League of Legends Interview: All About Current And Upcoming Features
Questions by Mohammad Abubakr, OnRPG Journalist
Answered by Marc Merrill, co-founder and president, Riot Games
League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena, or a MOBA. The game plays similar to the popular Warcraft III mod DOTA but there were some enhancements and tweaks to further enhance user experience. The aim of the game is to work with your team and destroy enemy towers which eventually lead to the nexus. Once this is destroyed, your team will win the game. That is just a rough outline but Nicolas did a great job explaining the game into full detail. Also read the full League of Legends review.
I was lucky enough to be able to get all of the questions that the community is wondering about answered by Marc Merrill. Read on to see what is in store for you while you play the game and what you can look forward to in the near future!
OnRPG: Hello! My name is Abubakr and I am a journalist for OnRPG. Before we begin our interview, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do?
My name is Marc Merrill. I’m the Co-founder and President of Riot Games, the developer and publisher of League of Legends. I oversee and am responsible for the execution of Riot’s core business: the development and publishing of our games. But the easy answer is that I do a little bit of everything.
OnRPG: League of Legends is based from the Warcraft III mod; DOTA. What improvements were made to League of Legends that will attract users from switching to League of Legends from Dota?
One of our main goals when we created League of Legends was to expand the genre originally pioneered by DotA but holding on to the original dynamics that made DotA so popular. It is a tough goal to achieve because DotA had such a large group of core fans who are attached to specific features of the game, even if some of those things are sub-optimal from a game design standpoint.
But, we stuck to many of our decisions and we think the game is far better off because of it (and if you ask many of the DotA players who switched over to League of Legends, they’ll attest to that sentiment as well). So in many ways, when you compare our game to some of the straight DotA clones out there, we took risks to ensure League of Legends is a unique experience rather than being a direct copy of the original. We have created a basic overview that outlines some of the main differences between LoL and DotA: http://www.leagueoflegends.com/articles/dota_and_lol
That being said, despite the core differences, we really attempted to retain the “soul” of DotA – those parts of the game that really made it stand out. And if you look at how many players we are attracting and retaining with high levels of engagement, we think we are doing a pretty good job.
Even though there are substantial differences between LOL and DotA, one of the most important similarities is that the game is completely free to play. We didn’t want to create any barriers to entry for any gamers, whether you’ve been playing DotA for years or if this is the first MOBA game you have played. You don’t have to spend a dime to start playing or to become a top-ranking League of Legends player.
OnRPG: What makes LoL unique, when comparing this game to other similar games?
There are a few things that are resonating really strongly with players and cannot be found in any of the other games that were inspired by DotA. The first is the Summoner system which adds a persistent element of play. Basically, as you play individual games you unlock new abilities for your Summoner such as Masteries or new Rune slots. You can build your Summoner in a number of different ways, providing enhancements that best fit your style of play or the Champion that you choose to use. Also, as you continue to play, you earn points which allow you to unlock additional content including Champions and runes.
Another feature we are really proud of is our matchmaking system. Instead of spending time browsing for open games or going up against players that can be significantly better or worse than you, our matchmaking system automatically puts you against players of similar skill level. We think this system helps ensure every game is fun, competitive and evenly matched. It’s also designed to help protect new players – we shield them from having a rough experience by not matching them against players substantially better and who might yell at them, as we’ve noticed in DotA or in other similar games. Another advantage of our system is that the average time to get into a League of Legends game against people of similar skill is less than one minute. Conversely, the average time spent looking for games with a pure room-based system is around 15 minutes as the host boots people and tries to stack their team to their advantage.
We’ve also pushed the envelope by creating an entirely new 3v3 map experience called Twisted Treeline which provides a different game experience. But the most important innovation is our characters themselves; every Champion is completely unique, built from the ground up. These diverse and interesting Champions are what make this genre fun – and this is where League of Legends really shines.
OnRPG: Recently the 3v3 map (Twisted Treeline) was released to offer another map choice aside from the 5v5 map. What other map types can we expect in the near future? Will more 5v5 and 3v3 maps be added on or will maps with other player capacities be added?
Our goal is to continue to expand League of Legends and the genre, so that means that you’ll definitely see new maps in the future. I can’t go into specific detail on those maps or when they will be available, but you can expect to see some new battlefields as the game continues to progress that provide entirely different play experiences from what currently exists.
OnRPG: Currently there is only the blind pick mode when playing the game. I have seen quite a few interesting suggestions on the forums. Are there future plans for different game modes? If possible, can we get a sneak peek as to what modes are being planned?
Yes. We’ve actually been working behind the scenes for a long time on designing and implementing a Draft Mode that will be visually attractive, intuitive to new players and display enough relevant information to players. The Draft Mode will let teams take turns and allow bans style. All this will be rolled out as a part of Season One. Our goal is to make the draft mode have the depth fans of this style of gameplay expect, along with more polish and visual appeal.
