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Teamfight Tactics guide: How to play Riot’s chess autobattler

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Whether you want to enjoy Teamfight Tactics yourself or just to watch your favorite streamer play, you've got to know what's happening on that busy screen first. It can be a bit daunting for newcomers, but you don't have to be a LoL expert to pick up TFT. If you're a newcomer, this guide will walk you through all of the basics of playing and explain some systems that aren't immediately obvious. 

For more advanced guides, take a look at our favorite TFT champions and TFT items cheat sheet.

How to get Teamfight Tactics 

You can’t play it until you’ve got it installed. Fortunately, Teamfight Tactics has been integrated into the main League of Legends client, which you can grab here if you don’t already have it. Once you have it installed and have registered an account, the play button will let you select Teamfight Tactics as the game mode.

So what is Teamfight Tactics, anyway? 

More than one

(Image credit: Valve)

Teamfight Tactics is just one of three big 'autobattler' games that have exploded in popularity this summer. And though it is the largest, it might be worth considering what the other two bring to the table to see which one you'd rather play, so check out our guide breaking down each of the three.

In Teamfight Tactics, you’re facing off against seven other players, each of whom is building an ever-changing team of champions across multiple rounds. The 'autobattler' genre gets its name because you don't directly control these units. Instead, they fight automatically and it's up to you to build an effective team and position them well.

If you win a round against another player, you’ll do damage to their health. The amount of damage you do depends on how many of your champions are still alive and scales exponentially upward as the game goes on. As your strategy evolves, you’ll need to adapt to your opponents and whittle them down to eventually be the last player standing in the free-for-all.

To do this successfully, you’ll try to purchase the best champions you can using gold you get at the end of each round. Buying copies of the same champion upgrades them, making them more powerful, and you can equip them with a variety of items that enhance their stats. Since the strategy is key, you’ll want to pay attention to your gold income, synergies between characters, and how to make the items you want.

Below: Esports organization TSM has a great video intro to TFT that's also worth watching.

How is the game structured? 

Teamfight Tactics is divided up into rounds, most of which will see you squaring off against other players' teams of misfit champions. The rest are split between fighting NPC enemies for a chance to get an item, and rounds where you’ll draft new champions from a rotating carousel.

Before each round begins, you’ll have a short period of time to do any purchasing and reorganizing that you want to. This is your chance to trade champions between the board and your bench area, since once the fight begins you won’t be able to.

Each round will also bring in automatic gold and XP. Gold is used for purchasing champions, purchasing bonus XP, and to reroll the random selection of champions you can buy each round. XP will increase your level, letting you field more champions per round and giving you access to rarer, stronger champions.

Here's what the main play area looks like 

Click the icon in the top right to expand the image. (Image credit: Riot Games)

Your first steps onto the Teamfight Tactics board will show you the initial carousel of champions, and allow you to pick one by moving your character over top of them. Afterwards, you’re dumped back to your own board, putting you face-to-face with what you’ll see for most of the rest of the game. Here's what each area is for. 

  1. Refresh and Buy XP buttons: Refresh is used to reroll your random selections of purchasable champions, and Buy XP gives you 4 XP towards leveling up.
  2. The store: The five champions currently available for purchase, along with their details and gold cost. This changes automatically each round, but you can reroll it for 2 gold. Above the selection is your current gold total, which you can hover over to see what your income per turn currently is.
  3. Scoreboard: Here you can see what position you’re in and how much health you have, along with everyone else in the game. Your position determines how early you get to pick in the draft rounds, with the underdogs getting to go earlier. You’ll also find a button that pops open a data screen showing how much damage your champions have done in the most recent round. Clicking opponent's portraits moves your camera to their board so you can see what's happening to your enemies.
  4. Synergies: This details what synergies your currently fielded champions provide. More on that later.
  5. Banked gold: These sockets show how much gold you and your enemies have in increments of ten. This also helps you track how much interest your gold will earn you per round. For every 10 gold you have (up to 50) you earn an additional one gold of interest per round.
  6. Round tracker: This shows which stage and round you’re on, how much time is left in it, and what’s coming up in future rounds.
  7. Hand: Champions you’ve purchased go in the nine slots on your edge of the board, and champions you’re fielding to fight go anywhere in the 6x3 area of spots on the actual play area.
  8. Item inventory: This area next to where your avatar sits is also the repository for items you’ve collected.
  9. Chat window: This shows messages from players but also tracks when opponents upgrade their champions.

What are synergies and items all about? 

Synergies are a critical part of your strategy. Every champion has a couple of labels that denote which synergies they’re part of. These synergies activate when you’re fielding enough of the champions of that label to hit one of the thresholds, which you can see on the left edge of the screen. Once they’re activated, synergies give some kind of buff to some or all of your fielded champions.

Having two Glacial champions, for example, gives them both a 20 percent chance to stun enemies for two seconds when attacking, while with two Imperials, one of them will randomly get a double damage buff each round. Having more champions of a specific type can also increase the power of a synergy. Having four Glacial characters, for example, increases that chance to stun to 30 percent.

The first draft is a free-for-all so move quick to grab a good champion (or item). (Image credit: Riot Games)

Some labels even have innate abilities—like Sorcerers, who gain double mana from attacks—which are always active regardless of how many you’re fielding.

Items can be equipped to champions to increase their stats and give them new abilities that are often extremely powerful. During rounds when you fight NPC creatures, each one has a chance to drop a random base item. To get the item, you can right-click your avatar over to its location to collect it.

The base items each provide a small bonus when you equip them to a champion, and when you put a second base item onto a champion, they’ll combine to form a new item with both the base bonuses and a powerful new effect. It’s important to learn what items do and what their combinations are so you can formulate strategies for which champions will benefit the most from their use. 

Miscellaneous tips 

  • You can sell champions for their total gold value by dragging and dropping them onto the purchase area at the bottom center.
  • Sold champions give you back their items to be reused.
  • Plan your items carefully, you can’t choose not to combine items on a character who already has a base item on them.
  • The roster of purchasable champions refreshes for free at the start of each round.
  • You can right click on champions to see their info card, which includes info on base stats and what their ability does.
  • You can drag and drop items onto champions even during a combat round, just be careful, if you miss and drop them on the wrong one you’ll have to sell them to get the item back.