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How to start in League of Legends, Part 1

For those of you who are new to League of Legends and MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games in general, League of Legends can look fairly intimidating despite its colorful, animated look.

Obviously, there is a huge gulf between a person just dipping their toe into the MOBA sea and the professionals who go on stage and make serious money – or even players who care where they are on the ranked ladder. This article will be part of a series that explains the basics – from then on, as with everything else, it’s all practice.


Image courtesy of Riot Games

What is a MOBA

First, as mentioned, League of Legends, also known as LoL or just League, is a MOBA game. This type of game is essentially team-oriented. Two teams of several players, traditionally five per team, though variants with less or more exist, compete on the game map. Games are played in rounds, and after each round – win or lose – you can start another one or call it a day. You can either start looking for a game with a pre-made team or look for an open spot. The game has algorithms to look for a fitting team and opponents. Every player in the game controls a unit that in League is called a champion. Currently, there are 142 champions in the game. Each one of them can attack enemies and has several unique skills: a passive ability they start with, and they can unlock and improve (level up) four more. Each champion has the following:

  • a health pool (measured as a number) that shows how much damage they can take
  • an attack damage statistic that shows how much damage they can do with their attacks
  • an ability power that (usually) increases their damage dealing potential
  • various other statistics that influence how much they can mitigate incoming damage, how quickly they move across the map, how far away they can attack enemies with etc.

A champion whose health pool reaches 0 is “killed” – temporarily taken off the map. They return to their team base after a certain time that depends with the champions’ level and how long the game has been going on. Most champions have a secondary resource called mana or energy that they rely on to use their abilities.

The Map and how to win

In League of Legends, the objective of the round is to destroy the enemy team’s base, called a Nexus. It is protected by a series of static defensive structures called turrets, also sometimes called towers, which will damage any enemies that come into range. The Nexus periodically creates groups of AI-controlled units called minions who go down predetermined paths and attack any enemies in their way – minions, champions or towers. There are several different maps that have either one, two or three paths, also called lanes, that minions go through, and several also have various terrain in between, parts of which can be traversed. This part of the map is called “the jungle” and it even hides neutral creatures called monsters. A creature is “neutral” when it can be attacked by either team. They usually don’t take part in the action, but if they are damaged, they will attack the nearest enemy, chasing them some way across the map. If they get killed, they reappear after a certain amount of time. Some of these monsters also give strong powerful effects to the champion that defeats them or even to the entire team.


Image courtesy of Riot Games

The most popular map in League of Legends is the so-called “Summoner’s Rift”. It is in the form of a square and the two bases are at the bottom left and top right corners. The game has three lanes: the top lane following its left and top side, the middle lane (or mid lane) which diagonally bisects the map to link the two bases and the bottom lane (or bot lane) which follows the bottom and right side. Each lane has three towers per team. Players must destroy the outlying towers before going to the inner ones. Each base also has an inhibitor behind the innermost tower in each lane. Destroying the enemy inhibitor makes your base spawn a “super minion” every few waves. These minions are not only much stronger but also make nearby allied minions stronger. The Nexus is protected by two more towers which must be destroyed before it can be harmed. Destroyed inhibitors periodically regenerate, but towers do not. Other maps include the 3v3 map Twisted Treeline, which has two lanes and a single jungle, and the 5v5 Howling Abyss map, which has a single line and no jungle so the teams are forced into smashing into each other.

Champions

As a champion, you can kill enemy minions, champions and towers and neutral monsters to get gold and experience. Gold lets you buy items that improve your champion’s stats or give you extra abilities. Experience lets you level up, which also improves some of your stats and gives you skill points you use to learn or improve new skills. Most champions can unlock three skills from the start, and can level them up four more times – but need to be level 3, 5, 7 and 9 respectively for the next four levels. The fourth skill is usually a lot more powerful and is called the champion’s ultimate skill, usually shortened to ultimate or ult. You can only put a skill point in it at level 6, with a second point at level 11 and a third one at level 16. Skills usually cost a certain resource to activate – usually “mana” or “energy”, but sometimes part of the champion’s health pool – and after using one, you cannot activate it again for a certain period of time, its so-called “cooldown.” If you run out of mana or energy, you cannot use your abilities and have to wait for your mana pool to regenerate. Before the game starts, the player also selects two more skills called summoner spells for their champion. Summoner spells function similarly to skills, but they are the same for all champions. They also have no mana/energy cost but a very long cooldown.


Image courtesy of Riot Games

Champion Roles

Champions’ abilities and statistics mean they are usually played in certain ways. This means champions are categorized either by their role – fighter, mage, assassin, marksman, etc. or by where on the map they are played – top laner, jungler, mid laner, AD carry and support. Each lane on the map usually comes with certain expectations how this champion should ideally be played. These expectations follow the so-called metagame or just “meta”. Generally, the meta dictates that a single champion is played in the top and middle lanes, two champions play together in the bottom lane and one roams around in the jungle, killing monsters and helping teammates as necessary – like coming to attack their lane opponent. Champions are not tied to their lanes all the time, however. Going to other lanes to help them, also known as “roaming”, or ganging up to take a big monster down is not just accepted, but often necessary to win the game. Knowing when to do so is a big part of what defines a good player.


Image courtesy of Riot Games

Usually, certain champions are played in certain positions. Top laners are often sturdier champions who can fight 1v1 and are tough enough to survive for several seconds in order to run to their tower if another enemy comes since the towers are further away in the top and bottom lanes. Junglers must also be relatively tough, but should simultaneously do a lot of damage as they will usually fight monster camps alone, without minions of their own. Furthermore, their role requires them to be able to help their allies win fights when going to their lanes. The mid lane is usually reserved for offensive champions who do a lot of damage, but scale better with bonus gold or experience. Often, these are melee assassins or high-damage mages. The bottom lane is the only one where two players start together. The bot laner, usually also called AD carry, often plays ranged attack champions that are relatively weak early on but eventually do a lot of damage. However, they need to get items to do so, and their relative fragility mandates having a helper early on. Support champions are in charge of helping their AD carries get more gold and in general provide utility on the map. Usually, these are champions who can heal, shield or strengthen or “buff” their allies, or are relatively tough champions with a lot of ways to keep an enemy in place so the team can kill them. Such skills are called “crowd control” or “CC” for short. There are some champions that work well in multiple roles because of their more flexible skill sets. For example, mages with buff and crowd control skills can be played both in the middle lane and as support, while tough melee champions with good damage can be played in the top lane, middle lane or even in the jungle.

This concludes the first part of our introductory series, but please stay tuned on more explanations on how to play LoL.

Thumbnail images courtesy of Riot Games