Does LoL need an ‘easy mode?’

Easy Button.

I have a couple good friends that I frequently join up with to play Twisted Treeline. It’s not a perfect experience by any means, but it allows us to play a draft mode together and the games are relatively short. The best part about TT is definitely game length, but the map leaves an awful lot to be desired in terms of balance.

The time issue actually carries over to Summoner’s Rift for me. I rarely queue for 5v5 unless I know I have an hour to spend and even 3s can take 40 minutes if the game goes long. That’s a pretty long chunk of time to commit to a game, especially if it ends up being a loss. I’m sure we’ve all had games that are going so poorly that there’s no hope of victory but teammates hang on and refuse to surrender. Those types of games make me long for a quicker experience.

DotA had an “easy mode” toggle that could be used with each gametype, granting bonus gold per second and I believe extra gold for towers. It increased the pace of the game by allowing players to passively reach a level of farm more quickly, similar to the way Twisted Treeline generates per-second gold faster than Summoner’s Rift. I actually think it would be cool to have an “easy mode” playlist in League of Legends, a mode in which the XP and gold rewards were tuned so that 30 minutes looked like 70 minutes does now.

That mode wouldn’t work very well on Twisted Treeline. The 3v3 map just snowballs out of hand far too quickly. Games would likely be decided by the first fight (and in some cases, they still are). For Summoner’s Rift, though, I think it would give casual players more opportunity to fire up a game while the baby’s napping, in between classes, or just before heading to bed. Speaking of which…

Champ of the Week: Early Malzahar impressions

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I got to play a few games over the holiday weekend with this week’s Champ of the Week, Malzahar, and I’ve been having a really good time. Malzahar is an incredible farmer, and when left alone for too long, he becomes an incredible pusher as well.

My basic strategy to this point has been simple: build enough survivability to get by and then stack up mass amounts of AP. In about half of the games I’ve picked up a Rod of Ages early (12 minutes in one case) and moved to Deathcap from there, but in others I’ve been less worried about the health stack and just picked up Catalyst before moving on. I’ve had roughly equal success both ways – the basic lesson seems to be ‘don’t overdue the survivability.’

I had sort of forgotten the massive buffs Malzahar received since his release. The last time I gave him any serious attention his ult could be Cleansed, it had a much shorter range, and it didn’t have the suppression bonus. Those changes have given Malzahar the ability to fight at great distance with devastating power.

If I’m having trouble with one thing, it’s remembering to keep my Malefic Visions up in team fights. The cooldown gets very short with a golem buff or enough CDR, making it totally feasible to have a couple spells ticking at the same time. I’m slowly improving on that, though.

I’m really curious where Deathfire Grasp could fit in a Malzahar build. I don’t know that it’s any more efficient than a raw AP stack, but the active and the extra cooldown reduction could be interesting with enough AP. I think I underuse Deathfire, even though it is one of my favorite items in the game. If I can get ahead of the enemy farm and pick one up, it’s an almost Veigar-style insurance that one of my enemies won’t get to participate.

Check back later in the week for more Malzahar impressions.

The E-Sports sportmanship problem

Over the weekend Riot set quite a few E-sports records with its Season One Dreamhack qualifiers, the most notable of which is likely the 60,000+ viewers that tuned in for the qualifying matches. It was a clear marker of the popularity of E-sports in North America, not to mention League of Legends as a game.

There was an ugly side to the proceedings as well. The whole tournament started under the drama umbrella that is Couter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid. If ever you needed evidence of the age demographic of competitive gamers, just read a few threads between these two teams and their supporters. It won’t be interesting, I promise. It will be full of petty insults and the kind of high-school-grade trash you’re probably reading so often in the Tribunal.

I think I was fortunate to hit my competitive gaming peak before any of these big tournaments got popular. The Halo 1 competitive scene was remarkably friendly, and I spent loads of time on message boards working out reload mechanics and powerup spawn times with the same guys I was playing against. We were all in love with the game and, frankly, stakes were pretty low. I was never up for $100,000. I think the biggest prize package I was ever competing for was a flat CRT TV (yeah, that’s right – like a bulky TV with a flat screen), a new Xbox, and a copy of Halo. Sure, it was nice, but it wasn’t going to make my life dramatically different (and I was playing against the Ogres, so…).

