Newbie Guide to Zoning and the Neutral Game
If you don’t already, it may be helpful to start thinking of physical space as a resource in Battlerite. The more space your team has under its control, the more flexible your options. When you don’t have much space to maneuver, your options become limited.
We’ve covered this a few times before, mainly when we talked about the fundamentals of dodging and the triangle method to positioning, but those guides focused on ways for you to stay away from the enemy and keep yourself out of harm’s way.
There’s another way to control the space around you: by forcing the enemy’s movements. You can do this by using a technique called zoning, but first…
The Neutral Game
The neutral game is any phase of the game when nobody is in a serious engagement, when neither team has initiated on the other. Another way to think of it is when neither team has a situational advantage over the other: both teams are in a neutral position.
During the neutral game, you have one main goal: maneuver yourself into a position that gives you an advantage over the enemy, which usually means taking control of the map space while chipping away at the enemy’s health.
When you’re backed into a wall or corner, that’s when panic sets in and you start to make rash decisions. But when you pin an enemy into a wall or corner, you feel at ease and in control. So how do you transition from a neutral state, where neither team has an advantage, to a state where you hold an advantage over the enemy team? That’s where zoning comes into play.
Zoning is how you fight for map space without wasting your valuable cooldowns. Have you ever been confused when pros talk about how Battlerite meta is all about the “neutral game” or how Jumong/Oldur is a strong “neutral comp”? This is what they’re talking about.
Zoning is when you use your offensive abilities to keep enemies away from you. Any ranged attack can be used as a zoning tool, but certain attacks are better for zoning than others.
Whenever you throw a projectile at somebody who’s moving toward you, they have two options: they can take the hit and keep approaching or they can step aside to dodge. If they step aside, they forfeit the potential to move closer to you in that moment, and if you keep throwing projectiles at them, they have to keep forfeiting that potential in order to dodge.
The result? They can’t get close to you without taking damage. You’ve created a “zone” that they can’t enter, which keeps pressure off of you and gives you more space to move around and execute your strategies.
Imagine you’re Ashka and you’re up against an enemy Freya. Her Spring ability has a short range, so she needs to get somewhat close to you before she can jump in. If you can spam your M1s and keep her outside of that jump range, she won’t be able to attack you head on.
If you think this sounds related to the concept of influence and critical ranges, then you’re absolutely right. Every champion has a different zone that they can influence and the size of that zone depends on the range, cast time, and cooldown of the champion’s abilities. Rook has almost no zoning capabilities, for example, while Oldur’s scary M1s and insta-petrify make him quite tough to approach.
So what are the factors that determine how strong a champion is at zoning? In my mind, there are four main ones:
- Cast Time
Zoning abilities must be ranged, which means it must be able to reach beyond melee distance. Melee-range abilities can be useful for influence but not for zoning — there’s a subtle difference. Influence is about how much pressure you can put out while zoning is about keeping them away from you. If you don’t have range, the enemy has no reason to keep their distance.
When it comes to zoning, abilities with shorter cooldowns are exponentially better. The more “stuff” the enemy needs to dodge, the harder it will be for them to approach you. That’s why short cooldowns are good — and no cooldowns are better. Any ranged ability that can be spammed is ideal for zoning.
As for damage, ask yourself: would you rather get hit with a projectile that does 8 damage or 12 damage? The more damage that a projectile inflicts, the more costly it is to tank it, which makes it more important to avoid.
Cast time is the least important factor but still worth keeping in mind. Lucie can zone with her M1s, for example, but the 0.5s cast time is relatively easy to read compared to the 0.3s cast time of Taya’s M1. And of course, abilities that can be casted while moving are better for zoning than ones that make you stand still.
All of this means that certain champions are better at zoning than others.
Consider Jumong, who most players hate playing against due to the strengths of his kit. He has an M1 that deals 15 damage and outranges most other zoning projectiles. The cast time and cooldown are slightly slower than average, but negligibly so — he can M1 all day long and most champions have trouble breaking through it.
Ashka is an equally powerful zoner but for different reasons. His base M1 is strong and becomes even stronger when the enemy is Ignited. But the biggest advantage is that the M1 has no cooldown, can be casted while moving, and has above-average range. And even if you make it through, he can just knock you back with Molten Fist, rinse, and repeat.
