The Seven Bad Habits of Newcomer TFT Players

YouTube Video Link

Back when I was playing and casting games for League of Legends, one of the more popular series that I did was something that I called "Bronze Medals", a look at the gameplay from less experienced players in Bronze Elo rating. The goal of these videos was not to point and laugh at players who were objectively weaker at the game (although I'm sure there were viewers who enjoyed that sort of thing) but rather to try and see how newcomer players could improve their skill level. I tried to present these videos as a teaching tool and there were some viewers of my YouTube channel who told me that they learned a lot from seeing the kind of mistakes that they were making in their own games. It's actually quite easy to get thrown off by solely watching the players at the absolute top of the ladder where everyone is so incredibly talented that conditions don't reflect what more normal games look like. Challenger players are amazing but the average person can get themselves into a lot of trouble trying to imitate what they do.

With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to write an article about some of the bad habits that I tend to see from newcomer TFT players. I will sometimes watch less skilled players on Livestream by sorting the Twitch list in reverse order, with the fewest viewers listed first to find individuals who don't have much of a following. It's easy to forget that Gold rated players in TFT represent the top 40% of the playerbase with another 60% rated Silver, Bronze, or having no rating at all. The type of games that most people are watching on Livestreams are WILDLY inconsistent with the experience of the typical player. The average game takes place somewhere in Silver or Gold Elo rating and looks nothing like what takes place at the top of the ladder. I've watched a bunch of these games over time and I'm going to use that knowledge to put together this list of bad habits that newcomer TFT players engage in. These are general principles which will always apply in all sets regardless of whatever the specific set mechanic might be. We'll make this a numbered list for maximum clickbait status and I recorded a video version of this article using some Livestream footage that I grabbed at Bronze I Elo. Feel free to watch above or read below, whatever you prefer.

1) Newcomer TFT players don't understand the carry/tank/utility dynamic.

I'm listing this first because it's the single most important principle in Teamfight Tactics. All team compositions need to be built around the concept of having carry unit(s) of some kind to deal damage, tank units to provide frontline protection, and utility units to round out the rest of the group. No matter what traits the player might be running or what set it might be, this core concept always needs to be at the forefront of putting a team together. This might sound obvious but I've found that it's extremely common for newcomer players to lack a carry unit that they're playing through. They will typically understand the idea of combining units together to make traits without grasping that merely having traits is a secondary concern. The TRAITS follow the UNITS, not the other way around! This is a core concept for TFT but I've found that even experienced players often have trouble understanding it and over-emphasize making traits over playing strong units. Yes, there will always be units thrown in as trait bots but they should be the last units into a team, not the first ones.

In other words, I often see newcomer TFT players running the units needed to activate a trait without identifying a carry unit that holds that trait. They might have four Snipers or Sharpshooters but with items scattered here and there across three different units. Or they might be running a big scaling vertical trait like Set Five's Dawnbringer trait without any clear carry unit whatsoever. They might be playing the same units as a more experienced player but there's no direction or focus to their team. Lacking carry units tends to be the biggest problem although I've less often seen unbalanced teams that have no frontline units at all and simply get run over by their opponents. Or sometimes newcomer players have no utility units and lack sources of crowd control which leaves them vulnerable to enemy teams that ramp up over time. The most important concept to understand in order to improve at TFT stems from thinking constantly about this carry/tank/utility dynamic. What unit(s) are you playing through at the moment and how can you increase their damage output? How do you then keep those units protected so they can deal their damage? Forget about the million small details that go into every set, this is the core principle of the game that everything else flows from. The sooner that newcomer TFT players can pick up this concept, the sooner they will start improving.

2) Newcomer TFT players don't manage the in-game economy well.

This is the other big issue that leaps off the screen when watching newcomer TFT players, the way that they throw their gold around in wasteful fashion. More experienced players might be used to the gameplay at the top of the ladder where Challenger players obsess over every gold coin, often decreasing their board strength just to hit 10/20/30 gold at the end of each round and frequently deliberately loss streaking for increased income. By way of contrast, newer TFT players pay little attention to the interest mechanic and win/loss streaks which form the core of the TFT economy. They pay to refresh the shop at random times and level up at random timings without any clear goal in mind. I've noted that newcomer TFT players very frequently fill up their bench with units that they're holding which more experienced players know is a massive drain on the economy during the early stages of the gameplay. It's not uncommon to watch a newcomer player reroll their shop three or four times at Level 5, sitting with zero gold in the bank and 15 gold worth of champions on their bench. This is economic suicide as it leaves the player without enough income to reach higher levels and run 4/5 cost units or also to reroll efficiently for 1/2 cost three star units. I'm hardly the first person to make this point but a basic understanding of the income mechanic and staying above 50 gold in the bank is sufficient on its own to outperform much of the TFT playerbase.