As the competitive scene gains ground, the prizes have ratcheted up, which seems to somehow inversely proportional to player attitudes. Jon Tran at Top Tier Tactics put together an awesome piece about the effect player attitudes is having not only on competitive gaming but on the form’s mainstream acceptance. It is absolutely worth the read, but the basic gist is this: competitive gaming has a mainstream ceiling until players can learn to respect one another.

If you want proof, consider Grackis. He is one of the most infamous LoL players, mostly for his insane fits of rage, but also for his skill. He was recently asked to commentate a competitive match at NESL and the LoL community went batty with indignation. If the very community playing the game doesn’t want this guy casting because of his bad behavior, do you think the gaming community at large wants to hear him rage?

Of course not. In fact, I’m willing to bet the only reason people pay attention to any of the high tier players is because of the desire to be those players. They are the masters of the craft, so people are willing to take a little abuse if it means learning at the feet of people like HotshotGG. Unfortunately, exposure to the kind of “lol ur bad, kid” has infected most competitive gaming communities to the point that they’re nearly unbearable to be a part of. Review a few Tribunal cases and you’ll know what I mean.

I’m hoping things improve, but as long as we continue to offer up celebrity status to players with an attitude, I think it will be quite some time before there’s a shift in tone.

Champ of the Week: Malzahar

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The more I play League of Legends lately the more I’ve fallen in love with AP characters. There’s something so satisfying about using a skillset to melt opponents that doesn’t quite translate in the auto attack kills of physical carries. Every team in the Dreamhack qualifiers relied on an AP champion for the utility, control and incredible burst potential those champions offer. This week, I’ll be playing a champion that has long frustrated me as an opponent, one that I have rarely played at length, and a champion that many believe to be underrepresented This week, I’ll be playing Malzahar for my Champ of the Week.

I’ve always been frustrated to play against Malzahar, largely because it’s so hard to shut down his farm. He’s not particularly deadly at early levels, he’s just super deadly to minions and has nearly infinite mana thanks to the kill bonus on Malefic Visions. Malzahar can also melt champions like no other, thanks to the percentage based damage of Null Zone. When coupled with AoE CC like Amumu or even Jarvan, Null Zone absolutely shreds the enemy. To round out the kit, Malz has an AoE silence and a pet for extra damage. Malzahar punishes enemy mistakes with devastating efficiency and provides both push and anti-push to his own team. In short, he’s a great pick.

I’ll be focusing on build order, Summoner Spell selection, and relative power on low-CC teams. Obviously Malzahar shines when his targets are held in place, but how well can he perform in less than ideal circumstances? My guess is extremely well. I think it’s safe to say that the only caster I fear more than Malzahar is Anivia.

Champ of the Week: Teemo Wrapup

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The Teemo champ of the week has been one of the toughest yet. Teemo is missing a lot of the mobility and survivability that other champions have, not to mention that he has one of the weakest passives in the game. He can still have an excellent early game, though, as long as you’re willing to play carefully.

I started the week trying to tweak my typical Teemo build to take advantage of Trinity Force and Wit’s End. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of gold to put toward items that best augment a naturally high attack damage or a naturally higher attack speed. Teemo’s poison certainly gives him a lot of damage, but it adds magic damage to each shot, both when the attack lands and in the damage over time. For that reason, Malady/Bloodrazor seem to be the best way to go, with a little survivability as you need it. I’m not typically a fan of Frozen Mallet, but it really is a solid item for Teemo if you don’t need a Banshee’s Veil.

The strangest thing about Teemo is his secret taunt passive. For whatever reason, players love to kill Teemo. Even in fights in which I thought I was second or even third priority, I often found myself getting focused immediately. In a weird way, this can absolutely help your team. Teemo’s damage output is great once he’s farmed, but depending on map position, taking the priority off your carries can be effective.

For the most part, I think Teemo is in a pretty good place. He needs a team with enough crowd control/peel to help keep him alive, a favor he can return with the exceptional map control offered by his mushrooms. If I could change one thing about Teemo it would definitely be his passive. His passive has essentially one use and one use only: level 1 harassment. It can be helpful when setting up a teamfight, but unless you’re well ahead of your opponent, it usually doesn’t make sense to stand still long enough to take advantage of the passive. I’d like to see him get some sort of damage or utility, potentially giving him the survivability to make it into the jungle. My few attempts to counter jungle were met with almost immediate failure. Counter junglers really need to be able to control creeps, not champions, and Teemo just doesn’t have that power early in the game.

