Riot’s Big Social Push For League Of Legends Has Some Players Worried

Riot’s Big Social Push For League Of Legends Has Some Players Worried

A primary theme in Riot’s gigantic laundry list of upcoming changes for League of Legends is that the developer is trying really, really hard to make its game more social. While many of the new socially-minded features announced this week sound wonderful, not all League fans are happy about their impending future.

A lot of Riot’s new features sound like no brainers. They’re adding “clubs” to the game, for instance, which will (ideally) make it easier for a large group of like-minded League friends to communicate and coordinate with one another. They’re also introducing a smartphone app that lets you talk with your in-game friends when you’re away from your computer, which, again, is a great idea.

Things get dicier when it comes to League’s ranked play. Previously, players were only allowed to queue up for ranked games alone (soloq) or with one other teammate (duoq). They’re changing this to allow for “dynamic groups” of up to four players — five-man teams play in their own special group (emphasis mine for this and all other block quotes):

This upcoming season we’re replacing the solo/duo queue with a dynamic group queue, where you’ll be able to climb the ladder with any number of teammates, going from single participation all the way to a full team comp. There’s no longer a penalty for players ranking together, so the benefits of grouping up will always prevail. You’ll still need to be of similar rank to your queue-buddies, and the system is designed so that groups will almost always play against similarly grouped opponents (so if you’re in a premade five, there’s a 95% chance you’ll run into another premade five), but now you’ll be able to compete the way you want to.

In its announcement this week, Riot justified the decision by saying that League needs to have better systems to acknowledge and reward people for being team players, rather than just highly skilled individual players. Team play therefore needs to be encouraged and supported as much as possible:

If the World Championships have shown us anything, it’s that League is a team game and the best competitors are also amazing teammates. We believe a truly competitive ranked experience should reward a player’s ability to lead or collaborate with their teammates just as much as their ability to shut down a lane. That said, for a while now the ranked experience has also been a lonely one, having the choice of either queueing up with a friend or braving it solo. We’ve even had to go so far as to give small penalties to duo-queuers to compensate for the unspoken benefits of friendship (can you really put a price on friendship?).

Our belief is that League is better – and more competitive – with company, so we need to walk the walk on that philosophy.

It’s hard to disagree with Riot’s rhetoric about teamwork and collaboration. So why are some League players upset? Because this runs against pretty much everything Riot’s said and done about ranked play for League’s entire history.

“The Soloq system was founded on the idea that personal skill is the most important part of being a good League of Legends player,” one high ranked League player who asked to only be identified by his in-game handle, ellman121, told me in an email today. “This was certainly true in Season 1, when the ranked system was started.”

“However, as League of Legends evolved from a semi-competitive game into the monolithic eSport it is today, team play became more and more important,” ellman continued. “Riot is effectively giving up on the idea that personal skill is the most important part of being a good League player.”

Ellman is in League’s platinum rank, the fourth highest rank in the game and one far above the average skill level (which is Silver, the best-populated rank). He and many other high-ranked players are the ones most concerned about what Riot’s changes will do to the ranked ecosystem. And for good reason: reaching platinum, or diamond, or master, or even challenger means that you’ve had to spend a lot of time playing League of Legends and investing a great deal of energy into mastering a system that, apparently, is going to go away soon.

“Many Platinum, Diamond, Master, and Challenger players got to their rank by playing essentially 1v9,” ellman wrote in his email to me. “I didn’t get to platinum by working with my team every game, I got to platinum by shitting on my opponents every game and working with my team when needed. I think this is true for most high-elo players (it’s probably the main reason that platinum is widely regarded as the most toxic elo). But, by heavily depreciating the personal skill aspect of Soloq, Riot has just told all of the high-elo players that their skill (and the effort they put in to gain that skill) is worthless. This is the big flaw with the new ranked system.”

