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League of Legends: An esports Guide for Beginners

An intro guide that tells you everything you need to know about League of Legends!


As the world around us continues to change, sports fans have found that competitive gaming is coming to the center of attention these days. ESPN, Yahoo, and other major news networks have started covering this new phenomenon, but they fail to make these articles accessible to the public that doesn’t play video games. Perhaps the greatest example of this is realized when we look at League of Legends, which is the most played game in the entire world. While many people in the younger generation play it and understand everything that’s going on, the game is completely foreign to others who have never seen it before.

It’s an incredibly complex game that isn’t friendly to people who want to watch but have no previous experience. This makes League of Legends unique when it comes to sports. For example, you can watch five minutes of basketball and understand that the basic point of the game is to get the ball in the hoop. However, you can watch three whole League of Legends matches and still have no idea what’s going on.

With esports (electronic sports) hoping to spread into mainstream culture, there has to be some way to make them accessible for people who have never seen or played League of Legends before. And that is why I decided I needed to write a guide. By the end of this guide, I guarantee that you will be able to watch a League of Legends match and have a decent idea about what is going on.

Before I talk about the intricacies of this game, you should know I only just started playing and watching League of Legends about a year ago, so I completely understand how nonsensical it looks to an outsider. My high school was obsessed with the game, so I watched game play to see what the hype was about, and I was completely lost. Even after I played the game, I had trouble learning a lot of the terms and strategies.

I tell you this because I wish that there was something like this guide out there for the me a year ago. While this guide will not go into how to play the game, it will explain basic principles that the beginner needs to know. And with that, our guide begins.

What is League of Legends?

I suppose the most important aspect of understanding League of Legends is knowing what it is. By definition, League of Legends is an MOBA, which stands for Multi-player Online Battle Area. Multi-player means that the game is played by multiple people and you can play with people around the world because the game is hosted online.

The battle arena part gets a little more confusing and in depth. Basically, the arena is a map, and within the map is where the game takes place. Here, the players battle other players hoping to win the game. (I’ll explain how to win the game in the next section).

The Map

In League of Legends, there are two teams each with five people, so there’s ten people in every game. Each person has a certain position they play, and each position has a job to do to ensure the team can win the game. To understand each position, I’ll need to explain how the map is set up and how champions work. First, we’ll start off with the map.

This is Summoner’s Rift; it is the only map that professional League of Legends is played on. Notice that there are two bases, one on each side of the map, and three strips of land that connect these two sides.

Lanes & Turrets

These strips of land are called lanes. The lane on the top is called Top Lane, the lane in the middle is called Mid Lane, and the lane on the bottom is called Bot Lane. In between these lanes, you will see areas that are dark and different from the lanes. This area is called the jungle. I’ll go more in depth about what each lane does later, but for now I want to focus on the way the map is set up.

Okay, so notice how each lane has two round looking things in them? These are called turrets (they are marked with a circle on the map), and they hurt enemies if they walk within the turret radius. In the early game (there are three parts to every game: early game, mid-game, and late game. Again, I’ll go more in detail about this later), the goal of each lane is to destroy the enemy players’ turret.

If you do, you’ll get gold to buy items that strengthen you. There are two turrets per lane and if the enemy team destroys both turrets, they now have the possibility to attack the first turret in your base. This turret is called the inhibitor turret (marked with a triangle on the map) because it protects the inhibitor (marked with a rectangle on the map).

Let me back up a little to catch us up on the map. So we have two turrets for every lane, one inhibitor turret at the end of every lane in the base, and one inhibitor for every lane in the base behind each inhibitor turret. In short, there are six lanes turrets, three inhibitor turrets, and three inhibitors per team.

The Nexus

Now on to the most important thing in the game, the Nexus (marked with a star on the map). If one inhibitor turret is destroyed, the team can attack the Nexus turrets which protect the Nexus. If both Nexus turrets are destroyed, the team can then attack the Nexus.

If the team destroys the enemy Nexus, they win the game. The objective of the game is to destroy the enemy Nexus. Most people who watch League of Legends for the first time think the goal of the game is to kill the enemy team, and this is not correct. The goal of every single pro League of Legends game that has been and will be played is to destroy the enemy Nexus.

