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Archive for the ‘League of Legends’ Category

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A really good board or computer game is like an onion; enjoyable on the surface (well, if you like onions) but with many layers of gameplay that make the game even more enjoyable the longer you play it until you burn out or move on to the next cool new game.  Sports though… sports are different.  America hasn’t gotten “burned out” on football or baseball.  The rules and strategies haven’t substantially changed in recent history, yet somehow professional sports continue to be a huge business and a massive pass-time for millions of Americans.  There is something about the consistency of sports, the fair playing field, the competition designed to reward skill and teamwork over all else that consistently captures our attention and excitement.

Then you have E-Sports, a sort of hybrid concept where you take a computer game and you add sport elements to it: consistent rules, fair matches, features to improve the spectator experience.  The players benefit from large prize pools and publicity which can lead to sponsorships and other opportunities.  The game companies benefit from huge advertisement and attention for their game with accompanying surges in sales.  The spectating public benefit from a new and surprisingly enjoyable past-time: watching people play computer games against each other who are really, really good.

Starcraft was really the first and is still one of the most popular E-sports games but it has now clearly declined in face of the king of all E-Sports:  League of Legends.  League of Legends success as an E-Sport game is not something I particularly care to write about, I think League of Legend’s rise to power has been well documented in plenty of other places.  This post is more just to ramble about my thoughts after having sunk another set of hours into the game and moving to the next layer of the onion.  I’m going to set this up as a series of LIKE – DISLIKES.

A major statement up front: Apart from an occasional Twisted Treeline match with my brother, I play almost entirely unranked 5v5 Summoner’s Rift.  That is League of Legends to me and all other game maps and modes are not part of this post.

LIKE:  Consistency

This is the sports element.  The very carefully designed Summoner’s Rift map combined with many years of tweaking and balancing presents an extremely consistent experience across matches.  Unlike Starcraft where you may have a variety of maps to adapt your strategy to, the consistency of Summoner’s Rift basically mirrors the consistency of the football field.  It keeps the focus on the players, not the field.

LIKE:  Player Skill is King

There is no doubt that the player skill curve in League of Legends is incredibly steep.  The game system is quite approachable, especially if you start off playing some of the lower difficulty champions.  Playing as only one champion, you only have 4 abilities which are unlocked one at a time which makes the game initially very friendly to learn.  However, the breadth of items available for purchase combined with the gradual unlocking of Masteries and Runes as your account levels up allows for a surprising amount of depth of choices in how you build and play your champion.

LIKE/DISLIKE:  Teamwork is King

Really, teamwork is the core of League of Legends gameplay.  A team of good players who don’t work together will get absolutely destroyed by a team of good players who do work together, or even a team of mediocre players who play well together.  The variety of champion types, play styles, abilities, item builds, etc. provides for endless different in-game interesting team combinations.  Again, the analogy to sports is spot-on.  Teamwork wins games.  Of course the problem here is that as a casual player I generally don’t choose who is on my team, and the concept of feeding (i.e. dying early and often which allows enemy players to progress faster than you) means that a single bad player can literally ruin the game for their entire team, not just by failing to contribute to their own team’s efforts but by actually assisting the other team inadvertently.  The emphasis on teamwork is a double-edge sword.

LIKE/DISLIKE:  The Summoner’s Rift “Meta”

The Meta, as I call it, is the accepted standard strategy of deploying your team in Summoners Rift to maximize champion development and kills during the early laning stage of the game.  You have a strong AD top carry, an AP mid, a AP support and ranged AD carry bot, and a jungler.  This may sound unintelligible to you if you don’t play LOL but it’s really not that different from understanding what a Nickelback or Left Tackle do and why they are important.  And, while the accepted meta is certainly not the only successful strategy, it does represent a very good one.  The problem is getting a team of total strangers who each have a champion they want to play to agree to fill all the roles, on the spot, within a very short time window.  In practice this generally means whoever “calls” a position first gets that position and the other players have to fill in the remaining spots.  Often it gets pretty dumb, especially since the person who was able to “call” the position first is in no way necessarily the person the most qualified for it.  So trying to play a position in the meta without conforming to the expectations of that position can lead to a lot of abuse and conflict within a team; people can yell at you as if you are a catcher standing out in the outfield.  It tends to bring out some of the worst player behavior in the game.

DISLIKE:  Never-ending stream of new champions

So this one is sort of minor; the ever-growing list of champions is, after all, a major strength of the game.  It ensures a ton of variety and, frankly, is probably the main way Riot makes money off of the game.  The problem is, when does it end?  As a fairly casual player I already have a really difficult time remembering what the more common champions do, let alone the many dozens of less commonly played champions.  Plus it makes balancing more and more difficult for Riot as time goes on.  I’m ok with new champions I guess but the speed at which they are putting them out, and the ever-lengthening roster, ends up being a negative for me.

