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Thoughts on League of Legends

posted on June 8th, 2009 by golden jew

For various reasons, many social, others masochistic, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), the Warcraft 3 custom map, remains something I play frequently. All is not well in DOTA land, however, and I’m not talking about the fact that my friend Jimmy who I play with is a KSing coward. No, the bigger issue is that half of the DOTA managing community (functionally one guy) has split from the other half (another guy who does most of the programming) over a new game called League of Legends. I don’t really care about their breakup but it made for a catchy introduction to my League of Legends first thoughts.

League of Legends is the latest attempt by a stale gaming industry to build upon someone else’s idea, rather than come up with their own. Riot Games decided that they would go and create a stand-alone DOTA-esque game, because imitation is flattery, or something.

For several reasons, this is not a terrible idea. First, for all of the absolutely amazing and innovative uses of the WC3 engine, DOTA is still constrained by the game’s limits. And this is an old game that is barely supported by Blizzard anymore–not a ripe environment for innovative development.

Second, the community of DOTA is absolutely atrocious (a quality to which I merrily contribute every night with my racial slurs and custom kicking of people I deem annoying) and while somewhat mitigated by banlist, DOTA is still full of dickwads. Third… well, frankly, with those two reasons, who needs a third reason to make a stand-alone game based on a great idea?

Riot is aiming to create a game where you create a persistent “summoner” avatar who brings forth “champions” into battle. By creating a stand-alone game, they are fundamentally changing the dynamic of DOTA from being a one-off anonymous game to an accountably persistent experience. Beyond tracking your epeen stats, this will also enable community management functions–something sorely lacking in the asshat-filled DOTA world. Presumably, accounts will be tied to a subscription or account key, which means accountability. This could lead to better quality games, as trash talkers and leavers will be (in theory) better tracked–either through an Xbox Live comment system, or hard stats (such as number of times people drop out of games, go AFK and get kicked, etc).

Another future advantage is that conceivably there could be multiple maps–3v3 maps, 4v4 maps, 5v5, and so on. No longer will you be constrained to the same concept over and over again because the game architecture won’t be the WC3 custom list.

There are obvious advantages in the fact that the WC3 engine won’t be used: characters will be able to be coded for more skills, inventories could be larger or slot specific, which opens a host of gameplay opportunities that can increase the game’s depth. Less specifically, if the designers come up with a good idea they can implement it without worrying about whether it is compatible with the WC3 engine, which is a huge creative freedom.

A significant secondary advantage of this is that common hacks like maphack and custom kick won’t work–but with that comes the responsibility of creating a secure architecture that is not vulnerable to such software. But collectively, all of these potential advantages are wonderful things that promise a stellar game.

But the promise of a stellar game is not guarantee of a stellar game. There are a number of significant barriers that stand between a wonderful concept and reality. The first is: will customers pay? DOTA is a free game right now. The majority of people playing it are, for whatever reason, playing a free custom map on a game that is over seven years old.

Are they playing because they have friends who love DOTA? Or are they playing because they’re broke? How much will Riot charge? Will it be a box game, or a subscription? Or an initiation fee plus subscription? How do you convert people from playing a free game to a paid one? Will your game attract brand new people to it? As a for-profit enterprise, these are questions that must be answered for this game to become a reality.

The second concern I have is launch quality. Games these days have a significant problem at launch, which is called “Not being done but we’ll release it anyway and hope customers pay”-itis. It’s a horrible disease afflicting the gaming industry like AIDS is afflicting Africa, except not even condoms can prevent the spread. DOTA, even as freeware, is an incredibly deep and well balanced game. I was playing this game in 2003–it has come a LONG way. Despite being freeware, there is an extremely rigorous testing process and the DOTA has achieved a balanced that only games patched over years can aspire to. It did not get this way overnight. It took six years. League of Legends simply will not be this well balanced at launch–it’s not possible to get that way without the thousands of hours of testing from real players.

Finally, I am concerned as to Riot’s commitment to the game. This is because it is a game by a for-profit company–if it is unprofitable, they will bail. I don’t blame them for this, but I worry they won’t have the commitment necessary to see the game through to when it can be competitive.

In order to succeed, Riot has to pull off a few key feats to make sure these road blocks aren’t game killers. First, they need a strong launch. That means the features they DO have need to be polished. They need to immediately produce a game that is not only fun and competitive with DOTA, but also that shows the promise of what the game could become by being freed from the WC3 constraints. For example: they need balanced heroes to show they are serious and know how to make a game, at least two maps to show how cool it is to have multiple maps within the same game, an inventory system that surpasses what the WC3 engine can do, and a community management feature that shows League has better quality games (less leavers and asshats).

They also probably need a subscription based model with a free week for people to try it and see how it’s better than DOTA. If they can get some of the DOTA clans to move over, they may have a chance at a real community. There is a great deal of potential here: DOTA is a fantastic concept that could be transformed into a ridiculously successful “real” game. But if they make the mistake of launching too early, too incomplete, too expensive–I don’t think they have a chance in hell of carving out a real niche in the community.

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Review – League of Legends | videolamer.com on November 16, 2009


  1. chris said on June 8, 2009:

    You know, it’s funny – I’ve been playing a lot of Demigod, which is quite similar to League of Legends (as an AoS-inspired game) and I’m planning to review it sometime soon. A lot of the predictions here happened for Demigod – particularly the buggy launch. My attempt at playing Demigod just last night resulted in a 10-minute freeze when I tried to join another person’s game.

    When you can get it going, it’s fun – but it is still a fairly expensive ($40) game when you consider it’s essentially DOTA with less (if interesting) characters.