For a long time, Riot presented solo and duo-queueing as a compromise. Yes, people wanted to play ranked games with friends. But letting larger groups queue up would undermine the competitive integrity of the whole ranked system — something Riot cares a lot about, given that they now own and support the world’s largest eSport. Being placed with a pre-made team of three or four other people doesn’t just make it harder for solo and duo-queuers to play effectively if, say, the larger group of friends on their team decide to gang up on them. By extension, it could make the game a whole lot less fun.

Soloq can be a very lonely experience in League. But for many players, that’s all they have — or all they want. Maybe they don’t have many gamer friends who play League. I certainly had to make some new ones when I started playing. Or maybe they just like playing alone more than they like bantering with people about the state of the meta and whether or not they should have gone for baron.

Jeffrey Lin, Riot’s lead social systems designer, responded to concerns that solo and duoq players were being disregarded in a post on his page. In it, he appeals to that same newfound philosophy of being super gung ho about being as social as possible:

When we first started building the new Champ Select, we knew this would be a big debate. In every research survey, the majority of players wanted to try Ranked, but also wanted to play with friends and did not have enough friends always online to play Ranked Teams. In every analytics report, the more friends you play with on average, the better your experiences and the less toxicity there is. We looked to other popular games and it was very hit-or-miss. Non-MOBAs have historically rewarded group play with more opportunities and better rewards (such as WoW, where the entire end-game is based on group play and you are forced to group up to get the best loot). Competitive PvP games, however, were split. HOTS and LoL were most recently Solo/Duo Queue, but CS:GO has Dynamic Queue, and DOTA2 has a hybrid Dynamic Queue. When we looked into this, the *reason* every game chose their approach was for different reasons. For some, it was size of their playerbase, some were forced to because of how their matchmakers were designed. For Riot, League is a competitive team sport. Playing with friends allows you to try more strategies, and the more organised play there is, the more competitive the entire ecosystem becomes. By playing with friends, it becomes much easier to organise a rotation strategy, a knock-up comp, or double jungler invade strategy.

So, we had to make a super risky, super difficult choice. We — a team with a bunch of solo purists — had to try to make Dynamic Queue a great experience.

“We’re going to try everything we can to make Dynamic Queue a great experience,” Lin concluded. “Please give it a chance.”

I think a lot of League of Legends players are willing to give the game a chance. But many can also get fed up with Riot after they feel like they have already given them a ton of chances.

Riot has had a habit of promising big, ambitious things and not fully delivering on them, and trying to assuage fans by saying that they’re working extra hard to make sure everything’s just right. So when Lin promises that, say, “We’ve upgraded the Report System to completely wipe out the power of Premade 4 reports ganging up on a player, and given the solo player ‘equal power’ reports in this scenario,” some might not be inclined to take him at his word. This new reporting system, like all of League’s reporting systems, could very well end up being open to all sorts of abuse.

That said, Riot’s priorities here are the correct ones to have. I don’t think anyone really disagrees with that. Despite sounding concerned, ellman did acknowledge that Riot judging players as team players is the right thing to do.

“League is a team game, at any level, so it’s good that my rank reflects my team abilities,” he wrote.

Also I feel like I should point out that despite Riot’s checkered history of delivering on new features, the new champion select system is a humongous improvement. It seems like the developer is really getting serious about fixing up the broken parts of League this coming season.


  • “I didn’t get to platinum by working with my team every game, I got to platinum by shitting on my opponents every game and working with my team when needed.”

    Such a classy guy, and a fantastic example of the type of person Riot is apparently trying to get rid of. Couldn’t happen soon enough.

    • Hate people like this. Thinks he does absolutely everything. Put him in a 1v5 and he will get destroyed. A full team is vital or near full team is vital.

