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Dote Night: Learning To LoL

League of total beginners

I said a little while back that I wanted to open up Dote Night to include interesting things across the MOBA spectrum. It doesn't mean I've forgotten Dota 2 in any way, shape or form, nor does it mean there won’t be Dote Nights about Dota, but I’d like to try out a few things and see how they go. To introduce this week's article: I've spent the last year following competitive League of Legends but I've never played more than a handful of games. I feel like a football fan who's never really had a decent kickabout in the park. That's why this week is about getting to grips with League of Legends [official site]:

I refuse to surrender. Point-blank refuse. WE CAN STILL DO THIS! We can still... oh, I see. No, not without our nexus, no.

The thing about a nexus is that it's kind of crucial to staying in a game of League of Legends's 5v5 mode. If you're familiar with MOBAs you'll know the drill – you're on a team of five trying to co-operate in order to destroy a key structure in the enemy base. In LoL it's called the nexus, in Dota it's the Ancient and in Smite it's the Titan. There are three lanes which little minions tread on their way to the opposite side of the map and stretches of jungle where neutral monsters live. The monsters and minions can be killed for gold and experience (as long as they're not your own), as can the enemy heroes.

Thus far in my eSports career I have become good at watching professional-level League of Legends but never really played. I prefer to play MOBAs as a stack (a pre-formed group) where I can chat and bounce ideas around and communicate easily with voice. I have just one friend who plays League regularly and another who dabbles a tiny bit. As a result, my knowledge is almost entirely theoretical. It comes from watching the professional meta or is based around digging into interesting promotions and research Riot is conducting at any given time.

I decided to change that.

This piece is going to be about what what I've noticed in the first few matches. It's not a play-by-play, but more about what I've noticed having come to LoL with prior MOBA baggage. I'll aim to write about the project every so often to give an idea for how my understanding of the game evolves and changes.

After a lot of patching the client is ready to go – hurrah! I hit "PLAY". The screen is instantly something you don't see in the pro-gaming scene – game mode selection. For PvP your options are Classic, Dominion and ARAM (all random all mid). ARAM is locked until you reach summoner level 6 while Dominion (a capture point mode) is gated until level 7. Classic offers up 5v5 matches on Summoner's Rift, which is the sort of game you'll see if you watch the pro scene as well as a 3v3 option in the form of Twisted Treeline. TT is gated until level 7 as well, so the game basically funnels you into the classic flavour of LoL then you just pick the options which match you with others or helps you construct a team of your own.

I'd say this feels convoluted, having played other games in the genre. With LoL if you want to play with friends you invite them at this stage rather than forming a party beforehand which seems counter-intuitive. When trying to play with a friend over the weekend I spent a few minutes trying to work out how to partner up with her before finding the right option. It's something you'll only struggle with once, though, and it might have been covered by the tutorial which I played maybe two years ago.

Once you've found a match you get into the hero selection mode. Confusingly, for low level players you won't have the same champion options as the game's rotation of free heroes. I made that mistake and had geared myself up to play Brand – a fire-heavy mage who fits my current playstyle in other games - before realising I'd actually need to pick from the stable roster of starter champs. That's something Riot introduced back in early 2014 so that newcomers would have access to easy-to-learn heroes which were rewarding to play. I feel like there should be an obvious reminder on the screen, or on each of the free rotation update pages, in case you don't know why you can't access the free rotation.

Given I couldn't have fire I took ice, in the form of Ashe. She's a Frost Archer and really fun to play. If you're familiar with Dota characters she's got a lot in common with Drow Ranger, who's a character new players tend to click with easier than some of the others. Actually, that's something I find hard to switch off as I play. I think of champions in terms of comparisons to other characters my fingers remember from other games. It's something which faded as I got more familiar with the pro scene but now it's back in full force as my hands try to get to grips with these familiar-yet-untested characters.

Ashe has a Frost Shot ability which is bound to Q. When this is toggled on her arrows slow enemies for a couple of seconds, making it easier for Ashe to keep pace with them as she brings down their health. I was using it along with the Ghost summoner spell, which lets you move 27% faster for 10 seconds. It let me chase down a kill on an enemy Graves and a Ryze who seemed to think they had pulled off an excellent escape.

Ashe's W ability is a volley of arrows which fire in a cone and deal physical damage. I was using that to help clear minion waves, as well as to deal damage to several targets at once in team fights. Her E ability is Hawkshot, which is useful in its passive form for gaining bonus gold. The active is where you send out a hawk to scout out an area for a few seconds. I mostly forgot about that because I was just placing ward totems regularly. In retrospect I should have put a point in Hawkshot far earlier though as my team ended up behind gold-wise (our Warwick abandoned in the first few seconds of the game). The extra item it could have helped afford might have turned a fight or two.

Her ultimate is an Enchanted Crystal Arrow. It's a massive arrow which deals magic damage and stuns when it hits an enemy hero. Because of being on the back foot for so much of the game, I was using it to escape rather than to initiate fights. I think Graves was starting to get irked by me as the game progressed, as I managed to stun him long enough to get away while on low health and looking like a sure kill.

I think general MOBA experience is helping me an awful lot at the moment. I don't tend to die stupidly. I'm not diving towers or wandering into areas of zero vision and maximum enemy. The rhythm of the game makes sense and I can recognise what enemy players might try to do with their hero abilities. There are some parts where it trips me up though. I keep trying to block my minions as they waddle to lane, I can't help trying to deny minion kills and thus I'll disrupt my own lane farming by falling out of rhythm. I don't have a sense of the timers at work either so I'm wary of trying any junglers, although my warding is decent and I rarely seem to get jumped or taken completely by surprise.

The pro scene stuff is patchy in its applicability. It's useful in that I've absorbed information about champions and combos and some item build preferences, so I can pull that out at odd moments. The lessons in warding have paid off too, I think. But I'm playing babby League. People will pick on a whim, not on any sensible drafting basis. They'll also abandon games for whatever reason. As I said, in that Ashe game our Warwick just left and never came back, leaving us 4v5 for the whole thing. I find myself wondering if, perhaps, playing less cautiously might actually be better in some ways. It's not good game sense and would be useless at higher levels but sometimes it feels like blind aggression can brute force a win whereas trying to inflict or expect teamwork when part of a fivesome of varying ability and attitude can backfire.

In case you're curious, I ended up going 5/4/5 on Ashe this morning. That means 5 kills, 4 deaths and 5 assists. It was the only positive kill/death ratio on our team so I was doing okay, although should have communicated more with the others. I find that hard to remember when getting to grips with so much other new stuff. My fingers are learning which button for the shop and which for my active abilities and items so typing in chat slips down the priority list. This evening was far better - 16/0/5 plus we won the game.

I've not encountered any rudeness in my recent games, either. In fact I just saw that I had a commendation for my behaviour in a recent game. Perhaps being quiet, getting kills and refusing utterly to surrender was that person's cup of tea. Either way I'm having fun. It feels like playing Dota, improving at Smite and learning League are all feeding into one another in helpful ways (even if it does mean I keep switching to cinematic view in Dota because I'm hitting the shop shortcut from Smite).

But I have one question.

Is there really no way to invert the mouse drag in League of Legends? HOW DO YOU PEOPLE LIVE LIKE THAT?

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