FeaturePCLeague of Legends

LFL 2022 is a stark reminder that League of Legends is for the pros

The League of Legends pro scene is a huge reflection of the game’s success; unfortunately, it is also Riot’s main priority when it comes to balancing, largely overshadowing the rest of the player base. That sentiment has been ever-present in the League of Legends community for years, and it is only reinforced by the current LFL 2022 Spring Season pro scene. I won’t say that Riot doesn’t care at all, but from a balancing perspective, it seems as if Riot cares more for the pros than the average Joes.

Riot’s priorities

Riot Games has a penchant for tweaking their games, mechanics, and character and item performance according to the esports pros and high-Elo play. For a lot of players, this is a problem, as most of us aren’t in the pro scene. I don’t know about all of you, but I’m not in the top 0.5% of League of Legends players. So when Riot swoops in and does things like nerfing Champions due to high win rates in “Elite MMR,” it can feel like an overt f**k you to the rest of us.

League of Legends MMR
Riot’s balance guidelines. Image by Riot Games

The current season of the LFL just goes to showcase these patterns. Throughout this group stage, we repeatedly saw strong picks that are part of the meta amongst these high-tier competitions. So far, we’ve seen 83 Champions out of a roster of 158 played in these games (Renata would make that 159, but isn’t in the current patch the LFL is played in.) Of course, not every character can be in the meta at the same time, I get that. Out of those 83 champions, however, only 35 were used more than a few times. Characters like Diana and Caitlyn were only used five times, while Jinx, Xin Zhao, and Lee Sin were used upwards of 30 times, with Lee Sin being picked the most at 39.

Champions in and out of the spotlight

Let’s talk about Lee Sin for a minute. Every year, every pro series, Lee Sin is there, and he’s there to stay. This character is like a poster boy for pro-play. He’s easy enough to pick up but hard to master, and if pro play in League of Legends is about anything, it’s about showcasing mastery. There’s never really been a point in which Lee Sin hasn’t been a strong pick. This is all in stark contrast with almost every other Champion, most of whom have seen their fair share of highs and lows over the last decade. Lee Sin is the meta, and he will continue to be for as long as Riot decides to play favorites.

In contrast, there’s Aurelion Sol. You may know him – big floaty dragon guy, forges stars and universes with his bare… claws. Aurelion Sol isn’t exactly the most popular Champion in the game, which makes nerfing him to appease the top-level players very disconcerting to anyone who isn’t in that bracket. It also pushes him further and further out of the meta, which may serve to negate Riot’s meta diversity targets.

League of Legends meta diversity targets
Image by Riot Games

He’s currently sitting at an average pick rate of 0.9% across all ranked queues – which is extremely low. He also has an average win rate of 58.9% – which is very high in comparison. It’s important to note that the win and play rates dip heavily in the lower ranks – which is really the crux of the matter at hand. Nerfing a Champion that already sees so little play in average tiers is a good way to kill them off – and Aurelion Sol is the most visible example. The only times nowadays you hear about Aurelion Sol is through high-Elo one-tricks and people counting how long it’s been since his last skin was released. My point is, Riot is sending a message that if you don’t play at a high enough skill level, you aren’t as high on their priority list when it comes to balance in League of Legeds.

What this means for everyone else

When you endlessly see the same characters picked with the same builds and setups in games, you also see which characters have been made into the best of the best. In theory, this leads us to a place where all you ever see are the same things, ad nauseam. This makes matches feel samey, and the whole game can quickly get old. Gameplay in the lower ranks is usually influenced by these high-tier games.

In competitive games like League of Legends, metas are formed around what is strong at the time. How do players like us find out what’s strong and wins games? We watch pro games, we copy their builds, and we look at guides written by Challenger-tier players.

The problem here is that League has so many more champions than you see played at the pro level. 159 Champions exist in League as of February 2022. You’d think that would mean a lot of people are trying to explore new characters constantly, right? I am sure some people are – but the problem is that taking an out-of-meta pick often leads to you getting stomped. If you get stomped, chances are high that your team yells at you. When that happens, it makes people not want to experiment anymore. Eventually, most players just stick with the flavor of the month character or become a one-trick.

New players have a harder time

Remember when Arcane came out and it convinced a ton of people to try League or come back to it? I’m sure those new and returning players had a hell of a time getting caught up with everything in the game.  I mean, almost 200 ever-changing and rotating items to buy, almost 160 Champions, and a ton of changes every new season can be overwhelming to people that already play the game.

As time goes on and Riot releases more and more Champions for League of Legends, the learning curve will just get steeper and steeper – with pros leading the charge on new metas. Seasons change and new Champions and objectives come out with more advanced and complicated kits. The game becomes that much harder to get into for new players as a result. Once the game becomes too hard, it may start to stagnate again. Riot’s focus on the pro scene could indirectly hinder League of Legends’ growth in the future and spell the beginning of the end for the game.

League playerbase Arcane
Arcane came out on Nov. 6, 2021, leading to a jump in player count across multiple Riot Games properties. Image by activeplayer.io

For the pros

Riot Games may have a tendency to shape their games for the pros – it’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it looks. While it makes some sense from a business standpoint, it harms the rest of their players that aren’t pros. If their games continue to shift to favor professionals, it’ll only serve to make a large portion of players unhappy. Perhaps in the future, this will develop into a larger problem. Hopefully, Riot may change its policy before that happens.

As it stands right now, competitive League of Legends is almost an entirely separate entity from casual League. Both get the same roster of characters, the same items, and the same maps and general premise, but it is competitive play that gets the bulk of Riot Games’ attention and care. As the game progresses and grows, perhaps the focus will shift, but right now that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

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Kevin Dewan

Writer for SQUAD, runs after things a lot. Won't BM you to your face. Okay with losing as long as it's funny.
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