Chances are that you’ve heard of the most played videogame in the entire world. Between the widespread fan base of players and the increasingly popular professional scene, it’s possible that League of Legends may actually be the most popular game in the history of gaming. But while its popularity is indisputable, those who have never played it, or who are just starting out, may be understandably curious as to whether or not the game is actually good. I mean, if there’s one thing that pop culture has taught us, it’s that popular sure doesn’t mean right. After all, what separates League of Legends from all the other MOBAs out there, such as Dota 2 or Heroes of Newerth? Well fear not. I can tell you with a large degree of certainty that League of Legends is as good as it boasts. A combination of simple gameplay, solid game design, and an alarming amount of developer involvement keeps League of Legends fun, relevant, and popular.
Like most MOBAs, League of Legends is a top-down, scrolling camera game. Players control champions in a battlefield where the objective is to take the enemy teams nexus. The battlefield has three lanes, each of which hosts minions that continually spawn from the nexus. Players gain gold and experience from killing the minions to buy better items and slay their enemies. In addition to killing minions and enemy champions, players earn gold for destroying enemy buildings, and can even kill neutral monsters like golems and dragons for bonus gold. Honestly, not much has been improved upon since the original MOBA, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), but it’s a tried and true method that’s simple and addicting. Right-click to move and attack, and champions have four abilities ranging from skill shots missiles to passive effects to shields, and learning the best ways to combine and level up abilities. Unfortunately, the subtleties of combating opponents in lane while still killing minions is often lost on people, resulting in a very steep learning curve. In addition to the steep learning curve of game’s mechanics, there’s also an unbelievable amount of raw data that players must assimilate in order to enjoy the game. League of Legends features over 100 champions and upwards of 130 items. Despite this, League of Legends is well-designed and makes great use of the conventions of the MOBA genre to deliver an experience that is easy to learn but difficult to master. In addition to the classic model of MOBA, League of Legends features two different game modes called Dominion, which is like King of the Hill with five Hills, and ARAM (an acronym originated as “All Random; All Mid), where every player gets a random champion and all ten players battle in the same small lane.
League of Legends features a visual style that is both cartoony and sophisticated. There are a few customizable visual options to give you the best experience for your computer’s capabilities, but the game looks okay even on the lowest settings. While it may not be a graphical powerhouse capable of putting your graphics card into overdrive, like Crysis, it looks good for a free-to-play. It runs smoothly on almost any computer, but it is prone to the occasional bug or glitch, particularly on patch days. For whatever reason, Riot Games has a propensity for breaking their game with every patch, though their support system is usually quick enough to revert the changes, hotfix them, or simply disable the champion or item causing the bug. The servers are very reliable, with fewer than five server shut downs a year in my experience, and Riot Games is very active in its role to make the players’ experiences as enjoyable as possible, frequently taking to reddit and forums to inform players and relay information.
If you’ve heard one thing about League of Legends, you’ve likely heard about how terrible the community is. “Toxic” is the word that is often thrown around. Unfortunately, it’s true for the most part. While there are more good players than bad, you get paired with nine other people in every game, four of whom will be on your team. Even if the ratio of healthy players to toxic players is 9:1, you’ll have at least one in every game. The flaw is inherent in the design of the game: it’s free-to-play, so many people tend to play it casually. Yet even casual players take the game seriously, and along with four other people on your team comes the ability to blame others for things that go wrong. Unfortunately, this often leads to cognitive biases that lead players to believe they are better than everyone else, and this precipitates aggression and toxic behavior. Despite this, Riot Games has taken many steps, including the ability to report violent players and honor good players and adding “The Tribunal,” which allows users to act as jury in cases of reportedly toxic players. Successfully punishing or pardoning players will see users rewarded with Influence points, which can be used to purchase new champions or runes in-game. There are still a disappointing amount of violent players, but the number has reduced noticeably since I began playing two years ago.
What truly separates League of Legends from other MOBAs is the degree to which the game’s developer, Riot Games, is actively involved. More than simply having a large hand in the developmental process of the game, Riot Games consistently listens to professional and amateur player feedback in order to better improve and balance the game. With nearly a patch per month, League of Legends is constantly shifting and molding into a better game. In addition to using player feedback to enhance gameplay experience, Riot Games has made massive strides in establishing the legitimacy of esports. While promotions like Major League Gaming (MLG) and World Cyber Games (WCG) have been around for quite some time, Riot Games has taken esports to a whole new level with the establishment of the League of Legends Champion Series (LCS). The LCS is a multi-stage tournament that spans the entire year, and it is structured similar to established professional sports such as basketball or football. Teams must qualify for a spot in the LCS and then play a series of games against other teams for placement in the season. All of the wins and seedings go towards the World Championship, which will be held on October 4th in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Riot Games pays the teams a salary to compete in the tournament, freeing them up from participating in small, menial tournaments so that they can focus exclusively on practicing and competing. It’s no coincidence that the U.S. Government has chosen to recognize professional videogame players as “professional athletes” mere months after the LCS began.
While it may be simple and silly, League of Legends features a deceptive amount of depth. Much like chess, it’s easy to learn all of the moves and play for fun, but learning specific strategies and watching professionals play shows just how intense good League of Legends play can be. While the game isn’t perfect, featuring occasional glitches or toxic players, it is consistently being updated in an effort to become better. It may not be the best game in the world, but it has a lot to offer, and you can’t beat the price. Besides, 32 million players can’t be wrong.