As one of the biggest and oldest competitive games, it can be daunting to pick up League of Legends in 2020. This guide is intended to help the absolute beginner get into the game for the first time.
League of Legends (LoL) has been around for ten years now, and is not going anywhere. With a booming playerbase, huge esports scene and deep lore, the League of Legends universe offers something for everyone. The current roster consists of over 150 unique playable characters, and with more always on the way, you’re sure to find a play-style that suits you.
Unfortunately, the depth and complexity that has kept League at the top for a decade is also a deathtrap for new players. For those coming from other genres like shooters and single-player games, the learning curve is steep, and the lack of in-game learning resources doesn’t help. Without some patient friends to show you the ropes and help you through your first few games, League of Legends can seem hostile and unforgiving. Lower level games are often plagued by bot accounts and smurfs ready to flame you at a moment’s notice, making many potential players give up before they even give it a chance.
Those that do commit to learning the basics are rewarded by a game that has expanded beyond just its small, three-laned map. The community and scene are constantly evolving, and is sure to offer years, if not decades of entertainment to come.
Before we dive into the more nuanced parts of the game, it’s good to know the simple stuff first. League of Legends is a team-based MOBA, which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. This genre was once full of a whole range of games, but it’s now been whittled down to just a few like Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm, with League of Legends being the biggest of the bunch. Almost all MOBAs, including LoL, have the same win-condition; work as a team to destroy the enemy base before they do the same to yours. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to as long as an hour, but the typical game is around 30 minutes long.
In each match of LoL, there is a blue team and a red team, and players are randomly assigned to one of the two before each match. Each team has five players, and they all pick a character called a ‘champion’ to play as for that match. Each champion has a unique design, lore, and in-game abilities, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. Some players love to play many different champions, while others will stick to just one for years and years. It all depends on you, and how you enjoy playing the game.
Unlike other games like RPGs, where you stick to a certain character and power-up over time, LoL has no progression that carries over from one match to the next. Each game is a clean slate, with both teams doing everything possible to come out on top. This means that everything is down to you and your team’s skill; there are no pay-to-win items, and no high-level players to come and PK you in the starter zone.
While there is no tangible progression between each match, the progression comes in your own growth and skill as a player. Those who enjoy improving their own play will find themselves right at home in LoL’s Ranked Solo/Duo queue mode, where you are pitted against other players of equal skill.
There are nine different ranks to achieve: Iron, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, Grandmaster, and Challenger, where Challengers are the very best players on each server. As a result, the greatest reward for playing LoL is not a rare item with great stats or end-game loot like in other games, but the knowledge that you are better than a lot of other people. The mindset is similar to traditional sports, and this makes LoL one of the best competitive games, alongside titles like CS:GO, Rocket League, and COD.
That doesn’t mean that every game has to be a try-hard filled sweat-fest though. For those who enjoy the more casual side, LoL offers low-stakes Normal queue games and wacky game modes like URF that come around once in a while. There is even the ARAM mode, where every player is assigned a random champion and thrown into a 5v5 bloodbath for some quick and chilled-out fun. League of Legends is perfect both as a casual game with friends and a competitive esport, which is a big reason for its widespread success. In fact, most of the player-base exclusively plays Normal games, and never participates in Ranked at all.
Once you’ve made an account and loaded up the client for the first time, you might feel tempted to jump right into the deep end and start playing immediately. If you are totally clueless though, it’s worth completing the in-game tutorial missions first to get a basic grasp on the controls and mechanics of the game. Experimenting, messing around and learning through your mistakes is the best way to progress at first.
The tutorial will show you how to use your abilities, walk around the map, and allow you to try out a few different champions. Take your time and give them all a shot so that you can understand what kind of champion you like; do you enjoy ranged marksmen like Miss Fortune or beefy bruisers like Darius? Maybe the agile sword-wielder Master Yi is more your style, or the mobile mage Ahri… Once you complete this first stage of the Tutorial, you’ll have to make your choice between one of the five champions you tried. You’ll receive your favourite for free, as well as a corresponding icon for your account.
The second and third stages will teach you about items, abilities, levels, gold and farming minions. There’s still a lot to learn, but completing the Tutorial gives you everything you need to head into your first real games on Summoner’s Rift, as well as a capsule containing 3000 precious Blue Essence. This BE can be used in the Store to buy champions you want to try, but choose carefully before spending it. It takes a long time to earn Blue Essence, and even years of consistent play isn’t enough to unlock all of the champions.
Completing the tutorial stages should give your account enough experience to unlock the Practice Tool, which is a sandbox mode for you to experiment in. We’d recommend jumping into it for a few minutes with your chosen champion to get used to their abilities, look around Summoner’s Rift and practice last hitting minions. Now that you’re comfortable, it’s time to move on to your first real match.
Your First Games
Although it is your first match, you won’t actually be playing against real people. The first time around, you should queue up in the Co-op vs AI mode. This means that your team will be made up of other real people, hopefully, beginners just like you, but AI will control the enemy champions.
