Why 'Jungle' Is A Verb, And Other Things I Learnt About League Of Legends

The last thing I did at E3 last week, before going to LAX and heading home, was to meet with some gentlemen from Riot Games. They greeted me warmly and offered me a seat on the sofa and some coffee, then asked: "So, what do you know about League of Legends?"

"Honestly?" I blurted the first thing that came into my head: "It makes a bunch of my Twitter friends use the word 'jungle' as a verb. And that's about it."

They laughed. "Well, now we know how your friends like to play."

Of course, I did know slightly more than that. It's hard to miss talk of League of Legends these days. It coined the term MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), though not the genre itself. LOL — which is, incidentally, the best game acronym — launched in October 2009, and three years later, in October 2012, will be offering a $US5 million prize pool for its biggest competition. As of November 2011, they had 11.5 million players, of whom 1.4 million were concurrently playing at any one time. (Newer numbers have not yet been made public. I asked; they're "higher" now, but that's all anyone would say.)

League of Legends is kind of a big deal.

The basic idea is this: a player logs in and selects a Champion to play, for a 5v5 match that will last roughly half an hour. During the match, the two teams each start at their own base, and must advance to capture the other team's Nexus. The field of play divides into three "lanes", filled with obstacles and turrets and minions and all manner of other things designed to kill you thoroughly.

Games last roughly half an hour, which is meant to feel kind of like a "RPG microcosm". Every round, all players start at level 1 and can advance to level 18, gaining equipment and skills nearly by the minute. Start powerless, end powerful — and hopefully, want to jump in and do it all over again. As of right now, there are 99 champions from which players can choose, and Riot tries to keep each one unique and distinct from the others. Some are free (and the selection rotates); some cost real-world money. Players can buy appearance skins and so on for their favourite champions as well.

I nodded along. The basics were easy enough to understand on paper. But something about League's meteoric rise still wasn't clicking with me.

The team showed me a recording of a Korean championship match, one that close to four million viewers had watched live. I had no idea what the announcer was saying, but he certainly was enthusiastic, and the crowd watching live in an arena was going absolutely wild. Spells were flying everywhere on screen. As best I could tell, I was watching e-sports chaos.

The guys from Riot all grinned, nodding along. Clearly, this was a favourite. And other than "a PvP video game," I had no idea what I was watching.

"The best way to understand it is to play it," I was cheerfully told, and I found myself being ushered to the desktop computer in the corner and creating an account.

Ryan "Morello" Scott was going to be my teacher. The PR manager, Chris, introduced him as "a very loud man." There is some truth to that. But he was also a very friendly and patient man. While I was fiddling with the details of registration, Morello asked me, tentatively: "So what do you usually play, in MMOs and games like that? Magic, or..."

I always have a ready answer for that. "Rogues. Always rogue types. Sneak and stab and snipe, that's me!"

"Assassin," the room universally agreed. Then they looked over what was actually available (not an Assassin), and set me up on Ashe, a frost archer.

The tutorials, for what it's worth, are delightfully ridiculous. You follow the instructions of a disembodied voice, a woman's rich contralto that booms, "GOOD JOB!" when you've done something particularly tricky like, say, moving. Or clicking a button. I felt embarrassed to be receiving such virtual adulation for performing utterly basic tasks.

But then I completed the first tutorial and advanced to the second, which takes the form of a standard match only populated entirely by bots. By then, I was wishing for more praise. Or really, wishing to deserve it. My hands, trained by many an RPG, FPS, and MMO, kept wandering back to WASD even though I needed QWER to cast. I was moving too slowly, not paying enough attention to everything around me. I learned to focus on offence, but forgot defense; then, got switched.

After a while, I thought maybe I was starting to get the hang of it. Just maybe. "You really are a rogue," Morello mused. I hadn't realised it, but he pointed out that I was automatically trying to flank every turret and shoot it from behind.

"I don't think we have a hit from behind bonus," a voice behind me pointed out. "We could," another responded.

It didn't occur to me to use the landscape to my advantage at first, until I was told I could go into the tall grass and bushes to hide, recover, and look for goodies. I regularly, thoughtlessly ran headlong for the nearest cover after that, until being reminded that the other guys could do so, too...

I played for about 40 minutes total, all in tutorial modes. That's not nearly enough time to become an expert, or even to become competently fluent. And although I was making progress across the field in my bot fight, I had to let it go after taking out a half-dozen turrets. Our appointment time was over; I would not be able to get Ashe to the other team's Nexus. At least, not that day.

One thing became immediately clear: for all that League of Legends has an extremely competitive and often crass fan base, these guys really want everyone to be able at least to try their game. The bot-game tutorials weren't an original part of it, but added along the way, to let players (like me) work up to the challenge of playing with other people. It seems intimidating from the outside — a world with its own highly specialised language, where everyone's waiting to yell at you — but from the inside, Riot's working hard to make it approachable.

