Like most avid gamers out there, I trend with game favorites throughout the year. Right now, my gaming trend is all about League of Legends.

I’m not sure why. You know how sometimes you just get an itch to play some random game you’ve played before, or always been curious about? And then you get the idea that you want to try something out in the game to see how fun it will be? And then that thing turns out to be LOTS of fun and suddenly you find yourself playing it everyday? That’s what’s happened here to me in League of Legends.

I’ve been an off and on player for about a year, as evidenced by my low level account. I knew I had some Influence Points to spend and figured I’d buy a new champion and try to perfect my gameplay with them. For those who don’t know, Influence Points are a currency you gain after every battle which you can use to purchase game items.

Kayle of League of LegendsIn this most recent adventure of mine, Kayle is my favorite champion. I never quite played her much in the past, but I was inspired by a guide I read about her style of play. I haven’t been disappointed. Still, one needs more than a good, interesting champion to make LoL fully enjoyable. Hence my plug last week to invite you all to join some matches with me. The response has been …very low. I managed only to drag in two of you to team up with me, but that’s not a complaint! One of these friends found they really, really like the gameplay so it’s been a real treat.

I figure the game can be intimidating for anyone who either hasn’t played it before or who has, and had a bad experience. While I can’t do much to purify the often toxic community of LoL which is a major barrier to entry for a lot of new players, I can definitely put out some newbie information to show you guys the game isn’t as hard as it may seem. So that’s what I’m gonna do right now: explain what LoL is, how it’s played, and clarify  some features I commonly get questioned about.

Lil’ Intro

In this guide, I’ll attempt to give a simplified overhead view of League of Legends. I’m finding a lot of players who have checked it out in the past, but decided against it usually don’t understand the point of the game, as in …the game appears on it’s face to be monotonous (few maps, same game everytime, same everything, etc). Hopefully, I can give a summary version of just what this game is about and try to convince you there’s more here than meets the eye.

I won’t spend much time on the game’s history. That’s extremely easy to learn about from various sites and wikis which have been built up over the years. But I will reiterate that this game concept was derived from the Warcraft RTS game many years ago. That means the game plays very similarly to an RTS, and if those aren’t your thing then it’s possible you wouldn’t be interested in this kind of game. Still, it’s definitely a unique spin on the traditional RTS because it adds meaningful roleplaying features that gives it the feel of a battle arena. Hence the genre it spawned: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA. Similar titles are Heroes of Newerth and of course, DOTA 2 itself.

Playing League of Legends

First you make a game account. This, however, works just a tad differently than typical game accounts on other sites. In LoL, your account tracks your personal progress in the game and I don’t just mean achievements, contact info, and payment info. As you play the game you, personally, earn experience and this is reflected on your account. You gain levels which in turn gives you access to talent trees, skill runes, and new heroes to choose from.

Before every battle, you get to choose from about a dozen heroes to play with. Every battle. The hero itself always starts at level 1 in any given game and can be leveled to a max of 18 through the course of gameplay. It’s important to understand this is separate from your game account. Account levels are permanent. Hero levels restart with every game. You can build Mastery trees (think of talents) on your account, as many as you like, and choose which build to use for the heroes you play each match. It’s for specializing your personal play style and applying it to your hero even though they are level 1. The overall impact gives a sense of progression and makes starting over less arbitrary. For me, the game would be far less interesting without the account levels. Most MOBAs operate this way.

Learning to Play

League of Legends LobbyThe game has some surprisingly good tools for beginners to get into the action without too much failure and discouragement. There’s always the very basic guides on the website to get you familiar with general concepts and terminology, such as laning phase, feeding, and other really basic concepts. There are also play-through tutorials in the game lobby which I highly recommend. It’s pretty tough for a game to introduce fresh players to the competition, because veterans have a real edge. LoL doesn’t do bad and does better than most in this regard.

Beginning with Coop vs. AI

These are matches in which all opponent champions are AI and all your teammates are actual players. It’s really important for new players to play in these matches until they’re solidly familiar with basic game concepts and terminology. Can’t stress enough that no newbie should skip these. It’s the only place in the game where newbie mistakes are mostly forgiven and expected, and where players can go to experiment when learning new heroes, maps, or talent builds. It’s a learning playground.

After that you should move on to the intermediate coop versus AI matches.  This will bump up AI aggressiveness and therefore better simulate what it’s going to be like against real players. It helps to reinforce concepts and build up confidence in your skills. Just think about getting yourself into greater challengers as soon as you can.


League of Legends SpectacteHighly, highly recommend this! It’s one of the best ways to learn tactics and understand how to play a champion, especially watching ranked games. I’m not implying that there aren’t players who totally suck out there and you’ll see them. But the point is to get an idea of how specific champions are played, where they shine, what items players usually buy for them, and their weaknesses. I watch as many games as I can, even if I don’t end up playing a match that day/week. This has been invaluable to teaching me how to play a hero and how to work with my team.

Advancing to PvP

PvP matches have no AI champions. I personally didn’t start doing regular PvP games until I was about level 7 and even then, I was dipping my toe back and forth to make sure I was grasping the game concepts. This may sound unfun, but think about it this way: Playing the beginner games taught me mechanics, like how towers work, how minions spawn, jungle bosses, brush cover, and player abilities. In that environment, it’s far more fun to win and lose instead of getting owned by players who know this stuff much better than you.

