Friday, February 15, 2013

5 Ways to Stop Sucking at League of Legends

You've had enough of having nothing to add when the conversation turns to Teemos and AD caster mids and jokes about some guy named Warmog. You've heard about the millions of people tuning in to LoL tournaments to watch their favorite players get destroyed by Koreans. You've installed the game, completed the tutorial, picked a cool looking character, and had a ninja lady kick you the death before disappearing into a smoke cloud while shouting "BEST AKALI NA" in chat. Now what?

There are many websites out there devoted to cataloging builds and strategies, but if I know one thing about competitive games, it's that having bad fundamentals means you're going to lose to the Mighty Ducks. Though everyone should learn the terminology and stay up to date with the current "best" strategies, at lower levels very little of it is adhered to and it is more important to develop good habits that will help you throughout your summoning career.

Try to keep these tips in mind and hopefully you'll be sharing a heartwarming hug with Emilio Estevez after your next game.

Don't Be Afraid to Get Messy

You've played the tutorial. The client has offered you a game against computer controlled enemies. You fumble through a game and perhaps a small child vomited fire onto your entire team while her pet bear blew up your base. Perhaps the bots decided it was a good idea to wander aimlessly while you picked them off one by one. It happens.

Bot games are excellent for working out the basics - how to navigate the item menu and buy items, how to use abilities, and how to win the game. Play a few if you want, and don't be shy about testing out all the in-game toggles. Hit escape and try out some of the extra options. They cannot be accessed from the main client. Poke at the item shop and get used to navigating it.

One thing must be remembered: bots are not people. They do not behave like people. No amount of bot games at any difficulty level will prepare you for playing against people. If you're feeling anxious about being thrown in with players who know what they're doing, don't worry about it.

Everyone was new once, and the system will attempt to match you with people that are equally amateur. Though the details of how it works are kept private, League keeps track of your performance and attempts to match you with similarly skilled players. It will also account for people who queue together as a group, ranking them slightly higher because of their presumed ability to coordinate with each other. Though it is common for experienced players to create new accounts (a practice referred to as smurfing - don't Urban Dictionary that), the system also has several methods to identify these accounts and match them with other veteran tourists.

Play fearlessly. Try new things in live-fire situations. Play against humans. The best way to quickly find your limits is to try and break them. Your opponents will be just as inept as you, if not more so. Think of summoner levels 1 through 30 as an extended tutorial level.

If you meet one of League's many vocally opinionated players, you can mute them by holding down tab to bring up the scoreboard and then clicking the speech bubble on the far right side that corresponds with their name. Cross-team chat is disabled in the options by default, so the enemy team will be well behaved. Some players attempt to find zen by preemptively muting everyone. Personally, I enjoy a good conversation, and if you stay classy and positive you may find that some of the other players are secretly helpful.

Explore All the Champions and Items

Each week, a number of characters will be free to play. Each week's rotation will include a mix of champions to cover every typical role. If you take advantage of this to familiarize yourself with every character available to you, you'll quickly begin to pick up the nuances of League's ever-expanding roster.

Take the time to read about your character's abilities. Keep rule number one in mind, and be aggressive about experimenting with their uses throughout the game. There's plenty of information detailing the weird interactions each ability has, but right now you're focused on getting a feel for what this character is capable of. Even if you decide that you do not enjoy playing this champion, you'll know what to expect when you see someone else pick them.

In addition, playing more champions will expose you to the item shop's daunting catalog. Each character has different items listed under the "recommended" tab in the item shop. League helpfully suggests good starting, essential, offensive, and defensive items. Clicking on each of them will show what lesser items comprise the item's crafting recipe. Buying these lesser items through the game will help you stay strong as you farm gold to complete your build.

As you grow in skill, it is wise to discard the cookie cutter recommended items and begin to strategize about what to buy when. Learning what everything does is a valuable part of being able to think about your item build on the fly. Don't forget that the items also have tooltips to read. UNIQUE things will not stack with multiple copies, and ACTIVE things are triggered by pressing the number key of the bag slot the item is in.

Practice Last Hitting

Enemy minions and neutral jungle monsters award gold and experience on death. You will gain experience simply by being nearby, but you will only gain gold if you deal them the killing blow. "Last hitting" is vital for every player to learn. Killing enemy players and destroying their structures will yield gold, but the majority of your income will usually be from minions and monsters. A player with excellent last hitting skills will tip the balance of the game by themselves, simply by being able to buy better items more quickly.

