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League of Legends • May 08, 2019

Riot developer outlines potential changes to the League of Legends ranked system

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Riot developer outlines potential changes to the League of Legends ranked system
Riot Games

Riot Games gamplay data lead Riot Blaustoise has outlined a series of potential changes to the League of Legends ranking system.

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For many League of Legends players, as in other competitive games, the pursuit of a higher rank is part of what keeps them playing.

Making a ranked system that feels rewarding for people to climb is therefore of utmost importance for developers like Riot. Players want to feel like their rank is an accurate reflection of their skill, and understand what their rank means about how they compare to the rest of the player-base.

Riot Blaustoise has taken a look at how different ranking systems can assign ranks to players of different skill levels, and what changes the League of Legends system might look to incorporate in future.

Riot Games
League of Legends ranks - Iron, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, Grandmaster, Challenger.

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Models for ranking systems

Blaustoise discusses theoretical models for ranking systems in three different terms, which he dubs “Salty Spitoon”, “Weenie Hut Jr.” and “Goldilocks”.

The “Salty Spitoon” model sees a mostly normal distribution – which means that the majority of players fall in the middle of the ranks, with the numbers of players at a particular rank getting lower towards the extreme low or high ranks – but skewed such that there are a greater number of players in the lower half of the rankings than the upper half.

On the opposite side is the “Weenie Hut Jr.” model, which is still broadly a normal distribution, but instead skewed such that more players are in the upper half of the ranks.

Finally, the “Goldilocks” model is a balance between the two, the closest to a real normal distribution in which the number of players in the upper and lower halves of the ranks are closer to being equal.

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Riot Blaustoise
Three models for describing how ranking systems distribute players.

Blaustoise argues that the problem with the “Salty Spitoon” model is that it “gate-keeps” too much, making it harder for players to earn a “high” rank that it actually should be, while the “Weenie Hut Jr.” model is too generous, rewarding more players with a high rank than would necessarily deserve them in a more balanced model.

Which model does League of Legends actually follow?

These models are theoretical descriptions of how a ranking system might distribute players, but the question is which one the League of Legends ranking system actually most closely resembles.

While it has improved on 2018’s distribution, the current season appears to be on the “Salty Spitoon” side, with the lower half of the ranks – Iron, Bronze, and Silver – accounting for 59.8% of the player-base. Meanwhile, even if you count the elite ranks of Masters, Grandmasters and Challenger as one group, the top three ranking groups – Platinum, Diamond, and Masters+ - only account for 14.1%.

Comparatively, Overwatch follows a distribution that is slightly skewed in the “Weenie Hut Jr.” direction, while DotA2 is the closest of the three to a “Goldilocks” scenario.

Riot Blaustoise
How are players actually distributed in the League of Legends ranked system?

How could League of Legends’ ranking system be changed?

In order to make League of Legends ranks more representative of how a player’s skill actually compares to the rest of the playerbase, Blaustoise has proposed some changes to the system.

These changes would see a shift of more players from the bronze and silver ranks into Gold and Platinum to balance the distribution around the middle, while Diamond would be expanded slightly – from a current 4% to 5-8% - such that it represents the top “major” division, rather than being grouped with the higher “elite” divisions.

Instead of holding the top 0.1% as it is now, Masters would instead feature the top 1%, with Grandmasters becoming the top 0.1% and Challenger remain as it is, with a set number of spots for the very highest-ranked players. Within these ranks, players would also be able to see a specific, numerical rank for their position on the leaderboard.

Blaustoise does clarify that if any of these changes were implemented, they wouldn’t affect the hidden MMR system – which is how the matchmaker determines whether players are of appropriate skill when building games. The changes would simply affect the way ranks were distributed, ideally making it clearer to players how they and those around them compare to the broader playerbase.

Riot Games have already made changes to the ranking system for Season 9, introducing two new ranks to help balance things out – Iron as the new lowest rank, and Grandmaster at the elite end between Master and Challenger.

While Blaustoise says there are currently no actual plans to change the ranking system, it’s very possible the developers could look to make improvements for the 2020 season, if not sooner.