I get it, now. I can see why so many fans would keep coming back, and why they'd enjoy watching skilled teams work together on the field to take each other out. There's always something going on, and some new trick to learn.

And I finally learned what "jungling" is. It is a term who like to hide in things, grab all the good stuff, and choose their attacks carefully. Making one's way through all that grass without being seen? Sounds like the right challenge for me.

After another round or 10 with the bots. Just for practice...


Comments

    Before LoL I despised DOTA gametypes. I really hated the gameplay, the community, but what I really hated more was that nobody new was allowed to play the game. Only people who have been playing the game since the start were allowed to play. Then I decided to try out LoL, just to give myself a better impression. The tutorial was really helpful and in-game you're given suggestions as to what items you should buy, which was really helpful as it lets you stay in the game and slowly learn that side of the equation. Not only that, but you can play with bots and take your time to learn how to play the game. It actually made me change my opinion on DOTA gametypes, even buying Awesomenauts at the same time.

    What I like the most about the game is that it's still competitive while having slower killtimes and has a huge amount of variety. Which is more then you say about Halo, where the forums are lit up with people demanding the game be BR only and killtimes as short as 1 second...

    Jungling is someone who kills minions in the jungle for their experience points and helps gank lanes or defend lanes when other heroes are dead.

    BOT MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATCH

    Best.

    That's not what jungling is.

    Jungling is an alternative to laning (laning meaning spending the majority of your time in one of the three lanes against opponent players and dealing with creep ways). While jungling, you are instead roaming through your jungle (area of map between the lanes) killing the neutral creeps that spawn there. Because you're more mobile than the people in their lanes (who are focusing on attacking or defending towers) you can join an ally in their lane so that the two of you can team up and gank (kill) an opponent.

    The point of a jungler is to give your team someone mobile to act as a threat to the other lanes, while giving your teammates the opportunity to have more experience while laning as they don't have to share the lane (and thus split earned experience) with you.

      The point of the 'Jungler' is also to be a scape-goat for the team when the lanes loose.

        From the streams I've seen lately, it's the bot lane that's to blame in the higher ELOs. Why blame one person when you can blame two?

    Just an FYI , all those active accounts they claim to have, are actually them just stating the amount of accounts made and are not the actual active players.
    Its similar to EA when they claim to have 10 million users for Origin, a large amount of those accounts aren't actually ever playing and most are just throwaway accounts

      They said they have 11.5 million accounts, which is where your statement applies, but they remarked that 1.4 million are playing at any one time. Which means they're definitely active and if their stats are correct, is a fairly decent feat.

        That only means that between 1.4 million and 11.5 million are active though; I find it likely that a large number of those accounts are actually inactive. Lots of people have 2-3 accounts, 'smurfing' or something like that, it's called.

    Unfortunately after this beautiful article, you are incorrect about what a jungler does. A jungler in its most basic concept is one who kills the minions in the forrests rather than pushing the lane, this person usually is then relied upon to help the lanes who need it more.

      Well technically he's right. A jungler in essence, is in the jungle getting the goods and they DO choose their attacks carefully. It's not anything fancy, just another meta.

    If the community wasn't full of such rampart penisery It'd probably be a better game.

    Its a real throw back to the Warcraft 3 custom/CS 1.6 communities. Angry people yelling all kinds of horrible things at you because you don't play the game for more then an hour or two a week. A generalisation, I guess, but I stand by it.

      I agree. But at any level you will have someone yelling abuse at you and trying to play your champion as well as their own.

      i've played a lot of LOL, and games in general. LOL has one of the most intolerable, caustic, angry and toxic communities EVER.

      it's a hardcore game - this is no farmville. your strats, build and character knowledge is paramount to any success. and even when you're doing the right thing, prepare to still get trolled. it's that type of game.

      but damn, it is fun - get a thick skin and i'll see you on the field.

    I've played a few hundred regular matches, and a few ranked ones. Now I mostly play Bot matches with random champions. Why? Because then people don't yell at me for not being a psychic AI construct whose soul is bonded to the will of the server. Seriously, people lose their shit over the slightest mistake, or even non-mistaken decision that they just happen to not agree with.

      play against intermedit bots. they win al most every time... at least for me. lol.

      I am hoping they add some more maps. I would love to see a map made for all mid games, or have a map where you need to get something back to your base, rather than just wipe the enmay out (like that map from the Frozen Thron campain in WC3).

      As much as I like the game, I do wish they would have some more interesting maps other than Summers rift. Dominon is cool aswell. Much faster game, and you can still win even if you a a long way behind.

    I really dislike LoL after playing Dota 2 for 220 hours.

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