Tuesday, July 5, 2011

League of Legends

Written by Joe the Revelator

For a game that started as a knockoff of Warcraft III's champion maps, LoL (League of Legends) has done well for itself. Its servers are frequently jammed to capacity. Comic strips about LoL have popped up on Penny Arcade and Ctrl+Alt+Del. LoL also holds cash reward tournaments on a scale comparable to Starcraft, and has been represented at both Dreamhack and Pax. And the amazing part? LoL is free.

Well...almost free. To download and play LoL is free, and there are free champions (playable characters) made available every week through a rotating roster. What if you want to own the champion you've been playing? You can purchase them with the influence points you earn during gameplay. Runes are similarly bought with influence points. Character skins and account goodies, however, cost real money. And champions who demand between 3,000 and 6,000 influence points to own can be yours for about 10 bucks on a game card.

To put things into perspective, an in-game match can last 30 to 60 minutes, resulting in an "IP" boost of 30 points for an easy game against bots, or around 300 points for a drag-out ass-kicking 5v5 player match. Losing a game earns about half the points. So if you figure on an hourly average of 150 influence points (being generous), you'll be in it for 20 hours before you can afford a medium-expensive champion, and double that for the priciest of persona.

40+ hours of gameplay for that high-priced wicked looking assassin, or a 10 minute walk to the 7-11 gamecard rack?

Mind-Numbingly Delightful

So you've been playing for a week or so and purchased your first champion, what can you expect from League of Legends? So-so graphics, simple team style gameplay, and pages upon pages of champions to browse through, each with their own back stories, which are largely ignored. Between level 1 and level 10 you'll be playing against other newbies, everyone jamming their four champion skills at innapropriate times and fumbling around the map. It's hilarious and chaotic. The controls are largely Warcraft III, as I've mentioned, so DoW and SCII players will also feel at ease with the top-down strategy of LoL.

Once you've earned your summoner spurs (summoner meaning you, the player), you'll be expected to buy runes and spend mastery points to advance your champion's powers. You'll also learn some new LoL lingo, like AP and AD and carry, MIA, Gank, and Tower Dive. It'll be your responsibility to choose a champion that synergizes with the rest of the group. A team of 5 tanks or 5 magic casters, for the most part, will die screaming. Balanced teams who communicate with each other and have some notion of how to purchase in-game items do well, earn IP, and buy more champions and runes. Success breeds success.

Stunning another player with a volly of spells, setting them on fire, and watching them flee while the flames end their life, brings a certain satisfaction to your day. So does jumping out of the pixlated bushes and mashing your "ultimate skill" button, so the last thing your enemy hears is "DEMACIA!" as a giant sword descends from the sky. The greatest gift of LoL is seeing others run from you in fear after they've died at your hands once or twice. But when it's your team losing, when the enemy caster has been "fed", the blame game begins.

The blame game, thy name is LoL:

Being "fed" means an enemy has died to you so often, usually 3 or more times in 10 minutes, that you've already leveled higher than your teamates, and have bought a few items with the gold you've scraped off their corpse. If you're the one who did the feeding, it can mean swift defeat. The most demoralizing aspect of LoL comes from the chat window of a losing team. They blame each other for buying the wrong items, for misusing their champion's skills, for feeding the enemy, for not calling MIA enemies, or for simply not playing to expectations.

And the merrits of your score can have little to do with the arguement. Defending yourself because you've made more kills than the person accusing you can actually be damning, since some champions arn't built to be killers. A tank with too many kills hasn't done his job properly of keeping everyone else alive, and a "tower pusher" with too much blood on their weapon has been neglectful of pushing the battle lines into the enemy base.

Victory, of course, brings about no such arguements. But defeat in LoL can unleash the most verbally abusive shut-ins who ever touched their sweaty manhands to the homerow keys, unchecked by a team who simply wants the match to end so they can collect their pity-points and move on to the next match. There's a 'Report' function for abusive players, but it goes untouched more often than not. Abuse and blame have become so ubiquitous in early LoL levels, it's almost expected as a tool for edcuating the other players. Besides, they're the ones who fed, right?

My tank is fight. Your tank has fed.

My recommendation for LoL comes with the warning that you grow thick skin. Team tactics and communication become paramount later on, and between levels 1 and 30 you'll see a lot of blame, a lot of backstabbing, and a lot of juvenile behavior. But it's a fun ride along the way, and once you settle on a few champions, read the lore of LoL, and climb to the max summoner level, you will have risen above the pettiness of the early games. The players who'd rather blame others than improve their own tactics rarely make it to 30. And from there, with a few friends on your side, the matches can get really intense.


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