Friday, August 12, 2011

LoL What? An Introduction to League of Legends

Since my WoW account was offline the last month, my friends and I revisited a game called League of Legends, also known affectionately as LoL. LoL is a free game - and when I say free, I mean FREE. Not pay to win, as so many free games are these days. LoL is legitimately, 100% free. You can pay for special cosmetic skins for your champions, or to unlock features more quickly, but there is no significant disadvantage in NOT paying.

So what is LoL? In short, it’s a team based PvP e-sport in which you combine macro and micro game elements to destroy your opponent’s base before they destroy yours. But there’s a LOT more to the game than this simple summary. If you've played DotA (a mod for Warcraft III), then you've played LoL. LoL is made by the same folks who created DotA. You control a single character (a champion), and team up with two to four other people in a team contest to destroy the opponent's base. Your character begins each game at level 1 and can advance up to level 18 by gaining experience through killing minions, creeps, and other champions.

The most popular map, for five
player teams, called Summoner's Rift
In the early game, players stay in one of three lanes - this time is often known as laning, though some champions are designed to jungle instead. The idea is to farm minions, which mindlessly walk from your opponent’s base towards yours down the lane. When minions die near you, you gain experience. Even better, if you get the last hit on a minion, you gain money which can be spent on gear. Unlike laners, junglers farm by running through the jungle in between lanes, killing the neutral creeps located there. They have to be much more durable than laners, since they must essentially tank these creeps from level 1. Farming well in the early game can give you a big advantage later on.

The shop, where you can purchase items

This introduces what is known as the macro game - how to build your character, in gear and in the order of the abilities you unlock. There are a wide range of items available, and there are many guides on exactly what items to get for each character. Often the best choices will change based on your team and the opponent’s team.

Ashe sets her sights on Teemo
Of course, even though the early game is more about farming than killing the opposing champions, it’s important to always look for opportunities to harass and possibly even gank your opponent. Keeping your opponent from farming effectively can also really help out late game. Killing the opponent keeps them out of the game for a short time, gives you an experience and money boost, and generally improves your team’s morale. Junglers, in particular, are designed to help where needed and assassinate unsuspecting opponents early game.

Tower pushing can be dangerous!
During the farming phase, it’s also possible to push the opponent’s lanes and take down towers, though this more often happens later in the team fight phase of the game. There are some champions that are much better at tower pushing than others, but most can succeed in tower pushing with enough skill. The idea is to kill the opposing team’s minions faster than they kill yours. Your minions will slowly move down the lane, and eventually reach one of the towers which guard the opponent’s side of the map. The towers are extremely deadly, but will attack minions preferentially over champions, as long as you don’t attack the opposing team’s champions while in range of the tower. With enough minions surrounding you to take hits from the tower, you can destroy it and move closer to the opponent’s base. Pushing towers is one of the most important facets of the game, and the number of surviving towers is a good way to measure how well a lane (or team as a whole) is doing.

Nunu's ult makes for an
interesting team fight.
Finally, once champions start getting a significant number of levels, teams will start grouping up and pushing a specific lane. This begins what is known as the team fight phase of the game. These massive brawls usually involve all members of each team, though clever teams will find ways to pick off members of the opposition or set up ambushes in order to gank some or all of the opposing team. Synergy of champion abilities and communication between players is essential during this phase. Even if all players are highly skilled by themselves, they won’t be able to succeed in the late game without supporting eachother in team fights.

Nexus destroyed!
The game ends when a team destroys the opposition’s nexus, at the heart of their home base. However, it is possible to surrender early if most team members agree that it’s a lost cause. Experience points (used to level up as a player) and influence points (used to purchase new champions or runes) are awarded both for winning or losing, though you gain the most from winning. Surrendering awards the fewest points, but it allows the team to more quickly move on to a new game.

Outside of games, your player (known as a summoner) has a level as well. This level ranges from 1 to 30, and increases the more games that you play. This level determines how many mastery points (think talent points from WoW) that you have to spend, and what rune slots (think glyphs in WoW) you have available. It also determines what summoner spells you can use - you have two spells which you chose at the beginning of each game, which act as extra utility and customizability for your character. This level-based mechanic gives high level summoners a mechanical advantage, in addition to their experience advantage. In general, when using the matchmaking service, you’ll be placed with summoners of similar levels.

As a whole, LoL is very enjoyable to play even without knowing your teammates. However, it really shines when the entire team is coordinating in a voice program such as Skype or Ventrilo, and has arranged their champions and skills to compliment eachother. There are a huge number of champions, builds, items, and spells available, and more being added constantly. Additionally, Riot (the makers of LoL) just announced a brand new game mode which will be playable at PAX Prime later this month. I’m extremely excited about this, and will report my reactions to this game mode here on the blog when I play it at PAX.

I can’t recommend LoL enough. If you want to jump in and get your feet wet, I suggest trying a game against bots (computer opponents) first before going up against other players. Riot has really improved the AI on the bots, but they are still much easier than real opponents, even newbies. Just pick a champion that seems interesting to you out of the free champions, look up a build on Leaguecraft (or use the recommended items that Riot provides for you in game!), and get started! The free champions change every week, but if you find one you like, you can use the points you earn playing each game to purchase them (that’s right, you do NOT need to use real money, though you can if you want to get champions more quickly).

Hopefully you’ll try it out! I’m still quite a League of Legends newbie, but I’m enjoying it quite a lot and may write some character specific guides later on if the fancy strikes me. If you play, be sure to look me up and request a game! I go by Jiyambi, as always.

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