haste runes can also provide some utility, but you're relying on sheer speed here instead of stealth.
Double damage is frankly not all that useful - it may aid you in a gank attempt, especially if you have Smoke of Deceit, but most likely it will just help you throw out some harassment and denies.
Illusion runes allow for some subtle plays. Ideally you want to try to keep only a single "version" of you in sight anywhere. For example, you could send one mid while trying to sneak up on their offlaner, or vice-versa.
Sometimes this will give you the good opportunity to draw blood, but often, even the threat of you potentially being somewhere is enough to keep their solo heroes careful. Oops, did that illusion of me that was hiding in the trees near mid just show himself briefly and then retreat back? Well, their mid is going to be pretty careful for a bit.
Alternatively, you can even just use them for vision - for example, placing the illusions to watch paths their supports are likely to take to gank your mid. Another hilarious use is to wander off in search of the enemy jungler with one - it will likely scare them pretty badly, and may force an overreaction - mana wasted, time spent retreating to base, etc.
Finally, the new Bounty rune - a quick shot in the arm of gold and experience, very nice for the struggling support, and it also denies it to the enemy.
This time is basically a repeat of the previous ones - you can stack, pull, deny or harass as you see fit. However, bear in mind that 03:00 is when the Flying Courier becomes available, and you should get it ASAP.
This time also offers some other opportunities - you can probably afford to buy a lovely cheap Town Portal Scroll or Smoke of Deceit and be available to turn up in other lanes unexpectedly and at short notice if you can do any good there.
Four minutes in is our first interesting change - not only does a set of runes spawn, but night time arrives, and with it, reduced visability.
This change makes it much easier to gank other lanes, as overall mini-map vision is reduced, and so is the vision range of almost all heroes. This makes it far easier to sneak around into position to take out enemy heroes unexpectedly, and with a little communication with your team, this can start to slant the game in your favour.
The first thing to say here is to be patient - wait for the lane and enemy hero to be in your favour before committing to the gank. Don't rush it and blow the opportunity, or even worse, get it turned around on you.
Make sure you chain your stuns/slows correctly with your allies, don't just throw them out immediately if the other hero initiated. Timing and patience.
Roaming to gank costs you experience if it's unsuccessful, so it's important to make them stick if you possibly can. While Smoke of Deceit will help considerably in dodging ward vision, good use of the map to block vision is vitally important - be uphill, behind trees or otherwise hard to spot. Watch carefully for nearby creep movement that might reveal you.
If you haven't had the chance already by securing some funds from the corpse of an enemy, you need to buy another set of wards now. It may take a little time for the courier to reach you with them, and it's extremely useful to place your new wards while you have a little vision left from the old ones.
This will hopefully stop you blundering into an ambush, but just as importantly, you want to time your placements for best advantage against the enemy warder.
Most reasonable players will put wards up at 00:00, and then roughly some time close after 07:00. If you're going to be potentially visible to enemy wards while placing yours, this gap can give you a window of opportunity - you really don't want the enemy to see you placing them:
1) They can deward them.
2) They know where you do and don't have vision.
By carefully placing and timing your wards, you may well be able to catch the enemy warder - turning these advantages over to you.
As you can see from all this, you have a lot of options at any time, and should actively be doing SOMETHING as often as possible.
Choosing the right something to be doing it just as important. Getting yourself killed or heavily damaged trying to harass the enemy offlaner is bad. Wandering out of lane to stack or grab a rune and getting your carry killed is bad. Missing an easy kill because you had the wrong equipment or were out of position is bad.
I can't hold your hand through all of this, and a lot of it is based on experience and judgement. But lets look at some common examples and how to play them:
1) Are you and your lane partner(s) capable of killing the enemy offlaner?
If so, try to do so. Even the threat will keep them relatively passive.
2) Can your carry solo effectively against the enemy hero?
If yes, try to stay out of the lane as much as possible. Go in if you think you can get kills, or are in a lull between timings where you can harass/deny. Otherwise, farm the jungle, pull and gank other lanes as possible.
1) You're in a strong lane against a solo enemy. You and your allies have more killing/harassing power than your opponent.
First up, your main priority is to ensure your carry has as much and as easy farm as possible. You do this by keeping control of the lane, and harassing or killing the enemy offlaner.
Don't be greedy and overpull - use pulling and denying to keep the creep wave close to your tower without actually being in tower range. Single pulls on the easy camp are almost always bad. See here for help.
Next up, try to kill the enemy offlaner if possible. If it's not possible, try to zone them out. Stack up the jungle camps ready for farming later on. Grab runes if possible. Try not to leech too much XP from your carry. Gank other lanes or respond to tower dives if possible.
Ideally, you want to get your carry capable of soloing the lane as soon as possible. This frees you up to impact on the rest of the game, and means they get more experience - which can be just as important as gold.
Take a look at this video for some ideas:
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