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Why League of Legends is Great (Even Though I Suck) | PAX Prime 2011

by on August 29, 2011
 

I’ve played League of Legends in the past at the advice of friends, but I have never picked up the game on my own. It’s always been a “You should play LoL with me,” followed by an hour of me clicking hopelessly like I’ll maybe find a sweet spot in the game that will magically make me not suck. I’ve yet to find it, and every game of League of Legends I’ve ever played ends with me on the losing end. So when I was asked to cover the Riot booth at PAX Prime, I was a little skeptical. Not of the booth, but of how badly I was going to embarrass myself.

Let’s be clear about a couple things in regards to League of Legends and the Riot Games crew: The game has become a phenomenon and the team may be as big of fans of their supporters as their supporters are of their game. To give you an idea of just how big this game has gotten, it was featured as a demo game for multiple companies that were showing off new hardware, it was a staple at any booth focusing on competitive gameplay, and by Sunday it seemed as if there were more shirts and lanyards sporting the “League of Legends” name than those sporting gear of the actual convention. When Scott Kurtz of PvP mentioned it during a game of Dungeons and Dragons with Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, and Wil Wheaton, it received quite possibly the loudest response of the night. The game is huge.

If any company has mastered the free-to-play model, it is Riot Games. They’ve created a game that has such ridiculous depth and strategy built into it that once gamers get hooked, they cannot help but buy new skins, champions, and boosts. And holy balls are gamers hooked. I’m not an expert by any means but I have taken some math classes and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that based on the size of the League of Legends community and the amount of matches that are going on at any given time, combined with the fact that it is an emerging powerhouse on the eSports circuit, multiplied by the sheer amount of available items for purchase, Riot Games has pulled in $11.4 septillion in the past year. I may be lowballing that a bit.

For everything their fans have given them, these guys have given back. There was no shortage of lines around their booth at PAX, with non-stop games of LoL being played from Friday morning to Sunday’s final call on the show floor. These guys didn’t have one of the bigger booths compared to the big names that surrounded them, but they outclassed everyone in interaction and pure excitement. The entire team of developers were around all weekend, chatting it up with anyone who wanted to talk to them. Here’s how cool these guys are: I was talking with Jason Cohen (aka: “Rayven”), a UI designer, and once it became pretty clear I knew nothing about his game, we chatted about football for the remaining duration of a match. This was after I referred to the character of Annie as “the little girl with the bear thing and fire or something,” because there is no situation in which I cannot find a way to make an ass of myself. It was also about 20 minutes after leaving the booth that I realized he probably went by “Rayven” because he is from Baltimore and a fan of his hometown Ravens. It was shortly after that when I realized I’m an idiot.

Almost every match that took place at the Riot booth over the weekend was narrated by the developers. It was specifically Morello who seems to be attempting to get his hand into color commentary. This was something completely unique, and was clearly a rush for every player that got his hands on the keyboard and mouse at the booth. It was clear that for many of the gamers that graced the chairs and donned the headphones at the booth, there was nothing more rewarding than having an impressive kill called by one of the creators of their favorite game.

The party for Riot didn’t end when the doors to the Convention Center closed every night; We accidentally ran into them (and then intentionally re-ran into them once we realized what was going on) at Pike’s Place a few blocks down from PAX for the first stop on a night of bar crawling. They brought their fans with for the entire thing and it was, for lack of a less pun-y description, a riot. Watching the crowd filter out of the bar and down the street in blob-form like some sort of nerdy, drunken amoeba was probably the most invigorating experience at PAX. Their fans were happy to be there with them, they were happy to be there with fans, and everyone was happy to have alcohol. The interaction that the fans of LoL and the team that made it have is the definition of symbiotic. The community and developers fed off of one another’s energy at the bar in the same way the development of LoL feeds off of community response. The more Riot gives the players in content and community, the more the players give to Riot in feedback and, of course, cash.

As for the match I played at the Riot booth, let’s just say my team lost and I made a very quick exit for fear of being booed. Lucky for me, Jason didn’t ask the outcome. He just asked what I though of the game. I told him “it’s great,” because it is. But it’s not the gameplay that made me answer that way. It was everything else. The booth, the meet up, the line of fans, the developers, the community, the play-by-play. The game is great. It’s the culture that makes this game shine, and for many gamers and Riot employees alike it’s becoming just that; a culture. But I still suck at the game.

