If you frequent this site, then you've probably heard of Riot Games' free-to-play MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), League of Legends. You've probably also heard that it involves copious amounts of ganking, killing sprees, and people rage-typing in all caps. Maybe you even gave it a try, only to be discouraged by other players hating on you for being unfamiliar with every tiny facet of the game.
It can be a harsh community at times, but to be fair, one weak player on a team can make your chances of victory spiral downward in a hurry. Once you understand LoL, though, you'll see why so many people are playing it: its addictive combat is some of the best around. I've put myself through the online grinder so that you don't have to, and put together a dozen tips that will let you step into the arena with confidence and march onward to victory. These tips are specifically for the 5v5 map, but most strategies can be adapted and used effectively on any map.
Just remember: when you become a pro, take it easy on the new guys.
It's important that you choose a champion who suits your playstyle. Want to be a fragile-yet-deadly glass cannon? Try Ashe. Creepy void-dude Nocturne is perfect for sneaking around and murdering people, Alistar is a great beginner tank with powerful defenses, Annie's happy to introduce you to mages, and Janna is great support for any team. There's a new rotation of 10 free champions each week, so try 'em all and see which fits you best.
Okay, you're in—now where do you go? Each team usually sends one champion to the middle lane and two to each of the outside lanes. As a new player, go to an outside lane so you have a friend nearby. You're going to be tempted to attack the enemy players (that's how you win, right?), but your first priority right now is to level up and hoard gold. For now, focus on killing the enemy minions (creeps) and avoiding enemy champions.
Let me repeat that: don't die . The real key to success in LoL (especially when you first start out) is the mystical art of staying alive. Players get tons of gold and XP for killing you, which means that a few early deaths can cause a snowball effect that leaves your team at a disadvantage. As long as your team works together and no one runs blindly into the opposition, you have a fair chance at winning.
Landing the killing blow on an enemy earns you all the gold for the kill. “Last-hitting” is tricky, but it's a key skill to leveling up at the same rate that the enemy team does. It's more difficult to do this safely with melee champions, so practice it as a ranged champ. The gold you earn from last-hitting will fuel all the purchases you make, and the better items you have, the higher your DPS and survivability will be.
Creeps aren't only found in the lanes—some are nestled in the forest areas in the map's fog-of-war. Killing these creeps nets you bonus gold and XP, but ask your team before you kill them. A few champions specialize in killing these jungle creeps, so make sure you're not hindering your teammates. Some also grant special buffs (designated by blue or red runes), but for now, leave those to more experienced players.
Don't get tunnel vision—there are five bloodthirsty enemy players roaming around! Always keep one eye on the minimap, tracking where the enemies are (or aren't). If you notice that the enemy champion you've been fighting has wandered off, call it out to your team—a simple “[Champion name] missing” will do. Play it safe: if you don't know where an enemy player is, assume that he or she is coming to gank you.
Players looking to gank love to hide in the brush (tall grass areas that conceal units within them). When you suspect that enemies are hiding nearby, your gut reaction will be to pop into the brush to find out. Resist the urge to “face-check” brush near you! Instead, to confirm your suspicions, toss an area-of-effect or aimed ranged spell in there—you'll likely scare the enemy off.
At this point in the match, you should have accrued a decent amount of gold—now you just have to pick what to buy. Each champion has a recommended list of suitable items, but if you're really enjoying a certain champion, look up an item guide for them on the sites listed in Vital Links section at the bottom. People have tried hundreds of item combinations and crunched the numbers so you don't have to.
Always buy Wards if you can afford them. Wards are invisible, one-use totems that can be placed around the map to temporarily give your team sight on the area around it. Wards are great at the entrances and exits of the river, granting a sixth sense for incoming gankers. Or, toss some in the jungle to give the enemy champions a fatal surprise. Your teammates will love you for it.
By the time you reach level 12 or so, both teams will start grouping up to engage in 5v5 team fights. These often decide the match. Killing the enemy team opens up an opportunity for you to destroy their turrets and buildings unchallenged, which brings you one step closer to winning. Stick close to your teammates and follow their lead; wandering off will make you an easy target.
As long as your team remains a cohesive unit, you should win at least a couple of team fights and have the chance to plow through and destroy the enemy Nexus (that big gem in the back of their base). Destroying the enemy Nexus is what matters, not kills. If you're losing, don't give up hope. Teams that are leading in kills can find themselves in big trouble if they overextend themselves.
After the match, take a moment to chat in the post-game lobby. Feel free to /ignore jerks or griefers, and don't hesitate to add good teammates to your friends list. If you worked well together, you can probably keep the victory train rolling. Watch a livestream or two (see Vital Links section) to glean valuable strategies and pointers, by studying how the pros play their favorite champions.