DISLIKE:  Last-Hitting Minions (aka the importance of “Creep Score”)

This one is my MAJOR pet peeve.  The concept of minions within DOTA-style gameplay is pretty unique and cool, they form a sort of “battle-line” and give the game an important PVE element which has to be balanced with PVP.  Staying in a lane to kill minions gives you XP, but you need to spread your team out to do it most efficiently and this leaves you vulnerable to enemy group attacks, which is an interesting balance.  The problem I have with it is the way the gold system works; in order to get the gold from the minion kill, you have to be the one perform the killing blow on that minion.  Maximizing your gold income is incredibly important part of making your champion more powerful as the game progresses but the micro-management required to ensure those last-hits is an absolute pain.  I realize that players have adapted to this and it’s just viewed as one more element of game skill, but I HATE that such inane micromanagement is a critical part of the game and view it as poor design.  I wish gold from minion kills was awarded in a more passive manner similar to XP, or some sort of compromise that didn’t require such annoying precision.

So there you have some of my current thoughts on LOL for better or worse.  For now I will keep playing, maybe not as intensely as I have been, but I would like to get to Level 30 eventually.  I’m currently sitting at Level 20 and primarily playing Renekton, Heimerdinger, and Taric.

UPDATE:  Ironically, shortly after writing this post I discovered that Riot is actually going to put out a “team builder” functionality that lets you put together a role-based team prior to matchmaking.  On the upside, this means if you really want to play a specific role you have a more secure way of having your team acknowledge it than simply being the first to type “mid” into the chat window.  On the downside, it further cements the existing meta which some players will not like.

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Seminole Sun at TheMittani.com has written up a nice article looking at future design space in League of Legends and comparing it to Magic The Gathering.  League of Legends has been coming out with a new champion every 2 weeks and is currently sitting at 110 champions, each with their own unique set of abilities, and not counting the numerous possible combinations of talents, runes, and gear layers on top of these.  I guess Riot has decided to ramp this production rate down to a new champion every 3 weeks instead to allow them more time and development resources for skins, graphics, lore, etc.  In addition, the requirement at high levels of play to be familiar with the abilities of all opposing champions is becoming more and more daunting with the larger and larger champion roster.  At what point does it start to become humanly impossible to remember all the nuances of each opposing champion?

There is another concern also; is there enough design space to continue to make genuinely unique champions or will champion abilities start to overlap each other?  Design space is sort of like a natural resource that is gradually depleted but, like new oil reserves being discovered, it’s possible to keep coming up with new ways to stretch the design space further than originally envisioned.  The comparison is made to Magic, where the design space has been mined to such an extent that it’s incredible there is anything  new and unique that can be done within the game mechanics and yet here we are some 20 years later with new sets coming out every few months.

This is becoming something I look at now with every new game design I evaluate; how much design space is there for the long haul?  This is especially true with Living Card Games which I have been heavily drawn towards lately.  Looking at both the Lord of the Rings LCG and the Star Wars LCG I see a lot of design space for future card designs but I think in the long run the Lord of the Rings LCG presents a much more interesting challenge.

Anyways all that said, check out the article.

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Haven’t had a lot of time to play League of Legends lately, but I played three more games as Heimerdinger over the last couple nights and won all three.  This dude ROCKS.  They were solid wins, too; I think between all three games my team only lost 2 towers.  My kill ratios are still hanging around or slightly below even; I think I went around 25-30 total.  But in terms of damage dealt, buildings destroyed, and minions slain I’m almost always in 1st place on my team.  Not to mention the wins, which are kind of a big deal.  My strategy hasn’t changed much; I typically still level my turrets first priority, followed by the rockets.  I generally pick up the grenade somewhere around levels 5-8 but don’t level it much till later.  His ultimate ability I still don’t usually pick up till level 12 or so.

I still get the feeling that most of the players I’m facing don’t fully understand my champion.  They tend to underestimate how much damage the turrets do and overestimate how many hitpoints they have; I assume people think they are similar to minions but they really aren’t.  Many opponents also tend to freak out and run away after getting hit by rockets without understanding they have a 6 second cooldown (6 seconds is a LOOONG time in LoL).  I especially love being chased by an opposing champion who can’t quite catch up to me and pelting him with rockets the whole time.

I thought I might be getting sick of League of Legends by now, but I’m still finding it a very enjoyable gaming experience.  Even playing the same champion, with roughly the same build, on the same map, I still find each game is quite a bit different in how it plays out.  I’m pretty sure I’m gonna stick it out to Level 30 so I can find out what kind of rating I would be able to earn with my mad skillz.

If you want to know where I got the Heimerdinger Magic card from, check out this guy’s awesome work.

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Heimerdinger is the first decently expensive (3,150 IP) champion I’ve unlocked but I’ve found him well worth it as he is (literally) a blast to play.  He’s effectively a DPS caster, with the typical low physical attack and high spell power.  His difficulty is moderate to low which makes sense as most of his powers are easy to use though they require a little practice to use efficiently.   His heath is actually fairly high, partly thanks to his ability to deal damage remotely via his turrets and partly through his passive ability which restores health slowly to himself and any friendly characters or buildings near him.

