My take on Riot’s LoL development timeline

Riot didn’t make much of a stink about the League of Legends birthday last year, but it seems this year there’s going to be something of a celebration. As part of the festivities, Riot put together a timeline that follows the development of the game since October of 2009.

I think this is a pretty cool tribute to the development of the game, but I hope Riot sees the timeline like I do: a reminder that they can do better. When I look down the list of developments I see several things that I never use, a couple things that were hyped up and underwhelmed, and one real thing that has the potential to extend the life of the platform for a player.

Twisted Treeline

Twisted Treeline started out strong but quickly dried up when players realized that only so many champs are actually viable on the map. With the rise of Tanky DPS I’ve been playing Treeline again, mostly because there’s more variety there, but Riot stopped worrying about balance for that map a long time ago. This one doesn’t add any life to League of Legends. It’s an occasional diversion from the big show.

Season One

Season One also looked pretty cool at the beginning. Ranked play brought us draft mode, a feature that I had really been missing prior to its release. But Season One went on so long I forgot it was even happening. In that time the game remained relatively unchanged, seeing just a few meta-shifts along the way.

Riot did start to develop a spectator mode for the game, which helped the visibility of the larger tournaments. This would be a nice injection of life for the platform, giving each player more ways to learn how to improve at the game. On the whole, though, Season One doesn’t add much to the platform for the average player.

Battle Training & Co-Op vs. AI

I have never used Battle Training and never will. I’d also say chances are good that once a player has seen the mode a couple times, they won’t be going back either.

As for Co-Op vs. AI, my experience with the mode was poor enough that I haven’t gone back. My allies constantly flamed me for any and every decision I made. I’d rather have the ragers from ranked than the trolls from this game mode. That said, I know some players enjoy it and it’s certainly kid friendly. This one seems okay for a very small subset of the player base. I would love to see more data on who is playing Co-Op vs. AI.

The Tribunal

I’m still surprised the Tribunal made it to the live feature list before things like achievements or spectator mode. I realize Riot must have been swamped in complaints about player behavior, but for me, the Tribunal just isn’t worth the time. I can’t even imagine the amount of management it takes on the back end. And frankly, my games haven’t improved dramatically since the Tribunal released. People are still rude. People still afk. There are just too many players for this kind of system to effect dramatic change that we can see on a player by player basis.

Dominion

This is the big, shiny pot of gold at the end of Riot’s timeline. When Dominion launched I played it like a fiend. I haven’t played a ton in the past couple weeks, but a few games here and there have still been fun. It’s obvious that Riot is committed to keeping this game mode balanced, which puts it ahead of Twisted Treeline as far as diversions are concerned. I don’t think Dominion is perfect, but it’s something new with totally new gameplay and I think a lot of players are enjoying it.

None of this is to say that I don’t like League of Legends. I love it. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on it, both in playing and in writing for this blog. The day is coming, though, when some shiny new toy will steal me away from LoL. When I look at this list, I don’t see much that will pull me back should my new toy grow stale. I hope Riot has a few tricks up its sleeve.

I miss the Season One reward grind

I was worried this would happen. As the end of Season One drew to a close, I had a goal in mind: I wanted to get gold rating. There wasn’t really a personal reason, either. There was a reward; a reward that I wouldn’t use very much, but still, it was something I could point to and say, “I got that because I did X.”

It was a grind, too. I had to play a lot of games to hit gold. The grind pretty much killed any desire I had to play Lee Sin beyond the finish. I got incredibly close to the 1520 mark and then dropped ELO several times. But still, it was a goal. It was something to shoot for. It was a lot of fun.

Fast forward six weeks or so and I’m having a little trouble enjoying the game like I used to. There aren’t any in-game goals for me to strive for. I could try to rank up my solo queue ELO, but to what end? More ranking up? Not exactly a compelling sales pitch.

I know League can’t always be my number one game, but I do think there’s a lot more to be done to keep veteran players interested in the game. The Jarvan skin was a great idea – why not produce more skins that could be tied to certain achievements. Win 250/500/1000 ranked games, get a cool skin. Play 10 ranked games, get a one-time, one-day IP boost. These kind of things don’t cost a lot of money to put into the game and encourage more players to try more things. My assumption, which I suppose could be totally wrong, is that the more time players spend enjoying games, the more likely they are to spend on content.

Even if that assumption can’t be backed by data, it certainly breeds goodwill with the playerbase. Why not reward players for spending time with the game?

What are your thoughts? Are you still going strong with LoL or are other games starting to steal your attention. Has Dominion been enough to keep you coming back?

Riven Patch Delayed

I know this is going to come as a shock, but the Riven patch has been officially delayed by 24 hours. It remains unclear what caused the delay, whether or not this will affect the end of Season One (though I would bet it will), and whether or not there’s a plan in place if ELOs decay tomorrow.

Here’s the official quote from RiotRara in a post made late Monday night/early Tuesday morning:

Our release team has confirmed that an extra 24 hours is needed to ensure quality release. There will be no downtime tonight for the Riven patch. We are sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience.

