So the “Play LOL for Free!” ad drew you in, and now you’re learning your way around the game. This guide is intended to help newer players learn how to get the best “bang” for their IP buck, so to speak. Maybe you’re a starving grad student like me, or maybe you’re in high school. For whatever reason, you don’t have any Riot points, but you’re slowly building up IP points from playing. What do you do?
[GUIDE] Playing LOL on a Budget
Part I – Free Champions
Part II – Affordable Champions
Part III – Runes
Part IV – Getting IP
Part V - Riot Points on a Budget
First and foremost, remember that every week there are 10 new free champions. You can find the free weekly rotation on the Announcements forum.
You should definitely try each new champion at least once just to get a basic feel for the mechanics. I was terrified of Ryze until I played him – then after going 2-8-2 or something horrible, I realized that Ryze was just another champion unless you know what you’re doing with him. Playing the free champions will also help you learn what champions you enjoy playing enough to purchase with IP points later on.
Second, there are two free champion skins currently available. When you get one of these skins, you unlock the champion as well:
Riot Girl Tristana: You get this hero by becoming a fan of Riot on Facebook. Tristana (“Trist”) is a ranged carry hero and is decent for new players just starting out with the game.
Nightmare Cho’gath: In the past, Alienware has given away limited numbers of these skins every few weeks. Cho’gath (“Cho”) is a melee hero who is usually built as a tank, but can serve as a damage character as well.
Finally, if you bring your friends into the game as well, you can earn a free Tier 3 Champion (3150 IP) after 10 of your friend referrals reach summoner level 10.
Affordable “Strong” Heroes
Heroes are priced in the following increments, based on their supposed difficulty: 450 RP, 1350 RP, 3150 RP, 4800 RP, 6300 RP.
I recommend learning one of the characters from each of the following lists so that you have a versatile line-up and know the basics of gameplay from each perspective. Some of the very best heroes in the game are also the cheapest to purchase, so you won’t be at a disadvantage by playing the cheaper ones first.
For a quick list of good champions by role, I recommend this guide: Champions You Should Buy by JackAubrey. For another discussion of affordable champions, see Best "Cheap" champions? by Trinislayer.
Here are some of the best champions by IP cost:
Annie - 1350 IP. Annie is very strong and dirt cheap as well. Playing Annie gives you a solid understanding of casters and also teaches you how to manage stacks of abilities with her passive stun, something common to a few other casters as well. Here is an excellent guide to Annie by Sniperness.
Carries: (Damage characters with a strong late game)
Ashe - 450 IP. Ashe is one of the most intuitive heroes in the game, and also tier 1 material. Focus on leveling her Volley and practice with toggling her slow on and off for chasing heroes. Save her giant Ice Arrow for team fights and catching runners, not for initiating a 1v1 fight in the lane.
Tristana - FREE with Riot Girl Skin. Tristana (“Trist”) is a ranged carry hero. You should use her to practice escaping from opponents with her jump, and using her ultimate in team fights to push fleeing opponents into your allies and towers.
Support: (Characters with heals, slows, and buff spells)
Soraka - 450 IP. Soraka is a pure support champion. As Soraka you should be always following your teammates around like a lost puppy, helping them stay alive and in the lane.
Kayle - 450 IP. Kayle is another good support hero – make sure you save your ultimate (shield) for a fragile character like Annie rather than your team’s tank.
Janna - 1350 IP. My favorite support hero to have on a team, Janna is a very fast character with lots of AOE damage and some healing/slowing.
Sivir - 450 IP. A mixed bag of carry/pusher, quite strong in the current metagame. Here is a guide to Sivir that just came out that I think is quite solid.
Cho'Gath - FREE with Alien Giveaway. Cho’gath (“Cho”) is a melee hero who is usually built as a tank, but can serve as a damage character as well. I find him to be a lot of fun if you build him for HP and attack damage. Alternatively, here is a guide to playing Cho'Gath as a durable, hard-hitting "caster."
Amumu - 1350 IP. Amumu is a “pure” tank with a lot of magic (spell) damage rather than physical damage. Here is an excellent guide to Amumu.
Nasus - 1350 IP. I don’t play the puppy too often, but he’s quite solid as a tank with some AOE and damage potential. Here is an excellent guide to Nasus by Hyfe.
Other 450 IP cost heroes that aren't as versatile or “strong” in the current metagame:
Master Yi – Melee carry. Yi has good damage and does a lot of damage to towers, but low health and very little in the way of slows or stuns.