Stay tuned later today for this coming week’s Champ of the Week.

Tribunal still has a few hangups

I wrote just a couple days ago that the Tribunal seems like an early success. I still think it does, but there are a few issues that I think are worth mentioning. For starters, I got the same case twice in a row today. It’s not a huge deal once in a while, but it would suck for that to happen on multiple occasions.

There is a much more serious issue, though, and it’s one I’m not entirely sure how to handle. Today I played a game in which the Poppy on my team had a rough start. She died four times early in her lane, mostly because she was playing foolishly, soaking entire creep waves to try to get a little harass on the enemy Ashe. It was bad news. She then left lane and started taking my jungle, openly stating that she wasn’t going back to the lane. That’s a bit of an issue when the lane was 2v2 at the start, is now fed, and leaves our teammate 2v1. I tried to help out where it was possible, but I was also actively counter-jungling and couldn’t just stop and lane.

Things escalated. Poppy started stealing buffs, purposefully stopped helping our team in teamfights, said she was going into “bot mode” and eventually started feeding on purpose. Around the time she stopped helping our team I said something like “meanwhile Poppy farms top” after a teamfight. I also asked the enemy team to please report her for her negligence. The response? “How bout I report you for raging at her.” Now granted, I would probably get pardoned – I never used so much as a curse word – but from that point forward, Poppy was trying to make it look as though I was the troll in chat. To the trained eye it would have been obvious what was going on, but my enemies were quick to assume I was at fault, and so quick to report.

That’s where the real problem lies. When my teammate is purposely feeding and purposefully trying to steal buffs, I don’t want to be in that game. Frankly, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to AFK. But when the enemy has suddenly chosen you as the bad guy, then my AFK becomes bannable, and that’s not so cool.

Hopefully, though, the system does indeed work as Riot suggests, so that the false positives that occasionally get reported don’t make it all the way to Tribunal. I would be willing to guess that I could possibly have been reported in three of my last 50 or so games, and at least two of those would be instant pardons.

Orianna skill list announced

Orianna’s “Champion Approaches” thread is up, which presumably means we’ll have another patch on Tuesday to bring her live. The thread also included the skill list, which looks significantly less like a pet class than may have been suggested in earlier threads. I’m actually glad for that. The other pet characters currently in League of Legends feel clumsy and unresponsive. Let’s put that aside for a moment and dig into the skills.

Passive – Clockwork Windup: Orianna’s autoattacks deal additional magic damage every hit, subsequent attacks on the same target within a few seconds will add more damage per hit. This bonus stacks up to three times.

Command – Attack: Orianna commands her ball to fly towards target location, dealing damage to targets hit but doing reduced damage for each additional target hit. Her ball remains behind at that location afterwards.

Command – Dissonance: Orianna commands her ball to emit a magnetic pulse, dealing damage to units around it. Afterwards, the ball leaves a field behind for a few seconds that speeds up allies and slows enemies.

Command – Protect
(Passive): The allied champion the ball is attached to gains bonus Armor and Magic Resistance.
(Active): Orianna commands her ball to fly to and attach onto an allied champion, dealing damage to enemies it passes through and shielding the allied champion when it arrives.

Command – Shockwave: Orianna commands her ball to emit a shockwave after a short delay, flinging affected enemies in the vicinity into the air a set distance towards, and possibly over, her ball.

I’ll start by saying I’m going to need a video to understand how her skills work. The Q is clear enough, and the W sounds like a version of Lux’s AoE slow, but in reverse – it slows after dealing damage. I’m not sure why her E is split into an active and passive component unless the ball just stays on the target indefinitely, which seems odd. Her ultimate sounds interesting, though I think its effectiveness will depend entirely on the size of the AoE and how easy it is to get the ball into position.

While I understand the idea behind her passive, I have to wonder how its going to work out. Few damage dealing passives really incentivize players to do things that are counterintuitive to the champion. Jarvan, for instance, has a damage modifier, but he also has a skillset designed around getting close to and staying close to the enemy. This passive sounds less like an imposed skill ceiling and more like a source of frustration. If it is too easy to use, she’ll have absolutely wild burst, but if it’s too tough there will be endless complaints that she is underpowered. Here’s hoping Riot struck a balance.

