The Science of a Comeback:
A guide on how to not lose after an early game advantage in Dominion.
Updated 1/18: General update: added respawn linking, corrected for patch changes, and cleaned up some grammar for clarity.
Many players express confusion about the mechanisms behind Dominion's frequent comeback upsets. A downtrodden team can sweep in and mop up the map like you were never there. Or at least they make **** sure you have to work for the win. This sort of severe comeback can, for good reason, cause a lot of frustration since an early advantage (in games and sports in general) often indicates overall superiority, not just a score lead; after all, winning means you're playing better. So why do comebacks happen so frequently in Dominion, and why are they so successful?
This guide will explain which devices, both psychological and mechanical, you and your teammates succumbed to when you lost. Not so much the strategies that got you, but the underlying variables. To call it science may be a bit presumptuous, but you’ll just have to roll with it. And if this gets a little basic here and there, bear with me, I’m trying to cover all the bases.
While I talk about strategy, consider how Dominion functions differently than other similar PvP games. In reality, it plays more like chess; that is, if chess had regenerating pieces with severe personality flaws. This is a spatial strategy game; like chess, you can weigh the advantage and disadvantage by noting the control of space. In Dominion, space takes precedence over sheer player kills because you use your space to control the enemys’ movement and tactics. Space doesn’t just mean the towers, but the jungle, lanes, and buffs as well. In most other PvP games the player seeks to control other players, and win space in doing so. Summoners Rift works in this manner. But not Dominion. It’s a crucial difference.
The Psychological Comeback: fault and risk
Taking it Easy
We’ll start with the winners’ complex. Like stated above, an early winning streak generally shows up because you’re the better player or the better team. In football, a 28 point lead at halftime is no small matter. Nor is a 4 home run lead in baseball, or a 300 point lead in Dominion. That sort of lead displays proficiency, skillfulness and teamwork. Exactly the qualities that win a competitive match. In professional brackets a team can and will push themselves to hold their early advantage through the game: winning is too crucial for them to let an early lead slip away. But for most of us Dominion is casual, not professional.
When a team earns a massive early lead in a casual game, video or sport or otherwise, it often means they matched up unevenly against a weak team and are bound to win the game regardless of their effort in the second half. LoL's matchmaking isn't perfect. Even when it does the job well a bucket full of variables (like champion choice, player personality, lag, or whether or not you're having a good day) can toss team balance right out the window. It makes it easy to confuse a weak early game with a bad team, sometimes you just can't tell which is which. Due to this, players often begin to take it easy after a strong lead. This relaxation isn't a fault, but it does mark the moment where your team starts to soften up and make room for the many smaller problems, such as risk taking and poor planning (I'll cover those in more detail later), which will build up and reverse the game. It opens the gates to a comeback.
The solution: Given enough time, general Dominion know-how will solve this. Players are used to maps like SR and Arathi Basin: maps that hit a point of no return and determine the winner and loser well before the actual end. Put a player in Dominion, let them lose to comebacks a few times, and they'll figure out it's something to anticipate and prepare against. That's the long-term solution. If you're in the middle of a game and you want to help avoid a comeback the immediate solution is pretty simple: communicate with your team. Sometimes a basic amount of communication is all it takes to keep everyone focused on the goals. Don’t issue commands, just talk about the strategy and what needs to happen to keep the game in your favor. Quick, specific comments should do the trick: help here, watch out there, incoming, good time to push, do you need help?, etc. Keep it simple. Keep it friendly.
Dominion deals with a very peculiar quandary: it’s the surly little brother to a well established game; a game whose players are entirely inculcated to the methods of its predecessor. IE: almost everyone here knows how to play Summoners Rift. The crossover from SR to Dominion -- two entirely distinct game modes which utilize identical play mechanics -- has thrown most players for a loop. Many have carried over their tactical expectations only to meet with a slew of problems. I’m not going to say much on this aside from the snowball expectation.
The point of the snowball in SR is to give one team enough of an offensive advantage that they gradually overwhelm their opponents. If nothing else, the snowball helps SR to avoid drawing out until a complete stalemate. At this stage of a SR game, defensive items lose their value for the winning team. The losing team can’t collect enough items to compete in terms of damage, so there's much less to defend against. This has created a core perception in SR that teams win by stacking damage, and it's a difficult expectation to shake. Unfortunately, pure damage builds in Dominion can easily lose to a mixture of teamwork, tactics, and counter-itemization. Not to mention players transferring over from SR may not readily expect the losing team to stay so well itemized.
