Don't look at just one guide
It's really tempting to just go to LoLPro and just grab a guide for your new characters. Perhaps you prefer another site, but the basic premise remains the same: go to a site with high-quality guides written by top players and ignore basically everything else. I'm glad you guys don't do this because you wouldn't read anything written by me. Ha!
If you're learning a new character, watch streams or spectate games with that character after reading your guide to see some of the mechanics in action. This helped me improve my solo mid gameplay from "absolutely terrible" to "might actually beat a human, maybe," just by watching top players play Morgana, Diana, and Evelynn.
It's pretty important to read other stuff too even if that stuff is lower quality. First, pros are generally bad at writing guides. It's completely normal, to be honest. Writing professionally is a difficult skill that takes practice, and playing e-sports at a top level is a very difficult skill and takes a lot of practice to achieve and maintain. It is very rare to have both skills. It's very possible that a poorly communicated point in a pro guide might be explained well in another guide.
Additionally, a pro guide might leave information out that the pro views as "obvious," or it might be more applicable to top-level play. It also, very commonly leaves out the "why," which is pretty important for teaching a skill. You learn things a lot better if you know why you're doing them.
Looking for things to develop
There are a lot of skills worth developing. In a lot of cases, you want to look for agreement between your sources. If one source is radically different on a particular point from the others, you might want to question why that is. Sometimes it is because the author is wrong, and in a huge majority of cases I'd say that it is. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that if I give a specific situation where I think buying a Deathcap is bad, then Scarra goes and says that you should get a Deathcap in that situation, that I'm wrong and he's almost certainly right. He has played probably 10 times more games as solo mid alone than I have played games total in any game mode, so he likely knows far more than I on this subject.
However, other times a guide simply doesn't address all the options, so when someone else provides a contrary opinion, that doesn't mean it's wrong. Most bruisers have a few build paths (with a bit of overlap with items like Cleaver) depending on how tanky they want to be. A lot of guides will cover a pretty generic item build with some narrow variations. However, these don't cover all the bases, and someone else might pick a really aggressive opening build or a really burly tank-like build. These might still be viable, so it's important that you run them through the filter and not dismiss them out of hand.
Again, sometimes a guide expects that your opponents are smart. Sometimes that isn't the case and you want to be more aggressive. If a guide by a less-experienced player talks about openings in the laning phase you should look for, maybe that's advice you should listen to even if a top player will almost never give opportunities like that up.
Throwing out trash
Some information is just bad. It's important to run things through a filter of common sense. Do the items chosen match up with a character's ability set? Does this skill build emphasize obvious strengths or at least have some specific, powerful advantage that it leverages in most situations? Do guides specifically call out a strategy as bad, yet that strategy is endorsed by another guide? Sometimes strategies are bad. Sometimes buying an item on a specific character is kind of awful and weakens your potential. I wouldn't recommend anyone buy Manamune on Poppy for instance, even if she does have mana problems and scales to attack damage. The opportunity cost of buying it early is too high for her.
Sometimes guides can be misleading. They can lead you to believe that an unorthodox strategy is viable and provide evidence of success. However, it is highly possible that player is simply playing against bad players, and strategy hardly matters if your enemy doesn't even know what he's doing. I read an Akali guide once where the supplied video footage showed him playing in a duo lane against very, very bad players (the kind that I play against when I queue a smurf with my girlfriend). While I did find some information in the guide useful, I had to throw a lot of the strategic info out the window because it was not really viable in a real game.
I don't want to imply that just because a player is lower in skill that his guides are bad. Some players are very observant, watch pro players, and try
to play the best they can and are (for a variety of reasons) not as skilled but might be able to reproduce a lot of pro knowledge. If I weren't in this group, I probably wouldn't be writing this column. Also, even if a guide leaves some information out (and I am also guilty of this, due to the space limits of this column!), it might explain some things better that a pro guide might not. A number of guides on jungling written by amateur players, combined with pro guides and pro videos, elevated me to the point that I feel very confident in the role. If I had just read pro guides, it probably would have taken me much longer to understand the role.
We understand what it's like to climb the skill ladder in League of Legends. The Summoner's Guidebook teaches you the tools you need to get a competitive edge. Whether you're climbing the ranked ladder, playing Draft Dominion, or getting crushed by intermediate bots, every enemy has a weakness. And every Thursday, Patrick Mackey shows how you can improve improve on yours.