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LoL is hard but satisfying

I’ve talked a little before on why LoL is hard, but now I want to get into some

actual serious detail. The first is obvious. There are somewhere around a bajillion

characters in League of Legends. The odds that you will get into a game with an enemy

you know nothing about is staggeringly high, even if you’ve been playing for months.

Although I rarely pick him on purpose, I get Xerath every now and then in ARAMs and

the results are always hilarious. Nobody plays Xerath, so nobody has any idea of what

to watch out for. He’s also effective on SR — nobody there knows the matchup either

– but when I activate Locus of Power in ARAM, it’s funny to see absolutely zero

people attempt to juke the obvious oncoming lightning bolts.

The knowledge burden, as I’ve said before, also applies to items. Riot has tried very

hard to lower this knowledge burden with multiple recommended item paths, while

keeping the overall number of things you need to parse low. It fails in a few points

(it recommends AP Tristana in some places, for instance), but it is an incredible

effort and really does help. This does not change the fact that there are at least 40

gazillion items in the game, and knowing what they all do is a big advantage.

LoL’s knowledge burden extends beyond that to combinations of things, though. Is AP

Tristana even a viable build, and if so, how does it even work? If you haven’t played

it or seen it played, you might never know. It’s also possible that you fell into a

sub-optimal trap such as ADC Twisted Fate, where there are simply better choices. On

top of that, the real issue with character burden is combinations and matchups; some

characters have counters to other characters and some characters work really well

together. Some characters don’t follow a normal item progression for characters of

their class, or perhaps they’re like Udyr and simply have a hundred different options

for items.

Let’s put all of that aside for a second, though. The fact is that no gameplay mode

is really obvious. Summoner’s Rift seems simple enough: break the turrets and kill

enemy players. However, because metagame things happened (roaming became a good thing

and each team generally has at least one person roaming), pushing became something

you generally want to avoid most of the time. If you tell most people — even people

that play LoL — that pushing the lane is usually bad and the point of the early game

is only to farm, you’ll get a lot of weird looks. SR is so obtuse in terms of what

actions you should do when (things like fighting for dragon, pushing turrets,

stealing buffs, going for Baron) that if you actually think SR is at all easy to

figure out, you are either horribly wrong (as you haven’t learned enough to

appreciate it) or you have been playing MOBAs way too long.

Dominion, the game mode I love the most, is not much better. The goal is to capture

points, and people actually figure out much more quickly that killing players isn’t

the point. However, most people ignore minions (when pushing them is really nice) and

try to fight on points rather than set up advantage scenarios and ambushes. It takes

a long time for all the skills to gel in Dominion. It ends up being harder. There’s

no script to follow like there is in SR.

ARAM is by far the easiest gametype to understand, and yet it is still awkward. The

goal for almost the entire game is to chip away at the enemy very passively and

engage only when it will result in a very strong advantage for your team. Most people

who play ARAM completely ignore this, but that’s what the optimal play is. The only

exception is if you’re in a team that has to engage the enemy to stand a chance (or

you’ll get outpoked, etc.), where the best case is to simply get perfect engagements,

bad opponents, or allies who know how to cast a surrender vote.

The knowledge burden for every game mode (yes, including Twisted Treeline) is

enormous! There’s a ton of stuff you have to learn to be competitive at all. Yes, you

can pick up jungling in your first day or two and play reasonably well against your

beginner opponents, but if you don’t develop a greater understanding of the game, you

will not have the same luck at level 30. There’s so much stuff to know that thinking

about it makes my head hurt.