How do we talk about character in eSports, Part 2

Continuing after a sick couple days…

So one of the difficulties of discussing character in League of Legends lies in the narrative complexity at work in the game. It’s a narrative complexity that is almost invisible to the players, but Riot has clearly taken great pains to establish the consistency of every part of gameplay. In the first part of this post, I was talking about the summoner/champion distinction that allows for 111 different playable characters yet a persistent identity. Now I’d like to talk about multiplayer interactions and how they are supported (or not) by the lore.

League of Legends is a game with no built-in singleplayer. You can create a bot game and be the only human player, but that sort of play takes the main gameplay mode, multiplayer, and substitutes bots for human players. Part of the point of League of Legends is that it’s a game that happens when people get together and play it. This also makes it incredibly hard to pin down and write about (if you should want to), because you probably want to write about the metagame and about particular games, and it’s hard to do that when the thing is slippery.

But this is something that game critics should be used to, no? This is the bread-and-butter of NGJ, the whole point of describing a subjective experience of play.

Anyway. Moving on past that minor quibble (hah, minor), let’s talk about team composition. For many players, the champion they select must help the team. At a basic level, there are certain prescribed roles that each team ought to have. To what extent the players fulfill these roles is up to them, but the cultural expectations do exist. In terms of the basic game mode, the 5v5 “Classic” game type played on “Summoner’s Rift”, there are 5 positions: top-lane, jungle, mid-lane, and carry and support teaming up in the bottom-lane. There are expectations for the kinds of champions you play in each of the lanes or the jungle, and this set of positions creates a well-balanced team that is hard to shut down based on champion selection alone. If, on the other hand, your entire team were to go support, or any other type, it might cause unbalanced gameplay from the outset. The point is to pick a team that will do well, but also one that you will enjoy playing.

when picking a champion to play out of my diverse champion pool, this is how i decide: 1. Where am I playing? (ie, what position am i playing, out of the standard, top, jungle, mid, ad carry, or support) 2. Who am I up against? (in draft pick, if the person I will be laning against has picked their champion, that gives me an opportunity to pick a champion who will have an easy time laning against them, mechanically, or pick someone who will counter their playstyle late game.) 3. What does my team need? (depending on what everyone else picked, do we have enough crowd control and peel? Do we have enough tanky people or do I need to pick someone who works with a tanky build?) 4. What do I feel like? (this is the intangible ‘fun’ quality. I feel like all of the champions can be fun in the right situation even if some of them are more fun than others. But what sounds fun right now?)

– LordCOTA

Now, there could be a lot to say about the construction of these roles. I’m thinking about other 5v5 competitions, most particularly the team kendo tournament, or futsal. But the thing that I want to emphasize is that League of Legends is a team game, first and foremost. Sure, it doesn’t always get played like that, especially in solo queue or duo queue, and in non-tournament/non-competitive play. But the game is structured to work well and to be fun if you play as a team.

And here, I’m going to drop a reference to a publication by Valve that addresses how to design for cooperative play, because it’s good and you should all read it:

  • Michael Booth. March 2009. “Replayable Cooperative Game Design: Left 4 Dead.” Game Developers Conference. Slides

I think next time I’ll talk about how teams/community/individualism come up in the few times League of Legends gets discussed in mainstream games crit.

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