Each character has a unique auto-attack animation with different timing. They will also deal different amounts of damage based on several factors. The amount of damage your auto-attacks will do is displayed with a sword icon next to your character's portrait in the lower left of the screen. Clicking on an enemy minion will show you their health total.

Get used to the flow of minion waves. Observe what your minions are dealing damage to, and plan your auto-attacks so that you'll score the last hit. Remember that many items you may buy will improve your attack damage and speed, changing the timing. Your character's abilities can be used to aid in last hitting, though you will have to make a judgment on whether it's better to save these resources for enemy players.

Even the best players have to worry about last hitting well. Furthermore, they must balance it with fighting enemy players and considering when to "push" by killing the enemy minions quickly or "freeze" by only going in for the last hit and otherwise leaving the minions to stalemate with each other.

Melee minions give more gold than ranged minions. Try not to miss the large siege minions - they are worth considerably more gold.

Take Objectives

Killing enemy players may be highly productive, but at the end of the day your job is to destroy the enemy base. Many teams that are crushing their competition have still lost because they didn't destroy towerswhile their foes doggedly sieged their way in. There are many advantages to taking towers. Killing one will award everyone on your team some gold. It will also deny enemy players map vision and give them one less safe spot to run to.

Look for more opportunities to damage or destroy enemy towers. Even if you are low on health or really need to buy items, if you have free time and there are no enemies to stop you, there is no reason not to damage or destroy a nearby tower while you can. Players who do not keep this in mind are giving the enemy team more breathing room. If you decisively win a fight with the enemy team and choose to return home to buy and heal rather than take an objective, you've wasted the biggest reward for forcing your foes off the map.

The scoreboard, accessible by holding down tab, will show you how long it will take for enemies to respawn at their base. As the game goes on, this respawn timer will grow longer and longer. Many new players fail to take advantage of the respawn timer - if your enemies have to wait thirty seconds to get back into the game, that's thirty seconds for you to ruin their base regardless of how low on health you are.

Other than towers, the six neutral objective monsters are also something to consider. Each side of the river has two monsters that give temporary buffs ("red", generally for physical attackers, and "blue", generally for mages) that can be very useful in the correct character's hands. Killing the dragon near the bottom of the map will award everyone on your team gold. Killing Baron Nashor near the top will grant a team-wide buff, but Nashor is a tricky beast to tackle for several reasons and should be considered separately. If you're not taking a tower, consider killing buff monsters, especially if you can steal them from the enemy's side of the map. The dragon is slightly more tricky, and it's best to only take him when you won't be opposed.

Think About What Other Players Are Doing Right 


It's good to think about what you did wrong in any situation. Everyone makes incorrect choices in the heat of the moment. Reviewing what you could have done differently is very productive.

However, people are generally unable to accurately rate their own abilities. No matter how hard you are on yourself, you're likely overlooking something. On top of that, if you have imperfect knowledge of the game (and everyone does to some extent), you will often arrive at incorrect conclusions.

That is why it is important to think about what the enemy team is doing correctly. If someone on the opposing team (or your team for that matter) is being very successful, try to figure out what they are doingright that you're not. Look at the scoreboard. See what items they are buying and when. Observe what tactics they're using to get ahead. Blindly copying them may help in the short term, but understanding why they're winning will be far more helpful in improving your own game.

League of Legends has a robust community of professional players who stream their matches. Many of their choices of what characters to play and what items to buy filter down to the rest of the community. If you don't mind doing a little homework, streams can be an invaluable source of material, especially if the player makes a habit of explaining their choices. Riot Games occasionally chooses a popular and helpful streamer to feature on their website.

It's important to remember, however, that these players are operating on a completely different level from where you're starting out. Choices they make are influenced by a number of considerations that do not apply to you in the same way. Never disregard the player who is beating you right now just because they would have lost in a professional setting.

Next Week...

These tips will hopefully start you along a long and productive career of spending too much money on a free game. This article will conclude next week, when we will learn more advanced concepts like: psychological warfare, developing spidey-sense, and shunning the Avatar of Bad Ideas that is Baron Nashor.

Until then, remember that it's just a game and you have too much to live for!
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