LoL is everything wrong with the world and right with business. I examine Riot's genius set-up that makes die-hard haters (like me) return.

You hate League of Legends, but here’s why you keep playing

LoL is everything wrong with the world and right with business. I examine Riot's genius set-up that makes die-hard haters (like me) return.

Five erratic pings appear on the map telling me to back, even though they’re contradicting each other in their messages of “On the Way” and “Danger.” My ward has just run out and my top turret only has 100 HP. Our jungler never connected and the other lanes are failing. Every enemy on the map is missing and I know it’s my life they’re after next. There’s no escaping the five-man dive, so I stop caring and reach for the keyboard to enter “/ff” to surrender. I realize we’re still only 7 minutes in the game and it’s too early to cast the surrender vote by a whopping 13 minutes. The enemy team and mine are being toxic and foul-mouthed.

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I really hate League of Legends.

But I wait the next 12 minutes until the enemy pushes and ends the game. Then, I sigh and enter the lobby for the fifth time. There’s nothing I love more than being forced to spend a minimum 20 minutes in a game I do not enjoy with people I do not enjoy. After this game I’ll quit playing for some months at a time. It’s a quiet torture but I keep coming back.

Boy do I love multiplayer. Nothing feels more like home than endless competition, ego battles, and an insatiable desire to flame my allies.

Sound familiar? Welcome to the most successful business model for a MOBA I’ve ever witnessed – League of Legends from Riot Games. It’s the game that makes the most knowledgeable people jokingly say “Play Dota instead,” even if they never have. It’s a game they will vehemently speak of yet continue to support. And strangely, it’s a game most people at some point return to because they can’t bring themselves to let it go.

From the terrible community to the sometimes outrageous changes, League sits upon an iron throne. I can’t get too upset at Riot Games for the toxicity of the fanbase, especially since they’ve continually tried to improve up on it, but I can try and help others by explaining the reasons they can’t quit. No, you’re not losing your mind.

Reason 1: The “anti-Bronzie” culture

The perfect League-specifc insult you will ever hear is saying someone is in Bronze, the lowest ranked division you can place in. While it may not be a big deal to be in a lower ranked division, the League community has become a hivemind about it. Some don’t even realize that the majority of the fanbase is actually in Bronze.

Ranked divisions are set up in tiers of jewel importance – Bronze sounds dull next to Silver, and Silver sounds dull next to Gold. It’s a psychological system that makes people feel inadequate so that they can always strive to be better. But only small percentage of the population is in Gold and up. For many who are unable to dedicate all their time and energy to League of Legends, it’s a fruitless endeavor that always barely is out of reach. The scary thing is that if they play enough games, even if their skill level is not entirely in Gold, they can still obtain it through sheer will.

Most people can’t reach Gold or Platinum, but it doesn’t stop them from trying. Being able to see your current division score certainly doesn’t help.

This never-ending cycle of trying to be “better” than average creates a frustrated community who are (in reality) stuck in the same spot, but all believe they should be higher. Even if someone is in Bronze or Silver, the insult of “Bronzie” is a popular go-to because they mentally believe their placement isn’t their fault. They will cite how they were higher last season, how they’re only here because of trolls, how they’re not even using their main, how their champions got nerfed, how they play with higher-ELO friends, and everything under the sun as an excuse.

The culture of “everyone on my team except me is terrible,” makes people try again in the hopes that their “team will be better this time.” At the end of the day, fellow LoLers who are introducing themselves will ask about their ranked score. No one wants to admit they’re in Bronze. If anything, it’s never “I’m in Bronze,” but “I’m stuck in Bronze.”

Reason 2: The lack of sandbox mode

Yes, I’m calling it here – the lack of sandbox mode contributes to “Bronzie” culture. With no real way to improve yourself besides playing more games, it’s difficult to get better at League of Legends without going to the extreme – recording your games, hiring a coach, sinking hours into guides and replays, reading every single patch note in hopes that you understand how the changes impact play, and following the trend of creating a smurf account so you don’t embarrass yourself on your “main.” Imagine the hours and hours all these activities consume, even if nothing changes. It’s the reason that players mimic whatever is popular in LCS and implement it into their games immediately after.

If you can’t understand the numbers of champion and item changes, the only other way you’re going to see what works is by playing a ‘real’ game. Wins and losses are dependent on hundreds of factors, so unless you’re in a custom with friends, it won’t always be clear what works best. People get stuck in mindsets about how to play the game and there’s little to to change it besides popular word-of-mouth or, you guessed it, LCS choices.

Reason 3: Friends and the sheer popularity of the game

While this may be the most obvious reason, it still deserves a section. Playing League of Legends is an easy way to feel included in something bigger, a fast way to meet friends, and an easy common ground. As the most popular game in the world, League has inspired copycat MOBAs, revolutionized the eSports industry, and taken the soul out of all your acquaintances. 

Deciding to quit League is a decision many will support because of the negativity it brings. Yet not participating brings a form of isolation if friends stop asking you to play, or if there’s no longer any common ground between you.

With the way Riot Games is growing, it may feel like you’re jumping ship on the eSports industry if you no longer pay attention. Games are changing the world and League is becoming mainstream. But, it still retains a sense of inclusiveness since players can still form their own cliques and teams, communicate with top-level players, and watch streams with other players.

Reason 4: New champions and reworks

If you quit League two months ago, and a friend told you they were updating Annie to be older and completely reworking Taric, wouldn’t you be a little bit curious? People tend to select a few champions they like and stick with them. With 126 champions, it’s almost impossible to be “good” with most of them, considering it’s time-consuming to even unlock all of them. This breeds a sense of pride and comfort in those champions, especially since players are using them almost 40 minutes at a time. Players’ favorites getting changed is something they tend to care about, even if they stopped playing a long time ago.

What can draw people back to Champ Select are new champions that look cool, have interesting and new abilities, and have a cinematic introduction (I may just be talking about Ekko here). A new champion or rework can completely change the game in ways that nerfs and buffs can’t achieve. And one game with them or against them is usually not enough to see those changes.

Reason 5: Temporary events, exclusive rewards

Similar to the previous reason, temporary events are fresh and exciting. Hearing about Bilgewater and the surrounding IRL events was different from the usual.

People love playing different game modes for exclusive icons or buying limited edition skins that they can show off months later when they’re no longer publicly available. Players log in year after year on April Fool’s to see what plans Riot has up their sleeves and fun modes like URF are reasons to re-install the game. Riot Games makes sure to disable them because perhaps they’re too good. As they say, you create demand by limiting supply.

In Conclusion

Riot Games was out of their league when League of Legends burst into popularity. However, their commitment to keeping players hooked is a key to their success. Unfortunately, that means that despite only enjoying the game half of the time, there’s still always something that keeps the non-enthused logging back in. Some days you log in to spectate your friends or check out a new mode. Other days you may want to see who’s online, but being able to see everyone’s ranked score can motivate you to “the grind” for the next level.

Whatever the reason, know that there’s someone down at Riot Games who designed whatever infuriating reason you have to keep playing this game. Once you’ve played enough League, it’s hard to let it go. It’s something you can always come back to because the goals and basics of each game never change. No, you’re not losing your mind.

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Destini Islands
I really REALLY like games. My focuses: eSports, narrative design, state of the industry, community interaction, social issues, Kirby, Smash Bros., League of Legends.