These people don't play League of Legends like everyone else. They don't really want to, truth be told.
Dominion is a League of Legends mode that the game's developer Riot released back in 2011 as an experiment. It focuses on capturing/holding locations and quick, frequent skirmishes between players, providing a fast-paced alternative to the main game's more methodical base attack/defence setup (with endless moats of monsters in between). It's been around, albeit quietly, ever since it was introduced. Many players enjoyed it at first but ultimately wrote it off as a novelty -- a distraction for more casual players -- and moved on.
A dedicated community, however, formed around Dominion over the years because -- stigma or not -- they really cared about Dominion's no-nonsense gameplay and, more importantly, each other. They played together, streamed together, made resources to help newcomers together, ran 100+ person tournaments and promoted the mode together. But according to many, that heyday has passed, and the future's not looking so rosy.
In recent times it's become apparent that League of Legends creator Riot doesn't plan on adding to the mode in a substantial way, despite alleged claims that a ranked play option (one of the most in-demand features) would be easy to include. Moreover, Riot just rolled out a new mode called Ascension that even uses some assets from Dominion, causing some to fear that their favourite mode is essentially getting replaced.
Longtime members of the Dominion community have begun departing in droves. Most recently, one of the community's more prominent members, who goes by the name "Fancy Wolf," posted a final plea on the League of Legends forums:
" When I first came to Dominion after becoming bored with Summoners Rift I found a new life and desire to play League of Legends. If not for Dominion I would have quit league 2 years ago without a second thought. But I found much more than just a game mode, I found friends and a community. A community that stuck it through all the bull**** to play and enjoy a game that we all loved. A community that looked out for each other and was always there for each other. A community, that became a family for most."
"As time went on and Riot continued to neglect us, people broke, and people left. I felt my heart sink every time I read a goodbye post on the forums from someone. We tried, we really did. Promoting a game mode that is already considered a joke is nigh impossible but we took those risks. It was something we felt was worth fighting for, it was something we were passionate about. All with some fleeting dream we would obtain some recognition from Riot and start to be taken seriously as a mode."
The thread exploded, both on League of Legends' forums and Reddit. Dramatic though it might have been -- given that Dominion isn't entirely a ghost town just yet -- it got the point across: Dominion's most dedicated fans fought for this mode just as much as they fought in it, and they don't want to see it go out with a sickly whimper. League of Legends is moving forward, but it doesn't feel like Dominion is moving with it. The community is withering away.
"When I first joined the Dominion community, it was incredibly active," Fancy Wolf told me in an email exchange. "It was a fun, relaxing place where everyone would just sit around and chat about all kinds of random things. The new Fire Emblem [game on 3DS], tournaments, even random real world events. That was two years ago. Before the redditsplosion recently [as a result of my post] Dominion's chat was completely dead."
Another player, RCIX, who created multiple in-depth resources to help Dominion fans really master the mode's eccentricities, is one such prominent community member who recently decided to call it quits. It wasn't easy, but he felt like it was time.
"It was very difficult [to leave]," he said via email. "Ranked is a great objective, so is [asking for] long-term support and changes, but what this issue is really about is the death of -- as cheesy as it sounds -- a family."
The Dominion community, he explained, had a profoundly positive impact on his life during a very dark time. And now that it seems to be dispersing, there's not much of a reason to stick around.
"When I joined Dominion, I was kind of depressed due to complex life circumstances that I'm still in the process of dealing with and resolving," he said. "I'd just play League as much as possible, even marathoning eight hours a day when time permitted. Once I became vaguely known in the DominateDominion community, that helped me start to change. I honestly don't have that many friends in life, but I count one I found in that channel as one of my closest friends. Our meeting was facilitated entirely by that community. Dominion gave me the initial experience and confidence I needed to start rebuilding some of the things I'd lost or not yet learned during my depression."
That kind of story may seem unexpected given League of Legends' reputation for having some rather... unsavory elements to its community, but Dominion is different, claim its biggest supporters. Or at least, it was.
"LoL is often a toxic place and MOBAs are famed for the rage they incite in their experienced players," admitted RCIX. "One of the bigger reasons I hated [Summoner's Rift, LoL's main game type] and am ambivalent about it to this day is because of that toxicity. There's nothing to grab ahold of and no one to care or make it worth my time to play. Dominion offered that for me."
RCIX admits that things in Dominion weren't perfect. "I remember getting in fights with players now and then over builds or in-game actions and even my own outbursts of toxicity, caused by pride most often (and that's something I hope I've learned from) -- but DominateDominion operated as a shelter from that outside hurricane of Summoner's Rift."
Don't Start A Riot
DominateDominion is still around, but the group's presence has diminished in recent times. William Copus, who for a time ran frequent DominateDominion tournaments (sometimes with sizable cash prizes) and is a well-known Dominion streamer, doesn't think things are as dire as Fancy Wolf, RCIX, and many others on LoL's forums and Reddit suggest, but he doesn't think things are trending upward, either. He's kind of accepted the situation for what it is: Dominion's slowly deflating due to a lack of support and community disinterest. It's not necessarily doomed, but things could be a lot better.
"Old players leave and new players come in," he told me over email. "It's always a cycle. Sadly, I don't think enough new people are coming in quick enough to replace the leaving ones."
"Also, a lot of new players are now getting turned off instantly from having [tons of] bots in their game. And just for clarification for those who may not know what a bot is exactly: they aren't just putting co-op vs AI bots in the matches; these bots are using scripts to power level accounts to either sell or get referral skins. They run around like chickens with their heads cut off and are beyond useless."
