Dark Days: The Future of League of Legends
League of Legends has underwent a lot of changes over the course of this season, with promises for more on the way. We’ve bore witness to the new honor system and items, and the prospect of a new rune/mastery system in the coming months will bring any more changes to Riot’s popular game. But the real question to ask, however, is that enough?
Over the past few seasons, the game has grown further into expanding the realm of professional play. Where before this was restricted only to pro leagues and challenger, Riot has begun the process of also incorporating college and city leagues, trying to reach a broader spectrum of players with aspirations for gaming careers.
Most could agree that this is progress, but we have to also consider how the growth of this game will impact its future, or more importantly, if it will even have a future at all. Today we will look at some of the aspects of League of Legends and potential changes that could lead the game out of the storms that are shaping and back into calmer seas.
As of now, League of Legends has a roster of 137 champions, with more being developed. That’s an impressive number, true, but in the grand scheme, bigger isn’t always better. Riot has proven that the further it grows towards professional stardom, the more champions from its roster fall through the cracks. Don’t believe me, let’s look at some statistics.
According to several LOL statistic sites (lolalytics.com and leagueofgraphs.com to name two), some champions have overwhelming pick rates. While new champions should create spikes in picks after their release, these typically die down after a month or so. That said, with a roster of nearly 140 champions, pick rates of over 20% for long existing champions presents a glaring red flag. In fact, most champions (well over a hundred) have a less than 10% pick rate, and nearly 45% have a less than 5% pick rate.
Looking at these numbers, we can safely make a few assumptions on both Riot’s current state of mind and the direction it is moving. For starters, champions with high pick rates are being favored over those who do not, and these champions tend to find themselves into the free rotation more often than others. Second, Riot is establishing a meta for professional play, which is trickling down into solo queue and unranked matches.
The ten ban system released this season has helped with this to some extent, but it still doesn’t solve the underlying problem. As the power creep for more impressive champions grows, others in the existing roster are becoming obsolete.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of seeing new champions and trying builds to test them in game, but like many players, my roster has become rather substantial over the years. As a new player, I experimented with a lot of characters. In mastering a few and earning loot chests, I’ve earned shards and received several free champions as crafting rewards. I’ve also bought a few in bundles when the price is right.
None of this is bad, and chances are a lot of players follow similar paths. But with each new champion, it seems an existing one fades into obscurity, and if the statistics are any indication, it’s time to trim the fat. To do this, there are three potential steps Riot could take to help the player base.
This might seem strange, but as I have grown as a player, I have began to focus my attention around certain champions, even though I play a lot of different roles. I picked up Warwick as a rookie player because he was cheap and research suggested him as a starting jungler, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t like him. The recent rework has improved his kit, but he’s still not a champion I favor.
A solution for champions like this is to have the ability to archive them. In other words, remove them from your active champion roster. Riot could market this with archive slots for either IP or RP, allowing players to shelve certain owned characters until they decide to start playing them again. This would also help keep pick screens smaller and easier to manage. It could also be good to help players like me determine pick priorities and focus roles.
A bonus for this is removing them from selection in ARAM matches. Players with large rosters lose an advantage in this match setting, as the random selection may stick them with a champion they tried once and never played again. Diminishing your active roster gives you a better chance for getting ideal picks, which in turn leads to stronger match performances overall.
This is by no means a permanent solution to the pick rates of popular champions, but it is a way to put away those who have lost their luster. Riot may choose to work on any of these at any given time. Until then, however, let them be shelved and out of the way until they are needed again.
Riot frequently tweaks the stats of various champions with their patches. These are designed to help characters become more balanced for a better gaming experience. More than that, however, Riot also takes the role to rework champions who have grown stale in an attempt to bring them back into the fold.
With the emerging jungle meta, for example, Warwick had become mostly obsolete, so they gave him an upgrade to help him become more relevant. Other champions, like Galio, were just badly designed, and couldn’t find a suitable role in the game. His upgrade, however, has transformed him into a great top/ mid lane tank who can also function quite well as a pinch jungler.
While this is a positive route to take for older champions, there are some clear problems with them. First, there are no guarantees that it will rise in popularity based on the changes. A good example of this is Yorick, who despite having a stronger kit than before, still has a relatively low pick rate.
Second, reworking a champion is time consuming, and as the game continues to expand, it becomes a never ending cycle. Eventually, even the rework has the potential to become obsolete, which forces Riot designers back to the drawing board, analyzing new kits and techniques for characters they spent months on just a few years before.
Champions need to be tweaked, but part of this pick rate problem would be resolved with a more balanced approach to patch nerfs. New champions need time to estimate their power levels, so keeping them stronger early on is a necessary evil, but champions that are old and easily broken can be addressed, if Riot would invest the time to do so. The problem with this is that it would cause the coveted meta to frequently change, so it’s unlikely that this will happen anytime soon.