Champ of the Week: Teemo trouble

Easter Bunny Teemo.

This is now the sixth part of the Champ of the Week series and I can honestly say I haven’t had this kind of bad luck yet. Every time I’ve picked Teemo this week it has resulted in utter failure. My first serious attempt at counter jungling I ended at 4-10, basically tanking for our team because our real tank was never with us. In other games my teammates have been all over the place, or we haven’t had any CC.

I also had the unique displeasure of laning mid against Warwick. I can’t wait till they nerf that hairy bastard. He was tower diving me at level six and otherwise nuking straight through the 80 magic resistance I had at level 10. It was an infuriating experience.

For right now I’m just trying to keep the faith. I know I’ve had fun with Teemo. I know I’ve done well with Teemo, and not just in that fluke, the-other-team-is-a-wild-pack-of-noobs kind of way. Still, I’m having a hard time seeing those games right now. That’s one of the funny things about this game – it’s so easy to get into a rut with a champion or a comp or a class or anything and just forget to try and dig yourself out. There are champions I haven’t played in ages, probably because my last experience wasn’t so great.

Not Teemo. I won’t let that little Yordle down. If I give up on him, who are we going to send to make mushroom art on the moon?

Tribunal seems to be an early success

I had a lot of doubts about the Tribunal when it was first announced. The idea of incentivizing players to punish one another seemed a little odd to me, even if I had played with hundreds of players who deserved a little wrist-slap. After using the system for a couple days, though, I have to admit, I’m kind of impressed.

The only reason I use the qualifying “kind of” is that the Tribunal’s real value can’t possibly be assessed until we can see some results. When Riot first starting banning players for bad behavior it seemed like games were about to get a whole lot nicer. However, the League of Legends playerbase was growing much faster than Riot and so the need for justice quickly outpaced the execution of that justice. The Tribunal has the potential to turn that around, hopefully expediting the punitive process for Riot and giving everyone a look at just how foolish the rage sounds when it isn’t spewed in the heat of the moment (it also sounds ridiculous then, but I can understand getting steamed here and there).

That said, it seems the Tribunal is an early success. I’ve completed my three cases in each of the past two days and actually enjoyed the process. It’s interesting to see the kinds of information that can actually be used to punish/pardon a player and the different ways each player in a game understands another player’s actions. I’ve already seen a couple complicated cases that involved a lot of bad behavior from all parties involved. It can be tough to reason out who, if anyone, should take the hit, and if the reported party is actually to blame.

Of course, I’ve also seen some very cut and dry cases. You don’t die 20 times in 20 minutes without trying, and you certainly don’t die that often several games in a row without some sort of effort. I’ve also been entertained and amused by the things people share on the forums. Part of the problem with ragers is that they disappear once the game is over and very few people are exposed to the ridiculous things they say. The Tribunal bumps that exposure by not only being thrown into the pool but also because players that see it are so keen to share it.

I’m really hoping we see results. It’s a cool system with some great potential. It would be a huge bummer if it didn’t work out. How has it seemed to you guys so far?

Champ of the Week: Teemo

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I was sad to get a late start on the Champ of the Week this week, but the weekend away was totally worth it. I drove late last night thinking of who I felt confident I could fully test over the course of a short week and kept coming back to the same answer: Teemo. Yes, I’ll be playing everyone’s favorite Yordle this week.

I used to have nothing but loathing for Teemo. It took him forever to get a decent mushroom field going and his damage was fairly lackluster. Now, though, he’s got a pretty solid kit and he’s certainly capable of tying a team together. He also offers his team some crazy map control, which can be a lot of fun.

Teemo does suffer if he has a lackluster early game which is made especially painful against teams that push through the laning phase early. Without a big farm, Teemo feels especially dull. His health is too low to survive the bursty teams and his damage doesn’t ramp up fast enough to cut down the tanks.

That said, Teemo does have some nice early game damage and I think he has a pretty cool skillset for some counter jungling. I’m hoping some of my Nunu skills will carry over. Teemo definitely doesn’t have the creep control that Nunu does, but I could see him being powerful as a ganker against some of the slower, softer junglers.

My first experiment with it did not go particularly well. I was having a terrible string of luck, not to mention my opponents had a very competent Karma running Clairvoyance, which made things all the more annoying. Hopefully I’ll have more to report in the next several days.

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