This is a guide FROM a semi-beginner for other beginners. Don't expect some high level commentary here. This'll mainly be explaining the slightly above basics of gameplay and common lower-level pitfalls. This means the VERY basics, such as how to use spells and items, will be skipped. Additionally, builds can be found elsewhere on the internet, so they won’t be here. Corrections are definitely welcome. I'm still low level, so there's a lot I have to learn.
For reference, here is a picture of the map. Credit to dragonalexdotcom.
Matchmaking, RP, IP and XP
Roles, Reasoning for Roles, Champion Select
Pushing, Zoning, Harassing and Ganking
Like SCII, LoL has custom matches, games vs. AI and matchmade games. All of these game types offer Influence Points and Experience Points, but there are penalties on some types. For example, games vs. AI have a reduced reward to stop people from farming using them. The main type for non-pros is matchmade games – similar to SCII you are ranked with people similar to you to provide a fair game. There are 4 criteria it uses – your Summoner Level(based off of the amount of Experience Points you have), your ELO(even in non-ranked it has a hidden ELO), your party size and the amount of games that you’ve played.
RP, IP and XP
There are 2 different currencies. RP is bought with actual money and IP is earned by playing. They fill the same roles except that IP can not be used to buy skins and RP can not be used to buy runes.
XP is earned through winning games. It increases your Summoner Level. After every Summoner Level you are given an extra Mastery Point. After level 20 each level also unlocks a Rune slot.
In-game XP is an entirely different beast. Your champion needs to be within 1200 range of a dying minion in order to get the XP from it dying. As explained further on, if you can keep your enemy out of that range it will not be able to get XP and will die. Additionally, XP is split evenly between friendly nearby champions. Each minion gives slightly more XP if there are more friendly champions nearby. XP required to level up increases per level. More info.
There are 5 main roles in the meta game of LoL. The reasoning for the roles is explained in the section below this one. The roles are : Tank, Off-Tank(assassin, bruiser, etc.), AP carry, AD carry, and Support.
The responsibilities of the roles are available here.
The cliff notes is that AD carries carry their team through auto attacks(called Attack Damage), AP carries through abilities(called Ability Power), tanks protect your carries, off-tanks kill their carries, and supports make sure everyone stays alive and contribute in different ways.
Reasoning For Roles
Due to the way that XP works in LoL if only one player is getting all of the XP from the lane, they will quickly out level a lane that has 2 people splitting all of the XP in a lane. This means that ideally you want to have one person in each lane. However, this would leave 2 Champions with no source of XP. Well, there is a source of XP - the jungle creeps. You can use these creeps to have your team level more quickly than the opponents, leading to an easier late game.
There is only enough XP in the jungle to provide for 1 player constantly farming it, so the second Champion with no source of XP will have to go into one of the lanes and share the XP. There are 3 choices of lane: top, mid and bottom. The last Champion is not put into mid because mid is normally AP carries. AP carries(spell casters) benefit mostly from their abilities, which means that they need as much experience as they can get. If they split a lane with a support they will level up more slowly than a champion that gets all the experience from a lane. AD carries don't benefit from levels that much because their abilities are normally not strong. However, they benefit from gold which lets them buy items to increase their damage output. Putting the ADC with a support ensures they can stay in lane for longer to get as much CS/gold as possible.
Between top and bottom there is a small, but very important difference. Bottom is a lot closer to the Dragon. If there is a fight over the Dragon you want to have as many people there as possible to get kills and hopefully the Dragon kill as well. If your last Champion is at top it will not be able to get to Dragon before the fight is over. If it is on bottom it will. This is makes a big difference between a 3v2 and 3v3 fight. If it is a 3v2 fight it will normally be 2 kills for the side with 3 champions and the Dragon kill vs. 1 kill for the 2 champion side. The "snowball" effect of LoL causes this to become even bigger down the road.
The jungling player has 2 major roles - farm the jungle as much as possible, and gank. Farming as much as possible means being able to stay in the jungle for quite a while, which requires a lot of health or sustain(healing abilities) and good damage. Jungle also requires being able to fight the opposing team's jungler and gank. Fighting the enemy jungler requires good Damage, Health, and Healing. Ganking an enemy(jumping into their lane and surprising them for a kill) requires a good engage ability(used for melee characters to get in range) and good damage. An example is Amumu, with his bandage throw.