Needless to say the forums are displeased, as I think they have every right to be. This is incredibly late notice for what was supposed to be a substantial patch. Hopefully we’ll hear more from Riot tomorrow.

Dominion potentially delayed until October

Things have been extremely quiet at Riot headquarters of late. The forums have been utterly devoid of red posts concerning Dominion, the end of Season One, and the beginning of Season Two in the last week or so. This wouldn’t be all that shocking – Riot has always struggled to provide good communication about timing – but we had been hearing about those things and in quantity for the three weeks or so prior.

From the time Dominion was announced until about three weeks ago, Riot was pumping the Dominion hype. We got the Dominion minisite, gameplay vids at the major gaming news outlets, plenty of screenshots, and chances to play the game at several industry events. We saw Rioters play pros, Rioters play Rioters. We got excited.

Next we were told about the end of Season One and the rewards that end entailed. For the first time since the launch of Season One players had something more than just winning/losing/farming IP to worry about. It was a great announcement, and hopefully a challenge a few people enjoyed as much as I did.

This past week, though, it was dead silent. I thought that meant Dominion was on the way. I thought that meant we’d see it before Q4 of this year, which is when every other game I’ve been excited about for the past several years is coming out. Sadly, that’s probably not the case. RiotRara finally posted in the forums today regarding the timing of Riven and the patch that follows her.

Here’s the quote:

Riven, and the changes within her patch, will be coming next week. As we previously announced, Season One will conclude with our next scheduled game update. Therefore we will also be calculating the Season One Ladder rankings and rewards during downtime for this patch.

Additionally, there will be an extra week (3 weeks total) between the Riven patch and the patch to follow. This extra time will ensure we bring you the best content possible in League of Legends.

I can’t imagine “best content possible” is code for anything other than Dominion. Three weeks from next Tuesday is October 4th. I’m not impressed, Riot. Not at all.

Season 1 Rewards and the Importance of Achievemnts

As the end of Season One approaches, players have been scrambling to rank up for rewards. I’ve been in the mix myself, finally pushing through and securing gold late last night. It was challenging, but that also made it fun, and as a result I’m going to get some rewards. The funny thing, for me anyway, is that I don’t care much about the rewards. I’m not a Jarvan player. I don’t post on the forums much, if at all, but the simple fact that there is a reward associated with a tangible goal made the journey toward that goal a lot more compelling.

There was also an interesting side effect, which is where the whole “importance of achievements” thing comes in. As my rating edged closer to the 1520 mark for gold status, players were more helpful and level-headed. Granted, this is some circumstantial evidence, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the attitude adjustment is due to the fact that players have a common goal beyond just winning.

It’s rare that I play with people who don’t want to win, but there’s really very little incentive to winning beyond, well, just winning. The ELO grind really didn’t mean anything. Players at every ELO rank complain that the players in that bracket are noobs and trolls. There’s also the fact that ELO is an endless grind. I can hit 1800 but what then? More games? Maybe make it to 1900? Maybe fall back down to 1600? There is no tangible reward other than bragging rights to make the ELO grind interesting.

This Season One reward is nothing more than an achievement system, and for me it worked pretty well. I know there are still a lot of players struggling with ELO hell, but let me reiterate this – getting out of ELO hell won’t make your games that much better. There will still be trolls. There will still be feeders. There will still be games you just can’t carry. I don’t think you’ll see a real shift in player attitude until Riot gives us something more than just a win and a ranking to worry about.

Riot releases a second Season One Blooper Reel

This is a strange bit of news, mostly because Season One is over and done with. Riot released a second Season One Blooper Reel today as a thank you for reaching 260,000 subscribers on YouTube. I had honestly all but forgotten about the first Blooper Reel, though they both made me chuckle. The Nasus gag at the end of this one is definitely cute.

I’m hoping this means there’s a boatload of content around the corner that Riot isn’t quite ready to tease. I can’t really think of another reason to revisit a cute and fun video that ultimately serves very little purpose for a second time. July looks like it will be a big month for LoL news. We should be hearing about Season Two in the very near future, and the August issue of PC Gamer promises a look at 12 upcoming champions. That’s right, 12 – as in six months worth of champion releases all in one place. If I had to guess, I’d say we’re right on the verge of some major changes to the game. Bring it on, Riot.

Fnatic wins the all-Euro Season One Championship Final/Patch Notes

Season One officially drew to a close this evening as Fnatic beat Against All Authority to take the Season One Championship. The game was an all-Euro match, thanks to some excellent play by aAa during the loser’s bracket semifinal round. aAa was able to win the match with a bit of an odd comp, thanks to some creative warding and incredible teleporting. It would be enough against Fnatic, though, who scored the final win in the second of the two game series against aAa.

