Sunday, 1 September 2013

My Usual Spiel: League of Legends, the MOBA I know

Release Date:  27/10/2009
Publisher: Riot Games

Developer: Riot Games
Platform: PC
Players: 2-10 online

Classification: T for Teen

League of Legends, where do I start? I suppose I should start with explaining that League of Legends or “LoL” as I may refer to it in the remainder of the article, was and is still one of the biggest MOBA games of today, “MOBA” meaning “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” and also “Action Real Time Strategy” (ARTS) it was the game to coin the genre but wasn’t the first of its kind as I will now explain. The gameplay from League of Legends is generally known to have been taken from Defence of the Ancients or “DOTA” which was a custom-made map for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and the Frozen Throne however this is only partially true. Aeon of Strife was a Starcraft custom map which in part inspired the creation of DOTA and the whole MOBA scene. League Legends is currently one of the top Esports games being played along with Starcraft II and Warcraft III in the RTS category and the Counter-strike series in the FPS category.

A very informative video series on the history of the MOBA genre.

I for one did like the idea of playing as a single unit in an RTS game, so much so that I did various experiments utilizing the addition of heroes to the Blizzard RTS series in Warcraft 3 such as editing multiplayer maps with the Warcraft 3 map editor so I (and my brother sometimes) could play a map as a single hero unit aligned with an ally cpu character, which was fun but hard to manage and sometimes annoying when you have to work with the cpu players constant attacking and retreating as it does in that game also it because hard to strive to the finish when you had to have buildings available for you to respawn with. I had a good time doing the same thing in Company of Heroes where I created a 2v2 or 3v3 cpu player fight and tacked myself onto one of the teams but played only as a single tank or sniper while the cpu players fought.

DOTA Company of Heroes style
 I never really played the Aeon of Strife Starcraft map, but I did play a bit of DOTA back when it first started, because DOTA was basically just a custom map and did not have much in the way of instruction and support for newcomers, which although this did improve it has now become a common theme that MOBA games have a very steep learning curve. DOTA was a MOBA at its most basic, the classic square map with the map split diagonally down the middle with two enemy factions controlling each side at the bottom left and top right corners  the three “lanes” which are defended by enemy towers and small “creep” units that move down the lanes to attack the enemy with each faction have a “home” structure which needs to be defeated to achieve victory.

The basic MOBA map layout
Though I liked DOTA there were some things I didn’t like, namely that I had no idea what items to get or in what order (this was soon fixed in League of Legends) and also the unforgiving fact that you had to be there at all times, in FPS games and sometimes RTS you can leave for about 3-5 minutes and come back and still be fairly competitive, well at least you can still kill other players, if you did that in DOTA you’d all of the sudden be outlevelled and spent the rest of the match trying to keep up and failing as you are pounded by the higher level players. I think even then I did feel that whole game based around that would be good idea.

The pioneering DOTA
 So in October 2009, 6 years after the first DOTA custom map was created, came League of Legends by Riot Games, the publisher who was known to have coined the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) name as a marketing term. My brother and I enthusiastically played LoL a lot when it came out as we were eager to see this game based around DOTA and also like other MOBA games it was completely free to play which was still quite rare for a game of this magnitude. and it was good, one thing I did enjoy was the way the game matched players of equal skill (at the lower levels), and it was just so much easier to play, the game had tutorials and information all over the place and best of all when you got into the game you a list of suggested items how to get them and in what order. We played for awhile until I got bored of the game and my brother tired of the unbalanced nature of the higher echelon as when the game first came out there was problems like this but otherwise I had a good experience with the game and was able to stay competitive.

Pushing a lane with a ranged character
Like most games playing League of Legends is pretty simple to learn and takes a while to master, it follows the usual MOBA map and play style which I won’t go into too much detail here about how you do things but basically you are a “Summoner” and you choose a “Champion” to use in the arena. You have to fight your way through the small creep units, taking down the towers and defeating the other players to get to your enemies castle and destroy it. This sounds quite simple but it quite complex, in order to stay alive you must know when to attack and when to retreat when to “push” your lane and when to fall back and defend and when to attack enemy players. Then there’s all the advanced things like teaming up to defeat enemy champions easier and venturing into the middle parts of the map in between the lanes aka the “jungle” where treasures and neutral monsters can be found. League of Legends has several different modes of play, there the most common 5v5 played on the “Summoner’s Rift” map, which is the classic 3 lane MOBA style, 3v3 which is played on the “Twisted Treeline” a smaller variant which runs horizontally with two lanes instead of 3, ARAM (All Random All Mid) which is played on the Howling Rift and is pretty much a head on collision course between the two teams with only one lane, and finally Dominion, which is played on the Crystal Scar map and is based around a ‘point capturing’ style of play.

The Twisted Treeline, a smaller variant on the classi MOBA map style
Controlling your champion is pretty simple if you have played any kind of RTS game before though when moving the camera is focused on your champion, you click on the minimap or main map to move or attack and use the QWERTY keys to activate your champion and summoner abilities though these are just the basic keys there are many more to use as your skills increase as with all games really. The game interface is relatively simple, you have your character portrait, level, stats, gold and items on the left hand corner, your Champion and Summoner abilities, Health and Mana in the middle and your minimap and menu buttons on the right. You also have things like your teammates portraits, health and mana, kill and assist info and target portraits around the main screen. The graphics as with most MOBA games are fairly cartoony with a cel-shading aspect that marvellously accentuates the heroes from the creep  and other units, you’d come to expect the cartooniness and this definitely doesn’t distract from the main game as it looks great, especially the lighting with all the glowing and how it adapts to the environmental dark and light places.