As to be expected, players in PvP are aggressive and sometimes crude. The matches are still made against players of your relative level and skill so individual advantage is minimized, creating a fairly equal playing field Mastery, Rune, and Ability wise. Some vets may have low level accounts for whatever reason, but by and large the match-making is pretty good about placing you amongst peers. So even when you begin normal PvP matches they should ideally be your level. I haven’t had any bad experiences in this area and any time my team has gotten rolled, it was because we played poorly or the other team just played better. It wasn’t due to bad match-making.

Heroes and Stuff

League of Legends Lobby Menu

Now that you’ve learned the ropes and have a good grasp of the game concepts, you should be getting deeper into the meta-game. This involves learning as many heroes as you can, including ones you like to play and the ones you might play against. At this point the game demands that you understand your role on the team any given match and adapting quickly. One game, depending on your champ of course, you could be carrying and the next you could be jungling. Being knowledgeable and flexible is strategically advantageous and as you play, you’ll start to see just how important this is to winning.

It’s good to know which items to buy and when to buy them. Items can be browsed on the LoL site and help you build your champion strategy. As you progress, Masteries become important to monitor and adjust. You should also get familiar with Abilities to choose when joining a game. All these little details add up to your overall success. For players like me,  building heroes is the best part! The meta-game of constructing build strategies, buying and using the right combination of runes, and tactically buying items during the game is something Riot did really well and is a major part of what’s fun about the game. You should view these as an integral part of the overall exerpience. Half the fun is sharing builds with friends and trying crazy new things!

I spend more time out of game than I do in game, mostly because it’s easier to surf the net in small chunks to read up on heroes and items than it is to sit down for an hour for a match or two. The anticipation is part of the excitement, so it’s less about needing to do homework and research than it is just a feature of the game meant to be played before/after battles. Still, if LoL is just something players want to do casually it allows them to do so without penalty, especially if said players have a few friends they can do custom matches with.

Having Fun

League of Legends Art

Remembering these things can help improve your overall fun ratio.

  1. It’s about *when* you kill, then *where* you kill, not how much you kill.
  2. Talk to your team. The single biggest factor that I think leads to bad games is silence. Teams who talk early and often are far more likely to have fun together.
  3. Honor players who really try and work together during the match if they deserve it. Positive reinforcement encourages them to cooperate instead of flame.

I usually find I’m having fun when I’m not so focused on game stats. It also helps to cheer teammates on when they’re doing well. You can always put players on ignore who you didn’t enjoy playing with as opposed to reporting them (unless it’s warranted of course).  This will ensure you don’t get matched with them in the future.

Understand that players are very excitable and that not all competitive banter is intended to scold you. In the heat of the game, it’s impossible to type out perfect sentences. It’s best to assume that if someone says “heal” they aren’t necessarily demanding anything of you; they could be letting you know they’re about to return to base or go pick up a heal (in Dominion). As much as I always remind other people to NOT BE INSENSITIVE, it’s also important to step back from an intense moment and just focus on winning before judging your teammates.

The Imperfections

No doubt this game has it’s problems and no doubt 99% of the problem is it’s infamous community. That means if you’ve got 3-5 steady friends who play, you can do custom games and never interact with anyone else. I say this for those of us who are often the targets of abuse, but are interested in the game just not with the baddies. I completely understand that and you should know it’s possible and enjoyable to play the game without being matched with potential bullies.

Whenever most of the tooltips in your game are advice on how NOT to abuse other players, you’ve got a potential catastrophe on your hands. But I happen to think this has improved marginally over the past year. I also strongly believe Riot has to do more, even as they work on this and try to give the community the tools to make it a better place. Still, I think they should change their stance that players should decide what kind of community to make it and instead tell the players how it’s going to be. They tolerate a bit too much in my opinion, but I think it’s because as developers they implement things on flawed assumptions and are often just flatout unwilling to correct a problem (sexism being a primary issue, seriously just do a search on the forums for “sexism”; it’s a problem that’s fundamental to the game itself, nevermind the players); or else Riot is too willing to overlook something until a stink is made over it–at which point they’ll apologize and make promises they don’t do well at keeping. And this for old stinks, stinks players have already complained about. They don’t change which leads many of us to believe they don’t understand the problems that plague their game nor their root cause.

Still, since the community is very empowered change is very possible. I like to think that all the non-toxic players can just organize en-masse and overpower the poison. I’m very in to fantasy.

For all it’s problems though, this is a very fun game and it’s especially enjoyable with friends. The action can be addicting, the theory-crafting is deep and interesting, and the mechanics are remarkably balanced. It lends itself very well to casual, occasional, hardcore, and professional groups of players. It’s got flexibility that really allows you to play exactly how you want. The dual RPG and RTS aspects make the genre unique and appealing for many, giving it a huge community and ensuring there’s always someone to play with. This game has tons of fun to offer despite the community problems and I highly recommend it, most especially with friends.

Well, this was longer than intended but hopefully it’s something that, if it helped you, you can bookmark and return to later. If you’re looking for a familiar avatar to join you for a few matches, I’m usually game if you see me online.

If you’d like an invitation to give the game a try, email me.

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