This is the perfect mode for your first few games, as your teammates will probably be just as clueless as you, and losing has no consequences at all. The bots may look like a joke to an experienced player, but for a complete beginner, they are decent opponents. Even better, up to level 10, your account will receive as much experience from playing against AI as it does from playing against real people. As a result, we’d recommend sticking exclusively to these bot games until you hit level ten, or even later if you’d prefer to continue learning in a stress-free environment.
Once you queue up and the lobby is ready, click ‘Accept’ to enter Champion Select. This is where you decide what champion you want to play and what Runes and Summoner Spells you want to use. Until you hit level 10, you won’t have access to your own Rune pages or all of the Summoner Spells, so just use whatever catches your eye.
There is a chat function in the bottom left corner of the client which can be used to talk with your team. If you want to play a certain role like mid lane, type it in the chat to let your team know. Then lock in your champion and hop into your first game, concentrating on the skills you learnt in the tutorial. Kill the enemies, farm minions, buy the recommended items, and take objectives to get an edge over the enemy team. If it’s all a bit much to remember though, just do whatever you want; above all, you should be having fun, and the priority is just familiarising yourself with the controls and abilities of your champion.
Once you’ve played a few bot games and hit level 10, you’ll be able to make your own Rune page and use any Summoner Spells, meaning that you are no longer at a disadvantage to other players. If you’re feeling confident, you can try heading into your first Normal game against real players.
At level 10 you also unlock Normal Draft Pick, which is better than Blind Pick since you won’t be arguing with your teammates about what role you get (at least most of the time, some people still do). Simply enter your two preferred roles, queue up and enter Champion Select like usual. This time though, you’ll have the chance to ban a champion before selecting your own. This is great for banning a champion that you dislike playing against, or something that counters your own champion. Head into the game and put everything you’ve learnt so far into practice.
A Word Of Warning
Hopefully, your first games will be fun and encourage you to play more, but things don't always go according to plan. League of Legends, like many other competitive games, is infamous for the toxic and antisocial behaviour of its players. Despite being a team game, you'll sometimes end up playing with people who actively sabotage your team, spew hate in the chat, or intentionally feed the enemy.
For a new player, these occurrences are extremely demotivating, causing them to quit the game immediately. While the game may be enjoyable, the people you encounter can easily ruin all the fun, and this isn't a problem exclusive to new players. League has suffered from this issue for a long time, and while Riot is making efforts to crack down on it, this is unfortunately just the nature of competitive online games with millions of unique players. It's the same story with every other major title, and we can just be thankful that League's toxicity isn't given the platform of voice chat like in Overwatch or Valorant.
If you can handle the flame, you can leave chat on, but for most players, we'd recommend using the command '/mute all' in the chat at the start of every game. This means that you won't have to deal with insults and hate speech, and using the versatile ping function is often enough to communicate effectively. If a player in your game commits an offence, you can report them afterwards in the lobby by clicking the '!' button by their username. If they are punished, you will later receive a notification in your client.
Obviously, playing by yourself only heightens the chances of you being stuck with toxic players. Finding a group of friends to play with can improve your experience massively, while also allowing you to compete in Clash tournaments, Ranked Flex 5v5, and even amateur tournaments like FACEIT.
Preparing For Ranked
If you choose to tolerate the toxicity of League and climb the ranked ladder, you'll first need to hit level 30 to unlock Ranked Solo/Duo queue.
Before you jump straight in though, you're going to want to tip the chances in your favour as much as possible. Generally for Ranked, you'll want to be comfortable playing at least two roles, for example, mid lane and top lane, while also having a few champions in each role that you can perform consistently on. By the time you hit level 30, it's unlikely that you'll have become good enough at multiple champions to head into ranked, so we'd recommend sticking to Normals for at least a bit longer.
Once you do finally decide to head to Ranked though, most players have one or two go-to champions which they will pick almost every game, but it's wise to have a few backups you can also play. These champions that you are comfortable on make up what is called your 'champion pool', and the ideal size for your pool is around three to five champions per role. Any more, and you'll spread your attention too thinly over too many champions. Focusing on just a couple will allow you to improve faster on those specific champions, but leave you helpless when they are picked or banned by the enemy. Make sure the champions you choose to learn are fun for you to play, effective in the meta, and also not too heavily contested. Champions like Yasuo are extremely popular, so you're much less likely to be able to play them all the time in Ranked.
Various third-party tools are useful when playing Ranked - the site OP.GG is perfect for checking your stats and scouting both teams before a game, while sites like U.GG and Mobalytics have detailed information on champion statistics, builds, runes and counter picks. They also feature tier lists every patch which you can use to decide what champions you want to play in Ranked. You can even get apps like Porofessor which function in Champ Select and the loading screen, showing you crucial information about your teammates and opponents.
If you want to learn the nuances of a specific champion, each has its own dedicated subreddit and often Discord server, where you can discuss combos, builds and matchups. Youtube is also a great resource, as high-ranked players often post full gameplays and free educational content on specific roles, champions, or topics like wave management. With any luck, you'll be gaining LP quickly and shooting up to your desired rank.
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Images via Riot Games