Preamble: I purchased an IP boost and have a ton of work to do, but instead of work or play I'm writing a quick guide. I've helped a bunch of newbies lately and I want to try to codify some knowledge and answer common questions. This is a quick run-down off the top of my head, I may edit in more later.
1. Your Champion
2. Understanding Damage / Defense
3. Understanding Shopping & Items
4. Beginner Tactical & Strategical Notes
5. Quick Notes on Opponents
Section 1: Your Champion
You've picked a character you like, congratulations! The first thing I'd like to point out is that most characters can be *built* in multiple ways. For instance, Taric is a "healer/tank" but can also be a "pusher/carry" with itemization and skill choices. Cho'gath is a very tanky character that becomes a deadly mage with the right itemization. Etc.
Skills: You have a "passive" ability, this is the one located all the way on the left in the middle screen. This ability is different on each character. Anivia's allows her to escape death once every 5 minutes, Nunu's gives him a free spell every 8 attacks, Cho'gath's heals him every time he kills anything, Annie gets a free stun every 5 spells. Be aware of what your passive does, it completely changes some champions' gameplay!
The skills are keybound to QWER by default (note: You can change this in escape->key bindings in game). The 'R' skill is referred to as the 'ult' (or 'ultimate') because most characters can only take it three times and it is not available until levels 6, 11, and 16. Several characters ults are "global" - ie they can be cast anywhere on the map, or impact every player. If you see "Gangplank! Ult!" or "Karthus! Ult!" your team is referring to your 4th ability and asking you to use it. See "Damage" and "Shopping" sections for more info on skills.
Experience/Gold: You gain money over time naturally (1g/s) including when you are dead. You gain a set amount per minion kill (18G+). You gain a significant amount for a hero kill (~300G) or assist (~150G) and even more if that hero is "on a killing streak" - this is to help games keep parity. If their master yi is destroying your team, whoever kills him is looking at 1300G for the kill shot - this helps you buy items to get back on par.
Mid-game, experience is often easier to get by killing heroes, thus the "gank squad" (roaming group of people trying to get kills). Understand your role in the gank squad. Do you initiatiate? Stun? etc!
Buffs and Debuffs: These are displayed over your spell bar in the middle of the screen. There are buffs you can get from neutral creeps ("Lizard Buff" does damage and slows, "Golem Buff" increases mana regen and reduces cooldowns, "Baron Buff" increases regen,mregen,dmg, and ap) and buffs you can get from other heroes (Kayle's ult-> makes you invulnerable, Nunu's boil->Gives you increased movement/attack speed) and buffs you can get from yourself (Cho'gath's Feast: gives x health per Feast up to 6 feasts, 720 health at Rank 3 (lv16) Feast with 6 feasts).
Many newbs seem unaware of the buff bar - mouse over it now and then and see what is on you!
Masteries, Runes and Summoner Spells:
Masteries perhaps the easiest to cover. Some of the best masteries are available at tier 1; ghost, teleport, exhaust, heal, smite. Beyond that, mastery "spec" doesn't truly apply till your 20's, so in the mean time go with what you find valuable. Some masteries are worthless for some characters while good for others, but overall besides the ones that impact summoner spells they do not make a huge incrimental change in gameplay. *ONE EXCEPTION* -> The offensive mastery for 15% spell penetration is amazing for people who seek to do magic damage. (See section 2) My recommendation is to get the early masteries for your summoner spells of choice, as those give great bang for your buck.
Runes are fairly straightforward. They are bought with IP, and the 'special event' runes (ie: Snowdown Showdown) are cheaper/more effective than standard Tier 1,2,3. Understand that Tier 1 is generally 55% as effective as Tier 3, while being about 20% of the cost - in otherwords, it is often worth filling out a rune page with tier 1 runes as you get amazing results for your value - however, Runes are a very small/incrimental boost. Marks are offense, Seals defense, Glyphs magic (with some exceptions) and Quints (level 10,20,30) are the best at everything, but you only get 3. On my smurf accounts, I've bought snowdown showdown runes just because they're cheap and useful. When you hit 20, you want to plan out your favorite characters' rune styles, and start working towards those. In the mean time, work on a general rune page that compliments your strenghts - tanking, phys damage, magic damage, mana regen, whatever you want more of.
Remember - Runes cost IP. Champions can also be bought for IP in the store, although you can also spend $$$ to buy them for Riot Points or in a Bundle. Runes, however, can *only* be bought with IP - Riot does not want to "sell" power.
A quick run-down. Any spell with a (*) beside it I do not advocate taking as a new player.
Exhaust: With spec, this is -25 MR/Armor and slow runspeed. Used often for kills, and sometimes to survive. This also *blinds* the opponent, which can be used defensively against a physical carry coming at you - blind/slow them and run away! At the time of this writing, Master Yi's ultimate makes him immune to Exhaust's blind, but they are looking into fixing this.
