G&G Reviews: League of Legends

 

Reviewer: Jacob Toman

Developer: Riot Games

Publisher: Riot Games

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Platforms: PC (reviewed), OS X

 

It’s hot, sticky, and humid outside. The summer is upon us. Summer camps, vacations, and epic adventures await millions whose lives revolve around the school calendar. Yet inside air conditioned apartments, houses, and gaming lounges, another type of adventure emerges: League of Legends. For many the summer means time off, but for the pro gamers of the League of Legends Championship Series, the hot season means win or go home.

This is the game, that changed the way the world sees gamers.

This review will hardly be exhaustive. I’ve personally played League of Legends since 2010 and know all too well that writing an all encompassing review of this massive game and it’s impact on gaming would be similar to trying to write a review of Football (soccer)...

I’ve tried to boil down some of the most basic aspects of League of Legends for our audience at Gospel & Gaming who may have heard of League of Legends, but have not played it. I’ll be covering four parts of League: the game’s genre, the gameplay, the Esports scene, and some final personal comments.

 

Genre.

League of Legends is what’s known as a “MOBA”, which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. While this may sound like some kind of mano-a-mano clash between players in a coliseum type environment, it mostly derives its gameplay from a mix of Tower Defense games, Real Time Strategy, and Role Playing games. Each individual player controls a single unit. Different games in the MOBA genre have varying names for these single player controlled units; in League of Legends these units are called “champions”. Champions take actions to further the team’s goal of ultimately keeping their base intact, while destroying the enemy team’s base.

A hallmark of the MOBA genre is PVP (Player versus Player) play. This is one of the attractions of League of Legends. Since every game you are paired up with different teammates and different opponents, you never quite go through the same experience twice. This competitive angle makes the genre of MOBA rather fast to play, and attractive to watch. MOBAs are similar to traditional sports in that there are clearly defined roles and positions, as well as specific strategies that are practiced and used to accomplish goals.

Depending on the map type, the size of teams are different and the total amount of players vary. On the competitive map for League of Legends (called Summoner’s Rift) 2 teams compete against each other. Teams are made up of 5 players each. In the span of 30-50 minutes (on average) players will collaborate with teammates to compete against 5 real opponents.

 

Gameplay.

There are multiple map types available in League of Legends: Summoner's  Rift (5 players on each team), Howling Abyss (5 players on each team), Twisted Treeline (3 players on each team), and Crystal Scar (5 players on each team). The vast majority of games and strategy for League of Legends revolves around the map Summoner’s Rift since it is the competitive map type of ranked match play as well as for the Esports professional scene known as the League Championship Series.

Summoner’s Rift (Most Popular, used competitively)

This map is comprised of 3 lanes. Each lane includes 3 towers in a set, with the primary objective (known as a Nexus) being guarded by 2 towers. Each tower must be destroyed sequentially as towers that are closer to the Nexus are unable to be destroyed until the previous tower has been removed. There is a clear delineation in the map with a river dividing one teams side of the map from another. This is the most played map, and each year (referred to as season in League language, a season runs from about January through October, with changes happening primarily in the winter/spring) go through a new iteration with updates, tweaks, and hotfixes.

The game occurs through 3 phases: picks & bans (1), laning Phase (2), and late game (3). Each of these parts of the game are distinct. Games begin in the first phase, which isn’t even on the map, but in a lobby where each team may ban 3 champions from play. Then each player takes a turn selecting a champion whom they will use during this particular match. When the first phase is over, the lane phase begins. Each player goes to their respective lane with certain objectives and goals in mind. The strategy of the team will be contingent upon the performance of each individual during the laning phase. The lane phase ends when teams begin to group up for objectives and towers. This transition is sometimes called the mid game phase. The late game phase will see many team fights around towers and objectives, with teams trying to finish off the opponent. The game ends immediately when a team gets the final hit on an opponent's nexus. This can lead to some absolutely crazy moments, like this one from 2013:

Howling Abyss (Widely Popular for fun/cooldown)

Yes...I use the descriptive term "fun/cooldown" for Howling Abyss because this map is used for fun and cooling down. Because Summoner's  Rift is so often used for competitive and ranked play, players actually play League of Legends to take a break from...League of Legends. Originally conceived as a custom game from players on the Summoners Rift map, Riot responded to popular demand by making this map and gametype available through an official map.

The Howling Abyss is a map feature where two teams of 5 players are each given random champions to fight against one another down a single lane. Because there is only one lane of towers, all five players are constantly engaged in poking, prodding, and fighting one another. It’s all the excitement of teamfights from Summoners Rift, without the elongated period of waiting in the laning phase.

Twisted Treeline

The quintessential “3 versus 3” map, Twisted Treeline offers players something between a casual and competitive experience. Players can find 2 other friends and go into a ranked team scenario, or simply play on their own or with their friends for fun. Because of the map differences between Twisted Treeline and Summoner's  Rift, the gameplay is substantially different. Strategy and tactics both change as a game on Twisted Treeline is usually between 15-30 minutes, which is 15-30 minutes shorter than a Summoner's  Rift match.

Crystal Scar (Least popular, mostly played for custom game modes)

This was a map type released in 2012 with the promise of diversity in concept from the other two previously released maps, Summoner’s Rift and Twisted Treeline. Teams compete over control points. Each base takes damage based on the number of control points an opposing team dominates. The game name is known as “Dominion” and was highly popular upon release.