My overall kill ratio with Heimerdinger is definitely negative but isn’t that bad, and I’ve had games where I broke even or had a slightly positive kill ratio.  His Hextech Rockets (W) and his Grenade (E) can combine to do a decent chunk of damage in a short time though the grenades are quite slow and an alert enemy can dodge them.  What really takes opponents by surprise, however, is his turrets as many players overlook just how much damage they can do, especially when Heimerdinger’s ability power has been stacked up.  I don’t know how many kills I’ve gotten when an opponent saw me low on health and tried to charge through my turrets for the kill.  But an assassin he is not… mainly due to his static turrets which can’t chase and opponent and a lack of strong CC, the stun grenade simply not being reliable enough.

The reason I enjoy him is his strong ability to push, which is the part of the game that I’m enjoying the most right now.  Frankly, I like winning, and I don’t care if I die 10 times and only get 1 kill, if I win the game I get that 150 IP bonus.  Since I don’t play often I don’t earn IP very fast so getting that bonus as often as possible goes a long ways in helping me unlock future content.  Where Heimerdinger excels is in pushing lanes at an incredibly fast rate, especially when unopposed.  Dropping a single turret and firing off a Hextech Rocket barrage or two can clear a wave of minions in just a few seconds.  Dropping a turret or two near a tower late game can also drop a tower amazingly quickly.  Heimerdinger himself can dance around, applying damage when he wants but dropping back if he comes into danger.  I pretty much always come out as the top damage dealer and the top minion-killer every game, which really contributes to the overall success of the team over time.   He’s also good to have in team fights late-game, which can usually decide a close game.  Dropping turrets and chucking grenades and rockets all over makes him a strong general damage contributor while his passive can give a few extra HP to nearby allies during a longer fight.  He just doesn’t have a lot of firepower he can focus on a particular target.

My build focuses entirely on turrets, upgrading them as much as possible as soon as possible.  I pick up Hextech Rockets on the side, not picking up the Concussion Grenade until maybe Level 5 or 6 and not fully leveling it till much later.  I find his ultimate ability a little underwhelming; the cooldown reduction is nice, but the ability itself is highly situational.  For now I put it off until the later levels, though perhaps if I was a better player I would know when to use it.  It certainly makes him more deadly against Champions with the slowing effect added to turrets and the faster grenade travel.  Probably it should be used in close fights but I haven’t had much luck with it so far.

For items I basically just buy his recommended items, starting with the Chalice of Harmony for the mana regen.  Once I have the Chalice I usually don’t have to worry about mana for most of the rest of the game.  I then buy his recommended boots, the magic penetration is a nice damage boost.  The death cap takes a while to buy due to its high cost but it makes a huge difference and is well worth it I think, as it raises his ability attack power to absurd levels which translates into incredibly damage from all his abilities.    I also have his Runes set for mana regeneration right now though I may later add some ability power to these as well.

All in all the little guy is a lot of fun and a nice upgrade from Kayle who I was primarily playing before; I just found her healing and survivability not quite up to what I expected.  Now if only his voiceovers weren’t incredibly annoying.

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According to Xfire, the “leading social service for gamers”, more people are playing League of Legends right now than World of Warcraft.

Many are hailing this as not only the dethroning of WoW but also the future of the entire online gaming industry; free-to-play games that make their revenue through micro-transactions for in-game items or minor fees associated with certain services.

That’s not to say free-to-play games don’t have their downsides, or that they will completely take over the market.  Most free-to-play games seem to start you off pretty easily with lots of quick progress but after a while they bog down.  Then the player has to decide whether to put in some real money to speed things back up or settle in for a long slow slog to unlock the later game content.  There’s something to be said for just forking over your $15 (or whatever it costs) to pay a game subscription and know you have access to all the content within that game; though micro-transactions are even creeping into many MMOs now.

Of course, the other question is how much of this is due to the (perhaps temporary) success of League of Legends, and how much is due to people simply burning out on World of Warcraft.  League of Legends, like Starcraft and other RTS type games, relies almost completely on PVP interaction for replayabilty.  This is a pretty solid approach, really, as players will always be coming out with new and interesting strategies.  The PVP element is also, of course, why EVE has been so successful.

WoW, on the other hand, has primarily utilized the PVE model where content is consumed and then new content is released to keep players playing.  Lately, though, it seems Blizzard simply can’t, or won’t, provide many players with enough content to keep them interested.  Reading this Gamespy article on the 4.2 Firelands patch for WoW is actually quite depressing; not only was the new top boss killed within 4 hours (on normal mode anyways) but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot else there.  Waiting months for a patch that players burn through in only a few days just doesn’t seem like a sustainable model for WoW.  Of course there are always things to grind for but I think WoW really is starting its final, slow, long decline in terms of interesting new content.

In fact, the feature that attracted me the most to Cataclysm (aside from the restructured zones and leveling of course) was rated battlegrounds; it was a more fulfilling PVP experience I was looking for, and I have now found it instead in League of Legends.  Rated battlegrounds turned out to be a bust for me, being much less accessible than I had hoped; basically they required a full raid.  League of Legends I find to be much more approachable, yet also a much more in-depth and fulfilling experience; and that with only two maps vs. the many battlegrounds for WoW.

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