Map Objectives

In addition to these basic map structures, there are different objectives that are spread out across the map. The two main ones I’ll talk about are Dragon (marked with a lightning bolt) and Baron Nashor (marked with a 4 point star). There’s also Rift Herold, Blue Buff, and Red Buff, but those aren’t as important as Dragon and Baron.

Dragons

Dragon is a monster that appears after minute five near the bot lane. There have been some recent changes with how dragon works, so as I write this guide, the way pros are playing around dragon is changing every match.

Dragon used to be the same, and every time a team killed a dragon, they would get a new buff (something that would positively increase a stat like attack damage or speed for the rest of the game). However, a new update changed how buffs are given out in the dragon pit. There are now five different dragons, and each gives a different buff.

The Inferno Dragon increases attack damage and ability power; the Cloud Dragon increases out of combat movement speed; the Mountain Dragon increases the amount of damage a team does to turrets and epic monsters (like Baron); and Water Dragon refills a percentage of health and mana (mana is used to cast spells. More on this later).

The final dragon is the Elder Dragon, which comes around at minute 35. If a team kills this dragon, all of their previous buffs become even more powerful. This recent change with dragons has changed pro play drastically, so it has been fun to see how they adapt to these new scenarios.

Baron Nashor

Before I talk about Baron Nashor, I need to talk about another thing that is kind of part of the map, but plays a bigger role than just being a structure. Minions are computer controlled beings that are sent to lanes to damage the enemy team’s minions and push the lane (so that the lane is closer to the enemy side).

Minions, Gold & Farming

Minions have a bunch of rules to them, but for the sake of this guide, only one or two aspects are important to know. First off, if a champion (the player controlled character) gets the last hit on a minion, they receive gold.

Gold is used to buy items that make the champions more powerful, so gold is incredibly important. The act of consistently last hitting minions is called farming, and most players farm for the majority of the early game. The second thing to know about minions is that there are two tiers of minions, and the larger minions give out more gold when they are last hit. This is pretty much all you need to know for minions as of now, so I’ll continue with the map talk.

The next objective to focus on is Baron Nashor. Baron is considered to be the most important objective in the game because it makes minions even more powerful and increases pushing power. Once a team gets Baron, it becomes much easier for them to win. However, unlike dragon, the Baron buff isn’t permanent and is lost if a champion dies.

After a team kills Baron, they have to be careful not to lose the game changing buff they got. Whenever a pro team goes for Baron, there will usually be a fight over it because it is so helpful in winning games. Now that we’ve gotten the basics of the map and objectives of the game down, we can learn everything that happens in between the start of the game and the destruction of a Nexus.

The Champion

Now that we’ve gone over how the map works and the actual aim of the game, we can dive into the specifics about what happens within each game. Before every game, teams go through what is called the pick/ban phase. Each team may ban three champions and each player chooses a Champion they will play for the entire game.

A champion is the character chosen and controlled by the real-life player, and each champion has certain set of abilities that make them different from every other champion in the game. Champions has five total abilities, which are special moves that a player can use by pressing Q, W, E, or R.

On top of these four “manual” abilities, every champion has a passive which is an ability that is always “active”. To explain this better, I’ll explain by breaking down an actual League of Legends champion, Morgana.

Morgana

Morgana is considered one of the more basic and easier champions in the game and keep in mind that every other champion has a different kit (this is the term players use for the ability set).

Morgana’s passive allows her to have a % increase of spell vamp at all times (spell vamp is an attribute that allows her to heal herself every time she damages another person with an ability).

Morgana’s Q is Dark Binding, which is a skill shot (an ability that must be aimed when activated) that roots the enemy it hits (if it hits) for a certain amount of time. It also damages the enemy.

Morgana’s W is Tormented soil, which puts down a circle in which the enemy is damaged if they stand in it.

Her E is Black Shield, a point-and-click ability that can be cast on allies or on herself that blocks all form of Crowd Control (I’ll do a small section on crowd control later, but for now, just know that it’s something that inhibits a champion’s ability to move or cast spells).

