Learning to LoL: 10 Tips for League of Legends Novices

When I began playing League of Legends a year ago, I joined the LoL University chat room to learn how to play. Now I moonlight as a professor there, occasionally showing a new player the ropes. Even teaching them the basics takes several hours, a testament to the complexity of this game. While it’s tough to give generic advice on which champions or builds to use, there’s a few tips about this game that can be used by nearly anyone. At least 30 of them, in fact. I’ve divided them up into three sets of 10, based on this first tip (it’s a freebie):

Tip 0: You will have to relearn the game twice.

When you start playing LoL, most players are still learning the basics and sticking to their lanes. This first set of tips covers that style of play.

Once you reach Level 20 and are comfortable playing in lanes, players begin grabbing gold & experience from their jungle instead of their lanes. Since you can’t see enemy players in the jungle, you need to change how you lane as well to prevent them from killing you in a surprise attack. The second set of tips will cover dealing with surprise attacks and getting the most out of your jungle.

Once you finally reach Level 30, the maximum level in LoL, you’re playing against people with several hundred wins under their belt. They know all the champions, they know how to counter them, and they’re used to attacking other lanes, luring you into ambushes, setting up wards to trace your movements, and generally making your life miserable. To compete at this level, you not only need skill, you need strategy. That’s where the third set of tips come in.

For now, though, let’s cover the basics, starting with the most important tip of all:

Tip 1: Insults lose matches.

Think I’m going to spout some ethical decree that chewing out your teammates is bad sportsmanship here? I’m not. I’m just going to put it bluntly: It’s stupid, immature crap that cripples your team just so you can feel a bit better. How often have you done better after a teammate insulted you? How often have you done worse? What makes you think your teammates are any different?

If you want to insult someone, keep it to yourself. If you want to point out a mistake they made, don’t let anger color your comments. They might deserve it, but you’ll only shoot yourself in the foot if you give in.

Tip 2: Use 1v0 Custom Matches

First you need to train, and that means 1-vs-0 Custom matches. They’re simple to set up: make a Custom game where you’re the only player (no bots) and start the match. Not many people use them, though, which is a shame, because these are the only matches where you can dick around as much as you want and no one will rage at you.

Spend three minutes rebinding keys? No complaints. Spend seven minutes looking through the shop menus to see what’s for sale? No complaints. Practice killing minions in an empty lane? Experiment with jungling builds? Read all the descriptions of your skills? No one will complain.

I can’t emphasize enough how useful this is. Every novice should screw around in a 1v0 Custom match once or twice before they even try a Coop-vs-AI match.

Ziggs practices last hitting in mid lane by himself in a 1v0 Custom match.

Ziggs screws around in a 1v0. Nobody complains! (Also note how far he can see with the free camera.)

Tip 3: Practice smartcasting and free camera as soon as possible.

Smartcasting immediately casts an ability on wherever your cursor is, instead of waiting for a mouse click to confirm. That can win you a skirmish, once you’re used to it. You can set your keys for smartcasting in Key Bindings under the Options menu; I would suggest swapping your regular casting keys with them to start practicing them now. (The only downside is that it doesn’t display the ability’s range anymore, but you can see that by hovering your cursor over the ability’s icon.)

While you’re looking at the Key Bindings, scroll down further to Camera Controls. Check what the key for “Toggle Camera Lock” is. Initially, your camera’s locked on your champion; press that key to unlock it. You can now reposition the camera manually by using the arrow keys or moving the cursor to the edges of the screen. Congratulations, you can now double your sight range in lane. Now practice moving the camera until it’s second nature.

Tip 4: Don’t buy runes until level 20.

Your initial urge is to fill up your the rune pages on your profile quickly. Ignore it; you’re being tempted to spend Influence Points on runes you’ll quickly outgrow. Instead, leave it empty until you can buy the last tier of runes at level 20. You’ll be glad you saved that IP once you see how expensive the endgame runes are.

Tip 5: Buy potions & wards.

Novices underestimate the usefulness of consumables. “Well gee, that’s 75 gold that’s not going towards my BFSword. Why should I waste money on that?” Because they will keep you alive until you can get it. You can’t buy that BFSword if you’re constantly retreating or dying. Can’t get close to their minions because you’re low on health and they aren’t? A few potions would solve that. Keep getting ganked? Plant a ward on river and you can see them coming soon enough to escape.

You’ll eventually outgrow the potions, but wards are always useful. I’ll repeat that: wards are always useful. Wards provide vision, vision is life or death. Hammer it into your skull. After the first minutes of a match, you should always have wards. Doesn’t matter which role you play, doesn’t matter how many items or how much money you have, always have a ward. Thirty percent of expert play is knowing the value of wards and how to use them.

I’ll get into the details of using them properly later (there will be a couple tips focused solely on them), but to start, plant them along the river in the early game, ward baron and dragon in the late game, and don’t be afraid to plop one wherever you think it’ll be useful. (Buy more wards.)

