ELI5 League of Legends Guide


by in League of Legends | Jun, 17th 2019

Explaining the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre to someone who isn’t adequately initiated is tricky business. Regardless of the way you start, you’ll soon find yourself in quicksand. You inevitably start using terms like “lanes,” “creeps” (the other kind), and “champions” which only lead to confusion.

You’ll try to explain the many nuances and intricacies that come with the average game of League, and yet it’s all in vain. You’re simply trying to cram too complex of a subject into simple sentences and explanations. After a couple of minutes (at best), you’ve completely lost your listener. So let’s do it together — let’s do an ELI5 League of Legends guide!

The point of this guide isn’t to get you up to speed. You’ll need more than a couple of paragraphs to consume ten years of League of Legends history. Instead, the point is to introduce you to the whole concept and to give you a better understanding of what’s going on and how you can be a part of it.

The average MOBA game looks like absolute madness, but that’s just at first glance. The structure behind the game is exceptionally simple — intuitive, even. There’s a lot of logic and symmetry involved. After all, if it were really that complicated, it wouldn’t have become one of the most popular and beloved games of all time.

So without any further ado, let’s start our ELI5 League of Legends guide!

The Basics

League of Legends is a game that pits ten players, split into two teams of five, against one another. Both teams are fighting towards the same objective — to win the game by destroying the enemy Nexus, located in the opposing team’s base. A Nexus is, simply said, the most important structure in the game, and it’s on the farthest end of the map. You have one, and so do your opponents.

To get to the opposing Nexus, you need to go through one of three possible lanes. There’s a top lane, a mid lane (the lane that’s dividing the square map into two equally sized triangles), as well as a bottom lane.

League of Legends Summoners Rift Map with Notations

A helpful, visual representation of the different lanes

The end goal is to get to the enemy Nexus, and to do so, you need to go past multiple turrets that are guarding a lane. Now, unlike the Nexus, which is completely passive, these turrets can both see and attack you. And they can hurt. Like hell. You also need a fair bit of time (at least early on in the game) to get a turret down, so it’s a process.

Fortunately, there’s a minion wave spawning from your own Nexus, and it goes towards the opposing one. These waves are often called just “minions.” They’re your allies, but they’re pretty weak. They’re the ones doing the pushing part because they’re coded to attack regardless of the state of the game. A new wave spawns after a short amount of time, and these minions are trying to do the same thing as you are — to get to the other side of the map and get the job done.

The problem is, your enemies have minion waves as well. So not only are you fighting against five other champions, but you’re also trying to kill all of their minions in order to get to their turrets and, eventually, the Nexus.

League of Legends Minions

The standard minions you’ll see in the Rift

By killing enemy minions, you’ll be gaining experience (XP) as well as gold. You stack XP to level up (thus gaining new abilities and strengthening existing ones), and you use gold to purchase new items — they can give you both passive improvements (like more offensive or defensive stats) as well as active abilities, like invulnerability, stasis, and so on.

Both of these elements are integral to your strength. Without experience, you won’t be able to level your champion (up to a maximum of 18 levels), and without gold, you won’t be able to purchase items and empower your attacks. So you really need both.

When someone falls behind in a game of League, that means they didn’t get enough gold or XP (or both) and as a result are underleveled and underpowered when compared to their opponents.

Every champion starts out as a level-one hero, with one passive ability and four active ones. Three of those four can be unlocked (and leveled up) throughout the game, but the fourth one (your ultimate) can only be “taken” or “leveled” on levels six, eleven, and sixteen. Your ultimate is always the strongest ability you have, and they have the most impact on the game. Every time you level up, you’re gaining passive stats (like more armor, magic resist, health, and so on) along a single ability point which you can use to then “level up” one of your four active abilities.

Simple stuff, really.

Finally, every ability has a cooldown. After activating it, you’ll have to wait for a little while (depending on the ability) before being able to use it again. Your ultimate — seeing how it’s the most important ability you have — always has the longest cooldown. So an average ability has, say, between a two-second cooldown all the way up to twenty, and your ultimate can have a cooldown of over two minutes. The stronger the ultimate, the longer the cooldown.

Obviously, these numbers are used here just for the sake of argument. They vary wildly from champion to champion.

Fortunately, while your abilities are on cooldown, you can throw out basic attacks and still dish out damage.

So in layman’s terms, if you’re playing a big dude with an axe, an ability would mean he can throw his axe in a direction, and a basic attack would just be a chopping attack on a target that’s close by. The throw would do more damage, but you can only throw it ever so often.

Finally, using abilities always has a cost (with 99% of champions, at least). By activating an ability, you’re using up a certain amount of Mana/Energy/Rage, depending on the champion. So to continue building on the axe throw example, an axe throw can cost 50 mana, and your champion has 350 on level one. So after throwing your axe seven times, you’ll need to wait a bit for your mana to regenerate.

Now, depending on your playstyle and what you want to do in game, you always buy items that synergize with your role. So if you’re a champion that’s throwing out abilities left and right, you’re going to need a Mana Regen item in order to regenerate mana more quickly. You can also buy things like Health, Armor, Magic Resistance, Movement Speed, Critical Strike Chance, Attack Damage, Ability Power, and so on.