      • It depends how good the player is tbh, in league, as a jungler its very easy to manipulate early game so much that the enemy team cant win. And if you get good enough at it you get fed along the way which means the rape train keeps rolling. Leagues problem isnt that there are ‘toxic’ and non-toxic its that riot are trying to fight human nature. If someone does something retarded in the real world a persons first instinct is to call him out on it. On the internet its a bit different, theres no physical threat posed by the retard so he generally gets abused in a much worse fashion. Combine all that with the rank system and the constant drive for ranking up and u have a perfect machine for producing a river of tears that turns into a flood of rage which turns into an ocean of abuse. The fact that leagues core gameplay is full of such a wide variety of players, age wise, its just going to breed rage. Riots attempts to stop toxicity is like a man trying to fight an avalanche, sure he’s gonna stop some snow, but he’s still fucked.

    • How long have they been trying? 6 years? It’s not going to happen. The MOBA community is born toxic. There’s no cure. Kill it with fire.

  • I think the problem with Dota and LOL is that with solo experience, gold collection, and most importantly last hitting, you’re forced to compete with your team mates by default. That’s why I like HoTS so much better. You can actually focus on the team brawler part of the game instead of the grinding, farming and last hitting.

    That being said I dislike that HoTS recently removed 3 and 4 person groups from ranked play. It’s interesting the LoL is doing the reverse. It may be in part that the HoTS player base is still too small and it’s screwing with the matchmaking. LoL probably has enough players to make it work. Or they could just be making a grab for HoTS players who didn’t like the recent change.

    • When League came out, they made a big deal about simplifying Dota by getting rid of things like denies. Now HotS is doing the same by stripping things from the game and saying that it’s better for it. Just to be clear, you’re only going to compete with your teammates in games like Dota and League if you or your teammates are dicks.

      In Dota and League, most players have a good understanding of which heroes/champions need farm and which ones are going to have to work without it. You pick your lineup around that and then work with your teammates to make sure that people get what they need.

      So instead of just focusing on the team brawler aspect of the game, you work on getting advantages over the other team. Maybe that’s by forcing team fights. Maybe that’s by out farming the other team. Maybe it’s by just getting as much vision across the map as possible.

      I wouldn’t say one is inherently better than the other but I tend to prefer having more options.

      • In Dota and League, most players have a good understanding of which heroes/champions need farm and which ones are going to have to work without it.

        That’s a huge call…
        There’s no way in hell a new player would know even 2% of what’s required for a good hero pick or good item build. Things like using couriers and wards is pretty complex.
        HoTS still has a learning curve but I think think it’s nowhere near the level required for other MOBAs. That’s also why I think it makes a much better game for beginners.

        My point is more philosophical.
        I’m saying that mechanics such as last hitting fundamentally imply competition between team mates. If you’re competing for gold or experience against your team, that will always create some tension. It’s the same sort of tension that we already get when one player is bad, or missed the skill shots or picks the wrong talent. Except in Dota and LoL you have even more things to be abusive about.

        Obviously these things aren’t a problem at the high end level, with well organised teams who communicate well, but let’s face it, that’s like the top 5% of the player base. Everything else is extremely susceptible to hatred, bias and toxicity.
        Removing the mechanics that can breed

        Same with things like damage meters. You’ve played wow…. you know that damage meters can be a helpful metric, but they can also be a very bad mechanic that encourages single benefit over team benefit. It’s the reason why HoTS removed the objective counter from the score screen. It was brewing a toxic environment for certain heroes who weren’t as good at getting camps or clearing waves.

        • That’s a huge call…
          There’s no way in hell a new player would know even 2% of what’s required for a good hero pick or good item build. Things like using couriers and wards is pretty complex.
          HoTS still has a learning curve but I think think it’s nowhere near the level required for other MOBAs. That’s also why I think it makes a much better game for beginners.

          I’m talking about once you get past that initial learning curve. Someone just starting out may not know what a support is but someone who has played a few games knows that the support buys the wards, doesn’t take the carry’s farm and will sacrifice themselves to further the rest of the team.

