League of Legends – Coming Soon™

League of Legends is the most popular game in the world right now. “Coming Soon™” seems to be the motto for LoL’s developer Riot, as well as a sad but true community joke. As awesome as League of Legends is, it’s quickly becoming outclassed in nearly every aspect by numerous competitors that could eventually dethrone the king if things don’t change soon.

Dota 2 is very successful and similar games like Smite and Blizzard’s upcoming Heroes of the Storm are also fighting for their own slice of the MOBA genre crowd.

It seems to me like League of Legends was made by amateur developers who got lucky. The gameplay is excellent but the lack of even the most basic features points out that Riot never expected LoL to become so popular and were unprepared to deliver on what should be expected from a competitive multiplayer game.

I want to stay away from gameplay elements such as last hitting in this article as I believe they’re purely subjective and focus more on the actual features of the game such as the client, spectator modes, etc.

The Client

League of Legends has an atrocious client which even the most hardcore LoL fanatics can’t deny. Even Riot themselves have admitted the client is a mess and needs to be fixed. Whilst a new client is finally on the way, it’s way overdue and it’s not likely to be out any time soon.

League of Legends shop bug

Wait, never mind. Apparently Riot doesn’t want my money.

The client is built on Adobe Air and then the game itself opens up in its own executable. This means you can enjoy horrendous loading times every time a game starts up, especially if someone in the game is running on a toaster. The client itself is very buggy and slow. Loading up the shop quite often results in an error message. That’s right – The client actually makes it harder for you to buy things.

A fan-made client which quickly grew in popularity called Wintermint was shut down by Riot and the developer was hired by them shortly after. You’d think that Riot would have their own team working on a client already without the need to hire fans who managed to make an alternative client in their spare time.

Skins

League of Legends is a free to play game. Riot Points (RP) purchased with real currency is how Riot makes money. Whilst other purchases such as champions and runes can be made using the in game currency Influence Points (IP), skins are only available through the use of RP or promotional codes. With that in mind, you would expect Riot to do a better job at selling their skins…

Bloodyfury Renekton League of Legends skin

Whilst the splash art for this skin looks badass, there is no way for me to know what the actual 3D model looks like. If I want to see this I have to visit other sources such as YouTube to see the champion as it appears in game.

The above picture is a perfect example of how to not sell skins. All I can see is the splash art which doesn’t give me a good example of what I can expect the skin to look like in the game. Riot’s artists make very cool splash art and the skins are usually very good. Some of them come with their own sets of taunts and spell animations but I don’t even get to see any of this unless I check external sources like YouTube first.

Lets compare this to the skin preview feature in Dota 2, LoL’s biggest competition. As you can see from the screenshot below, you get a proper preview of what the skin will look like in game so you can make an informed purchase. You’re able to rotate the 3D model so you can see it from all angles.

Dota 2 hero skin preview

The Dota 2 store allows you to preview skins before you buy.

With Heroes of the Storm (HotS) currently in alpha, League of Legends will have some very fierce competition once HotS is released. Even in alpha state, HotS already has a skin preview similar to Dota 2’s and the client looks better in every possible way. If Riot don’t stop making excuses and start making changes they’re going to lose a large amount of players that are sick of waiting and hearing “coming soon” and go to the competition.

Even when you compare LoL to smaller games like Smite from Hi-Rez studios the differences between the clients are incredible.

Smite god skin preview

After comparing this to LoL you have to think to yourself… Are Riot putting any profits back into the game itself or just cashing out?

Skin previews with full 3D models plus voice samples as well. This should all be expected from a game that’s asking you to pay your hard earned money on in game cosmetic items. With the amount of money Riot is making from LoL there’s really no excuse as to why this wasn’t done years ago. Hell, it would probably even increase sales netting them even more money.

The Code

It’s often joked that all of League of Legends is coded in minions, referring to some champion abilities that seem to have reused minion code resulting in unexpected behaviour. The issue has gone beyond a joke and now it’s just sad.

The champion Jarvan IV has an issue with his ultimate ability Cataclysm, which is supposed to trap enemies in an AOE, however some champions could easily just walk through it. Riot admits there’s an issue with the ability:

Unfortunately, our game engine does not handle temporary terrain creation particularly well, particularly temporary terrain that completely encloses a champion who has a movement order in place. We’re working on fixing it, but it isn’t as simple as simply editing a few lines of script, it demands a fundamental re-write of some of our bedrock systems. – Source

Jarvan IV's ultimate ability: Cataclysm.