Nunu – Melee tank or caster. Nunu is a durable character whose ultimate slows and damages in a wide area of effect.
Champion purchasing priority:
If I were starting a brand-new account, I would start with Tristana and learn the basics of playing a carry, then once I had 450 IP I would switch over to Ashe, who I have found to be one of the best characters for learning the basics of the game.
The next character I would buy would probably be Sivir, since you could take what you learned from the previous two and also get some experience as a pusher character. From there, it really depends on your playstyle and what the game needs - often my own group lacks players willing to be tanks, so Amumu would be a great pick in my group.
Runes come in 3 tiers, 1-9, 10-19, and 20-30. Tier 3 runes are priced at 205, 410, and 820 IP each. I recommend purchasing Tier 1 runes from levels 1-19, then skipping straight to Tier 3 runes at 20th and up. You want some runes from levels 1-19, but you also want to save up a lot of IP for when you hit 20th. Again: don't waste IP on Tier 2 runes.
Red runes (Marks): You want 2 sets of marks – Armor Penetration and Magic Penetration. Armor penetration helps heroes like Ashe, Tristana, Cho’gath, and Sivir, while magic penetration helps Soraka, Janna, Annie, etc.
Yellow runes (Seals): You want 2 sets of runes - and Mana Regen/5/Level and flat Armor runes. Mana regen/5/level is better for casters and pushers, while armor is good on tanks. Starting at 20th you can also consider Tier 3 Dodge runes. Dodge runes are 820 IP each, however, so you will want to finish your other tier 3 runes before getting them. Even then, Mana Regen/5/Level seals are just as good as dodge runes for many heroes.
Blue runes (glyphs): You want 2 sets of runes – Magic Resistance and Mana Regen/5/Level. Magic resistance is better for tanks, while Mana Regen/5/Level is good for casters and pushers. Starting at 20th you might want to switch into flat cooldown reduction glyphs, which are expensive at 420 IP each but are good for nearly every hero.
Big Purple runes (Quints): You want flat +Health. I wouldn’t even bother getting a tier 1-2 quintessence, just save up for the two T3 ones at 2050 IP each. Later on you might want more specialized quints like +move speed or Ability Power.
Marks, then glyphs, then seals. As soon as you hit 20th level, your first 2 purchases should be a pair of Tier 3 health quints. Try to build two books of runes early on - one with magic pen and mana regen/5/level, and another with armor pen, armor, and magic resist. Later you can customize each book per hero.
You can combine 5 runes of a single tier into a rune of the next tier. It looks cool, but it’s actually mostly useless, since T2 runes are generally pointless, plus you usually get a random rune that will never help you. I would avoid using the combiner until you have completely replaced all 5 of a T1 rune set with T3’s.
First, try to win one game a day – that gives a 150% or so boost to your experience and IP for that game. If possible, win a 5man game, as they give better IP rewards than the 3man one. Don’t leave games early, as that will remove a small IP bonus from your following games. A series of short wins and losses is better for IP than one long win or loss.
You can play practice games against a bot for 90% IP and experience up to 5-6 games a day. Just make sure the team size is identical on both sides: 1 bot vs 1 player (you), or 2 bots vs 2 players, in order to receive experience. Two 15 minute practice game wins will give far more IP than a single 30 or 40 minute normal game, especially if you lose the normal game. This is also the best way to learn a new hero and to try out new item builds.
If you find yourself with a bit of cash, there are a few decent deals for your money. One is buying the physical game for roughly $20, which gives 20 champions, 4 runes, and $10 in Riot points. You could then use those $10 in Riot points to help purchase the other champion pack. As mesasone notes later in the thread, you can also find the game for less than $20 on Amazon or eBay.
The other good deal that I’ve found is to purchase IP boosts for 1 day/3 Days/1 Week if you know that you will be playing about 7+ games a day (such as on a double IP weekend). I don’t recommend purchasing EXP boosts unless you regularly play in pre-mades with level 30 friends, at which point you might want to buy EXP boosts to improve the disparity in marks/masteries.
Free 4-Win IP Boost: Alienware has also gone through a few series of giving away 4-win IP boosts. These sold out even faster than Nightmare Cho'gath, but it's worth checking periodically or signing up with Alienware to see if they will do it again. Free IP is free IP after all!
I hope this guide has helped some new players out there who want to enjoy this game but don’t know exactly where to start with runes or champions. Good luck and have fun!