Ghost: Improved runspeed. Has a shorter cooldown than teleport, and can be used for the same purpose (getting to/from lanes in a hurry) or to chase someone and kill them, or to escape a gank. Note: Ghost offers no protection from snares/disables/stuns etc, just a boost to movement speed.
Heal: Heals you and everyone around you. However, also puts a debuff on all those healed that reduces the impact of the summoner "heal" spell - this is to keep the entire team from grabbing heal, pushing together, and chaining their heals.
(*)Revive: Self explanatory. Very rarely taken.
Smite: Does 500+ damage to *only* creeps (ie: does not work on players), often taken by "junglers" so they can kill golem/lizard more easily.
Teleport: Can teleport to any allied tower or creep (includes Teemo's mushrooms and Heimer's turrets) -- note, this makes the creep/minion invulnerable when you TP to them, but does not make a tower invulnerable if you tp to it. Teleport is used a lot for lane control (see strategies/tactics section).
Cleanse: Nearly every phys carry or tank can make a good argument for wanting to take cleanse. Upon tapping the button, all debuffs/stuns/etc on you are removed. It also gives you 3 seconds of reduced negative effects. This is your "get out of jail free" card when focused, but it's not going to save you from 3-4 players who are carefully rotating their stuns/snares on you. Still, for any character, this skill is often the difference between life and death when trying to get away.
(*)Fortify: Makes all your towers invulnerable (global) and increases their damage for a short time. For a new player, it's rare you'll know when to use it if other lanes are having trouble, so it's best use really is preventing backdoors, which are also relatively rare - I'd skip this spell as a new player.
(*)Clarity: Recently buffed, returns a substantial amount of your mana pool. I would advocate not taking this as a new player -- see Strategies Section -- but it can be helpful.
Ignite: Player-only damage that is not resistable. This deals 75-500 damage in 5 seconds based on your level. Ambush-type chars tend to take it or exhaust, Ignite can be the extra 100 damage that kills that fleeing enemy. Note: Rather short range.
(*)Rally: Puts down a banner that heals people nearby *and* increases base physical damage by 30% for 15s. This is best used when pushing a tower, in the middle of a huge team fight where you have a lot of physical damage dealers, or when defending a tower. That said, I would not recommend it for new players.
(*)Clairvoyance: Allows you to look anywhere on the map for 6 seconds. Does not reveal invisible players. Very useful at high end games, but for new players I'd recommend focusing on your survival or your killing power.
Flash: Short range teleport. As soon as you tap the button, you will tp to wherever your pointer is on the screen. Useful for escaping ganks or getting kills, but interchangeable with exhaust/ghost to some extent.
Section 2: Understanding Damage / Defense
Damage: There are three types of damage in LoL: Physical, Magical, and Unresistable. I'll address them in reverse order:
Unresistable damage is very rare: Cho'gath's feast *if* opponent is below the minimum HP and Ignite (summoner spell) are the only two examples I can think of.
Magical Damage comprises *roughly 95% of all champion abilities* that can be used on a target. If an ability does damage, it's magic damage. Gangplank's Parrley? Magic, even though it can crit. Cho'gath's spikes, or Feast if you are above min hp? Magic. Sivir's ricochet? Magic damage. Katarina's spinning daggers and bouncing blades? Magic. There are *very* few champion abilities that are *not* magic damage. One very big difference between the low end and the high end games is that high end players understand they often face a lot of magic damage, and prepare for it.
Physical Damage is your right-click damage. You click on an enemy, your hero attacks, you do physical damage. Many heroes can be built to be a physical carry - all it takes is attack speed, damage, crit %, and armor penetration. Practically any hero can be built this way with items - for some it makes more sense (ie: Master Yi, Twitch, Tristana, Ashe, Gangplank) and for some it makes less sense (ie: Fiddlesticks, Karthus, Anivia, Annie, Veigar). Remember, many heroes have multiple viable item/skill builds.
Defense: We've discussed damage, now lets get to the meat of this section: Defense. I typically play Karthus, and nothing makes me chuckle more than seeing the entire opposing team fail to build up magic resistance, letting me do max damage with each spell! Likewise, I enjoy playing against Evelynns and building up Magic Resistance, then destroying them when they fail to kill me thinking I'm squishy. Let's talk numbers:
You have Armor and Magic Resistance. One protects vs physical, the other vs magical. Both scale in the same way:
50 armor is (100/(100+50)) -> 33% reduction. 50 magic resist is (100/(100+50)) --> 33% magic reduction.
If Tristana is shooting at you and her base damage (the sword icon) says 147, she will do 147*0.67=98 damage per hit instead.
If Tristana uses her Buster Shot (her ultimate, a magic damage ability) and it is supposed to do 400 damage, it will do 308 damage instead.
How do I cut through their resistance?