The 2 Champions in the bottom lane are unique - they are the only duo lane. Normally, an Attack Damage champion would be very fragile and get ganked often in a solo lane because they have low health and poor escape skills. Caitlyn, for example, only has her net shot to allow her to escape. However, when partnered with a Champion that can help them escape, heal, etc. they become much stronger. If they get through the early part of the game without taking much damage and get some kills they are able to get their high damage items early. This enables them to "carry" the team in teamfights, by dealing tons of damage. The support Champion helps the AD carry get through the early game, and contributes in teamfights in different ways depending on the Champion. For example, Nunu has good slows and stops enemy Champions from reaching the AD carry.
The Champion in mid lane is almost always an Ability Power carry because without an AP carry the other team can build armour and take almost no damage. An AP carry forces the team to get Magic Resist Armor. Additionally, AP carries are a lot more self-sufficient than AD carries(they have better escapes, stuns, and group stuns and are particularly more able to fight other AP carries), which is why they are in a solo lane. Finally, in a fight for Dragon AP carries are able to use their stuns and high burst damage to swing the fight in their team’s favour. An example of a mid Champion is Ryze.
In top lane the Champion is also required to fend for itself in its lane. This requires good escapes, sustain and damage. The team is also looking for a tank for team fights, which is used to shield the high damage Champions, allowing them to deal more damage. The tank is in top rather than mid because the support already is often a tank, and the AP carry is a lot more useful combined with the AD carry and a tank than another tank. An example of a top lane is Shen. Particularly useful is his Ultimate which allows him to shield a teammate and teleport into a fight, which can swing a gank the other way or win a fight for Dragon.
Before each game your five Summoners each choose a champion. Especially in solo queue it is a good idea to have a basic knowledge of every role. The LoL community is full of horrible team mates, so you may find some of them simply will not care about the team composition. If you are saddled with a team like this fill into the empty roles and do your best.
A common saying in LoL is “Wards win games”. If you have vision of the enemy team throughout the game you are able to make your decisions off of complete information. For example, if all 5 of their champions are in their base then you can safely push a lane on them. Warding bot is normally the responsibility of support, but top and mid have to ward their own lanes. The river is the most important place to ward in order to avoid ganks. Your jungler may also want to ward their buff creeps(Lizard and Golem) in order to counter-jungle and kill their jungler/steal the buff.
The objectives are dragon, baron and towers. Each of these will help your team gain an advantage over the enemy team. Killing their towers reduces their map control/presence(they have no nearby tower to run to, and no vision). Dragon gives your team money. Baron gives your team money and the buff. It is very important to know where the enemy team is when going for an objective. For example, trying an early dragon and getting surprised by the enemy team normally leads to 3 kills and a dragon steal for them. Only do it if you can see the enemies, can win the fight, or if you have just won a large fight.
It is also important to deny your opponents vision of the map. There are 2 items that reveal stealthed units(Evelynn, wards, Shaco, etc.) - Vision Wards(also called Pink wards) and Oracle's Elixir. It might be a good idea for your support to grab an Oracle' Elixir and sweep the objective area for wards if your team is thinking of trying for one.
This map details good warding locations. Green circles are for the laning phase. Orange circles are for after the laning phase, when towers are being taken down by one side or the other. Red circles are for the objectives. Objectives should be warded whenever there is a chance your opponents might make a try for one of them. Credit to nightmaremode.net.
Pushing is tied in closely with towers. If you are going to do an objective and your lane is pushed in the enemies can push it further and take out your tower, ruining the advantage of the objective. If your lane is pushed out they will have to defend their own tower, making them decide between fighting for the objective and saving the tower. Other than grabbing an objective, it is not a good idea to have your lane pushed out. If it is pushed out you will be further from your tower and a lot more easily gankable. Your opposite laner(s) will be near their tower and less easily gankable.
Harassing is when you target the enemy champion in order to lower their health slowly over time. If you keep harassing successfully they will eventually be forced to recall, allowing you to deny them CS and XP and push the lane into their tower to recall if you’d like. It also lowers their vision of you, freeing you to try to gank another lane.
Ganking is when a Champion jumps into another lane hoping to kill the champions in it. It is normally done by junglers, because they are a lot harder for the other team to keep vision of. It is a good idea to have a lot of stuns or chase abilities when ganking. For example, Maokai is a great ganker because he can chase and stun at the same time.
Zoning is when you use an advantage over the enemy laner in order to deny them CS and XP. For example, if you harass them to low health you can stand between them and the creeps. If they try to get in range for CS or XP you can kill them. If they don’t try to get their CS they’ll quickly fall behind in XP and money.