For those of you who don’t know, League of Legends is one of the most popular online games in the world. It is a MOBA style game where two teams of five play against each other, and the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s base.
When I was first introduced to League of Legends, I actually didn’t enjoy the gameplay. I’ve never played a MOBA game before, and I wasn’t used to it. However, I still kept playing the game because of the characters. League has an impressive cast of over 100 playable characters – more than any game that I’ve ever played – and wanting to learn the backstory behind each character was my initial motivation for playing the game.
Because the amount of champions was overwhelming, I tried the ones that looked the most interesting first. There were three that caught my attention right away: Teemo (a cute, fuzzy animal-thing), Veigar (the black mage from Final Fantasy), and Thresh (a cool looking grim reaper type of character). All of them were satisfying to play, though the one that stood out the most was Thresh.
In my opinion, Thresh is a very well-designed champion. Although his skills are a bit complicated, they allowed me to pull off very intricate (and satisfying) maneuvers in the game. But that’s not the reason why I think he is a good champion. Rather, I think Thresh is well-designed because his style of play matches very well with his character. Take a look at his signature hook skill:
It’s a very satisfying skill to land, but moreover, every time I use the skill, I feel as if I were actually in the game, catching other people in my hook. This skill created a level of immersion that literally hooked me into the game.
After playing a lot of games as Thresh, Teemo, and Veigar, I became pretty familiar with League of Legends. And strange as it may sound, this is also the point where I stopped feeling the immersion that I used to feel when I just started playing the game.
In the beginning, my motivation for playing was to explore and learn about all the characters in the game, but as I became more familiar with League, that motivation started to shift towards completing objectives instead. The game was no longer about interacting with the characters or the world; instead, it was now about winning games and gaining ranks.
This new motivation added a level of stress to the game that originally wasn’t there: if you win a game, your rank goes up, but if you lose a game, your rank goes down. This stress is amplified by the fact that games are played with four other people on the team. If I picked a risky champion and perform badly, I would be letting the other people in my team down. Champions who had interesting characters were no longer who I could pick. Instead, I could only pick champions that had good chances of winning. Needless to say, this made League of Legends a lot less fun for me.
Maybe it’s just my mindset that made me enjoy the game less. After all, someone who doesn’t care about winning or losing can still have a ton of fun playing all the characters in the game. However, because League of Legends is a pretty competitive game, I think it’s safe to assume that a large portion of its target audience has a similar mindset.
How Can this Problem be Fixed?
After thinking a bit about this problem, I came up with a solution. One of the main reasons why League of Legends becomes stressful is that for me (and probably many other players), the primary motivation for playing shifts from having fun to winning games. And whenever winning becomes the primary motivation for playing, the frustration associated with losing surfaces.
This is particularly true for League. Since you are randomly matched with a team of people, your chances of winning are now dependent on how good your team members are – which is something out of your control. This problem is exacerbated by selection bias: we tend to remember bad games more than we remember good games, so even if the number of good and bad games are equal, it will seem like we have more bad games than good games.
So how would I address this problem? The key question I asked myself is, “when did I have the most fun playing?” And as expected, the answer wasn’t “when I won games.” Instead, I had the most fun with League when I was playing with others, and during these moments, League functions more as a social game than a competitive game.
Thus my solution to this problem involves improving the social aspect of League. If it is easier to get with a group of people who all know each other, then the motivation for playing League will start to shift away from winning games, back to having fun with a group of people.
Unfortunately, League does not currently have a social structure that makes it easy to find a group of people. Even a Riot employee admits it: “the game’s social features don’t offer enough support for players looking for like-minded, similarly-skilled players today” (source). But luckly, there is a well known structure that can make people connect more easily: guilds.
Guilds are already used in many MMORPGs, and they allow large groups of people to organize events, like parties for dungeons, large scale “PvP wars,” and so on. In League, this would allow people to organize teams of five much more easily than the current systems in place.
But more importantly, guilds are extremely good at letting people connect with each other. The moment you join a guild, you instantly form a connection with every member of that guild, and you are now part of that group. This feeling of membership makes you want to play more, just to be part of that group – so this is an extremely good way of retaining the more casual League players.
League of Legends seems to be heading down a competitive path, and as an E-sport, it’s important for the game to feel competitive. But at the same time, I think that focusing too much on how to make the competition better will slowly shut out the more casual audience. In my opinion, it is important for Riot to take a couple steps back and think about how they can improve the social aspect of the game – as time goes on, the game will become more and more complex, and it will be harder and harder for new players to get into the game. Improving the social aspect of League would not only make it easier for new players to get into the game, it would also help retain the older players in League.