Armor Choice A: Brutalizer (1337gold, +25dmg, 15 armor penetration) -- best if opponent has under 38 armor
Armor Choice B: Last Whisper (~2Kgold, +20dmg/attack speed && 40% armor penetration) -- best if opponent has over 38 armor
Magic Choice A: Sorceror's Shoes and/or Haunting Guise (each ~1400G) both have 20 MR pen -- best if opponent has under 50 MR or in conjunction w/Void Staff if opponent stacks MR.
Magic Choice B: Void Staff (~2.5Kgold, +60ability power&mana, 40% magic penetration) -- best if opponent has over 50 MR
Summoner Spell Choice A: Exhaust, with mastery, is -25 armor/MR for a few seconds.
Summoner Spell Choice B: Ignite will do 75-500 damage that is unresistable.
40% penetration works as advertised: If I have 50 armor, and Tristana has a Last Whisper, it recalculates me as having (50*0.6=30) 30 armor. With 30 armor, her 147 shot does 147*0.77=113 damage instead. This works best against super beefy types as well;
147 damage Tristana vs. 200 Armor does 48 damage per hit
147 damage Tristana w/Last Whisper vs. 200 Armor does 66 damage per hit
What is HP Stacking and Why Haven't You Mentioned It Yet?
HP stacking is when you build up more HP. More HP can be good, but a combination of resistance and HP is always better bang for your G than pure HP.
How do I counter HP Stacking?
As a mage, you buy a Deathfire Grasp. This can be clicked to cast a spell that does 30+% of the opponent's current HP. However, the effect is magic damage - so if they have high MR, this might do 15% or less! But you're a mage, so you're prepared for high MR, right?
As a physical damage dealer, you buy a Bloodrazor. This does 4% of the opponent's MAX health as magic damage. 5000 hp CHO will take 200 extra *magic* damage per hit; again, if they have high MR, this might be cut in half or worse.
Typically, to do physical damage, it's better to stack damage & crit rather than get a last whisper, exceptions being when several opponents have 100+ armor.
Typically, to do magical damage, it's better to get sorc shoes or guise unless you see many opponent's MR get into the 50's or above.
People generally can't stack HP and MR and Armor all at once and still be tremendously dangerous in a fight (barring a few tank exceptions that are dangerous only because they hold you so their team can hit you) so opponents nearly always have one or more weaknesses to exploit.
To defend against either requires knowing your opponents' and tracking their itemization; see section 5.
Section 3: Understanding Shopping & Items
First, I'm sure you see the "recommended items" whenever you visit the shop. The recommended items are not always the best, nor are they always accurate, and in some builds they're in fact rather terrible. However, many newbies have been put off by the shop interface. I want to try to help a bit:
#1) You can browse the shop even while sitting at your tower!
Next to the "Gold" amount on your screen is a little bag icon. This bag icon will bring up the shop interface. You cannot PURCHASE unless you are at the shop, but you can browse if you have a minute!
#2) Understanding the Upgrade Interface
Let's take a basic item: Phage (Attack->Damage section of shop) and say you have 500G.
Phage costs 1315G total. It has two components; a Ruby (475G) and a Longsword (415G)
From the Phage screen, you can double click the Longsword and it will appear in your inventory. If you look at Phage again (single click the icon) the cost for Phage will have dropped to 900G -> The game understands that you have one of the components in your inventory.
Lets say you farm up 1000G then go back to the shop. You don't need to buy the Ruby; just double click on the Phage icon and you will get the completed item.
#3) Understanding the Upgrade Interface
Lets say that you bought the longsword, and have the 1000G, but you've realized that you will need a Bloodrazor later in the game because the opposing Blitcrank is stacking hp items. If you are in the shop interface, on the bottom left is your inventory (with the longsword) ... click on the longsword. On the right hand side of the shop, at the top above the longsword, are some of the items a longsword can be combined into - one of which is a pre-req to the bloodrazor.
You can click your longsword, then browse through available upgrades for a better choice of upgrade. Many newbies are unaware of this functionality!
#4) Boots, Boots, Boots
Perhaps the best example we can go into for upgrades are boots. Basic boots cost 350 (under "Movement") and can give you a good movement increase- might be just enough to catch that fleeing enemy or to get away!
If you have boots in your inventory and click on them in the shop, you'll see there are a wide variety of boot upgrades:
Mercury Treads: MR and status-effect resistance
Ninja Tabi : Armor & dodge
Berserkers : 25% attack speed
Sorceror's : 20 magic penetration
Swiftness : Even Faster Movement
On most characters, basic boots are one of the first 2-3 items I buy. How quickly you upgrade those boots (and what you choose) is based on your opponents and how well you're doing. For instance, I had a game where I would normally have gotten sorc boots, except I saw the other team had a Ryze, Fiddlesticks and Evelynn - 3 very heavy magic damage dealers! I grabbed a Mercury Treads instead, and was very happy with my decision.
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