OnRPG: League of Legends has a lot of champions to offer a lot of variety for the players. How does the champion design team work to ensure the champions are balanced?
League of Legends really stands above other titles from an innovation perspective. Our characters are completely unique, with deeper and more innovative mechanics than those found in DotA and other similar games. We think this is an extremely important differentiator, because the most enjoyable part of this genre is playing the very diverse and interesting characters and learning their strengths and weaknesses.
Developing high quality, balanced Champions takes much longer than most people think. The process begins when our design and character creation teams brainstorm ideas for Champions – at this stage they actively solicit creative input from other team members throughout the company. We then write-up a short description of the characters which includes basic details on their personality, main abilities and usually include a couple pieces of art for inspiration. Then our character creation team reviews all of these materials and chooses only the best ones to move to the next round.
Next, the art team creates sketches and detailed drawings of the character. We then go on to the modeling stage and have the design team start to plan out their abilities and stats in more detail. Once the models and abilities have been implemented, the Champions go into our company’s internal testing as their animations, sounds, voices and artwork are all finalized.
After several weeks of internal testing, the Champions are put on the Test Realm for wider testing. We allow select members of the Test Realm Community to provide feedback and help us improve the character’s abilities – this step is important because we get a good idea of how the Champion will fare during actual games and how our players will react to them.
After a few more tweaks are made, the Champion is finally deployed in a patch for all our players to get their hands on. But our time with them doesn’t end there. We never consider a Champion truly finished because we will often come back and revisit them to keep them fresh and fun to play. The design team continues to make minor adjustments and changes to keep the Champion balanced, especially as we introduce even more Champions and maps that shift the dynamics of game play.
OnRPG: In the game there are two currencies; Influence Points and Riot Points. IP can be obtained by just playing and RP is purchased using real money. How does the team ensure that RP users do not gain an advantage over free players while making sure RP get sold?
We have designed the game from conception to ensure a competitive community where the dominant players are not those who spend the most. In fact, currently a large portion of the top League of Legends players have not spent any money in the game. We currently sell Riot Points (purchased currency) which can be used to buy new skins (which don’t impact gameplay) and boosts (which help cut down on the number of games you need to play). We sell Champions for either currency – so you can unlock them over time using IP or take a shortcut and use Riot Points. Finally, we sell runes, which give you stat bonuses, for Influence Points (earned currency) only, so you can’t directly buy an advantage over other players – you need to earn it.
OnRPG: In the shop, players can buy skins for their champions using RP. Currently the skins are just re-coloring of the characters; can we expect to see skins which change character models?
There are actually several Champions that have detailed skins that are much more than recolorings. For example, Corki has several new models including Red Baron Corki, UFO Corki and Toboggan Corki. The extremely popular Urf Warkwick skin was also a detailed re-model. We are also planning to go further with the Gentleman Cho’gath skin which will also feature new VO. Other skins, such as the ghost skins, have special effects tied to them. At launch we started with just recolored skins, but at this point we have moved far beyond that.
OnRPG: Not all champions use the traditional mana system. How is balance maintained between mana using champions, champions with energy and champions with neither?
We balance champions around their performance in various game situations – early laning, ganking and team fights. When we see that a champion is too strong in one of these, we either adjust this, or make sure there is a trade-off with another strength. Energy characters are no different than any other character with unique abilities, and we had to manage their strengths within this pattern. One thing I think is true of all energy characters, compared to some of their peers, is that they sacrifice a little bit of 15-20 sec sustained DPS, which is ideal in a team fight, in exchange for slightly better burst (which helps ganks) and sustained laning.
OnRPG: The match making is currently based on player ELO. This is calculated by the game and is not visible to players nor is there a way to calculate it manually. When can players expect to see a ranking system for competitive play? Will this system allow the formation of clans? Can we expect to see a ladder tournament type system? When will Season one begin? Lastly, will ELO become visible to players as the game progresses?
Our intention has always been for Season One to signal the start of competitive play for League of Legends. For that reason, we will be starting our competitive mode, which is ranked games, with the start of Season One. We will separate the ranked games from the normal games, with the idea being that players seeking a very competitive experience will join ranked games and those still learning the Champions can play normal games. In ranked games your ELO will be displayed along with many other stats of your performance and you will be ranked on a ladder among competitive players. We will also be supporting the game with more tournaments. Season One will begin this summer with the launch of ranked games, ladders, draft mode and more.
OnRPG: Games like this rely a lot on what each player does for their team. Sometimes players quit in the middle of the game which leaves their team at a clear disadvantage. There is currently a counter on player profiles for number of leaves. What other methods can be used to prevent leavers from ruining games?
We actually have implemented a couple of systems to counter leavers. The first is that if someone leaves a game in progress, their only option becomes to reconnect to that game; they can’t join another game until the game they left finishes, so many end up reconnecting to finish the game. The second system is that, as you pointed out, your leaves are not only tracked but also publically displayed. Many players feel pride in having zero leaves on their account. We have even instituted protection against people who abandon games just as they are starting (queue-dodging) by not letting those people back into match-making for a certain period of time. All these features have drastically cut down on the number of people leaving games and done a lot to improve the tone of the community.