So then, why isn't Riot intervening? Seems like a simple enough one-two punch solution, right? Adding a ranked option, and killing the bots. Boom. Everyone's happy, newcomers and longtimers alike. But that goes against Riot's goals for League of Legends as a whole.
Lead designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street broke it down in a forum post, explaining that Riot doesn't want to risk fragmenting LoL's community among a confusing mess of maps and modes:
"Dominion isn't going anywhere. Ascension is a new temporary game mode that we hope you'll enjoy, but it is just using some Dominion assets, not replacing the game. However, this is a good opportunity to reaffirm why we like temporary game modes in the first place. League is largely centered around Summoner's Rift. That focus lets us design the game specifically for that map."
"The more maps and alternate game modes we offer, the more it subdivides the player population. We're at a state where that situation isn't too bad, but imagine what League would feel like with a dozen maps, and players split among all of them. It's one of the challenges of matchmaking that the more game modes you support, the harder it is to find a good game for anyone. Furthermore, it just divides up the mind share. Games like soccer and chess aren't played on a variety of 'maps.' There are some variant rules, and they serve similar goals as ours do: to give players something more when they have gotten a little bored of the standard way to play."
Riot employee "ManWolfAxeBoss," meanwhile, offered a fairly damning assessment of the ranked situation. He cited internal statistics that make it hard to justify adding a ranked option to Dominion when the mode isn't popular enough to support it without frustratingly lengthy wait times to find matches. The downsides of that, claimed Mr. ManWolf, are huge.
"We've actually done quite a bit of research on how many players are needed for a healthy queue," he explained. "When it's not met, we see stuff like increased toxicity, higher turnover, decrease in queue size and a generally degraded play experience. Splitting the already small [Dominion] community into two queues would create a poor experience for both sides. Waiting 30 minutes to play with people with a 500 [skill rating] disparity is no fun for anyone."
Enemies At The Gates
But it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? If Riot doesn't offer much support or promotion, Dominion won't grow. That's why community heads like Fancy Wolf and Copus spent so much time promoting the mode themselves, and they can't help but feel pretty burned by all of this. Moreover, they think Riot is making a big mistake, especially with Blizzard's faster-paced, more immediately intuitive Heroes of the Storm MOBA rapidly approaching.
"Its a fairly big mistake," Fancy Wolf opined. "MOBAs will begin to release with the faster paced action that Dominion has, and we will walk away from League. Developers like Blizzard releasing Heroes of the Storm is exactly what we have been looking for. A strong objective-based MOBA that doesn't solely depend on farming minions for 20 minutes. Instead of League being people's one-stop shop for all the best MOBA experiences, Riot wants to focus only on the old style map that is Summoners Rift."
In fairness, Riot does have an entire team dedicated to creating new modes. By and large, though, they end up as one-offs -- projects that, like Dominion, get minor balancing support and things like that, but not much else.
RCIX thinks there's room for more. "Here's the thing," he said, "depending on the statistics you dig up, LoL has between 30 million and some much higher number of regular players. Looking at this, two or three large modes would not be a problem to sustain. And that would allow Riot more resilience if players decide they're bored of/dislike one mode. I refuse to make ultimate predictions about where Riot will be in 5+ years, but it would be hard to believe that wherever they are, they wouldn't be able to get to an even better place if they choose to invest in this diversity."
As is, though, Dominion just isn't super high on Riot's priority list -- and with good reason, from their perspective. They have said that they're open to figuring out what the main appeal of a ranked option is to Dominion's community and finding some other way to tap into that, an option that doesn't split the player base. Meanwhile, Riot lead social systems designer Jeffrey Lin added that they're "working on a few short-term things" to deal with the bot problem.
If Only For Memories
For some Dominion community members, that small sliver of something is much better than nothing. Others, though, feel like other similar alternative LoL modes like Twisted Treeline and ARAM have gotten better long-term support. This new declaration from Riot, then, feels like a punch to the gut, a nail in the coffin, a lit match in the old treehouse.
Fancy Wolf doesn't expect the recent Dominion community exodus to stop. "Any top tier Summoners Rift players don't really care about Dominion," he concluded. "Most of the other main Dominion faces have moved on. The only ones remaining that are even relevant have just about given up and dont care anymore. Which after they read Riot's latest response.. they will be gone too."
Despite moving on himself, RCIX doesn't think everybody's just gonna up and leave. The community will persist, he hopes, albeit in a diminished state. "Not everyone is like me," he said, "and I would say that a lot of players are in [DominateDominion] just because queuing with people you know is fun. But I hope my story provides a lens past the cries for a competitive queue or map changes into the real issue: We feel ignored. We clung onto each other because no one else would, and finally and truly, we have no reason to do so further."
But while interest in Dominion -- at least, among some of its prominent community members -- is fizzling, the community itself may live on. Communities, after all, are people. People don't stop existing just because you turned off a video game.
"It's different from a lot of other communities I've been in because some people are insanely close and grow to be great friends," said Copus. "I still have people I met from DominateDominion that no longer play League but still communicate with regularly."
"Giving [Dominion] up is, in a sense, a positive thing," added RCIX. "But it's still not really something I want to do. I had thought about moving on before, and honestly the only real reason I am now is that I have otherwise connected to all of my really close friends from that channel and have new hobbies and tasks to occupy my time."
As of now, Dominion itself isn't going anywhere -- not up into the stratospheric heights of its own potential or down into the trash. It's just...there, standing in place as its most dedicated players begin to move on.
Everybody I spoke to and every post I read had one thing in common, though: happy memories. Friends made, laughs shared, lessons learned. All good things must come to an end. It's what you carry on from them that counts.