Items are one of the biggest barriers to entry for any new League of Legends player. The prospect of spending hard-earned gold on one of a long list of items they know nothing about often leaves new players at a complete loss on where to begin. This generally leads to an endless flow of questions like; what does each item do, when do I buy them, which ones are best for which champions, why are there so many, what the hell is an Ohmwrecker, and many more.
The problem with these questions is they don’t really address the right things. The general feeling for new players is they have to know everything to know anything. But that’s not really the case. Knowing exactly what each item is and its stats is a huge task and one that won’t really make you any better at the game, compared to the amount of time it would take to do so.
Sure, at some point you will learn all the items, but learning is a process just like improving at the game as a whole. You don’t need to know everything from the start, you just have to always be trying to learn. So let’s talk a little bit about the ways League of Legends wants you to go about learning items:
Types of Items
This is very likely old news for anyone reading this, but on the off-chance you don’t know — or have somehow forgotten — here is the absolute bottom line of item information for League of Legends. The two types of items you should worry about off the bat are going to be offensive and defensive items. Offensive items are going to be any that have Attack Speed, Attack Damage (AD) or Ability Power (AP) as their first listed stat, while defensive items are any that have Health, Magic Resist (MR) or Armor as their first stat. Items in League of Legends should also be viewed as quality over quantity. In other words, it’s better to finish one full item than to buy the pieces to four items at once.
How we learn items
The first thing you will want to know is what kind of champion you are playing. Chances are you may have glanced at the champion information page and at least have an idea of whether or not your champion is a tank or a damage character. From there, the next step is figuring out if they scale best with Ability Power or Attack Damage. When you hover over the abilities of your champion you should see a number in parentheses that is either green (Ability Power) or red (Attack Damage). This should give you a baseline idea of what kind of items you are looking for.
There are all kinds of different variants of these items that all offer slightly different things from one another. Riot’s recommended items for each champion aren’t perfect, but they are a good jumping off point — which is the real purpose for recommended items after all. A good exercise in learning how to build is to think about those items Riot is recommending and question why it suggests those items. Chances are over the course of just a couple games, you’ll start to recognize some items and understand their strengths.
So start there, take a look at the recommended items for a champion you are playing and read what they do. Try doing the same thing with the items your lane opponent buys too. If you’re not sure what a champion does, or whether they are AP or AD, chances are their items will give you a good hint. I know that sounds slow, and that’s because it is. After all, League is a game about learning, and learning is often a process.
Before we get too far ahead though, let’s talk a little more specifically about a couple items to get a better idea of how to learn. For this, we’ll use three early game items that are fairly common in most games and most often used by three different roles.
Who it’s good on: Auto Attack heavy champions, like Caitlyn, Jinx or Yasuo
Why: It gives them AD for stronger auto attacks and gives those attacks a better chance to critically strike and bonus damage when they do.
Stats that complement it: Attack Speed, Critical Strike Chance
Who it’s good on: AP champions who cast abilities frequently, like Ahri, Leblanc or Syndra
Why: It provides a high level of both Ability Power and Cooldown Reduction allowing their spells to do more damage and be used more frequently, while providing more Mana for spell casting.
Stats that complement it: Magic Penetration, Health
Who it’s good on: Tank champions, like Maokai, Nautilus or Garen
Why: Health makes champions harder to kill. While Armor is useful if your lane opponent is AD as it provides resistance to AD abilities and auto attacks. It also provides the ability to kill minions faster with its passive.
Stats that complement it: Magic Resist, Cooldown Reduction
How items help us learn
This is where you really come into the equation though. Items only have one purpose: helping your team win the game. That means that your build only matters so much. So try things. Don’t be afraid to throw caution to the wind and build that thing that looks cool. There really is no substitute for experience when you’re learning to play the game. Win or lose, the important part is that you understand what elements led you to that result. Was the Runaan’s Hurricane (attack speed item) as good on Veigar as you hoped? (Answer: no) Well, why not? Probably because he does not auto attack very often. But at least you learned something, right?
So, let’s say you understand most of the relevant items in the game, and when you encounter a new one you don’t have a hard time fitting it into your picture of the game as a whole. In that case, you are now ready for the next step. That step is learning how items affect individual games and the smaller moments within them.
Shopping for items provides a break from the action to access the state of the game as a whole. Early in the game, it’s a moment to determine who is strongest on the enemy team, or yours, and what items you can build to negate that champion’s advantages, or place your teammate in a better place to leverage their own strengths. This idea has a lot of vagueness, so here’s an example.
Let’s say you are playing an AP mid laner like Lux who is squishy (easy to kill) and doesn’t have a quick way out of a fight other than flash. Now let’s imagine that the enemy team has a top lane Talon and you notice he has 2 kills early in the game. You see he has built a lot of AD and you know Talon is good at killing squishy champions. In this case it may be a good idea to build a Zhonya’s Hourglass (which provides armor and a brief period of invulnerability) early in the game, before you ever have to fight the Talon, helping to negate his advantages.
Items can also be used to learn things about individual opponents as well. As one of a few constants in League across all games and players, items can reveal certain intentions and thoughts of the people who buy them.
For instance, if you are playing an AP champion and your opponent comes back to lane with only MR, chances are they are afraid of your damage and are planning to play passively in attempt to avoid it. This should give you a good chance to push your advantage in the lane.
Learning how each item interacts with specific circumstances is a never ending process in League, like two people who see different colors trying to solve a Rubik’s cube at the same time. I know this part gets a little more complicated, but think of it more as an introduction than something to be understood. It’s the tip of the never-ending tactical iceberg that makes League of Legends interesting.