But Oldur is even better than those two. If he lands just one M1 on you, you’re going to eat 22 damage (10 on initial hit plus 12 after a delay). His M1 cycle time is 0.7s but that doesn’t really matter. The consequence of getting hit is so great, and even if you make it through, he can just petrify you and reset.
What if you’re a melee champion? You can still zone but you won’t be as effective. Ruh Kaan, Bakko, and Freya (with Twin Hammers) have decent zoning power while Rook, Croak, and Shifu have very little — but that’s fine because melee champions are meant to close gaps instead of keep them, so they usually don’t need to worry about zoning.
Note that you don’t have to land your projectiles in order to successfully zone an enemy. (But landing them is always preferable as long as they don’t have a counter or d-shield up.)
Again, imagine you’re Ashka up against a Freya and a Lucie. An advanced tactic could be to throw your M1s at the Freya, but making sure to aim the projectiles on the side of Freya that Lucie is on. This forces Freya to move away from Lucie in order to dodge, and with subsequent M1s you can guide Freya away from Lucie and create distance between them — all without ever landing an M1.
As for AOE abilities, zoning is possible but harder. You have to be more predictive with your placement, and since there aren’t any AOEs that are as spammable as M1s, missing can be costly due to long cooldowns. Therefore every AOE should be placed so that it serves two purposes: if the enemy doesn’t change course, the AOE should hit, otherwise the enemy should be forced to dodge in a direction that puts them at a disadvantage.
Pearl’s Bubble is incredible for this, and it’s one of the reasons why players hate playing against her. A well-placed Bubble can stop a team’s momentum dead in its tracks. But let’s say you’re Ashka, you’re being beat on by a Shifu, and you have no outs. You can place a Flamestrike at your feet and force the Shifu to tank it, or walk away, or blow Fleetfoot.
The problem with using AOEs for zoning is that they’re unreliable (except for Bubble). Whenever possible, prefer to zone using ranged M1s. Or you can go one step further and try zoning with higher-cooldown projectiles using cancelcasting techniques.
Remember, zoning accomplishes three things: it keeps the enemy off of you, it lets you pressure the enemy into bad positions, and it saves you from wasting big cooldowns.
How to Overcome Zoning
Some think that zoning is a bit too effective right now, especially with the kinds of M1s you see on Jumong, Oldur, and Ashka, and this makes the game tough for melee champions.
So if you’re playing someone like Freya or Bakko and you’re up against a skilled zoner, what can you do?
Read their zoning patterns. Due to the way humans are wired, every player has a pattern. Some are good at hiding their patterns, but they still exist and you’ll be able to spot those patterns over the course of a match if you pay close attention.
By pattern, I’m talking about the rhythm of their attacks and the way they move in between attacks. If you can read an enemy’s pattern, it becomes a bit easier to outplay their zoning (it will still be tough, mind you).
Keep good positioning. When someone’s trying to zone you, they want to push you into a disadvantageous position. It’s your job to not let that happen. As you dodge, make sure you’re dodging in a direction that won’t leave you in a worse spot than if you hadn’t dodged.
Zone them yourself. It’s not easy but it’s possible. Freya’s hammer spam and Rook’s boulder spam can effectively reposition enemies, for example, and even though most ranged champions will still win the zoning game, you have a fighting chance to stand your ground.
Use gap-closing abilities. Every champion has a way to close gaps, and every melee champion has at least one ability that makes it easier to approach ranged enemies. Freya has Electric Shield, Shifu has Kunju, and Croak has Camouflage. Be careful about using your escapes to close gaps though — if you’re Rook and you mistime your Rush, you may find yourself in a world of hurt.
The fact is, you’re going to be stuck in the neutral game until somebody aggresses, and zoners aren’t likely to be the ones who aggress first… which means you’ll need to do it. It’s a risk but a necessary one. And if that means using an out to initiate when the situation is right, go for it.
Suck it up and tank the hits. This isn’t the best option but sometimes you have no other choice. If you’re being backed into a wall or corner, you may just need to charge in and hope for the best. For more on how to do this, read our guide on how to initiate on enemies without getting killed.
All in all, zoning is an integral part of this game and knowing what it is will instantly improve your play. General rule of thumb: ranged champions want to extend the neutral game while melee champions want to avoid the neutral game.
If you have any questions, ask below! And if you have any other insights to add, let’s discuss in the comments. Hope this helped!