League of Legends: Smarter Gaming

Ordinarily I cover lesser-known indie games in this column, but “League of Legends” has become too big of a presence in my leisure time to ignore discussing it here.

League of Legends (lovingly referred to as “LoL”) is a multiplayer online battle arena game developed and published by newcomer Riot Games for Windows and Mac OS. It is largely inspired by the popular “Defense of the Ancients” mod for “Warcraft III”, another online game developed by Blizzard.

Entrepreneurial gamers Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill founded Riot Games in 2006, and brought several key people together to create “League of Legends”. Some of their notable staff members are Steve Feak, former developer of the inspirational “Defense of the Ancients”, Steve Mescon, creator of a renown “Defense of the Ancients” fan site, and about a dozen former Blizzard developers as well.  Together this team launched “League of Legends” in 2009, and the gaming industry has not been the same since.

“League” has a strong  focus on teamwork, communication, and strategy. Players must work well together to have any hope of winning a match. Games are very slow-paced, and every move is deliberate. Randomness is not a factor in gameplay. Players need to know when to engage the enemy, and when to retreat. They need to know their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the other teams’. They need to know what kind of dynamics their team possesses, and how to use them effectively against the enemies’ possible strategies. This level of deep intellectual involvement is almost unheard of in the gaming industry, and it shows.

Many would argue that “League of Legends” is as complex to play and analyze as most professional sports. This may seem a laughable notion to some, but there are professional players who make upwards of $60,000 a year simply for playing the game. “League” is the subject of many gaming events and tournaments, and in 2012 Riot Games announced the largest prize pool ($2,000,000) in eSports history for its Season 2 Championship competition.

Be warned; a new player is not likely to make big bucks anytime soon. “League” has a very high skill cap, and an equally daunting learning curve. It takes many hours for a new player to understand even half the factors of gameplay. When I informed a friend that I’ve started playing “League” regularly, he remarked, “You’ve joined a cult.” New players should find a group of friends to play with, view guides, and slowly accumulate knowledge however they can. There are plenty of resources for newcomers.

“League of Legends” is also entirely free. Riot Games generates profit through in-game micro-transactions that are either purely cosmetic, or unlockables that are also available with slowly built in-game currency. This business model, which has been used recently by Valve and the mobile gaming industry, has proven to be very successful thus far. It is designed well enough that paying players have no inherent advantages over free-to-play players. However, this model may not work forever.

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