Of course it's a trivial observation to say that "newcomer players struggle with the TFT economy" because of course they do. It's a bit like the advice given to Starcraft players that they should "macro better" at the game - great, thanks! Really helpful advice. To be more constructive here, my suggestion for newcomer TFT players would be to start by emphasizing 50 gold in the bank for maximum interest income. It's a simple concept and easy to learn to do. Then after getting used to that idea, they can start focusing on the more complex parts of the in-game economy: deliberately pushing levels early to maintain a win streak, rolling 10-20 gold when your board has a lot of pairs to hit some two star units, strengthening/weakening the board to push a win streak or loss streak, assessing the strength of your board versus the rest of the lobby to determine how greedy you can be, and so on. But learn the basic principle of how the interest mechanic works first and then start violating it for more advanced goals after that. I actually do not suggest imitating exactly what Challenger players do since they often emphasize gold generation to the exclusion of everything else. That may be the optimal way to play the game, but are you good enough to roll through 60 gold in 30 seconds and transition into one of seven different teams depending on what units you hit? Probably not! It's OK to sacrifice some economy here and there by holding units on the bench with the understanding that you don't have the reflexes of a Challenger player. Economy management is the other key skill in this game and even a basic understanding of how it works will go a long way towards improving as a player.

3) Newcomer TFT players are obsessed with three star units.

This is something else that I've seen everywhere while watching newer TFT players: they are completely obsessed with three star units! Everyone seems to have their entire bench full of champions that they're halfway through the process of three-starring. Something about finding that glowing three star icon in the shop holds a magnetic sway over these players and has them chasing after the reward in game after game. Of course reroll teams always have a place in TFT and rerolling for three star units has always been a valid strategy to pursue. However, these players aren't pursuing a dedicated reroll plan and targeting key carry units, they simply seem to be trying to three star everything all at once, including trait bot units which will do basically nothing to improve board strength. I think that this stems from a misconception that the goal of the gameplay is to create "perfect" units at the three star tier, perhaps stemming from other games where players are used to grinding up to a maximum level cap. Whatever the reason, newcomer players always seem to be trying to three star everything regardless of whether it makes any sense to do so.

I've often seen the advice that newcomer TFT players should try their hand at reroll teams because these are the easiest teams to play. There's a list of units in the composition and the suggestion is to reach Level 5/6 and then keep rolling for those units until hitting the three star versions. Maybe it's my dislike for reroll teams but I think this is poor advice for newcomer players because it's not teaching them anything. There's more skill expression in learning how to transition from early game units into late game units and how and when to push to higher levels safely. Generally speaking, reaching higher levels and playing boards of 4/5 cost units tends to be more consistent than rerolling at lower levels for three star 1/2 cost units. I've found it's better in the long run for players to break out of the habit of trying to three star everything and focus instead on trying to play the more expensive higher cost units. At the risk of overgeneralizing, this teaches better habits and does more to improve an understanding of the gameplay as opposed to staying at low levels, never transitioning units, and hitting the reroll button endlessly.

4) Newcomer players don't transition into higher tier units.

As a corollary to the previous point, newcomer TFT players rarely transition into higher tier units. It's much more common for them to put units into their team and never take them out once added - probably because they're trying to three star all of those units! This is a problem because the more expensive 4 and 5 cost units are vastly stronger than the early game 1 and 2 cost units, both in terms of their abilities and also in their base stats. Even fully itemized three star 1 cost units will almost always lose to two star 4 and 5 cost units because their inherent abilities are so much better. Newcomer players tend to stick with their initial setup specifically because transitioning between different teams is one of the most difficult things to do in TFT; I remember how in Set Four the vast majority of players would find an initial Chosen unit and never sell it for the whole game. More experienced players understood that selling that early game Chosen and moving into a late game version would result in a much stronger team but that kind of transition was difficult to pull off without a lot of practice.

The same principle still applies in all of the sets that lack the Chosen mechanic, with the need to move out of early game carries and replace them with late game units. Identifying which early game units can hold items for late game units is a key skill to master in TFT. A related skill is being able to change plans based on what units are showing up in the store. Perhaps the player hits a 4 cost or 5 cost unit at 1% odds in the store and suddenly a new door opens up to play something entirely different from what was expected. This is a crucial skill to learn in terms of improvement at TFT - and I'm not saying by any means that it's easy! It's one of the hardest things to do in fact, not bleeding out a million HP while transitioning from one set of units to another. This is a place where practice makes perfect and it gets easier over time. However, sticking with the same units for the whole game and never deviating from them is not a recipe for success. These teams will get outscaled in time by those who have managed to transition into higher tier carries.

5) Newcomer players don't make items.

