League of Legends Season 13 is much-needed simplification of complex MOBA
League of Legends is loved — and hated — due to its complexities. Veterans love the depth, while simultaneously making the game near-impossible for new players to learn. Season 13 is a big step towards simplifying the game as much as possible to keep the player base growing.
League of Legends’ complexity is something avid fans celebrate, and outsiders sneer at. While it gives the MOBA the depth that keeps players coming back, it makes it hard to bring new people into the fold.
This is an eternal conundrum Riot faces: keep the game simple to bring new players in, or keep adding depth to appease those devoted to the world of Runeterra. Champion niches are becoming harder to fill, and there’s only so much new content you can add.
The barrier of entry to League of Legends is, arguably, one of the highest in gaming. Between all the characters, the macro and micro elements of the game, and even small things like minute rune choices to gain an edge, there’s so much knowledge to acquire to just even get a baseline understanding. It’s not just as simple as picking up and playing — unless you want to get stomped.
For so long that’s been what new players have faced: a lot of losing and learning the hard way. However Riot is trying to ease that burden and make League of Legends, 13 years on, a more enticing game to start than ever by lowering the barrier of entry.
“It’s a very important thing to us, ensuring new players are having a good experience in coming into the ecosystem,” product lead Patrick Noonan said.
“There are some things we have done to make it more accessible, whether it be streamlining the rune system, creating loadout recommendations, other ways to enter in and removing the complexities of the game.”
While there’s been a drip feed of changes, League of Legends Season 13 is the biggest implementation yet. It’s a smaller update than players might be used to, but this preseason will include plenty of quality of life changes made to ease the burden on starting out in the complex MOBA without dumbing down the game.
Jungle is a big focus of these changes. The role, which plays so differently to the other four, is often the hardest to understand when starting. Adding new jungle pets with clear visual power, jungle pathing recommendations to help those unfamiliar with the role, and removing some micro mechanics like leashing multiple camps at once should increase the skill floor without tinkering with the ceiling too much.
There is an asterisk here: Riot don’t want to “solve the game” for players, but they do want to make it easier to figure out the puzzle. And if you already have a clear grasp of the role, the recommendations won’t replace that.
“We suspect though the majority of veteran junglers, especially at higher elos, will still be creating their own clears still,” Noonan said. “There will be advantages and more optimal paths to take based on their understanding of matchups and the game.”
The second big focus is bringing more loadout recommendations to all. After the success of the item suggestions in-game, Riot is extending it to summoner spells and runes in champion select. If you’re in a pinch, or are playing a champion for the first time and need a rune page, Riot will suggest three to you that suits your playstyle based on what’s popular in high elo.
These resources aren’t new. Third-party programs have long offered some of these solutions to players, and the community was divided by whether they were an unfair competitive advantage or just a boon ready to be utilized. Moving them in-house draws a clear line for players though. Not only are they available to all, but policies are changing to make third-party programs less powerful in their information gathering.
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“Here at Riot we sometimes find ourselves using third-party sites to look up rune pages. We’re like if this is such an important feature for players to easily transition and try out different champions, then we wanted to make that more accessible in the game without having to go outside of it to get that information,” Noonan said.
“At a very high level, our general goal is third-party tools don’t give players an in-game advantage. If there is some way of querying an API service to give information that’s not available in the game, then that’s something we will be reviewing and either internally closing off the information or working with third-parties to disable things that are unfair.”
No matter the number of quality of life fixes Riot makes though, there’ll always be one big barrier to League of Legends: the number of champions. It’s rocketed past 160 in 2022, and with more releases like K’Sante just around the corner, the developers have no intention of stopping for the sake of simplicity.
New content still needs to be churned out to keep existing players interested, and over time that’ll only increase the barrier. That’s also on top of players just simply getting better.
“There’s a lot of champions in the game now, and it’s important to understand what they all do so you can be impactful as a player,” Noonan continued.
“Another thing I find interesting and reflect on a lot is just the average skill level of the player base. The type of things you see Silver players do nowadays — their average CS scores, even their basic understandings of the game, wave management, trading patterns, objectives — the mid skill level is a lot higher than it used to be.
“As the player base continues to learn more about the game, it can be harder to get in and get good because everyone else has been playing for a long time and learned so many things.”
Riot can at least mitigate some of the damage by making the onboarding process smoother, and players can learn what each champion does at a more gradual pace rather than information overload from day one.
There’s some things they are looking at for the future of League of Legends too. Using tools like machine learning, the developer is slowly understanding the data behind some of the game’s more complex mechanics — like exactly how much an objective is worth in numerical value.
“It’s one of the things we’re trying to consistently evaluate and think about, ways we can make it more approachable for new players without removing the depth of the gameplay that makes it so great and something you can never fully master. It’s important to us.”
While Season 13 is a high point in making League of Legends more accessible, it is far from being the last set of changes in this direction.