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League of Legends: Gameplay Basics

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably at least heard of League of Legends. Maybe you have a favorite streamer who plays, and you want to try your own hand at the game, maybe you played a long time ago and you’re looking for a refresher. Either way, read on to find out all about League of Legends basics — everything you need to know to get started playing. 

Get to Know the MOBA

League of Legends is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game or MOBA for short. MOBAs come in all different shapes and sizes, but usually, there are two teams competing against each other to finish an objective. In League of Legends, these teams are 3 or 5 player teams, and the objective is usually to destroy the enemy team’s base, their “Nexus.” 

Guarding the enemy Nexus are minions, towers, inhibitors, and, of course, the enemy team. So destroying the enemy base involves a lot more than just going for it head-on. At the beginning of a match, champions don’t start out strong enough to typically make much headway in destroying the enemy base or fending off the enemy team. You have to level up your champion, level up your skills, and obtain enough gold to kit your champion out with items. And even then, you still often have to successfully work with your team to win a fight before you can attack the enemy base to any sort of meaningful degree. 

So what are champions? Champions are, well, you! That is, champions are who you play as in League of Legends. At the start of each game you pick, or, in some modes, are randomly assigned, a champion to play as. Each champion has various attributes that fit them into a given category, such as tank or mage, and within those categories, each champion’s specific stats, skills, and the way you choose to build them, determine their role in the game on an individual level. Games can be won or lost at the character selection screen. If teams don’t have a variety of champions that can work together well, and if players don’t build their champions to their specific strengths, this usually makes the game an uphill battle with a low chance of success. 

Once you have a balanced team in terms of champions, you still have to build your individual champion in a way that plays to their strength. What does building a champion mean? A champion’s build is the items you buy for it. If you’re playing, for example, a tank that doesn’t deal any spell damage, buying items that increase your ability power will only waste your money. If, on the other hand, you’re playing a support champion, you’ll want to focus on support items. Even though big-ticket damage items can seem tantalizing for a support, you can only really go for those if you have the coin to spare. If you’re a mage, you’ll want to buy items that increase the spell damage that you do, or that add other effects to your spells. Just one person building their champion in a way that doesn’t make sense can make the match a loss for the whole team.  

So how do you get gold anyway? Early on, the best way to do it is to “last hit” minions. Dealing the killing blow to an enemy minion awards you a fair amount of gold. The more often you can successfully deal the last hit to an enemy minion, the more quickly you can get gold. And this brings us to the first important phase of the game: laning. 

Navigating the Rift

The Lane Phase in League of Legends is crucial. This is the part where your team splits off, in the beginning, to go to their respective lanes in Summoner’s Rift, which is the fictional realm where these games take place. Since minions are almost the only source for gold and experience in the beginning of the game, dividing up is the best way to ensure that everyone can get the gold and experience that they need. Things get a little more complicated, however, when we bring back champion roles into the mix. Laning is a very important time to know your role and where you need to go and what you need to do. 

Attack Damage Carries are typically marksmen characters who deal a lot of damage but don’t necessarily have much ability to withstand damage from enemy players. They’re usually pretty item-dependant, and so they need to spend a lot of time farming gold during the lane phase. Later in the game, they will be your team’s source for sustain, or consistent damage output on enemies, structures, and objectives. However, since they often don’t have many escape abilities or survivability stats, they often need the help of a support champion. 

Support players are the team’s lifeline. They heal, they shield, or they use crowd control (stuns, slows, knockup, etc) to keep their team alive. Or they tank the damage themselves. Playing as a support is rewarding and challenging, but keeping in mind these basics will go a long way toward giving your team the backbone of support it needs. First, since your attack damage carry or “ADC” is so dependant on gold for items, you need to make sure not to hog all of those last hits for yourself. Starter support items will help you share gold with your ADC while they farm gold Bottom. Bottom lane is typically where this ADC/support duo goes, where you’ll face off with the enemy ADC and support. But supports also need to place wards to avoid getting ganked, or attacked, by a player coming down to bottom for a kill from another lane or from the jungle. 

Mid players are flying solo. Typically, champions who go mid are assassins or mages. Assassins usually have high burst damage but aren’t usually the most sturdy. They get in, deal damage, and get out. Mages are also usually burst damage champions, but they tend to keep their distance. They stay out of the fray but send their spells into the action to deal huge amounts of damage to the enemy team. 

Up in the Top lane, you might also see assassins, or you’ll run into fighters. Fighters are usually pretty sturdy, but can also pack a bunch. A good fighter is great for engaging on the enemy team and winning a team fight. During laning phase, top lane is also usually a solo lane. This means you’re responsible for last hitting minions, and trying to keep the enemy top laner from doing the same. 

If you’ve been keeping count, you’ll realize that for a typical 5v5 game, we’re still one role short, and that’s because Junglers don’t head to a lane at the start of the match, they head to, well, the jungle. Since there’s only as much gold and experience to go around as there are minions, junglers make it so that two lanes, mid and top, can solo farm, while they farm neutral creeps in the jungle. Neutral creeps are, unsurprisingly, neither yours nor your enemy’s minions. They can be attacked by anyone, and award gold, experience, and sometimes powerful buffs (or short-term power-ups) to anyone who kills them. So junglers can get their gold primarily from neutral creeps, making it so that the gold and experience from enemy minions is divided into one fewer share. More for everyone! And, since junglers are lurking around in the jungle, often out of sight for the enemy, they’re usually going to be helping their team set up the first few ganks of the game. 

Taking the Fight to the Enemy

Although the importance of farming rarely diminishes, the importance of slaying enemy champions will start to come more and more toward the forefront. Slaying an enemy champion awards more gold and experience than killing minions, and it also means that the enemy champion will need to wait a while before they respawn. When the enemy is down a player, or two, or five, this is the perfect time to attack their base or try for more specialized objectives such as Dragon or Baron. Don’t get too greedy though! One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is chasing too many kils. We all get the bloodlust, but you don’t want to lose sight of the team objectives, or chase an enemy too far and end up getting killed yourself. You’ll eventually learn how long is too long to chase, and which dives are doomed from the start, but that comes with practice. 

Of course, the best way to learn the game is to play, but this overview of basics should give you a leg up on the competition. Be sure to try out all the various roles to see which one suits you best, and try out as many champions as you can. Learning different champions will give you different points of view on how the game is played, and help you predict what your enemy might do if they’re playing a champion you know or a role you’re experienced in. Staying one step ahead of your enemy is a great way to help ensure success for you and your team. 

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