Keeping track of lore in a MOBA often seems as valuable as watching porn for the story, to quote one recent critic of League of Legends' latest character reveal. I tend to agree. But YouTuber Gnarsies makes a good case for why having terrible lore really does matter — even for a seemingly plotless gaming genre.
Watch Gnarsies take here (via Reddit):
Gnarsies explains how, back in the day, League of Legends used to offer relatively robust narrative explanations for why all the champions are dropping into the map and duking it out with one another over, and over, and over again. More recently, League developer Riot has promised to do a full overhaul of its game's lore. Whatever the status of that narrative reworking may be, it hasn't stopped Riot from churning out new content for League. The pressures of putting out new stuff at a relatively rapid clip while failing to justify the existence or purpose of that same stuff leads to what I see as the heart of Gnarsies' critique.
"All of the newer champions suffer from the same problem," he argues. "Their in-game lore is either extremely short or inconsequential." Everything story-wise outside the game, meanwhile, "seems to be nothing more than promotional material to introduce a new character."
Consider Bard's backstory again, for example. Riot detailed the new (and very cool) champion's origins in a pretty and very mysterious video:
As Gnarsies points out, the short film definitely looks really cool. But except for the presence of Bard himself, it also looks like it could've been yanked out of some television series like, say, The Legend of Korra and no one would be the wiser. It's a question of identity: what, if anything, makes League of Legends feel patently like League of Legends? Clearly the developer is interested in answering this question narratively: otherwise, I'm not sure why they'd even bother trying to attempt anything like a rework of the game's lore. In the meantime, though, I can't think of anything more artless and cynical than treating things like "plot" and "character development" as an easy opportunity to #brand some of your new #content in the most lucrative and efficient way possible.
I have a great time playing League of Legends — even as Bard — regardless of how much sense I think it makes. But the nonsense starts to feel like a problem once choice elements of the game start to feel more like blithe fantasy or steampunk place-holders rather than things that are authentically and uniquely League-based characters. That's the leg-up Blizzard already has with Heroes of the Storm — a game that, however ironically, is inspired by League of Legends success, which stems from the original success of older Blizzard games. Playing Heroes of the Storm, it already makes sense why you'd want to participate in nonsensical battles between, say, Diablo (or Diablo fame) and Zeratul from StarCraft: it's whacky fan-fiction, plain and simple.
League of Legends, on the other hand, still needs to get the "fiction" part down.