Finally, Morgana’s R, as with all champs, is her ultimate. An ultimate is a super-powerful ability that has a longer cooldown than the rest of the abilities, but usually does more damage and can help sway a team fight so that their team can win.

For Morgana, her “ult” allows her to damage to all enemy champions within a certain radius. After three seconds, the enemy champions that are still in this radius are stunned for 1.5 seconds.

Mages, Marksmen, Tanks, Assassins, Fighters & Supports

Champions can be categorized into different types: mages, who focus on casting spells and using abilities to do damage; marksmen, who focus on building up attack damage to make sure their basic attacks wreak havoc for the enemy team; tanks, who focus on solely building armor and health so they can take all the damage in team fights; assassins, whose main goal is to do a ton of damage as quick as possible to a single champion; fighters, who split their build on damage and “tankiness” so they can deal damage while the enemy team still has trouble taking them down; and finally supports, whose main goal is making sure the rest of the team has the best possible chance of winning a fight by using crowd control and healing.

Each and every type of champion is important, and a team can’t win by all being the same type. That’s why League of Legends has different positions; so that each team can organize who plays what role and in which lane they play in. That’s right, now we get back into lane talk.

Player Positions

There are five different positions on a League of Legends team. I’ll try to explain what each position does and how they help create a successful League of Legends team.

Top Lane

First off, there’s Top, which as you would expect, plays in the top lane. Most top laners play tanky champions, so their role is to be there when the team engages in a team fight. It is hard to win a team fight without your top lanerIn order to make sure that the top laner can get all around the map as quickly as they can, most top laners take Teleport as one of their Summoner Spells. In pro play, the most common top laners as of now are Maokai, Poppy, and Ekko.

Mid Lane

The next position is Mid, which as you may have guessed, plays in the mid lane. The mid laner is usually a mage who builds ability power to do lots of damage and movement speed so they can move to help out bot lane when they need help.

This could be for many reasons; the enemy jungler attacks your bot lane so you move to help, you want to help destroy the enemy turret; you move with your team to secure dragon. Mid usually takes Flash and Ignite to secure kills that sometimes would get out alive. Some popular mid laners in pro play right now are Azir, Vladimir, Victor, and Leblanc.

Jungler

The next position is Jungler. This is the most unorthodox position in the game because everything they have to do changes from game to game. The idea is that the jungler levels up through farming monsters (farming monsters is what the jungler does to receive gold since there are no minions in the jungle) in the jungle and then ganks (this term means group attack).

So, if the jungler ganks mid lane, it now becomes 2v1 mid lane instead of 1v1. Honestly, the position of jungler is so complex that it’s hard to explain in a guide like this. On top of being everywhere the team needs when the team needs it, the jungler has to focus on controlling objectives like dragon and Baron. The jungler always takes smite, which allows them to secure kills on epic monsters. Some popular junglers in pro play right now are Kindred, Rek’sai, and Gragas.

ADC & Support

Down in the bot lane, there are two positions: ADC (stands for attack damage carry) and support. Bot lane is the only lane that has two champions. Why? Well, this is mainly due to how hard it is for an ADC to escape by themselves if they’re ganked.

Usually, the ADC wants to focus on farming, and the support’s job is to make sure nothing happens to the ADC while farming. The ADC and support do a lot more than just farm and protect though. When it gets to mid/late game, both the support and the ADC usually hang around the team to help out in team fights.

When it comes to team fights, the ADC’s are the ones who deal all the damage, while it is usually the job of the support to set up the fight and/or protect people during the fight.

The role of ADC is straightforward when it comes to what they have to be strong at (damage), but the cool thing about support is that there are many ways to play it. A support could play tanky like Braum or Leona, or it could be a mage with lots of crowd control that focus on damage and/or utility.

When it comes to supports in the LCS, there’s really no telling who pros might choose because there are so many viable choices out there.

