Your Daily McMaster: how do League of Legends?

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What is League of Legends? I’ve written about the game for years, but I’ve never thought about how to describe the game to an absolute newcomer. Until today.

After the jump, I would like to introduce you to my friend Tibbers…

As the player, you assume the job of summoner. Summoners control the heroes in the game and can cast a couple of spells that have a direct effect on the action. These spells range from stopping other heroes from healing to the ability to light up sections of the map for a short time. The summoner also has a skill tree and a book of runes that provide minor bonuses to your champion in game.

You begin each game at level one and can level all the way up to eighteen in each and every match. As you level you unlock points, one a level, to put into your character’s three standard abilities as well as your ultimate. Your standard powers can level up to five whereas the ultimate maxes out at three. These powers are in addition to your character’s passive power which provides a small, unique bonus based on the champion you’re playing.

Each team has a base. Each base is surrounded by some turrets and little buildings called inhibitors. Past those are lanes – these basic paths through the woods that lead to the other team’s base. On these paths there are towers at certain points. Starting at one minute and thirty seconds, little minions pour from the bases and head towards the enemy base down these lanes. The common name for these little troopers is “creeps,” and they form the backbone of the game’s economy.

Once these creeps reach an enemy target, they attack it. Whenever your character is near a creep when it dies, you get the experience. However, if you deal the last bit of damage to a creep – last hit – then you gain its worth in gold. This is the most common way to earn money in LoL. You can also kill champions, assist in killing a champion, destroy a turret or kill the dragon in the woods. There are less violent ways of making money as well, each character has a constant, slow stream of money that can be modified by runes, but the bulk of your income comes from violence.

The money you earn is used to buy items to improve your character or your teammates. You can build more powerful items from lesser items by following recipes. This gives you flexibility and items that level with your character. The items you build can modify most abilities on your character to make them faster, do more damage or have more health or defense. Equipping your character correctly can feel like playing chess with the Dungeons and Dragons character system.

The equipment system is only a part of the strategy involved – there’s also the dance. Sounds kind of lame, I know, but one of the most integral parts of the game is the positioning and laning phase that leads to the mid and late game. The laning phase, as I just mentioned, is when the characters are lower level and stick to one of the three lanes and fight against the others team’s avatars for a chance to get a kill or destroy a turret. This phase usually lasts until multiple turrets have been brought down and the characters are midway through their leveling. Once a team has lost a few turrets and gets to a disadvantage the game often turns into a collection of team fights and hide and seek.

The mid and late game are what officially decide the match, though the laning phase can certainly help predict who will win the match. That’s not to say it isn’t possible to win after being at a severe disadvantage, but it certainly makes it more challenging. Another good indicator is whichever team manages to kill the Baron. That brings us to the jungle.

Welcome to the jungle, baby, you’re going to… gank enemies. The one particularly special role in most League of Legends matches is the jungler. This character spends most of the early game clearing random monsters in the darkened areas around the lanes. This gives one of your lanes the distinct advantage of not sharing experience with a second player. There are also several buffs in the jungle – blue which grants a large amount of mana regen and red which slow enemies you attack – as well as higher experience pay outs. Of course, the monsters are a bit tougher in the jungle so the first kill is usually assisted by the team. After that, though, the jungler roams the map, staying in shadows, and looking for enemy players who are out of place to jump and hopefully assassinate. After the early game phase, the jungler usually joins the rest of the team for team fights and to kill the Baron and dragon.

Baron Nashor is a giant worm that lives in the middle of the map, right off the river between the middle and top lanes, and he gives a huge bonus to whichever team kills him. The buff gives quite a bit of attack damage, ability power and mana/health regeneration. This is a very desirable buff but one that is not easy to get. Team members often take turns warding – items you can buy that give sight of an area for several minutes – the Baron and dragon so that when the enemy team tries to kill it they can steal the kill and wipe out the already damaged opponents. The dragon is similar but it gives a gold payout to each team mate (190 gold each). It’s also not even remotely as tough to kill as the Baron, but the dragon can also be a very risky proposition.

The game ends when one team destroys the other team’s nexus. To destroy a nexus you need to destroy all of the turrets per a lane to get to the inhibitor. Once the inhibitor is destroyed, the team that destroyed it starts spawning super minions in the lane where the inhibitor once stood. These guys can be pretty tough and can kill a champion if they’re not careful. The super minions aren’t necessary to win the game, but the inhibitor must be destroyed before you can attack the towers that surround the nexus. Once those towers are down you’re free to attack the nexus outright. Once it is destroyed, the game is over.

I could continue this explanation for several thousand more words just by trying to cover some of the basic tactics and nuances of League of Legends, but those discoveries are part of the joy of the game. There are very few games in existence that offer the level of game play that League of Legends offers while remaining completely free of charge.

I’ve spent years with the game at this point and I still love it. I get burned out from time to time but I always come back. I urge everyone who reads this to give the game a try, if nothing else just to play against bots. If you’d like to play, add Vonnegut to your friends list and drop me a line. I’m always happy to show new players the ropes.

On tomorrow’s daily McMaster: ten things League of Legends and Tetris have in common!