OnRPG: This is the type of game that has potential for competitive play. Can players expect to see major leagues for League of Legends soon and what is Riot Games doing to enhance the competitive side to the game?
Indeed! Season One is going to bring a lot of enhancements targeted at making League of Legends more competitive. We will be adding ranked games and ladders, as well as introducing Draft Mode (with bans). With the start of Season One we are going to be running more tournaments ourselves as well as partnering with other competitive organizations. The e-sport organizations we are in talks with have expressed a lot of interest in helping to build the competitive scene for League of Legends. We’re not ready to announce any details yet, but we will be announcing more after the launch of Season One.
OnRPG: How would you rate League of Legends when it comes on terms of difficulty? Is it a game which all players can enjoy or are you required to be good to have fun?
League of Legends definitely isn’t an easy game to play, but we think we’ve created some unique game play aspects that make it accessible to gamers of all levels. For example, I wouldn’t encourage someone who’s never played League of Legends, DotA or similar games to immediately try to get matched. They should go through our tutorial, play some practice games against our AI controlled bots and read the strategy guides in our forums,before they play actual games. Once they do play, we also have a “new player island” concept in our matchmaking algorithm that helps ease new players into the experience. These learning tools and our supportive Community help new players get acclimated and comfortable fairly quickly.
At the same time, League of Legends offers a huge amount of depth. Each Champion opens up new gameplay options and players need to learn how to adjust their play style when faced with different Champions. These factors mean that learning the subtleties and strategies of League of Legends is something players can enjoy for quite a long time. When we launch Ranked Games with Season One, the focus of the competitive crowd will be on increasing their standing in the public ladder for the season, and our Normal Games will be for earning our in-game currency, trying new champions and just having fun.
OnRPG: League of Legends is a game which requires a lot of teamwork to succeed. Will in game voicechat be added in the future to aid teams to communicate better? I understand premade teams can use another program but what about the solo queuers?
We aren’t ready to announce any details on this yet, but we do have plans to eventually support in-game voice chat for League of Legends.
OnRPG: Besides the creeps which progress throughout lanes, there are natural creeps scattered in the jungle areas. What kind of role do these play during a match?
These present still another strategic option to players. Some players slay these neutral creeps for the experience and gold, leaving their allies to lane alone which lets them level up faster (though they may have to face two Champions). However, some special neutral creeps offer buffs if you slay them – giving reduced cooldowns or increased damage. Those can tilt the battle in a player’s favor if they are carrying the buff, but buffs transfer upon death, so avoiding being killed by the enemy team becomes even more important. Overall, the neutral creeps add another layer of strategic depth to the game.
OnRPG: When pairing people using the match making system, are summoner levels and runes accounted for to ensure fair play? Or is it purely based on skill?
The matchmaking rating is really based on who you beat (or lose to). The reason players tend to have roughly a 50% win rate is because they are mostly playing against opponents of equivalent skill. If you were playing against yourself, each of you would win 50% of the time! We do this because we believe it is more fun to have a game with roughly equal competition – it’s not fun for new players to get stomped by pros and it’s not fun for pros to not have any competition. We have now added a level parameter to matchmaking however, so our system will spend a bit more time ensuring that players of similar level and ELO are matched together.
OnRPG: The game runs using Adobe Air. I have not seen many games use this system. What are the advantages for using Adobe Air?
Adobe Air is a fairly new technology which gave us the ability to concentrate on developing in-depth and fun game features rather than spending a long time developing the user interface. Air is also a web technology and we plan on continuing to integrate the PvP.net lobby experience into the web overtime to take advantage of its numerous wonders!
OnRPG: What can users expect to see in the upcoming months? Anything major going to be happening?
There is definitely a lot of big stuff coming up in the next few months. I mentioned Season One earlier – it’s going to be the start of competition for League of Legends and include a lot of in-game updates that I’m positive you will love. We are also going to be continuing our global expansion and bringing the game to new countries and territories, so keep an eye open for those announcements. And of course there are some other major developments in the pipeline that I can’t reveal at this time but you’ll hear about really soon.
OnRPG: Is there anything you would like to add?
Riot Games and League of Legends is growing rapidly. We are dedicated to providing the best service for our players all over the world, and to improve service for our European players we are opening an office in Dublin, Ireland. Our Dublin staff will help make League of Legends experiences more enjoyable and help solve customer service requests.
That being said, I would also like to thank the League of Legends players that have helped build a strong and vibrant League of Legends community. They have helped us every step of the way and our plan is to support League of Legends with new features and content through Season One and for a long time afterwards. There are many more exciting developments planned for League of Legends around the world so stay tuned.
OnRPG: Thank you for your time. Hoping to enjoy your game for quite some time!