Why Dota 2's start-and-play approach blows League of Legends out of the water
A friend of mine convinced me to play League of Legends after a several year long hiatus. During that hiatus, I've moved on to Dota 2 -- and while I've been keeping up with League's updates and general metagame, I haven't touched the game in some time.
However, upon booting up League and joining my friend's party, I remembered one of the most tedious truths behind League of Legends that I had been more than happy to leave behind:
Each champion demands prepwork.
What do I mean by this? Well, League has two systems in place that set it apart from Dota 2 -- pre-game mechanics that can drastically affect your performance within the actual game before that game has even started.
Let's examine the first of these systems, and see why I'm not going to be dropping Dota for League anytime soon.
The Rune System
I used to shrug my shoulders at this mechanic, but only now, after being away from the game for so long, do I realize that setting up rune pages for champions is an incredibly monotonous process that bars you from actually starting up the game and playing.
Runes are stat-enhancing objects that a player must spend their hard-earned IP on in order to ensure that they aren't at a severe disadvantage against their opponents. Once you have reached max level in League, proper rune pages are expected of you.
If you do not participate in the rune system at later levels in League, you are at a severe disadvantage. Many jungle builds, for example, simply cannot take on the jungle without the proper rune build.
To make matters worse, if you consult build guides and various ways to properly "play" each League of Legends champion, you will find that, to be optimal, each champion needs their rune page set up in slightly different ways.
Compare this recommended guide for Malzahar, a generic AP mid, with Brand, another generic AP mid:
These minute differences mean that, if you want to play a specific set of champions, out of 123, optimally, you will need to set your rune pages before you have even joined the queue. Once you're in champion select, you can't change your rune pages.
The fact that you can't throw together a rune page while you're in the queue adds to this problem. As your champion roster grows, your ability to spontaneously pick specific champions will hindered, since you can only have so many rune pages.
Pre-game management doesn't just stop with rune pages. There's another core mechanic that League has never left behind, but might be better off without:
The Mastery System
Another preparatory system that adds nothing more than tedium is the mastery page. A set of talent trees ripped wholesale off of World of Warcraft, mastery pages are meant to diversify and reinforce the roles champions take on.
If this were a better designed system, this might allow any number of champions to take on unconventional roles. Unfortunately, generally accepted meta builds for champions are rapidly discovered, and thus the mastery system is another research-based chore that demands prep work before play.
This leads to players simply looking up recommended mastery pages, plugging in the specific builds, and playing the game normally.
Now, you could argue that this makes masteries a non-issue, but if the vast majority of players are going to do next to nothing with the system except panic-input what some guide on the Internet tells them to, why have it in the first place?
Even before my hiatus, I always found myself booting up Mobafire while in champion select just so I could find whatever the top build was for the champion I had selected. Then, I would rapid-fire click through the talent tree so I could have whatever was considered "optimal." Finally, I would save the page, make sure it was selected, then forget all about it as I proceeded to my match.
Once you have the mastery page set up, much like rune pages, it's a mechanic that you don't need to think about in the actual game. Piddly bonuses and minute modifiers add up to enough of a difference to be mandatory, but not enough where you'll ever think of them during gameplay.
This begs the question: why not just balance the champions so they don't need this?
What does all of this mean?
I've always thought of League of Legends as a game trying its hardest to appeal to a casual audience, and it definitely is, but I think the two hindrances that are barring players and adding tedium where there shouldn't be are totally within Riot's control.
Doing away with runes and masteries would still leave the pre-game diversity of planning out your summoner spells, but without the hassle of having to make sure you have a perfectly optimal "build" before you've even started playing the game.
Compare the choices you have to make during the timed character select process in League of Legends with your decisions in Dota 2. Here's the League character select screen.
Here, you will be selecting your summoner spells, runes, masteries, and the champion you'll be playing.
Now take a look at Dota 2's selection process.
Just pick your hero and you're on your way.
The fact that you can just boot up Dota 2, choose a hero - any hero -- and play, puts it leagues ahead of League of Legends. The mechanics behind the scenes in League are surprisingly prohibitive for a casual-friendly game, and add little to legitimate champion diversity, since Riot rarely lets champions deviate from their pre-designed roles.
Sorry, League, but I think I'll stick to being able to play heroes without stressing out over whether my pre-game choices have already ruined me.