League of Legends' Public Beta Environment is one of the best-kept secrets in the LoL community. Despite what a majority of players think, the beta server (or PBE) is open to everyone and can be joined at anytime, although that hasn't always been the case. The PBE is where all the upcoming patches, champions, and maps land first--letting you play them before your friends and get a leg up on your opponents.
We show you how to sign up, download the client, and get playing in five simple steps.
The first step is simple: create a beta account on League of Legends' Public Beta Enviornment page . Signups are not always open, but they've been open for the past several months without interruption, so it seems likely that they'll remain open for the foreseeable future. This beta account is completely separate from your existing League of Legends account, so everyone needs to make one.
The download for LoL's beta client works a bit different than the regular client download. This one comes in a big zip file that's 1.4 GB large, so make sure you have a stable connection and don't need low latency for awhile before you start the download. Once you've downloaded it all, simply extract the folder wherever you want to play from--there's no formal installer included.
You'll likely have a lengthy patch process the first time you boot up the lol.launcher.exe executable inside the folder. I highly recommend making a shortcut and clearly labeling it as the PBE: the PBE's executable, icon, and patcher all look the exact same as the live client and I've accidentally booted up the wrong one on several occassions. Once you've patched, log in with the info you set on step 1 (your usual LoL login/password won't work).
When you first log in, you may panic: your account is level 1, with no IP, no Runes, no Mastery--nothing. Keep calm and carry on: log out and log back in. With any luck, your account should be upgraded to level 30, with 10k IP and 4k RP credited to it. If not, give it a little more time and try logging in again--it usually takes less than an hour.
Your Masteries will not carry over from the live server, so spend some time organizing them. And aven after the upgrade, you still won't have any runes on the PBE (it's a brand new account, remember?) and runes are expensive--they cost way more than the 10k IP you have now. Keep in mind that you'll be weaker when you start trying your favorite jungle routes with the new champ--at least until you've unlocked more.
You can earn more IP by playing--just like on the live servers--and you'll also receive regular stipends of RP/IP over time if you remain active on the PBE.
This is where things get unusual: Riot will unceremoniously update the beta client with new champions, maps, balance tweaks--pretty much anything they feel like--for you to test. You won't hear about these updates on the front page of the site--you'll want to peek around the official PBE forums to hear about these updates when they come. Thankfully, Riot always makes new champions only cost 10 IP, so you should have no problem unlocking them (and it's probably worth logging in to unlock them while they're cheap even if you don't want to test them for future IP grinding).
Because there aren't as many people playing on the PBE as there are on live, it can be tough to find matches through the automated matchmaking system. Your best bet is to join a Custom Game or create your own and join the Public Chat channel to recruit teammates. If you have your heart set on a certain champion (probably the new one), make sure to say so ahead of time--you don't want to spend 40 minutes playing a champion you could play on live servers on the PBE, where none of the IP or XP you earn matters.
New champions usually show up on the PBE about one week before they hit live servers, so you know when to check back more regularly if that's all your care to test. Oh, and don't forget to casually brag to your friends that you've already figured out 3 different builds to use with the new champ the second he or she launches.