Jarvan IV’s ultimate ability: Cataclysm.

As far as I can tell the bug still exists and I can find forum posts complaining about the bug from years ago. League of Legends has the advantage of not being constrained by another games engine like the original DOTA which was a custom map created for Warcraft 3. However, it seems that Riot is instead constrained by their own poor coding. Perhaps this coding existed in their early days when they didn’t have the talent or funding and this code is now such a mess it will take a great deal of effort to fix it.

It’s at the point where Riot should just cut their losses and rewrite the games engine from scratch. Riot claims to be putting a lot of effort into eSports right now. They are putting amazing effort into eSports and the LCS is awesome, however if Riot is serious about eSports then fixing the games bugs and base code should be their ultimate priority.

Replays

This forum post dated February 14, 2013 announced testing of the replay system after years of fans begging for the feature. As of writing this article a replay system still doesn’t exist in the official release of the game. This tells me that Riot as a developer is incompetent and can’t handle the beast they’ve created. With the amount of money they make if they don’t have the talent they should be able to buy the talent. More than a year has gone and this is likely another feature we won’t see any time soon.

Meanwhile, Dota 2 has a fully functional replay system. Heroes of Newerth – LoL’s main competitor at launch had a replay system whilst it was still in beta. Smite also has replays. It’s absurd that Riot is making excuses for not having a fully functional replay system after so many years and the explosion in popularity.

Tutorials

MOBA’s by their nature are very complex games. When playing an FPS you can generally get a pretty good idea of how to play based on common knowledge. You have a gun, you shoot people. If you have a big gun it probably does more damage. In fantasy games these sorts of things go right out the window.

The League of Legends tutorial does very little to help a player new to the genre understand how to play the game. The announcer sounds like a 3rd grade teacher overly enthusiastic at the fact you manage to click on the ground to move your character. The tutorial doesn’t explain anything important that you couldn’t work out by yourself in 30 seconds if you’ve ever played a PC game in your life before.

The shop explanation is very poor. You’re not taught how to use potions or place wards to prevent ganks. Even a very quick explanation of building attack damage items on marksmen (sorry), ability power items on spell casters and health items on bruisers would be nice. Even the summoner spells aren’t touched on which would have been incredible easy to implement. For example, the tutorial could have a part where you’re require to flash through a wall to safety.

Dota 2 last hit tutorial

Dota 2 has a tutorial dedicated to last hitting and denying. You must learn how to do this before progressing to the next stage.

A large part of LoL is last hitting. For those that don’t know, this is getting the killing blow on a  minion in order to the gold for that kill. During the early stages of the game last hitting minions is essential in order to get gold. More gold = more items = more damage = more chance of winning.

Last hitting is also quite a difficult concept to explain to someone new to the genre. LoL’s tutorial does an incredibly bad job at explaining this concept. The only hint about last hitting is available in a small box you have to click on during the tutorial that anyone could easily miss. Learning how to last hit isn’t required to finish the tutorial and one could easily go through many online games without even realising how important it is.

Dota 2 on the other hand has a tutorial on last hitting and denying. It gives feedback to the player to help them improve so they know if they’re attacking too early or too late.

Jungling isn’t mentioned at all during the LoL tutorial. Sure, it tells you to clear the wolf camp and the wraith camp, but it doesn’t explain that when you jump into normal games there’s suddenly going to be some guy running around the jungle popping out of the bushes to kill you over and over.

Smite jungle tutorial

Multiple practice modes in Smite allow you to learn the game properly before playing human players.

I feel like if I have to resort to YouTube guides in order to play the game at even a low level then Riot is doing something wrong. I’ve tried to get some of my friends into LoL and once they jumped into normal games they were getting absolutely destroyed since the concept of buying items and last hitting were so foreign to them and the game didn’t adequately prepare them for facing human players.

There needs to be a sandbox mode that allows players to practise skill shots and learn item builds. At the moment if I want to try out a new champion I’ve got to start up a custom game against bots, wait for the game to load, wait for minions to spawn then spend 10 minutes farming and levelling up before I finally get the basic idea of what a champion is capable of.