Tip 6: Build cheap, dominate early.

Thinking about skipping that Doran’s Blade to immediately buy a BFSword? Don’t. For that same amount of money, you could buy Boots, 2-3 Doran’s Blades, several wards & potions, and utterly dominate the fool that sunk all his money immediately into a BFSword. Then you can farm his lane to your heart’s content while starving him of gold. Good early games make easier late games; don’t be afraid to spend a bit of money to ensure you dominate the early game.

Tip 7: Last hit to control your lane.

You only gain gold if you kill a minion. Therefore, you only need to hit a minion once: you only need the killing blow, the Last Hit. This Last Hit mentality forms the basis of lane control, which is vital for early game dominance.

The players’ position is a lane is influenced by the minions’ position; if they’re not close enough to the minions, they can’t get any experience or gold. The minions oscillate between the two opposing towers in a lane: one side’s minions get an advantage, it builds until they push to the opposing tower, and then the tower kills them fast enough that its minions can now push their advantage. The different phases of the oscillation have different advantages for players. Enemy minions close to your tower? You can pick them off from the safety of your tower, but if they get within the tower’s range, it will cause too much damage for you to last hit them, costing you gold. (It’s also easier to drive your enemies away from your minions here; you can move behind their minions and still be close enough to your tower to escape.) Your minions are close to their tower? Now you’re starving them of last hits and gold, but you’re also far away from the safety of your tower, making you a tempting target. (This is a good time to withdraw, recall, and purchase items while they’re busy trying to push the lane back.)

Lane control is being able to move the minions where you want them. Want to push the minion closer to their tower? Do more damage to their minions than they do to yours. Want to pull the minions closer to your tower? Do less damage to their minions than they do to yours. More damage is easy, less damage is hard, hence the need for Last Hitting. How do you do that? Practice.

The easiest way to practice last hitting without pissing off your teammates is in a 1v0 Custom match (where you have no teammates to piss off). Start the match, pick a lane, and try to kill 80-100 minions in it by the 15-minute mark using only basic attacks and only attacking when you think it will kill them. Oh, and keep moving around while you do it. (Stationary players are easy targets.) Sure, it’s not like a real match where enemies are trying to kill you, but practicing the technique here makes it easier to pull off when enemies are trying to kill you. Mastering it is a key step towards dominating your lane.

Minions near your tower: optimal lane position in most cases.

Purple is in an optimal lane position: close to their own turret, but far enough away it isn't killing minions. Blue has a long run back to their turret, making it hard for them to escape an attack. (Now Purple just needs to ward their bush so they can see the Blitzcrank lying in ambush in it.)

Tip 8: Master the ping.

It’s tough to type when you’re busy darting around trying to kill people. Luckily, you can get the gist of your message across by pinging the minimap. Press G, then click the minimap to deliver a standard/target ping, or press V then click the minimap to deliver a caution/retreat ping.

A code has developed around these pinpoint beeps. A ping on an enemy champion means “get ready to kill this guy”. It can also mean, “Hey, did you see this guy coming in to gank you?” A ping on a jungle mob, like the blue golem or dragon, means “hey guys, let’s kill this”. Two pings on slightly different locations means “I think an enemy’s traveling this way”. If they’re followed by a caution ping on a player, it means “enemy coming to gank you, retreat now”. If several caution pings erupt on a player, it means “get out of there now, you damn fool!” It’s amazing what you can convey with just two types of pings.

Not only is it a simple way to issue warnings to and coordinate with your teammates, but it also draws their attention to the minimap. The minimap in this game is like your car’s rear-view mirror: you should always be glancing at it, because you never know when a semi truck is going to try and kill you from behind.

Lee Sin pings Irelia to signal he'll gank her, followed by Teemo pinging for him to withdraw from their jungle.

Lee Sin signals he's going to attack Irelia by pinging her; after killing her, Teemo does a retreat ping near Lee Sin to tell him to get out of their jungle.

Tip 9: Don’t kill yourself to kill them.

A lot of players are suicidally aggressive. They get an enemy with less than 100 health in front of them, the bloodlust takes over, and then they chase him right under his tower, which promptly kills them. Or they chase him deep into his jungle and get killed by his teammates swooping in to rescue him. Or they barely kill him, but lose so much health in the process they can’t stay in lane and press the advantage. They haven’t realized that crippling them is almost as good as killing them.

Look, if you get him so low he runs off, you’ve won. He either needs to spend 30-40 seconds recalling to base, healing, and running back to his lane, or he will trail behind his minions, trying to score a few Last Hits without getting close enough that you can finish the job. He’s crippled, and unless you’re low on health yourself, you can kill all his minions or push him around and there isn’t a damn thing he can do about it. If you kill yourself killing him, though, you don’t get any advantage in that exchange. If you kill yourself trying to kill him and fail, well congratulations, you’ve reversed your advantage and looked like an idiot in the process.