The Game

Okay, now that I’ve gotten you familiar with the map and champions, it’s time to talk about the game itself. Games can last from 30 to 45 minutes, so what goes on during that time? After this section, you’ll be familiar enough with League of Legends that you’ll be able to watch a full game and understand what is happening.

In the beginning of every game, each team starts in their base. Every player is given 500 gold to buy starting items, which help since champions are weak in the early game. After players buy their items, they go to the lanes they are assigned to and farm once the minions are released.

Early Game

This point of the game is called the early game. Teams aren’t too worried about getting kills right now because it could put them in harm’s way, and farming earns just as much gold as kills. The early game focuses on getting a few turrets down in the lane so that the team has more gold as a whole.

With all of this being said, once champions hit level 3 or 4, there is a possibility of a gank. If a team gets the first kill, it’s called First Blood, and the player who got the last hit gets extra gold (400 gold to be exact). The early game is all about farming up gold so that your champion will be stronger for the mid and late game. With this in mind let’s talk about the mid-game.

Mid-Game

Okay, so the mid-game is a bit harder to define because there’s nothing that starts the mid-game like the early game or the late game. Mid game usually starts between minute 15 and minute 20, and this is when champions are getting strong.

At this point in the game, there are usually multiple turrets that have been destroyed and teams are trying to gain map control. Teams are trying to get the second turrets in lane so that they can eventually push to get the inhibitor turret, which would kick start the late game. In the mid-game, there’s more of a chance for a big team fight, so I’ll explain what goes into a team fight.

Team Fights

Team fights are when one team fights another team. In pro play, the players know a 5v4 could mean certain death, so almost all pro team fights are 5v5. There are a lot of things that go into team fights, so I will try to explain what each role does to secure the team fight win.

Usually, top wants to tank most of the damage. Top is usually the one who engages the team fight since top lane champions usually have a good amount of CC, and they’re also pretty tanky. The main goal for top is to make sure they are the ones taking the damage and not the ADC or Mid laner.

The jungler is another interesting player when it comes to team fights because they can fulfill multiple roles. If the jungler is someone like Rek’sai or Gragas, they want to engage the fights and help tank damage. However, if the jungler is playing a champion with high damage like Kindred or Ekko, they want to single out the ADC.

The mid laner‘s job during team fights is to do as much damage to as many people as possible. When it comes to team fights, pros usually focus on killing the ADC first, then the mid laner because of how much damage they do.

The mid laner needs to keep this in mind and try to stay out of danger while dealing damage so he doesn’t leave the team at a disadvantage. For the ADC’s job, they want to deal as much damage to a single target as possible.

ADC’s try to move from target to target to deal damage, and their positioning is important. The ADC will be the most focused target, so the champion can’t be in the middle of the fight. The ADC must be on the outside shooting in to make sure they are making the biggest impact they can without risking being killed.

Finally, you have the role of support, whose job is to make sure their team stays safe while dealing a ton of crowd control to the other team. The support makes sure that certain champions on their team are safe while champions on the other team are not. When we put all of this together, we get hectic team fights that sometimes decide the game. Team fights are definitely the most exciting part about League of Legends, and when you watch your first one, you’ll understand why.

Late Game

That brings me to the late game, which has all of our favorite parts of League of Legends in it. During the late game, teams are trying to enter the opponent’s base to get to that Nexus. At this point in the game, champions are stronger than ever and so team fights are even more important.

Much of the late game takes place in / right outside of enemy bases, with the occasional Baron run. The goal of the late game is to eliminate the other team so you can finally destroy the Nexus, so the majority of team fights are usually found in this part of the game. Once a team is successful and destroys a Nexus, the game is over and they have won!

Conclusion

Alright, you are officially set for watching your first League of Legends professional game. There will be things I didn’t cover in this guide because they are too advanced, but you should be able to understand the majority of what’s going on.

We’ll keep making guides if we find that there is something we missed or something that needs to be clarified, but for now, go out and enjoy professional League of Legends!

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Cameron Tennyson

I study Communication at UC San Diego with the hopes of becoming a journalist one day. In my free time, I write short stories and play League of Legends.

League of Legends: An esports Guide for Beginners

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