I was a little disappointed to see the North American teams drop early. I’m not a TSM fan, but I though Epik had played really well for most of the tourney. The wheels fell off today, though. I honestly thought they might have been throwing the game with that double-AD, no tank comp. They are certainly a much better team than was shown today.

I haven’t yet had a chance to watch the Fnatic vs. aAa matches as I was in the car when they first aired. I’ve heard they were fantastic, so I’m hoping for some VoD action soon. In the meantime, Phreak and RiotEski put up a patch preview, which I’ve linked above. Lots of changes are on the way – check back tomorrow for a full roundup.

Season One Finals down to Europe vs. North America

The Season One Finals at Dreamhack continued today with some truly extraordinary matches. Most of yesterdays matchups seemed to be fairly one-sided, match by match. One team would gain control of the map and exploit that advantage to the end of the game. Some of the matches had exciting moments and there were a few upsets, but the games were pretty short and straightforward.

Not today. Today the games were utterly insane. There were strange picks, odd bans, and epic, sprawling teamfights that ran from one end of the map to the other. There were Baron kills and counter Barons. It was a really exciting day, and we owed most of the excitement to the European teams, Fnatic (FN) and Against All Authority (aAa). Neither of the top two European teams looked very good yesterday – apparently Fnatic was missing a player and using a sub – but today they looked incredible. Fnatic showed up with amazing lane presence and some very smart bans against CLG, locking HotShotGG and company out of the tournament. Against All Authority dropped the first game in its series against TSM, but went on to steamroll to victory.

It was interesting that the tournament turned into a Europe vs. North America event, and it looks like it’s going to continue down that path. Tomorrow brings us to the semi-finals and the finals. As you can see from the bracket above, Team SoloMid and Epik Gaming will be fighting for the chance to face the loser of the FN vs. aAa game. That winner will then go on to face the winner of Fn vs. aAa. We could be looking at Europe vs. North America for the finals, but if TSM and Epik are off their game, North America will be out of the race altogether.

I hope you’ve had some time to check out the Season One Finals. I was really impressed with Riot’s streaming, as were roughly a million other unique visitors to the Season One microsite. I didn’t think I would get so excited, but it was really cool to be able to see the best teams in the world really showing their strength today. Seriously, if Fnatic’s Shushei doesn’t make you want to play Alistar, nothing will.

Season One Championships are underway

The Season One Championships are well underway at Dreamhack over in Sweden. I’ve been watching for most of the morning, though I did miss the super early games. It’s been interesting to see not only the different comps and bans, but also what Riot has done to livecast the event. At the peak, I saw some 180,000 people watching the games, which is really impressive for the first season of a video game.

Riot was also pushing its Twitter presence. I think the company is hoping to get “#esports” trending, though I’m not sure what sort of community presence there is on Twitter. Most of the time the #leagueoflegends hashtag is pretty sparse, but I would love to see a more active dialog happening there, even just for link sharing.

I think the best part of the tournament to this point has been the preview of Spectator Mode. It looks really nice, giving the viewer a ton of data about what’s happening on the battlefield. As we’ve seen from a few of the games, though, data isn’t everything. It’s true that at the end of the game the winning team typically has the gold advantage, but I thought Epik’s Doublelift was totally screwed when he got killed twice in the first couple minutes of the game against Fnatic. Miss Fortune also remained nearly 100 creeps ahead of Doublelift through the end of the game. Still, Epik somehow managed to pull a win (which, come to think of it, was Westrice’s Akali game).

At any rate, I’m really impressed with Riot’s commitment to making the championship an event for everyone, not just the players in the tournament. Have you guys been watching?

Slowing feature releases hurt League of Legends

Magma Chamber boss camp.

I think it’s safe to say that the League of Legends community is as restless as it has ever been. It has been more than half a year since the last major feature release, and promised feature updates remain unreleased months after their announcements. Several high profile players have made long forum posts with titles like, “@Riot why I’m losing interest in your game,” and, “Riot’s downward spiral.”

The thing is, I still have a lot of fun with League of Legends. My personal beef with Riot is that a game that once had as active a development cycle as I’ve seen has grown stagnant, relying on bi-weekly champion releases to keep the game fresh. I started playing the game in December of 2009. Just three months later there was a new map, not just in development, but in the matchmaking rotation. Somewhere along the way there was a client revision. Four months after the Twisted Treeline release came Season One, complete with ranked matches and a new client experience.

It has been more than six months since Season One launched. In that time, there has not been one major feature release to the game (sorry, tutorial modes don’t count). Magma Chamber was announced in September, as was an upcoming graphical overhaul. Both features remain unreleased. There is still no team/clan support. We still don’t have normal stats available, despite the fact that they’re being recorded. The achievements pane, which was introduced last July along with the Season One release, remains unused.

In short, it’s time. In fact, it’s past time. A major content update is long overdue for the game. Riot has had a lot of opportunity to expand the game and stay at the forefront of MOBA design. Without a serious release in the near future, I think we can reasonably expect the game to start bleeding players, either to other MOBA franchises or to different games altogether.

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