The solution: Players will eventually learn, as they must, that itemizing in Dominion is a game of tug of war: you build each piece in response to how your opponents grow. This requires a certain level of preemptive knowledge about champions, and not everyone has this knowledge. Use the time at the beginning of the map to talk about counter builds. Again, don’t issue commands; don’t tell your team how to build. But if you know exactly how to shut down an enemy champion through items, offer some tips on how to do so.
Perhaps the most devastating effect of the winning attitude is the sense that you, as a player or a team, have a greater capacity to take risks and succeed. Or that you can take risks, fail, and remain in control. Players become more willing to roam alone, abandon defensive positions in order to assault, ignore supplemental mechanics (such as minion pushes) and instead rely on their individual prowess. When this later goes bad people often misconstrue the problem and make claims such as their team never should have gone on offense in the first place. I want to make this clear: when your team has the advantage, offense is still your best tactic. But you must evaluate the risk.
Any action that stalls the other team from grouping up and steamrolling is a worthwhile offensive tactic. Push minions, block lanes, harass players (without committing to a full on duel), kite roaming players into teammates, and neutralize towers. These are winning moves when you have three bases. Remember, spatial control, this constricts how much of the map their team can utilize. Unfortunately, players often treat offense tactics as an absolute (fully capping a tower), rather than a gradient. They chase that absolute even if it means their death because they imagine, if they should succeed, taking that fourth base creates a larger benefit.
The solution: If you have the ability to keep up offensive pressure then suggest specific tactics. Suggest players show up at a base for just long enough to scare the enemy into rushing there. If you want to get some mates to gank in the jungle, now is when you can do it. Get players to push minion lanes. But don’t say, “lets push their mid,” because that gives your team the idea you want them to come tower dive with you. Warn players (nicely) if they’ve made themselves too vulnerable, keep your team focused on staying alive. Most importantly, watch out for opponents who slip into the jungle. As soon as you see one, tell your teammates to get ready to defend, with any luck they’ll abandon their assault and come back.
The Danger of Winning
Another problem of risk management is the danger of successful offense. It causes, for lack of a simpler term, inverse spatial control regulation. The more space on the map your team controls, the less strongly they’ll be able to retain control of it. This feels somewhat counterintuitive at heart. Controlling a bit more than the other team means winning by a little, so taking more than a bit more should mean winning by a lot, right? Technically yes, but each champion can only protect so much space.
If a team has fully capped 4 bases then it’s very likely they won’t be able to hold defense on all four, stay offensive, and still regulate the jungle to prevent backdoors. Yet players will often martyr themselves on this fourth base for reasons such as: it draws the other team’s attention, they earn your team extra time by keeping the other team busy, they get more out of the four base advantage, and because they can always return to defend the closer bases near the spawn after they die. All excuses which are certainly admirable. What most don’t realize is that by taking a fourth base they’ve already completed all of these objectives. By dying at that fourth base, for any reason, they’ve forced their allies to protect 20% more space. Now their team is severely overextended, and that just assumes only one death. More deaths than that and your team has basically forfeit any capacity for a full defense.
The solution: This will take more patience than most solutions. Many upon many games, even. People need to learn that it’s smarter to abandon a fourth base than to martyr at it. Taking the base already earned an advantage in numbers and rerouted some of their team in the process. Tell them this (nicely), and ask them to give it up if the other team shows up in force. If they don’t listen this time, grit your teeth and try against next time. If they don’t listen this game, grit your teeth and try again next game. If you just don’t have this sort of patience, let it slide. But don’t get baited into that trap yourself.
The Mechanical Comeback: numbers and sway
Take the Blue Pill
The most problematic aspect of a winning position is that the longer you hold out on the field, the weaker you become. Weaker according to your stats, not your half-full health and mana bars. Gold is a cheap resource in Dominion. Even if the other team feeds you, they’re the ones returning home to buy more items. Also, keep in mind that a champion kill doesn't provide much more gold than a full minion wave. A higher kill count does not mean you have an indomitable lead.
It can look like a difficult choice: leave your space undefended in order to buy an item, which gives the other team an advantage; or stay on your spot and wait for your statistically more dominant opponents to come by for a kill, which give the other team an advantage. Realistically, using recall to go spend is almost always worth it, even though most players prefer to wait it out until they die. Bases cannot always get taken back as easily as they are lost. Dying because of an item disadvantage often provides just enough to put the majority control into the other team’s hands, and they may not let go again, even if you come back with those items you needed.