Champions are also divided into two categories — the first ones deal physical damage (Attack Damage or AD), and the second ones deal magic damage (Ability Power or AP). There are a couple of champions that deal both, so they’re mixed damage dealers.

The Map

The Summoner’s Rift map is completely mirrored. There are three lanes and two sides of the jungle. Everything that one side has is also present in the other. There are, however, neutral objectives — Dragons, the Rift Herald, and Baron Nashor. The first one is closer to the left side of the map (often called the Red Side), with the other two being located near the top side of the map along with the Blue Side.

These objectives always give you more strength (there are multiple types of dragons, and each type gives you a specific boost), the Rift Herald spawns before Baron and when conquered joins your team for a single push in lane (used mostly to take down a turret, or perhaps even two), and that leaves us with the Baron Nashor. It is the most important neutral objective in the game, and taking it down requires both coordination as well as ample strength.

By taking it down, your whole team will get a serious boost in power, and the same goes for your minions. So those little creeps that push mindlessly in your favor will now be noticeably better at their job.

Finally, there’s one last thing on the map that plays a key part in how a game unfolds: inhibitors. There are three inhibitors in total (one on each side of the map), and they’re protected by a single turret. Once you destroy an enemy inhibitor, your Nexus will start spawning “super minions” which will push like there’s no tomorrow. These minions will create a lot of pressure by themselves, so you can then attack from multiple angles.

Taking an inhibitor down opens up the map and creates a potential avenue for success. Finally, inhibitors automatically respawn after a certain amount of time, so you’ll only have a couple of minutes to capitalize.

Meta

This single word carries a lot of significance. In fact, it’s actually an acronym: Most Effective Tactic Available. At every point in time, there is a meta to which many players adhere. The meta dictates what is strong and what isn’t, and if you abide by it, you’re basically guaranteed to find more success.

But what does that really mean? In reality, that means you’ll play X champion instead of Y because there was a recent power shift. Or you’ll start building item B after item A and not the other way around because you’ll be able to reach a power spike much earlier.

Now, the meta is never perfectly still — it evolves and changes, sometimes on a monthly basis. The meta can easily be changed and altered by just a single patch, which forces you to be light and nimble and to constantly adapt regardless of your personal preference.

The meta changes the way the game is played and, by proxy, makes things much more exciting even after years of play.

Roles

League of Legends is a team-based game, and for a team to function well, everyone needs to know their responsibility. Some players are expected to carry (deal the most damage, basically), some to set things up (fights, objectives), and others to enable and itemize for the team.

When you divide things fully, you get five distinct roles.

Top laner

A top laner is a pretty important role in any game of League of Legends. They’re playing by themselves (so one on one), and they’re also getting all the resources. As the game progresses, a top laner will definitely become a force to be reckoned with. The top lane position is rather flexible, meaning it allows for all types of champions to be played: mages, bruisers, and especially tanks.

Jungler

The jungler is the one player that can have the most impact in the early game. This is the only role in the game that isn’t solely focused on farming but instead focuses on getting his laners ahead by ganking (emerging from the jungle and attacking an opposing player along with his teammate). This is, without a doubt, the most complicated role in the game.

Mid Laner

The mid laner can be considered as the strongest and most important role in the game. They’re a solo position, meaning you’ll get all the resources to yourself and will, by proxy, have the most gold and experience. Mid laners are mostly either Ability Power mages or Attack Damage assassins, although there are some exceptions.

AD Carry

The AD Carry (also known as the “ADC”) is one of the most fascinating roles in the game. You’re by far the most fragile champion of the bunch, but sooner or later, you’ll pack a serious punch. If you play your cards right in the late game, you can single-handedly win your team the fight. But there’s a slight problem — you need time and resources to grow into a late-game behemoth. An ADC without farm (number of enemy minions killed) and items is basically useless, so you’ll always be looking to stack as much power as possible before opting to fight.

Support

Even though supports are often looked down upon for their innate lack of damage, don’t let that fool you: they play an integral part in the game. They’re the ones who are engaging, shielding, protecting, healing, setting up plays, buying items for the benefit of the team, sacrificing their lives, and perhaps most importantly setting up vision all over the map.

The beauty of it all comes from the fact that you can go for any role you want and immerse yourself in the many champions and strategies that are available. And these things are never set in stone — you can change your role or style of play whenever you feel like it!

The Way a Game Unfolds

The average game of League lasts between fifteen minutes (if you’re getting stomped and decide to surrender as a five-man unit) all the way up to fifty minutes (if you’re fighting tooth and nail around every objective and things are going back and forth).

Believe it or not, it’s the short ones that take the wind out of your sails. Fighting for fifty minutes is a lot more rewarding and entertaining because you’re matched against someone of equal strength. Conversely, when you get smacked around, there’s nothing to gain and often nothing to be learned as well, especially if it’s a blowout.

Creating a comprehensive ELI5 League of Legends guide is not an easy task, primarily because there’s so much ground to cover. The game has been out for almost a decade, and even though it has changed quite a bit over the years, it’s still as big and intricate as ever. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use this guide to better grasp the basics, and then you’ll build upon that foundation by watching and playing a lot of League.

While it might seem overly complex, don’t let that stop you from playing and learning everything you can — League of Legends is an exceptional game and is well worth your time!

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