Unfortunately, while the promise for unique gameplay and a change in archtype sounded like a good idea, the vast majority of League of Legends players didn’t join the game for games on the Crystal Scar, and thus it has suffered much the same fate as Twisted Treeline: lower player populations and lower popularity, which leads to a smaller, dedicated portion of the community becoming better and better, while the casual player finds less interest and enjoyment due to the skill gap created by this popularity phenomena.

Regardless of the map type, League of Legends promises action, rewards strategic teamwork, and provides an environment for competitive play.

 

Esports scene.

The makers of League of Legends, Riot Games, have placed an unprecedented priority on the Esports scene. The Esports scene for League of Legends takes place across multiple continents, in South America, North America, Europe, and Asia. Professional teams train and compete year round to reach the annual World Championship event. In 2013 the LOL World Championship was watched by 32 million online, and was held at the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, and Kings, the Staples Center.

Established Pro gaming teams from all across the world have flocked to League of Legends to compete in the many competitions that the game’s developer (Riot Games) host. In 2013 League of Legends was recognized by the United States government by granting sports visas to players wishing to come to the USA specifically to play League of Legends professionally (http://articles.latimes.com/2013/aug/07/business/la-fi-online-gamers-20130808).

The game isn’t just dynamic because of it’s professional scene, but it’s also dynamic because of its viewership. According to Superdata’s research displayed above, more people watched the season 3 world championship than the College Football national Championship. Regardless of the observed angle, from professional players, and nations granting work immigration status, to millions of viewers and millions of dollars, League of Legends in less than a decade has become a worldwide cultural phenomena.

One reason why League of Legends has garnered the attention and fanbase that it has, is due to it’s ability to blend traditional aspects of hardcore gaming with competitive appeal of traditional sports. This has made for a combination of two very different stereotypes into one demographic. While fans of traditional sports like Baseball, Football, and Basketball don’t typically mix socially with fans of Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft, League of Legends puts to use concepts from puzzle, strategy, and reflex based games, while fostering an environment for competitive tournaments, events, teams, and ranking.

Because of this mixing of these otherwise very distinct micro cultures, and the success in Asia, Europe, and North America, League of Legends has changed the way gamers are perceived on a worldwide level. More and more gamers are tuning out of traditional television in place of online programming. This shift has allowed Esports to boom in a relatively short period of time.

 

Personal comments.

I’ve now played League of Legends since 2010. The game was initially released in October of 2009. Having experienced much of the changes, ebbs and flows, and growth in League of Legends, writing this review is overwhelming. This quote sums up my approach.

 

"Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher." -Antoine de Saint Exupéry

As translated by Lewis Galantière: ... perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away ...

 

League of Legends fits into a sweet spot for the MOBA genre. It came around just at the right time when MOBAs were beginning to take off. It was one of the first major independent MOBAs after the mod for Warcraft 3 called “Defense of the Ancients” was developed.

The learning curve for MOBA’s is INCREDIBLY high. While each individual match is relatively short for a gaming session (typically under 60 minutes), learning what works well & what doesn’t is something of a dynamic study. Because the game is always changing (due to updates, new champions, and content patches) players who wish to learn and grow in their skill must also dedicate time in game, as well as time out of game towards learning what works well, and what doesn't. In this way League of Legends actually resembles more of a traditional sport than a video game.

Don’t think “I’m going to get involved with the gamers in my community, I’ll play a MOBA with them!”. The amount of initial time it will take to learn the game (not master, simply learn) is roughly 100-200 hours (depending on the particular MOBA). League of Legends requires players to attain level 30 on their player profile prior to playing in a ranked competitive match. This means that before you can even compete with other players for a ranking, you’ve got to put in hundreds of hours of gameplay.

Do think “I’m going to get involved with the gamers in my community, I’ll ask them if they are willing to teach me the MOBA they enjoy!”. While the amount of time for learning the game is rather high, this means you can spend lots of quality learning time with other gamers. There is no better way to get to know a gamer than to ask to learn their favorite game.

(Statistics from - https://www.lol-smurfs.com/blog/fastest-way-level-30/)

The importance of League of Legends goes beyond it’s mechanics, gameplay, or unique particularities. League of Legends is a game that has and is still changing gaming culture. While the stereotype of gamers has fallen into either the D&D, pen and paper nerd, the Xbox mountain dew drinking, foul mouthed teen, or some combination between the two, League of Legends has been able to grow competitive gaming in a way that attracts both traditional gamers and also sports fans.

I’ve been personally impacted in playing League of Legends as it has allowed me stay in contact and develop relationships with believers & unbelievers from across the world. The potential for ministry in League of Legends cannot be understated. Jesus set the pattern in his ministry of traveling and going to where hurting people resided, worked, played, and lived life. The paradigm was set to go where people gather. The Apostle Paul continued in this paradigm, traveling to the gentiles whereas Jesus went among the people of Israel. Paul went to the gathering places of communities (most famously perhaps in Acts 17). League of Legends is one of the prime gathering places of gamers, and for us at Gospel & Gaming, we speak the language of League, and therefore have an opportunity to present the gospel to those who would otherwise not hear.

This is the game, that changed the way the world sees gamers, and it’s the game that changed the way I saw ministry.

Infographic from 2013 - http://majorleagueoflegends.s3.amazonaws.com/lol_infographic.png

 

Content Score: SUPPORTABLE

Overall Score: A+