    I’m not a huge fan of DOTA (I played a ton of Tides of Blood instead) but I do appreciate the game style. It’s begging for a well-done, fully fleshed-out game. I’m not really seeing it yet.

  2. mr. white said on July 16, 2009:

    Good info and will put it into practice on my niche video website.

  3. Kilman said on October 9, 2009:

    I also like Demigod. The graphics are excellent, runs great on my PC, and the art direction is amazing. Alot of attention to detail was put into this game. I’m excited to see how GPG and Stardock expand on this game in both MP and SP respects. Anyway, if you have time, take a visit to http://www.sheeparcade.com

  4. BlargHonk said on November 18, 2009:

    Dude no subscription otherwise Private servers will run rampent

  5. Suyalus said on January 5, 2010:

    dude, ur text is bullshit, this game is way better than dota.
    1. it’s free, u dont have to BUY WC3 + WC3 FT
    2. the whole system is better with its summoners, runes and talent points
    3. hard to hack
    4. the game is anti-leavers: if u leave a game, u can’t play another game unless the current game u where on ends (u have the chance to relogg into the game again -> disconnect)
    5. the ingame buying system is much better than dota’s. the list shows what u need and how much money u still need

  6. christian said on January 5, 2010:

    Suyalus – thanks for the comment, but perhaps you should take a look at our actual review of League of Legends, which is very favorable!


  7. Giles said on January 23, 2010:

    im not really a fan of demigod cause of the lack of characters and after a while it becomes boring

  8. Movado said on February 8, 2010:


    1st an foremost

    This game is fun for about the first 5 games you play, (that is including the tutorial that you start to get the concept of the game)… more or less you have a few different maps and you and your team rushes the other team in defined paths toward each other… the object is to kill each other in a pvp setting and defending your towers, while killing minions (nps) in the path line…
    (if the other team gets the 1st kills, there is no way to catch up… and it is game over for the most part)

    I personally don’t feel the graphics are all the great, and this game seems to be full of rude people, besides that the game is very repetitive.

    As far as your charter selection goes, even if you buy the software (enabling) you to own a few different avatars if someone beats you and picks the guy you where planing on using, you cant us him you only have two choices to quit the game, or select a different..

    A few good things about the game, the charter you select (avatars or your champion) do have some funny sayings but seems to be limited to only a few and seems to get a bit old after a while.. (have you seen my bear tibbers) was funny the 1st few times…

    All in all was a great idea, but we all know a bad apple can rune the bunch… and there seems to be a lot of (bad apples) rude people… As far as this game winning awards and things… I don’t understand why… This is a team based game. and it is hard to work as a team when you have your own team harassing you

    Charter balancing… well there really isn’t any… the caster (mages) are weak, and the spells they cast really are not that powerful compared to how weak they are. If your going to give the game a shot i suggest trying out a tank type…

  9. suyalast said on February 11, 2010:


    League of Legends is a SELLOUT!
    you can pay money to have a better champion than others

    If you want a better game in the DBG genre, try out Heroes of Newerth -best DotA based game so far in my humble opinion.

  10. Golden Jew said on February 11, 2010:

    I have no problem with companies “selling out”– especially when they offer a game for free. Contrary to popular belief, we do live in a world where businesses need to make money to stay around. Also your information is faulty, Champions rotate on a schedule. If people want to buy certain favorites to have access all the time, more power to them. Every character has counters, so it is not noticeably imbalanced or favoring “paid” champions over others, in my experience.

    I’ve yet to try HoN myself, but have heard mixed reviews.

  11. chris said on February 11, 2010:

    I may as well chime in here since I’ve been playing LoL off and on for a month or so now. I think it’s quite a bit better than Demigod.

    You can indeed pay money to have *different* champions than the free ones, but I have yet to see any champion so powerful they always win. It’s actually pretty well balanced, and they keep balancing things – just yesterday there was a patch that rebalanced a few heroes.

    Granted, there are still heroes I hate to go up against – but there are always counters within the set of free heroes (they’ve done a good job balancing the weekly sets), and there’s a good selection of low-point cost heroes as well if you want to buy ’em without money.

    Overall it’s a pretty solid balance. The money from hero purchases makes the servers moderately stable (certainly better than Demigod was months after release – and Demigod costs money to play at all).

  12. Chance said on February 16, 2010:

    If it goes subscription I will never play again. I despise subscription based games like WoW (ducks) as they keep you playing without any real end in site. I don’t wanna pay for something I will occasionally play.

  13. me said on April 7, 2010:

    dude you are retarded, before talkin trash about people’s hard earned work why dont you do some research before you make yourself look like an @ss…they didnt bite off of someone else’s idea, if you even bothered to do the research you would find out that the developer’s of this game are the guys that MADE dota itself…so it was THEIR idea to begin with, they just made a full game out of it and made it better

  14. Quest said on May 27, 2010:

    “League of Legends is a SELLOUT!
    you can pay money to have a better champion than others”

    Completely incorrect.

    By spending real money you can buy cosmetic items such as skins or speed up your leveling process. Everything that directly affects gameplay (i.e. not skins) is unlockable by spending time ingame.

  15. Shag said on June 19, 2010:

    I have been playing LoL for about 2 months now and I love the hell out of it. It’s great game play and the immense ammount of items you can buy changes each game drastically. I’ve never seen one good build but i’ve seen multiple builds that are good, and that i think makes the game interesting in of itself. This game has tons of promising aspects that are soon (i’m sure) to be developed in upcoming months.

  16. James said on June 29, 2010:

    People have probably taken back all of what they said by now. LoL is the best and it is so much better than what it was 1 year ago.

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