MDA & 8 Kinds of Fun: League of Legends

League of Legends is a competitive MOBA with 159 champions, each with (at least) 5 abilities. That means there are over 800 abilities in LoL, each of which fundamentally changes the way any given match should be played. An ability itself can be defined in terms of mechanics. Take for example Twitch’s Q ability, Ambush, which allows Twitch to become invisible for 10-15 seconds. When he leaves stealth, he temporarily gains attack speed.

The dynamics of Ambush emerge from the interplay between the opponent’s lack of information and the implicit threat of Twitch’s potential presence. Whenever Twitch leaves enemy vision, the opponent must immediately assume that Twitch could be a few feet away ready to assassinate them. They must weigh Twitch’s threat against the value of whatever it is they are trying to achieve. They might ask themselves “can I safely push this next wave, or will Twitch punish me?” Just by picking Twitch over any of the other 158 champions, the enemy must completely reevaluate their strategy and the way they play.

Multiple forms of fun emerge simply from the threat posed by this one ability. First, this key ability helps sell the Fantasy of “sneaky rat who blows you up when you least expect it.” The idea of a champion selling a fantasy is something that game designers at Riot Games think about a lot. Put in the words of the paper, the mechanics of a champion’s five abilities should create a in-game dynamics that allow a player to express themselves and live out a fantasy. Indeed, Expression is another area of fun created by this ability. Any player can have access to Ambush, but the way a player uses the ability is a form of expression. Finally, Ambush creates Challenge, both for the player piloting Twitch and their opponents. Ambush is such an interesting ability because it’s a double-edged sword. Just as it allows Twitch to catch the opponent off-guard, making them play around the obstacle that is his potential omnipresence, it can backfire if the enemy anticipates Twitch’s Ambush and bursts him down before he can burst them down, forcing the Twitch player to think hard before entering a battle.

In this post we briefly discussed one of the over 800 abilities in League of Legends. Each one of these abilities has the potential to shape the outcome of a game. LoL is so interesting because it is so insanely deep. You can play the game forever but never master it.

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