Critical Play: Is this game balanced?

Name of game, creator, and platform:

League of Legends is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) available for both Windows PC and Mac. It was developed and published by Riot Games.

Target audience:

Because of its free-to-play model, League of Legends appears to be targeted at those who relish in skill-based challenges or don’t have much disposable income. Presumably, the age range for a typical League player would be around 14 to 25.

Important formal elements:

I will be focusing on League’s main game mode, Summoner’s Rift. This is a multiplayer 5v5 gamemode, where the main objective is to destroy the enemy team’s base, while preventing them from destroying yours. The main conflict arises from these conflicting objectives, forcing teams to contest each other for resources and objectives in order to eke out an advantage.

The boundaries of the game are the edges of the game map itself, with each base placed at opposite corners, connected by 3 lanes. Most of the rules and procedures come from the role that a player is playing and how the abilities of their character interact with the map, their teammates, and the enemy team. The main resources available to the player are the wide selection of characters that can be played (called “champions”) and the items that can be purchased and equipped. 

The game map, “Summoner’s Rift”. Note the bases on opposite corners connected by 3 lanes.

Types of fun:

The two types of fun that I was able to observe from playing League were fellowship and challenge. I am able to keep in touch with and bond with friends who live across the country that I haven’t seen in a long time through a couple games of League, which is my main motivation for playing the game. As for challenge, the game really rewards those who develop mastery over a certain champion or playstyle, as there are no ways to gain an advantage monetarily. One’s success in the game is directly proportional to their skill.

Moments of success or epic fails, and suggested changes:

I would say that moments of success would consist of well-orchestrated teamwork. It is extremely satisfying to win a fight, knowing that every team member was crucial to that success in some way. In terms of epic fails, I would say that there is an issue of excessive toxicity in the player base. There have been cases of extreme racism or just general uncomfortable behavior in some of the games I’ve played. Because of the free to play nature of the game, there are no consequences to simply starting a new account if one is banned for racist behavior. I’m honestly not sure what change would improve the experience, but my initial thought is to allow only a preset list of chat options to be available, so that the devs can control exactly what is allowed to be said (much like Mario Kart).

Some of the many champions in League of Legends

Is League of Legends balanced?

In all honesty, I think it depends on who you ask. At the highest level of pro play, dominant strategies quickly stand out and vary patch-by-patch. (Patches are 2-3 week interval updates to the game that include balancing and other gameplay changes). At lower level play, only new champion releases and significantly large gameplay changes change the balance of the game. From a challenge level perspective, players are placed in matches with players of similar skills levels to themselves. Of course, this system isn’t perfect, but the slight variation in skill levels adds to the variability and enjoyment of the game. There are many facets of asymmetry within League: players aren’t allowed to pick the same champion, so from the start the game is asymmetrical. Overall, League employs an intransitive system to balance champions: tanks beat assassins/burst damage, assassins beat marksmen/consistent DPS champions, and marksmen/consistent DPS champions beat tanks. However, some champions fall into a mix of categories and makes for difficult balancing (as seen by the constant patch update). Additionally, players can purchase items for their champions using currency that they gain during a match. These items are balanced with a transitive system, where everything can be scaled to its price. Overall, I think that the game is always in a constant state of imbalance, but because patches happen so frequently, different champions, items, and strategies are brought to the forefront so that there is never a single dominant strategy. 

The rather complex item shop within a match on Summoner’s Rift.

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