The solution: There are a few simple tricks to recalling. Most importantly, don’t do it in the open. If you recall on top of a tower then the other team knows you just abandoned it. Find some brush, or at least go into the fog. Watch the scorecard for a moment when the other team has 3 players waiting to respawn. If you’re holding down windmill by yourself, ask for someone to come up and defend while you go buy items. Players are generally very receptive to requests like this. After all, they don't want to lose the Windmill either. No matter how you go about it, it is definitely worth avoiding the respawn timer, and you'll have to run back either way.
A Late Game Tautology
Late game champions bring the pain in late game. I feel the need to bring this up, because it is certainly true, but I don’t want to put too fine a point on it. In reality this issue deals as much with player psychology as it does game mechanics. What players tend to forget is that even in Dominion, despite the constant stream of gold, carries and other late game champions will play deceptively weak in the early game. We have circled back to the snowball expectation.
Many players don’t see the hard-hitting end coming, and by the time it arrives they’ve passed the point where building defensive items is a viable counter. Furthermore, this assumes these players know late game champions on sight. A newer player probably has no idea that in ten minutes they won’t put a scratch on some of the champions they just stomped.
The solution: Preparation is key and unless you counter build these champions before their itemization spike hits, they will live up to their design. Unfortunately preemptive counter building is a pretty ideal with little application. Some builds have sharper curves than others, and won't come together until that sudden fourth item. Some champions can build two or three different ways, and you can't counter all of them. So do your best to give out warnings where you can. If you took down a champion a minute ago, and they came back and slaughtered you, make sure your team knows they need to start watching out. If an AD champ is going for an AP build, tell your team what to expect.
Fetch Me That Tower
Ah quests, a mechanic governed by the little trickster god within Dominion. Will it save your team? Will it destroy your team? Will it give you unrealistic objectives then sit at the screen giggling as you fail? In reality the quest system does not truly (IE: is not coded to) favor the losing team. It’s an entirely neutral system, and will gladly attempt to ruin either team. Unfortunately for you, the winning team gets a much higher likelihood of receiving the bad end of the bargain.
The problem of quests goes back to the danger of winning. The farther away from your nexus a point lies, the less defensible it becomes. Quests give the other team incentive to capitalize on that liability. The windmill is not impregnable; even by playing conservatively and keeping just three bases you're still in some peril. Worst case scenario, say you do own a fourth base: you’ve given the system ample opportunity to lay both quest commands directly in the other team’s lap. Remember, you want to control space, but you can't keep in control if your team stretches too thin. The quest system acts like a chopping block for the neck of an overextended team.
The solution: In a perfect world you could let the enemy capture the windmill right before the quest pops, then take both tower and quest back from them after. Best of luck. If you really want to win the quest then you must provide formidable, efficient defense. Efficient is the key word here. You need to know you can hold a base with as few champions as possible, therefore team composition is the priority. One good defender, either a pure tank or a champion who you can successfully build like one, is worth 2-3 other champions when underneath a tower. If you’re quick to respond offensively, this defender might be able to hold the base long enough for your offense to take the quest.
Side note: If you own an enemy base and the quest pops with both points sitting on the other team’s Nexus: bite your tongue and let them have it. I know, this feels both painful and counterintuitive. Despite whatever resolve you show, this is home turf for the other team, and they will take back their base. Chances are, the effort you put into defending will guarantee their team some free backdoors or an easy siege after the quest, or maybe both. You will lose more by trying to hold their tower than by giving it up. But if you fall back and ready your guard you can still stay on top through their quest buff.
Rising From the Grave
Finally, the only true bonus that the losing team receives: a discount on their respawn timer. Though this discount formerly had a larger range, later patches brought the span down to +2/-2 seconds. So at most you're going to spawn 4 seconds slower than your opposing counterparts. It may not seem like much, but consider the space on Dominion.
Imagine your team controls 3 bases, including Windmill. Imagine a territory line which starts at the far side of the windmill, drawn straight down through the Storm Shield buff and into the bottom lane. To keep control of your team's bases you have to control the space within that line. More space means more distance to cover, which means more time spent travelling to reach assists. Add to that extra travel time the increased respawn and you're beginning to see the real disadvantage. Four seconds extra spent dead, four seconds extra spent getting back in the game. An undefended Windmill can get neutralized in that amount of time.
