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- League of Legends
League of Legends is an anomaly as a competitive multiplayer game. Whereas most publishers invest heavily in attracting new players, Riot Games has instead kept LoL as brutally unforgiving for beginners for as long as the game has been active. With its Worlds 2020 tournament and iPhone/Android’s League of Legends: Wild Rift bringing new eyes to the MOBA, those wanting to jump in for the first time will be left at the mercy of an absurdly toxic community, a barrage of smurf accounts, and a complete absence of modes tailored to players wanting to learn. But for inexperienced players, a glimmer of hope lies around the corner, with League of Legends‘ Season 11 hopefully set to be a big turning point for the game.
I have bounced off of League of Legends several times over the past 2 years or so, and each time it’s the same story. Despite now having played more than my fair share of matches, LoL doesn’t convince me to want to learn more about it beyond casual games with friends. This is due to Riot having firmly overlooked inexperienced or low-skill solo players, who are not given a space in which to learn characters and match-ups against others online without being rail-roaded by high-level opponents using smurf accounts.
League of Legends‘ Season 11 and its beginner-friendly updates
But changes are seemingly on their way. In September, Riot’s Mark Yetter tweeted that matchmaking changes were being tested that would take into account players’ current rank along with their Matchmaking Rating (MMR). As MMR is defined by players’ win and loss rates, this means that it being factored into matchmaking should theoretically see players coming up against opponents of a similar skill level to them, as smurfs will inevitably have a much higher win rate when playing in lower ranks.
More details coming in a blog later this week with all of our preseason plans for ranked and matchmaking.
— Mark Yetter (@MarkYetter) September 16, 2020
Riot is also reportedly adding a “smurf queue,” which some players are convinced has already been introduced to League of Legends in some capacity. This will see Riot detecting players using smurf accounts by way of their combined MMR and current rank, with this throwing them in games with other smurfs and high-rank players.
For players who use smurf accounts, this is a controversial change. Smurfing has been used by professional players and LoL content creators to stomp on competitors for years now, though it has also been considered a way for experienced players to enjoy laid-back games where they don’t have to worry about their rank. As Riot has routinely employed a top-to-bottom approach to its LoL updates and favored balancing the game for high-rank players over those dwelling in Silver, Bronze, and Iron, the publisher suddenly prioritizing newcomers has been jarring for some. However, this is a necessary move to open up the game to beginners, and to ultimately curb the toxicity that trickles down to newcomers trying to get to grips with a difficult game.
LoL is a complex game with a bunch of moving parts, requiring players to remain laser-focused on a variety of different areas. At any given moment players are juggling last-hitting minions to earn gold, poking opponents’ health to keep them away from their team’s minions, and remaining aware of the map to avoid anyone sneaking up on them. Even when these basics are taken into account, players are still expected to have a good knowledge of their characters’ abilities, their teammates’ characters’ abilities, and the abilities of their opponents to ensure victory.
But there has never been an easy way to learn League of Legends without thrusting yourself into matches against players who are likely to be far more skilled than you are. Given that LoL is free-to-play, many experienced players use smurf accounts, dismantling opponents and essentially using low-rank lobbies as playgrounds at the expense of those trying to learn. As a learning player myself, each time I have attempted to go it alone and take on LoL‘s ranked modes, it is the video game equivalent of entering the Seventh Circle of Hell, and undoubtedly the worst experience with a game’s community I have ever had.
It is far too common to only see two types of players in low-level ranked matches — players of the correct skill level who are being taken apart by experienced smurfs, and experienced smurfs who are inexplicably confused that their teammates aren’t performing to their standards. Ranked often becomes a case of two teams of smurfs dragging around their low-rank teammates while verbally abusing them, with no one feeling like they’ve won even after the Nexus has been destroyed. This frustration breeds toxicity, with smurfs annoyed that they’re naturally having to carry their team, while everyone else is annoyed that they’re yet again on the receiving end of a thrashing.
LoL: Wild Rift and making League less toxic
The key issue is that ranked is really the only place where LoL players can “learn” against other similarly skilled opponents. Unranked matches will more readily throw you into unbalanced match-ups by design, whereas ARAM — All Random All Mid — will give you a randomized champion and mostly overlooks crucial elements of a typical League of Legends match, such as minion-killing and jungling. Ranked mode should be where you come up against players of your skill level, but it is instead a place where smurfs who were tired of competitive matches go to beat players who are trying to learn.
League of Legends has been this way for years, and it’s a difficult problem to overcome. Smurf accounts can be created on a whim, and given the game’s focus on rank over performance, it’s simple for a skilled player to intentionally place as Bronze and spend their time mowing down inexperienced opponents. However, it seems that Riot is finally taking the steps to make LoL more accommodating for the newcomer or learning player, finally overlooking the inevitable complaints from high-level players in favor of being more accommodating to beginners.
It’s uncertain at this point just how far Riot Games will go to make League of Legends a better experience for newcomers. Regardless of the changes that will be made, prohibiting smurfing will lead to an uproar among its community, though it’s a necessary shift if Riot wants to introduce LoL to new audiences. Considering that League of Legends: Wild Rift is going to bring players to the game who wouldn’t have played it otherwise, Season 11 could wind up being hugely beneficial for the future of LoL, even if it upsets a few toxic smurfs in the process.