The screen interface at the starting area of the twisted treeline.
As a Summoner you play more matches and win and lose you receive experience and level up and also (depending on how well you do in a game) obtain Influence points (IP) this can be used to purchase Runes and some other items in the store. The other online currency is Riot Points which can be purchased with real money and is used to purchase Champions, Champion skins and booster items that increase the amount of IP you get from games, it is also used often as prizes for tournaments.

When starting a normal game of LoL against random opponents you first have to join the queue of your chosen game type, once you have done this and you are matched with a team you then you then need to do four things The first of which is to pick a Champion, these “champions” have many different traits inc different stats, spells and abilities but can be roughly classified under 6 types:

  • Assassin: Champions who excel at sneaking around and burst-damage for quick kill
  • Fighter: All-round melee champion who could have both tank and assassin traits.
  • Mage: Champions who cast spells and have most of their power in their abilities
  • Tank: Champions who have lots of health and abilities that draw enemies to attack them instead of allies.
  • Support: Champions that have abilities that heal, strengthen or protect allies.
  • Marksman: Are non-magical ranged champions

The store where you can purchase champions for IP or RP
You then need to choose your “Summoner spells” which are spells that you the Summoner use to assist your champion when playing, these include things like healing your champion and slowing enemy champions. After that you need to pick your Rune page and your Mastery page. Runes and masteries are an additional way of modifying the champions you select, runes give whichever champion you are playing with extra stats for example more health, armor, or things like lifesteal, there are many different kinds of runes which can be bought with Influence points (IP). Masteries are essentially a talent skill tree which is used in many games (most prominently MMO’s) and as you level up by playing LoL you receive more points to use for your mastery sheet, mastery sheets have 3 trees, Offense, Defense and Utility which you can points into one in particular or one or two,  you also can fill multiple mastery sheets depending on which champion you are going to use.

Runes and Quintessences page 
Masteries Page
Another thing you need to think about is items, as the game progresses you acquire gold through last hitting minions, killing Epic Monsters, destroying enemy turrets, and killing champions (or assisting) which is the in game currency of LoL, you use gold to purchase items from the shop from where you start, the shop consists of Defense, Attack, Magic, Movement, and Consumables categories. Many high-end items in the shop are obtained by purchasing low-end items which when purchased in order allowed you to create them.  I was pleased to see that the game had a “recommended items” list and even told you what to buy and in which order which you could just double-click each item to purchase and merged the two items together to create another one.

The recommended items screen makes things much easier to pick your items when in the heat of the match and having only 20 seconds to decide when respawning
Playing League of Legends online (as with most MOBA games) has quite a steep learning curve even when you are matched with opponents of a similar ability when you first start you are sometimes chastised with your lack of experience. But thankfully there are plenty of tutorials when you first start the game and suggests to try some matches with easier AI controlled players before going in the deep end but thankfully once you do you are matched with similarly ranked players which are hopefully of the same standard to you, it seems to work for me as I found that most of the time I was pretty competitive, winning more then I lost.

You learn lots of things fast playing League of Legends for the first time, you learn not to rush in recklessly and get killed many times, you learn to use the bushes to hide and you learn that continuously “pushing” your lane isn’t always the best idea and venture into the jungle and appear behind the enemy for a bit of stealth killing which is what’s known as “jungling”. When playing your champion you must remember their strengths and weaknesses and play appropriately to the type of champion you have selected i.e you wouldn’t charge forward with a ranged character as they are often weaker and you wouldn’t pick an assassin-style champion for basic lane-pushing and they are more suited for jungling.

'Jungling' with Udyr who is preferable champion to use for this style of play
League of Legends as I have mentioned has been a hit with the gaming community around the world, putting it on par with Starcraft II as one of the biggest esports games today despite being almost 5 years old today it continues to draw fans and competes fiercely with the likes of rival MOBA’s such as DOTA 2 and Heroes of Newerth. LoL is played as one a tournaments at the Lanslide that I attend almost solely for the purpose of playing League of Legends and possibly Starcraft II. I like it, I don’t find anything much wrong with it that the MOBA haters always seem to, sure it’s tough sometimes and the learning curve is steep but it’s a game that makes you want to co-operate with your teammates and win and I can tell you I don’t get that feeling with many games. Although the game is free I must admit I most definitely paid for it as I have spent almost $80 on new champions and skins to play in tournaments which I will probably never win but justify as donating to a free game that I like, it’s something I’ve never done before and I’m not sure why but meh, it was worth it as I may not be the best on the battlefield but at least I stand out from the rest.

Whether it's been a well-fought game or an imbalanced drubbing, seeing this is still incredibly satisfying.
League of Legends may be one of the more complicated MOBA games, with its runes and masteries and other champion customization features but it was the one that paved the way for the MOBA genre, and I approve.


A thrilling match between two world-class LoL teams, in this video you can see how big LoL has become in esports.

Run away!

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