This is a shorter point but it's something that I see constantly when watching newcomer TFT players. It's extremely common to see half a dozen or more item components sitting on the bench going unused. Surveys that the TFT developers have conducted consistently show that newcomer players find the items to be confusing and often get overwhelmed by the different options available. They also seem to be stuck in the RPG mindset of "saving" items for a later point in time; it's a trope that everyone saves their best one-time use items in Final Fantasy or Skyrim or whatever and has a huge pile of them still sitting around when the game ends. Whatever the reason, newcomer players frequently wind up paralyzed by indecision and let item components pile up on their bench unused. This is obviously a big mistake because there's a ton of power contained in the items and failing to make use of them weakens the player's board strength enormously. Units scale multiplicatively with items and unitemized units absolutely get destroyed against those that have them. It's better to make suboptimal or even bad items than not make use of them at all! Nor is it a good idea to greed for the most perfect "Best in Slot" items while letting seven item components sit on the bench. A typical TFT game has 20-25 rounds of PvP combat and that means that even four or five rounds of not using items wastes them for about a quarter of the whole game. Players shouldn't feel the need to slam every component into a finished item instantly, of course, but newcomer players tend to lean very, very heavily in the opposite direction of not using their items at all.

6) Newcomer players don't itemize their units well.

This ties into the previous point: when newcomer TFT players do make items from their components, they struggle to itemize their units well. Proper itemization for each unit is a complex topic that TFT players can (and have) written walls of text about while having fierce debates as to the best answers. For newcomer TFT players, the goal should not be to understand what the absolute most perfect items are for each unit. This kind of "Best in Slot" thinking tends to be counterproductive since it leads to greeding items and other bad habits as detailed in the previous point. Sometimes individual units can also have bizarre item interactions which are difficult for more casual players to remember. (I'm thinking of Set Five Vayne who at one point in time wanted Rageblade to ramp attack speed, Hurricane to apply Silver Bolt procs to more than one unit at a time, and Jeweled Gauntlet so that the true damage could crit, with the shadow version of the Jeweled Gauntlet being even better. Weird stuff!)

Rather than get lost in the minutiae of what's most perfect for each unit, newcomer TFT players should just try to remember general principles about what would be good on each type of unit. Physical damage dealers want items that build out of swords and bows and gloves; what's exactly best on each unit will vary but newcomer players can do reasonably well with some combination of these components. Go ahead and make something, don't let those item components sit on the bench! Assassins inherently critically strike on their abilities so glove items are always good on them (especially Infinity Edge). Tanks want items that build out of belts and cloaks and vests, they'll do reasonably well with any of that stuff. Spellcasters need some kind of mana generation if they're going to be the main carry, they need at least one tear item to get their abilities to go off. You get the idea, the items don't have to be perfect but they do need to match the unit to at least some extent. As newcomer players get more experience they'll be able to improve their itemization choices but they should be able to pick up the basics quickly. I've seen a lot of really weird stuff from less experienced players that could be avoided with a basic understanding of how the units work.

7) Newcomer players don't scout other boards or reposition their own units.

As a last point, newcomer TFT players seem to pay little attention to what else is going on in the lobby. They almost never scout the other teams and frequently get caught off guard when their composition gets contested by their competitors. Teamfight Tactics is a game with perfect knowledge where the boards of everyone else are always visible at all points in time. This makes it fairly easy to keep track of what's happening with the other players, and whenever the player doesn't have to fiddle with their own team they should use that time to peek around at the other teams. Obviously this gets easier with more experience since the player has to spend less time thinking about their own board, however it's still something that everyone can start doing from an early stage. There are always rounds where nothing is going on with your own team and there's time to spare for some scouting. Set 6.5 added a visual indicator of which opponents your team can hit on the next round of combat which makes this even more important than before.

On that same note, newcomer players almost never reposition their own units between rounds. I've seen them go an entire stage of five rounds without moving a single unit on their board. This makes it incredibly easy for an opposing player to target them with Zephyrs, Shrouds of Stillness, or simply have an Assassin jump right onto their carry at the outset of the fight. Positioning is another topic that can become very complicated but even inexperienced players can get a massive leg up on their opponents just by paying attention. Look at the other teams when nothing is going on and make sure that your carry units will be safe from whatever stuff is likely to be coming their way. This is another place where practice and experience help a lot. Nevertheless, the most important thing is simply watching the other boards and being proactive instead of tabbing out of the game to fiddle with music playlists or surf the Internet. I've won innumerable rounds of combat that I had no business winning through positioning because I was paying attention and the other guy wasn't.

So there you have it, seven bad habits that newcomer TFT players can try to break themselves out of. I've tried to keep them deliberately abstract so that they don't pertain to any one set in the hopes that this will be a useful resource for some time to come. Hopefully seeing these issues outlined here (and demonstrated in visual form in the linked video) will be helpful to some people out there who are in the process of learning Teamfight Tactics for themselves. This is a complex game at the highest tiers of gameplay but it's possible to rise a long way on the ranked ladder simply by mastering the basics and putting in more effort than the average player. Thanks for reading and best of luck in your own games!