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  • Avatar of Barnaby Jones
    August 30, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    Nice write-up! I never got “into” League of Legends, but I definitely appreciate it and the devs that made it. And I know how you feel about not being good. Last year, I roomed with three friends that loved League of Legends, and (inevitably) they tried to get me into it. Of course, being that I am and always have been a console gamer at heart, I sucked massive amounts of awful. Hell, half of the time that I went into a battle, I would panic and start hitting the wrong buttons. Eventually they stopped asking me to join them, which was fine by me as I wanted to stop embarrassing myself. And then I returned to my 360.

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    • Avatar of AJ Dellinger
      August 31, 2011 at 1:22 PM

      I’m considering giving it another shot. I’ve got a friend who is starting up in it now that hopefully won’t kick my ass too much and I just had such a great time with the guys who made it that I can’t help but give it a go. I’m no doubt going to continue to embarrass myself but I feel an obligation to support people who go out of their way to make a product that people clearly enjoy and taking the time to interact with fans. I will probably never not suck at the game, but these guys can do no wrong as far with what they are trying to build as I’m concerned.

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  • Avatar of Barnaby Jones
    August 31, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    Kudos to you! I don’t think I would have it in me to give it another shot lol. Not because of the game itself, but because the majority of people I’ve encountered in the game seem to think that losing is akin to getting lit on fire. There’s lots of screaming and moaning among those who are losing, and in the end they’ll all be scarred for life.

    Don’t get me wrong, they have a perfectly good reason to complain, but it still doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to be among that, especially since I’m more often than not on the losing team. Because, like I said, I suck.

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    • Avatar of Jozrael
      September 7, 2011 at 2:11 AM

      Barnaby (and AJ!), it sounds to me like you played with 3 friends and a random player. Our community, like that of many games, can be poisonous if you encounter the right (wrong?) elements. This doesn’t mean it’s not largely AMAZING, but vocal minority and all that.

      The game plays entirely differently when you play on a team solely of friends. There’s a lot of camaraderie, and while you lose out on the chance for acquiring even more awesome folk on your friends list, it’s certainly a more reliably enjoyable experience.

      You might be interested in Twisted Treeline if it’s a chore to rustle up 4 friends each time – you’ll only need to find two others :).

      As a final tip, you can mute anyone in game by pressing tab to get to the score screen and clicking on the speech bubble on the right. That’s a quick way to shut off voices that are detracting from your play experience.

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      • Avatar of AJ Dellinger
        September 8, 2011 at 1:48 PM

        Hey Jozreal!

        First and foremost, thanks for checking out the article. I’m glad you guys are so in touch with your community and are always listening to what people are saying about your product.

        I got around to installing the game again after coming out to PAX and meeting most of you guys. (where you out there? I don’t remember meeting you but there were lots of people at the booth and the bars so I’m sure we were both lost in the crowd at some point.) One of my friends that was out with me is getting into the game as well because of the fantastic atmosphere you guys just seem to travel with.

        I’ve never had any issue with the actual game; I think it’s pretty inarguably great. Actually, I’ve never had any issue with the community either. I’m just really, really bad at the game hah. Now, if League of Legends were some sort sports game where your legends were just basketball or football gods or something like that, I would absolutely dominate. Alas, I don’t have the mental wherewithal to actually develop a build and remember what the hell it is I’m doing. I’m working on it though, and I’ve got people to play with now so I’m looking forward to giving the game another go.

        I’ll definitely be taking your advice on the tips. I’ll probably give Twisted Treeline a shot before hopping in with a full set of 4. The fewer people I have to embarrass myself in front of at first, the better. I’m going to delve into the tutorials and try to pretend like I know what I’m doing until I finally get the hang of it.

        Keep up the great work on producing awesome content and I have to say, even if I’m not good at your game, you’ve made me a full time supporter of it and whatever else comes out of Riot. You guys are doing everything right. Thanks again for stopping by and tossing some advice our way, and thanks for reading the piece!

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  • Avatar of Barnaby Jones
    September 7, 2011 at 9:24 PM

    Thanks for the info! That’s something I’ll take into consideration if/when I attempt to get into League of Legends.

    That being said, I’m in the middle of playing Deus Ex and plan on playing both Dead Island and Battlefield 3. I don’t think I’ll touch anything but my 360 for some time, especially taking into account work and college. But we’ll see.

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