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What if basketball players couldn’t practice three pointers outside of the heat of live games? Or if the world’s greatest soccer superstars weren’t able to prepare for that one penalty kick that could decide it all? Perhaps the better question is, if the managing organization could fix this issue and opted not to, would you be upset? Many professional and amateur players of League of Legends, one of the biggest games and eSports in the world, are currently facing such a predicament.
Riot Games, the game’s developer, recently published a blog post where it owned up to many of its shortcomings, detailed its plans for League of Legends’ future, and admitted that some missing features won’t be implemented any time soon. Among those last were two key points that are a huge blow to professional players: official replay support isn’t going to happen and no practice mode is in development. And that’s a really big deal.
TROUBLED BY THE PAST
League has had a tough rise to prominence. The first ever game made by Riot, it was originally developed with about 20,000 players in mind. It now sports over 67 million. That’s a huge disparity especially considering there’s no simple way to update all of the old, inefficient code that the game now runs on.
The developer has done well to hide all of that with pretty graphics updates, cool new champions to play as, and an increased focus on storytelling. The community as a whole has largely been patient with Riot, even as promised features and improvements kept getting pushed back as the years rolled by.
But finally Riot has owned up and said, “No, sorry, those things aren’t going to happen.”
There is no replay system coming even though it was confirmed as in development years ago. And despite the tremendous gains that could be brought by a practice mode, that too was laid to rest. And this poses a major problem for those who play League of Legends for a living.
Through applications made by dedicated players—not by Riot—it is possible to have replays emailed to you for review after a game’s completion. Because League is about both individual and team play, it’s hard to focus exclusively on one while relying on the other. With replays you separate the two, and eSports players frequently turn to them to help improve their decision making. Unfortunately, these programs are unreliable and often break with each new game update, which could be fixed with an official replay solution—one that apparently isn’t coming.
Practice mode is an even larger issue. Since the only way to play is to go online and jump into a match, there’s no way to get a feel for many of League of Legends’ intricacies without nine other players and about an hour of your time. And it’s an even tougher pill to swallow knowing that League’s competitors, like DOTA 2 and Heroes of the Storm, already have these features completed or in development.
“Essentially they’re telling players that only through playing full games should players be able to improve,” former League of Legends pro William “scarra” Li tweeted about the news. And that’s objectively a waste of players’ time, he added.
The community at large seemed upset with this prospect, and some of the game’s individual developers took to social media to try and explain that the situation wasn’t as black and white as many were making it out to be.
Chris “Pwyff” Tom, Design Communications Lead at Riot, authored a very long perspective on the topic. In it, he basically admits that if League is to continue growing as it is, the community is absolutely right in asking for this feature.
Emphasis mine, Tom says, “[T]he concept of a training sandbox mode—something where players and teams can hop in to understand new champion abilities, in-game mechanics, or basic fundamental League skills…is necessary for a game that adds so much additional complexity (teamplay, map movement, strategy, etc) on top of fundamental mechanical skills.”
“Value-wise, if League is on its way (if not already there) to becoming a marriage of sport and video game, then a training mode—the ability to practice fundamentals—is a logical thing to ask for,” he continues. “Period.”
This only stoked the flames as now we’ve had different answers, stories, and reasoning all flooding out of various Riot employees. It almost felt as if the developer itself didn’t know exactly what a practice mode would entail and how best to satisfy players.
Since then, Riot has backtracked quite a bit and confirmed that they’re reconsidering based on the amount of passion displayed by the community.
Perhaps not having a practice mode would be better for casual players. It’s simply easier to tell them to just keep playing matches against actual people. But combine these setbacks with the fact that DOTA’s tournament prize pools are reaching upwards of $15+ million and League is stagnant at around $2 million, and it’s easy to see why the most hardcore LoL players are worried.
For a long time, Riot has been ahead of the curve with eSports, but recently other developers have started making huge gains. Riot seems to think it needs to figure out whether League is a casual game, competitive game, or an eSport, before it goes ahead and adds a way of training.
While it tries to figure out what lies on the road ahead for League of Legends those that rely on it for a living can only hope that their future is given prioritization.
Dillon Skiffington is an avid League of Legends player, Hearthstone junkie, eSports fan, and a caffeine addict. He’s always open to discussing his work or video games in general on his Twitter.
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