To my surprise, I’ve been playing League of Legends for over a month now. With an ordinary game I’d be a guru; with Mobas this means you’re still a bright green noob, but you understand the basic mechanics and have some favorite champions.

Sometimes fans come up with awesome game variants. In TF2 we occasionally play all melee, or maybe all one class, which can be a blast. LOL players came up with All Random All Mid, which means random champions fighting it out only in the mid lane. Riot turned this into an actual game mode. To make it even more deathmatchy, you start at level 3 and generate mana faster, but don’t heal if you return to base. And to lower the pain of having to play champions you suck at, you can trade before the game with other players, and have a limited ability to re-roll.

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It’s a lot of fun. I’ve actually played far more ARAM than the normal game, and I recommend it to newcomers, for two reasons:

  • It’s faster and lower-key. People understand that you may be playing champions you haven’t mastered. Plus there’s far less strategy. “Stay together and try to hit the enemy” is almost all the plan you need.
  • The random process is biased toward champions you’ve played, or own, though it throws in new ones too. So it’s an excellent way to learn the frigging huge array of champions. In normal games, even with matchmaking geared to your level, there’s less tolerance for trying someone new.

My first loves are still Jinx, Ashe, and Sona. But in ARAM I’ve also done well with Quinn, Anivia, Heimerdinger, Nasus, Sivir, Karthus, and Amumu.

Today I realized why, when I play with my friend Ash, I seem to suck more. It’s because he’s a far higher-level player, so the matchmaking finds better opponents. E.g., last night in one of our games, I was Nasus, and had a dispiriting 1/16/16 record. But then I happened to play Nasus in a game with my peers, and dominated: 16/4/31. So if you’re playing with much better friends, be aware of this tradeoff: it’s more companionable but you’re going to be reminded how much you’ve still got to learn.

Champions all share the same basic controls: mouse2 for basic attack, Q/W/E for their main spells, and R for their ultimate (a powerful spell with a long cooldown). At first you can use the strategy “spam QWE and use R when you can”, but of course you need to be smarter, and understand your champions. E.g. Nasus’s Q is very distinctive: each time he gets a kill, it gets more powerful. That means you want to spend a good deal of the early game carefully hitting Q just before killing a minion– since you don’t get the upgrade if you merely hurt them. In a normal game you might spend 10-15 minutes doing this, but even in ARAM you want to spend some time at it.

With Nasus it can be very effective to first hit E to produce an area of effect damage (but be wary: players at my level are dumb enough to stay in it taking damage, but higher-level players aren’t), then W to slow down a champion, and Q to hopefully finish him off. As always in ARAM, don’t try to play solo; hit with your team.

Jinx has an entirely different strategy. Her W is a rocket with one of the longest ranges in the game, effective for harassing from a distance. E sends out some “chompers”, stationary mines which hurt and slow enemies; this can be used for area denial, thinning out a crowd, or slowing down a pursuer. Her R is an infinite-range rocket, which ideally is used to take out an enemy from across the map; it’s particularly effective on ARAM where enemies conveniently group themselves in a line. I didn’t understand or use her Q for a long time; it switches to a minigun that’s very powerful at close range. You want to use it only when enemies are near death, to finish them off.

How do you learn all this? Reading guides and watching videos can help, but there’s nothing like playing a lot, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. And again, ARAM is best for experimenting.

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Recently LOL introduced a temporary game mode called Ascension. I enjoyed it a lot though I never got good at it. I did have one perfect game playing as Sona, screen-capped above. Sona’s Q is an area-of-effect damage, W heals her and nearby allies, and E moves faster; her R immobilizes enemies. We stayed in a close knot, I spammed Q and W almost constantly, and we ruled: team score 200-107, kills 64-28, four ascensions on our side, none on theirs. (But this was exceptional– Ash says that Ascension rewards jungler/assassin champions, and I’m not good at any of those.)

I did have a moment of glory in another Ascension game. The mode has a boss, and if you defeat him you assume his powers– you Ascend. The best strategy is to let the other team wear him down, then attack them and finish off the boss. The enemy team was battling the boss alone, and as Jinx, I sashayed in and got the last hit and the Ascension. Moments like that can make up for a string of losses…

Riot has an interesting monetization strategy: they make most of their money selling skins and other things that don’t directly affect gameplay.  (You can buy champions either with real money or with experience points, so they make money off of impatience.)  I read an article which pointed out that they could make far more money with pay-to-win.  But they prefer to keep their fans happy, which strikes me as a far better long-term strategy.  (Still, buying skins is a little disappointing: your character is so small on the screen that it’s hardly worth bothering.)

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