Earlier this week, I learned that my good friend quit playing “League of Legends” – ending my squad’s hopes for professional gaming stardom and ultimately world domination.
“I couldn’t justify the time it would take to be a star,” he told us in a group message. “So I took my talents to South Beach.”
It was a blow to me and the three friends I have who share my addiction for the one true Mobile Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game. We’ve all been friends for more than a decade, and much of that time has been spent gaming.
The core mode in “League of Legends” features two five-person teams. For the last six years or so, we’ve struggled as three or four members playing with strangers filling our open ranks – a prospect any seasoned online gamer knows is often disastrous. Our fifth – our beautiful fifth – finally began learning the game around sixth months ago.
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In January. creator Riot Games unveiled its first round of annual changes – updates to characters, items and the game itself that come after the 10-month or so ranked season ends.
The matchmaking system got the biggest adjustment. For the last six years, players entering into a ranked game would be placed into a random (but not really) order. Rational adults and precocious youths would engage in a civil dialogue to determine where each team member wanted to play, and everyone would follow the agreed upon plan to pick accordingly.
Except it was nothing like that. At all.
People immediately chose whatever they want, a practice known as “instalocking,” which would cause the chat to spiral into name-calling and angry accusations. Then we’d be expected to play a 45-minute game together as a cohesive unit.
Now, each player gets to select a preferred role and a backup. I play a lot of damage-dealing characters with weak defense, so I select those two roles. I can queue up for any game now and pretty much guarantee that I won’t be playing the roles I hate.
I can’t really describe how wonderful that is. If you’ve played “League of Legends” for a few years, you understand.
If you haven’t, I’ll attempt a food metaphor.
You know how red and pink Starburst are clearly the superior candies, but we all have that weird friend who likes the orange or yellow ones? That friend is totally gross but also necessary – you’d never finish an entire bag without them. And remember how happy you were when Starburst started making bags of only the purple and pink ones? That’s what this is like.
But that’s me, a five-year veteran, speaking. For my friend, these changes were a deal-breaker.
He’d already spent six months trying to catch up to his friends – and a few million other people – on a game that takes at least a year to gain proficiency in, let alone master. These changes made an already confusing game overwhelming.
My buddy was barely aware that these roles existed. Now, he’s being asked to pick his favorites. The roles don’t technically exist, in fact. There’s no rule that says one person most go to the top lane while two move to the bottom. These roles were created organically by players as the best possible option given the game’s map. This is called a “meta.”
Basically, he had only had Starburst a few times. He had no way of really knowing which color he liked, so being asked to choose made him switch to Nerds.
I started to see similar sentiments expressed on Twitter. Phil Kollar, an editor for Polygon and one of the nicest guys in games media, let a few tweets fly about just how much the game had changed since its beta phase in 2009. He noted that he’s not entirely sure the changes were for the better, all things considered.
The changes kept on rolling this week, when Riot announced it would be killing the Dominion game mode. I hated that mode from the moment it was released four years ago. It has nothing to do with what I love about “League of Legends.”
But again, I knew a world before Dominion. Others did not. For some players, Dominion was their favorite game mode. They may not touch the game ever again.
For my three “League of Legends” veteran friends and I, each round of annual changes has been better than the last. For one of our friends, the latest batch ended his career before it started.
Four out of five isn’t bad in most circumstances. But for the most popular game on Earth, that’s a big deal. If that figure is a close representation of all players, that would mean 13.4 million of the 67 million monthly players don’t want to play anymore.
My measly personal fraction is almost certainly not representative of the world’s “League of Legend” population, but Riot probably needs to carefully weigh future changes to the game – even if they appear to be for the better.