It was hard to avoid news of the League of Legends World Championships last weekend, with its amazing over-the-top presentation and high-stakes prize pool of over $5 million. However, if you’re not sure where to even start with the game, use this guide to get a basic idea of how things work.

League of Legends
The Summoner's Rift map

The Main Gist

The major gameplay mode is Summoner’s Rift, which plays like most MOBAs you might be familiar with. The map is split into three lanes — top, middle, and bottom — and each five-person team takes one half of the map. Each team also gets a base — one on the bottom left corner of the map and one on the top right. These bases are protected by defense towers. As you might guess, your goal is to take down your opponent’s defenses and destroy the Nexus, or the heart, of their base.

To do that, each player, or summoner, controls a champion for the duration of the match, which can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

Lanes in Summoner's Rift
A diagram of the lanes in Summoner's Rift 

The Positions

To conquer your opponent’s base, each champion takes a certain position based on their unique abilities.

Top — This champion is generally a tank or a bruiser, someone who can take a beating or dole one out. Top Laners try to protect their teams by targeting the opposition’s most dangerous and powerful champions. This position is usually reserved for only one champion.

Mid — Another position that’s damage heavy, but champions here are usually Ability Power Carries (APC). They’re excellent at dealing huge amounts of damage quickly, and are able to maneuver around the arena with ease.

Jungle — You probably won’t be venturing into the Jungle right away, as it requires special skills and items you won’t have access to. Junglers specialize in ganking — or ambushing — enemies, helping their team to gain the advantage. They also kill the monsters lurking in the trees to earn gold and experience for the team.

Bottom — The ADC or the Attack Damage Carry makes their home in the bottom lane. The ADC focuses on damage, usually specializing in powerful ranged attacks. The Bottom Lane’s other occupant, the Support, helps with crowd control and buffs — keeping enemies from overwhelming your team and boosting their abilities. Support characters usually focus on the ADC to start, but possibly branching out to helping the rest of the team as the match progresses.

Champions in League of Legends
So many champions, so little time

Choosing a Champion

At earlier levels, you’re limited to just a few champions, but the game actually includes 133. One player gets exclusive access to a champion per match, meaning there are no duplicate champions in an arena. You’ll have fun experimenting with all of the champions at your disposal, but some are better suited for those just starting out. Here are our recommendations:

Ashe — Equipped with an ice enchanted bow and arrow, Ashe is a capable Attack Damage Carry. She excels at sniping enemies from afar, so if you’re looking to get in the thick of things, you might want to choose another champion — Ashe is quite squishy.

Ryze — An Ability Power Carry well-suited for Mid-Laning, Ryze is a great choice if you want to try playing as a mage.

Annie — Another reliable mage, Annie gives new players a good gateway into the game. She’s easy to learn and can deal some decent damage.

Garen — A straightforward and dependable damage dealer, Garen is a great choice if you’re looking to learn the basics, especially if you’re interested in trying out a tank role.

Use these champions to get an initial feel for the game and experiment with builds. You’ll quickly build up the confidence to start testing out other champions that are a bit more complex. You won’t always be able to fall back on that one champion you’re comfortable with, so it’s a good idea to branch out and try new things.

Farming in League of Legends
Farming is necessary to buy more powerful items 

Important Vocabulary

If youve heard friends talking about League of Legends, you’d almost think theyre speaking a different language. There’s a lot of terminology and acronyms thrown around that you’ll need to familiarize yourself with. Here are some of the most common:

Minions — These little guys spawn from your team’s Nexus and run to the other side of the arena to help take out your enemies. They have different jobs — caster, melee, and cannon.

Inhibitors — These are placed in each lane, and when a team destroys one, it will start to spawn Super Minions to fight for them. These beefier minions have more HP and deal more damage, so you’ll want to guard these heavily.

Towers — Towers line the lanes, shooting at anything that moves. Players typically wait for the minions to activate them so champions don’t take damage.

Dragon/Drag — These fearsome beasts spawn near the middle lane. Taking them out nets your team a nice gold reward.

Farming — In the early phases of the game, you’ll be running around killing your opponent’s minions and other monsters to earn as much gold as possible. You’ll need the cash to buy and craft items as your character levels up throughout the course of the match.

Last Hitting — There’s one caveat to farming, and that’s that you need to deal the killing blow to get your gold, hence the importance of last hitting.

Creep Score/CS — This is simply your last hit counter.

Wards — These are buffs that help you see through fog and other things obscuring your vision, making it easier to track hidden enemies.

A League of Legends match
Things can get pretty heated towards the end game 

How a match plays out

So you know the goals of the game and the different positions that are involved. Now let’s go over the structure of a match in League of Legends. Games are actually split into four distinct phases:

Pick/Ban — Because there can’t be multiples of a specific hero in a match, teams participate in this pre-game showdown to select their champions. The Blue Team starts off by banning one champion, followed by the Red Team, until six champions have been eliminated from play.

Then, the teams move on to picking champions, again taking turns. It seems mundane, but the Pick/Ban phase requires a lot of strategy and an element of luck, as the champions you end up with can change the sway of the match.

Laning Phase — In this phase, players select their lanes and get to farming. It’s less about duking it out with your enemies than it is about getting enough last-hits to fill up your coffers with gold so that you can buy new items and equipment to be used later in the game. It’s just as important to harass your enemies during this phase, keeping them from last-hitting your minions and soaking up their own experience and gold.

Mid-Game Phase — Mid-Game happens sort of organically, generally when the first tower has been taken. Things start to get a bit more violent as teams fight opposing champions in earnest and go after dragons and other neutral objectives more regularly. Players also try to finish any items they’ve been saving up for.

Late-Game Phase — Champions are at their most powerful at this point, but also their most vulnerable as death timers (the amount of time you have to wait until you respawn) are much longer, and dying can have a serious impact on the match’s outcome. Teams go head-to-head to fight for the win.

League of Legends Co-op vs. AI
Co-op vs. AI is a good way to get some practice

Your First Few Games

While you can read as many guides as you want, you’re only going to truly learn the inner workings of League of Legends by playing through a couple of matches. If you’re hesitant to start off with other humans, you can play Co-op vs. A.I. matches to learn how things flow and get used to keyboard shortcuts and learning your champions.

Once you’re confidently beating the bots, it’s time to venture into PvP — this is a multiplayer game, after all! LoL does have a reputation for having a sometimes toxic community, but there are resources out there to alleviate this. If you’re looking for other people to play with who might be more accommodating of beginners, take a look through the League of Legends subreddit or the official message boards for advice or people willing to walk you through a match. You’ll find that people who are passionate about League are also often eager to teach others.

Digging into the Details

As you play around with champions and builds, you’ll realize League of Legends actually features a lot of nuance and strategy. Certain builds and shopping lists are better than others when playing a champion. If you need advice, reach out to the community or take a look at other people’s builds to get a good idea of how to create the ideal build. There are a lot of great character-specific guides a mere internet search will reveal for all your favorite champions — even if you want to jungle with Teemo.

Photos via Riot Games (1, 2), League of Legends Wiki (1, 2), Paste Magazine, GL Gaming, AJSadler

Jessica is a freelance writer based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read other stuff she writes on VICE, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Geek & Sundry.