          You don’t compete with your team for gold or experience because there is a pecking order. In Dota, we use a 1-5 system where the hard carry is 1 and has highest farm priority and the hard support is 5 and gets the lowest farm priority. It’s not something that gets spelled out but you get a good feel for it fairly quickly. A simple “oh, they need the farm more than me, I’ll go stack camps for them” or “I need farm but X is in bot lane, so I’ll go find farm at top lane” sort of thinking.

          You work together to get the most out of the map. That’s team work, not competition.

          This isn’t something that happens at the top level, this is something that happens in most games. Well, most games outside of the trench. We don’t talk about the trench. The trench is full of the dickbags who don’t understand the fundamental concept that it is a team game. Coincidentally, this article is about Riot pushing their players to adopt this attitude as well.

          Taking elements out of the game has made HotS more accessible but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better. Don’t fall into the trap that because you like something means that doing it another way is worse. Your way of thinking about other MOBAs is the mentality that causes the toxic players. Try tackling it from my perspective and you can find some truly wonderful experiences in them. And still a good handful of dickbags. There will always be dickbags.

          • Fair enough. I see your point.
            I’m not saying HoTS is better… I like it because it’s not loldota but that’s just personal taste. I’m happy to admit that I haven’t played lol or dota for a few years now, but the few hours I played in the past left a sour taste in my mouth. And that was playing with friends.

            I guess my point is that I feel that when people are given the opportunity to screw over other players (team mates or not) they will take it.
            Take friendly fire for example. It ruins so many games at a low/casual level that most servers turn it off…. Yet it’s awesome fun and a good challenge at higher levels.

            I’m happy that people are working together and not competing against their own team, but having companies make changes like this kind of supports my view. Maybe the trench is just bigger and deeper than you think?
            The problem is new players need to get through this trench… that could be a huge issue for player retention and new customers.
            Maybe I’m just jaded but years of living on the internet has taught me that dickbags are everywhere and kind, caring and sharing people are unicorns.

  • Haha, yeah: that guy’s quote is hilarious.
    “Me and people at my level get there by playing like selfish arseholes and these changes might put a stop to that! We might get beaten by teams that actually work together. How dare they!”
    Ahaha, have another shovel mate, you’re not deep enough yet.

  • Another reason to avoid ranked altogether, playing against premades isn’t fun in norms/aram let alone competitive playlists.

  • A large handful of high elo players are consumed by egotism when it comes to ranked play. For many of them, it’s a form of self validation, something to show for their time and commitment to the game. Some may say it’s worthless in real life, but for these people, it is what they have. I am platinum rank in league myself but I’ve learned a long time ago that I’m not pro, and that I’m not trying to be, and that also my own objective is just to relax and unwind. I play ranked due to the rationale; “If I’m going to play, may as well make it count”. People play for a variety of reasons and rank is indeed a skill indicator, but it is also a point to base your own arrogance. In my time playing, I’ve learned to accept these ideas. Since then, it’s been a far more enjoyable experience.

    Even though I’m playing to just unwind, I don’t troll or throw games. I play the best I possibly can, and I do that out of sheer understanding and respect of the other people I am matched with. I try not to be the burden. I’ve carried my fair share of games but that for me, it’s just playing the game as I would, and in those cases, I got fed as hell.

    The new queue system should be fun though, I hope it really removes the individual barriers people raise through their egos despite being in a team with four others.

  • This reminds me of a bad experience I had in rocket league. When the new tournaments started I was bronze rank like most of the newbies who played regularly.

    I put a lot of effort in trying to rank up but games at this level always went the same way. You’d get a team mate who thought they were the greatest and would constantly try and score, but would never defend. So you’d spend 5 minutes in goal only scoring on long range counter attacks. Which was not fun.

    Eventually your rank stalled as you reached a level where team play was required but you could only trust your team mates every 2nd or 3rd game. For the most part that’s the reason I stopped playing rocket league.

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