The solution: Nothing you can do. On the bright side, respawn timers are the only thing you need to worry about. As far as anyone has observed the losing team doesn’t get bonus gold, hidden buffs, hax, or secret tips from the developers. Anything you hear to the contrary is heresy and conspiracy. Disregard it immediately.
Why Resurrect Just One?
Resurrection timer linking. This is more of a service announcement than a mechanical factor since there's no evidence that this benefit alters at all depending on which team is winning. But it's a good mechanic to be aware of.
The gist of it goes like this: if a bunch of players on a single team die within a short time, they all respawn simultaneously, rather than being spaced out like how they died. This is what happens: the first player to die creates a spawn link timer. We don't know the numbers exactly, but for the benefit of this explanation we'll say it's 10 seconds. Any teammates who die in the next ten seconds will respawn with the first player, but will not create a link timer. After that first link timer expires, the the next player to die will create another link timer.
Why this is important: It doesn't matter where or how these players died. If 3 players die at 3 different bases and they all link up, then they're all ready to go smash up your Windmill right from the respawn. No tricky logistics involved. You can't expect players to constantly feed themselves one by one into your gankers or your tower tanks. Keep an eye on the scorecard, it shows the respawn timers. If you see 3-4 players are about to respawn together, it's time to look for holes in your defense. On the bright side, this can happen for both teams, regardless of score. It's just more likely to happen to the team receiving the beatdown.
Securing Victory: countering the comeback
So you were winning and now the other team has made a comeback. This is quite possibly the most difficult part of the game, but your team’s early success has granted one massive boon: time. Use it well. By leading the points you’ve generated ample opportunity to correct your mistakes. Take a breath, look at the map, and give yourself a moment to figure out what your team needs to do to take back a third base. Finally, communicate. At this point in this guide you should have noticed that almost all the solutions involve communication in some way. Dominion is the sort of PvP experience that really benefits from solid teamwork. If you haven’t talked to your teammates before this, now is the time to start. You must be able to talk to each other quickly, efficiently, and without raging if you really want to do well.
If you’re in an average Dominion game then the strategy discussion went something like this: the game started and one player commanded, “X top X bottom.” A few players may have called out which they’re headed towards, but otherwise you proceeded quietly. Your team quietly took the windmill, held the bottom, and gained the lead. In about ten minutes your team quietly lost the windmill. If players began to talk here it generally wasn't about strategy. And now you’re quietly (or not) trying to take back bases and nothing seems to work.
At this point most players begin to flounder. Realistically, after that initial skirmish they hadn’t thought about strategy at all. They don’t know how they made it this far in the lead (aside from the part about holding the most bases) any better than they know why they can’t get windmill back from the other team. Not objectively, anyhow. Unless someone steps up and gets everyone to work together your team will continue to do exactly what they’ve been doing: scampering out the nexus without a plan, and hoping it works.
There’s no simple strategy to taking back control at this point. You need to figure out how to work with what you’ve got. But remember, you have time, so start communicating early, start testing strats, and if one strategy doesn’t work you can try something else. Keep working, don’t give up.
PS. Did I miss something? Get it wrong? Tell me about it. I'll update as necessary.
you will have to forgive me but that is gonna take a while for me
Bravo. Perhaps a bit light on specifics, but to be fair you're dealing with a lot of diverse strategies.
Excellent guide. Very helpful, and I hope more people read this.
great post, but you might want to add not saying "gg" early. We had one game that was about 60 to 250 and wow. I started it and had 2 others say it. We almost lost it... was as close as I have had. Saying GG made our team cocky and not care while making the other team mad and wanting to prove it was not over. We won with a 0 to 13... was so not over. And almost a loss. It all came down to the last fight for top. Lucky for us we had 4 there and they only had 3.
I always play with my gf, and its nice being able to share if we need help or to go back to the base. Most games I almost never really see her. I am watching where the other team is going and check if anyone is closer to defend if not... I start rolling that way.
I love the psychological analysis of video games.
Unfortunately my friends do not believe the same.
Skimmed the article, mostly reading the main points, but I'll get to it. From what I saw, I liked.
Thanks for the support so far, everyone.
@llama: yeah, I'm not good with brevity. I was kinda scared everyone would see this and just "omfg too looong."
@rex: I don't mind the early GG so much. Either it's true, or hilarity ensues.
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