Restrain the urge to go all-out killing someone just because they’re low on health. It usually isn’t worth it.

Purple Janna escapes with 100 HP left, while the Blue Ezrael pursuing her gets slaughtered by her turret.

The purple champ escapes, the aggressive blue champ gets slaughtered instead.

Tip 10: Be paranoid.

My friend Pyre bestowed this piece of advice to me when I started playing LoL: “Assume every enemy you can’t see is hiding in the next bush.” It took me a while to realize that was the key to mastering LoL.

You see, you can’t tell who’s an expert by their Kill-Death ratio. Everyone gets lucky sometimes. The experts are the ones who get nervous when they can’t see their enemies. Who ask for wards and mutter foreboding warnings like, “Are they going for an early baron?” or “Don’t follow him, it’s a trap!” Because they know what can happen. They’ve played games where enemies ganked mid lane from both sides, or three teammates followed a retreating enemy into a bush and got slaughtered by his four teammates lying in ambush. They are devious bastards, they don’t fight fair, and they will kill you any chance they get.

When I won 100 games, I thought I was an expert. I immediately started playing ranked games and got pulverized, so I decided to play more normal games until I felt like a real expert. Around 200 wins, I got this twitchy feeling whenever an enemy disappeared from their lane for too long, or I hadn’t seen the enemy jungler gank for a while. Were my wards still up? Was I close enough to my tower to escape a gank? If I couldn’t answer “yes” to both of them, I immediately retreated. Sure enough, I usually saw an enemy champion enter my lane a few seconds later, cursing my apparent precognition. At that point, I tried ranked games again. This time, I won 12 out of 16. Paranoia wins games.

A 3rd blue player darts through the obscured bushes to ambush 2 purple players from behind, trapping them in a 3-man pincer.

If the 2 purple players had been more paranoid and warded the river, they could've escaped before Udyr ambushed them from behind.

You don’t need to be that paranoid when you first start out, but it’s best to start nurturing it now. Once the enemy begins using their jungle, you’ll need it to survive their surprise attacks. The details of what terrors the jungle spawns will have to wait for next week, though; in the meantime, practice your laning and remember the Newbie’s Creed: “If you can’t kill them, then at least don’t feed them.”

Next Week: Welcome to the Jungle: 10 Tips for Intermediate League of Legend Play


  1. FlameBomber1000

    @draqul As a LoL veteran, i approve of this article

  2. AuburnRDM

    @draqul People keep trying to get me to play. Is it as good as they say?

    • draqul

      @AuburnRDM dunno! I mean that it might be time for /me/ to try it.

      • AuburnRDM

        @draqul Well you tweeted like 20 minutes ago. I figured you’d have it installed and mastered by now. Geez. ;P

      • AuburnRDM

        @draqul It could be a lot of fun but it looks like a lot of work.

    • MikeLemmer

      @AuburnRDM I’ve played 600+ games of it and am still learning new champs/tactics, if that’s any indication. Bad attitudes are main problem.

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  5. Guest

    0 – 10 is 11 tips, Learn to count.

  6. Guest

    The previous comment was written by a regular LoL player. LoL has the worst community ever. Worse than xbox live kids.

  7. Bananymous

    I know this is kind of old but i dont really agree with tip 9. It can be very worth it to kill your enemy even at the risk of your own life. if you push the enemy to their tower that’s 1-2 minion waves that you’ve consumed of gold and xp that your opponent hasn’t yet. if you kill them and yourself then they cant farm and the tower takes all the kills. if you’re bot lane, hopefully you can kill the enemy adc and have enough health to let the support kill, putting you 1 kill and 2 minion waves up on your opponent adc. you can usually get back into lane before the enemy minions reach your tower, as the lane will probably push to your side due to the enemy tower. and having minions on your side can lead to more chances for harass and kills.
    Granted, this is all assuming the enemy doesn’t kill you before you kill them, which can put you at a major disadvantage, but i think the possible good outweighs the possible bad.
    the jungler can also save your ass if you fuck up too. 😛

  8. Guest

    I’m pretty new to LoL, and just am just starting to play normal games after only playing bot games. My question is simple: when does this game become fun? I’ve pretty much hit a wall: I can’t play any normal games without someone on my team raging at me for being new, while bot games don’t give you good prep for real players. I’ve even played with a lvl 30 friend who tried to show me the ropes, and he basically told me I need to know like a thousand things to be good.

    So I just don’t get it. It all seems like a lot of work, but I don’t get where the fun part begins.

    • Ajaco10

      Welcome to the LoL community. Everyone hates Everyone. Unless you are very competitive and enjoy the feeling of challenging yourself to one of the hardest (if not the hardest) multiplier games; then don’t bother playing.