Riot is making a lot of changes to its popular MOBA in the next couple of months. Patch 5.22 was the first step, rolling out a series of tweaks to champions, items, and general game mechanics that have changed the complexion of play in a big way. There is still much to be done, though. Updates incoming will include a huge redesign of the client, new mechanics for minions, and maybe most importantly, ranked queues accommodating more than just one or two player groups at a time.
As it stands now, the Ranked ladder of League of Legends is ascended by jumping into solo or duo que, and joining matches with a group of like minded, and equally random individuals. When a match is over, players are given points based on their performance and whether they won or lost. Rinse and repeat, and eventually players will find themselves hitting benchmarks like Bronze or Silver on their way to the top. Platinum, Diamond, Master, and the Challenger are the top castes of the Ranked ladder. Subsequently, they tend to be the most toxic.
That isn't to say that lower ranks are much more friendly. Players often find themselves deeply embroiled in tense, caustic dialogue with other players during any given League match. Most of this comes from how easy it is to be a jerk on the Internet, and how difficult it is for Riot to punish jerks fairly. Anonymity emboldens people who have a gripe and no common decency to be a butt head without reasonable fear of punishment. Riot can only punish people who have been reported to them by other players, and even then they have to go through relatively rigorous analysis to determine if the offender needs action taken against them or not.
The punishments do come through, though. Riot has even issued short term bans to high profile players, like YouTuber Dunkey, who had been making League related video content for his near 2 mil subscribers for around 4 years. The problem is, bans are a reactionary method of curtailing an issue that runs much deeper than simply bad seeds making the game worse for everyone. Even when implementing the Honor system, which was meant to be a sort of self regulating community tool to leverage positive reinforcement over punitive bans, the game still found itself being a rough one to jump into. Pretty much forever, League has been a game that caters to toxicity, thanks to the way it has to be played, competitively.
League is a team game. Two 5 man squads face each other in hopes of breaking the enemies Nexus first. The problem is, League has never treated this game as a team game. The biggest evidence is the aforementioned ranked play queues, where you could only ever queue for games with up to two man groups at a time. Chances are, everyone in a ranked game jumped into line by themselves, and are only truly looking out for themselves - their scores, their victories, their chances of moving on to higher brackets. If a lesser skilled player is dying more, or missing big plays, a ranked team mate starts to think less about "how can I help this guy be more effective" and more like "why is this guy ruining this for me?" Like Platinum-ranked player Ellman told Kotaku in an interview about the new changes "Many Platinum, Diamond, Master, and Challenger players got to their rank by playing essentially 1v9..."
What other team games ever succeed in being widely respected by incubating the sort of environment where its OK to regard your team mates as "enemies?" No single player can win a game versus five others by themselves, yet many players go into ranked games with the idea that everyone on their team is only a means to an end. If we were talking about something less methodical - something like Call of Duty or Halo, where the defeat of an enemy can come from a single bullet put in the right place - this could maybe become a more arguable concept. But League is a game where each member of a team has a strength and a weakness that needs to be supported and counter balanced by other members of the team. No one can be unstoppable, immediately. Without ever truly nurturing this idea, Riot's crown jewel would be doomed to spin in this whirlpool of negativity forever.
This is why letting players queue up for ranked matches in group sizes of their choosing is so important. If I want to climb the ladder with my friends, I am free to do so. We can all learn the ins and outs of higher level League play, together, presumably without risk of being shouted down and isolated by angry team members. We are more inclined to be helpful and civil to our friends, and MOBAs require good communication and an openness to help and learn to truly excel at them. Just like any team game, really. How many quarterbacks don't thank their offensive line when they win the Super Bowl?
This mentality is a threat to the current status quo of high elo players, who came up with this "them against the world" mindset. Players from Platinum up had to rely on personal skill to climb to the top of the rankings, not necessarily good teamwork. To them, over emphasizing teamwork diminishes the personal skill aspect, in turn rendering all of their hard work and time spent sort of worthless. Since the new dynamic queue won't be a separate entity from Solo/Duo, it might be much more likely for players to play against teams made up completely of friends, while theirs is a hodgepodge of randoms put together by a matchmaker. This could be its own sort of imbalance that could take the competitive integrity of the game in a stranger direction.
All that being said, League of Legends is definitely a team sport, now more than ever. Millions of people streamed the League of Legends World Championship to see TEAMS play each other (teams you can learn more about at our League of Legends Wiki). We support TEAMS by buying their merchandise or cheering them on via social media. These units may have been cultivated in a dark age where players had to treat each other as foes to get noticed, but those days are over. Thankfully so.
Jarrett shares his love of video games and geek culture through feature articles on Gamepedia. He prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups and his god-like Bushido Blade talents.