I should be able to launch a practice game type with short cool downs, unlimited gold and all abilities learned. Players are jumping into 40+ minute games with brand new champions they’ve never played before since there’s little other ways to practise and get better.

Voice Chat

This is my biggest annoyance with League of Legends at the moment.

League of Legends is a team game. Team work wins games. It is possible to solo carry a game if you’re very good, but assuming teams are evenly matched the team with better teamwork and communication is more likely to win. The fact that a game with such a huge emphasis on teamwork was released or even reached beta without a proper voice communication option is simply absurd.

Yes, Riot has done a great job with the ping system but it’s not nearly good enough. When I’m concentrating on last hitting I can’t stand still to type “bot mia, possibly doing dragon”. Yes, sure, I can ping it, but pings aren’t as effective when players on your team don’t understand the game properly. For example, if I know the enemy jungler is doing their red and I ping blue because my team mate is in the area, he might think I mean be careful. If I have to stop doing what I’m doing to say “hey, warwick is red, steal blue”, I might end up getting locked down and killed.

Typing is an incredibly inefficient way to communicate in a game. Voice chat has been standard in online gaming since forever and there is absolutely zero excuse for not having such a basic feature.

Curse came up with a solution called Curse Voice which integrates with the LoL client and can automatically place players matched together in a call. Riot asked Curse to change their program as they didn’t like the way the application created an overlay in the game. Even after removing the jungle timers from the program Riot still insists that players shouldn’t be using Curse Voice (Although at present it’s not a bannable offense).

“We have no problem with players hopping on Curse Voice (or any other voice chat client) to coordinate with their friends in-game, but when the application begins directly connecting you with dozens of other people in unfiltered (and untrackable) voice chats, it can make for a huge negative player experience in a space where we can’t help.” – Source

Negative player experience? Riot, you’ve already created a negative player experience by forcing us to communicate with our fingers in the year 2014; Voice chat in games has been standard for more than a decade. If players don’t want to use voice chat they can turn it off or just mute players they find offensive. Problem solved.

The reason Curse Voice is so good for LoL is because it can connect you with other people in unfiltered (and untrackable) voice chats. I don’t necessarily want to give my personal Skype address out to random LoL players I meet in match making. I’ve almost given up on ranked completely due to the frustrations of trying to lead a team without being able to talk to them.

I can already foresee some people arguing: “But Pyroteq, the LoL community is so toxic and voice chat will make the game unbearable” – Don’t worry, I’ll be tackling this in another article in the near future.

The future of League of Legends

League of Legends entered the market at a great time. Their only competition in the genre was a very outdated Warcraft 3 custom map called DOTA and Heroes of Newerth, a DOTA clone that wasn’t released as a free to play title (Eventually HoN became free to play). Riot no longer have this luxury with giants like Valve and Blizzard entering the market.

League of Legends needs a massive overhaul if Riot wants to keep their crown. Riot consistently teases us with features and then takes forever to release them. Magma Chamber was announced, cancelled, announced again and then cancelled again. Spectator mode took years to finally release whilst similar titles had the feature on launch.

The Dota 2 International 4

Dota 2 TI4 boasted a prize pool of over $10M and was featured on ESPN. Valve have taken off the gloves.

The replay system has been in testing for well over a year and still isn’t on the horizon even though Counter Strike had a working replay system more than 10 years ago. The LoL client still sucks and meanwhile competitors such as Smite, Heroes of the Storm, Dota 2 and other smaller titles with less popularity and less funding are coming out swinging with everything you would expect from such games. After seeing smaller MOBA titles come out with more features and polish than Riot I’m seriously starting to doubt their capability and professionalism.

More skins aren’t going to keep players around who want replays, new game modes and other features that are now considered standard in the genre now that LoL actually has very real competition. Even professional LoL players have got to be looking at the enormous $10 Million prize pools for Dota 2 and getting jealous.

Personally I love the game play LoL provides but I’m getting tired of waiting around for things to improve. I’m sick of losing games because my team refuses to work together and having to stop to type constantly to prevent my team mates from getting ganked.

Riot has an awesome game with League of Legends but there is so much untapped potential. Hopefully we’ll see some of these issues fixed… Soon