Every League of Legends pre-season brings with it enough changes to really alter the landscape for the upcoming season, and this year is no different. In fact, I’d argue the changes Riot Games has in store for LoL in 2016 are some of its ambitious yet.
I was a die-hard League of Legends player for the first few years out of the gate, but eventually, getting into a game and also having an enjoyable experience were more stressful than fun. I’d rather watch than play right now. With general toxicity rampant, and a champion select process that made the already difficult notion of working together with four other random players in a team-based game that much worse, I could only stomach things for so long. There are simply too many non-game performance related variables that can make a game of League of Legends go to shit before it even begins, but fortunately, Riot Games has plans to tackle all of that head on in the 2016 season.
In 2016, Riot Games will overhaul the champion selection process for draft (normal and ranked) to work similar to how Team Builder works now. If you’re unfamiliar with the feature, Team Builder is a separate queue for normal games that allows players to fully arrange their teams before they get matched up with other players. However, since Team Builder is based on blind pick, it presents some obvious challenges when considering how to adapt it for draft mode. Fortunately, there are some incredibly smart people working at Riot and those folks have figured it all out in time for the 2016 season.
So, how does it all work? Well, to start, the new champion select will be broken down into five phases: positon select, position assignment, pick intent, bans, and picks.
Before going into the queue, players will select two positions they are willing to play (or choose ‘fill’) and the game will then match them up with other players who have selected different positions in order to fill out a team where everyone is happy with their role in the team composition. From there, players can then select the champion they intend to play, which should aid in figuring out exact team compositions, avoiding champion picks that have negative synergy with other champions, and ensure that bans don’t end up targeting picks that could harm said composition. The chaos of champion select ends here.
Pick/ban phase then plays out almost the same as it does now, with some small, but significant changes that should smooth out the experience by giving all team members a fair share of influence on the process. The top two picks will have the benefit of locking in priority champion picks for the team as they always have, while the bottom three picks will each receive a single ban to use in the ban phase. Everyone has some power in champion select now.
For me, these changes alone are enough to get me to come back and give League of Legends another try. Being forced into playing roles or champions I have little experience with or interest in was one of the most significant reasons I stopped playing. And even if the roll of the dice that champion select currently is works out in my favor, it may not be true for others on my team, which just makes it harder for all players involved to put their best foot forward. I’m a terrible marksman player, for example. Getting stuck in that role and having my brains blown out by my lane opponent will naturally frustrate my support and other teammates. The anxiety this would give me was often reason enough not to queue at all. Being stuck in these horrific games for 40 minutes at a time was yet another reason for me to be apprehensive. And once it’s over? You get to roll the dice all over again.
Next season, I’ll be able to go into a match with full confidence in the role I’m playing on the team and the same will be true for everyone else I’m playing with. This should go a long way toward having better games of League of Legends overall and lower tension that often leads to toxicity before players get onto the Rift.
There are other things to be excited for in 2016, too. Chief among them is the new League of Legends client. Yes, you read that right, it’s actually happening. Finally, the terrible Adobe Air based client will be put to out to pasture and rising from its ashes is what looks to be an extremely sleek interface that should hopefully be as functional as it is beautiful.
Riot is also aiming to make League of Legends a more social experience in 2016. On the social front, players will be able to form clubs, which are basically player-controlled social groups with a persistent chatroom. This should be a great way to organize games with other likeminded players, lowering the barrier to having better games of League even further.
Parties won’t work a whole lot differently than grouping up for games does now, but there is a small wrinkle worth noting. Players on your friends list will easily be able to jump into your group, provided you’ve left it open (it’s set to open by default).
Finally, League of Legends will go mobile with its own dedicated app on iOS and Android. The app will let players stay in touch with friends on their friends list and even sync conversations across devices.
The above are all great ways to improve the social experience of playing League of Legends, but there is one area I’m not particularly sold on and it’s how Riot’s push for an improved social experience will affect ranked play.
Ranked will no longer have solo or team queues. Those looking to ladder up as a static ranked five team will still have that queue available, but solo/duo queue will be replaced entirely with something called dynamic groups. Basically, players will be able to queue for ranked either solo or with up to four other players. The system will do its best to match premade groups up with other premades with the same number of premade players (Riot suggests premade five groups will have a 95% chance of running into another premade five) and players will all have to be within the same rank range to queue together, but this change will have some dramatic effects on ranked play.
If this sounds familiar, it should, Blizzard tried it with Heroes of the Storm. It didn’t work. In fact, Blizzard realized this and recently switched Heroes of the Storm to League’s current solo/duo only configuration. Does this mean dynamic groups will also fail in League of Legends? Not necessarily. Supporters of the change point to the success this sort of system has had in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but I remain a bit skeptical.
Even if we assume Riot has the perfect matchmaking system to ensure players are always matched with identical configurations of premade players, this doesn’t remove the natural tension between premade and solo queued players. Even worse, the change essentially diminishes players’ ability to use the ranked ladder as an accurate means of comparing their individual skill level to the rest of the playerbase.
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where five players start out together in silver, some of those players improve dramatically, while others hit a wall, yet those lagging players end up unfairly carried up to ranks they probably couldn’t hit themselves. I’m more than aware that the current setup is imperfect and players can be boosted or otherwise end up at ranks they shouldn’t be playing at, but this new setup will blur the lines and diminish the value of one’s individual rank.
On the flip side, Riot may be coming to terms with the reality that League of Legends is more of a team-based game than it has ever been and so strict adherence to maintaining the value of an individual rank is inherently flawed. These days, your successes and failures in League games are more often than not the result of the collective effort and capabilities of your team and not necessarily a pure reflection of your individual skill level.
Most players today would agree that Riot’s balance changes over the years have made the game much harder, if not impossible, to carry individually. Perhaps this change is a reflection of that new reality. This may be Riot’s way of allowing the ranked ladder to finally catch up to the game League of Legends is now, while also improving the social experience. If Riot has indeed accepted this notion internally, it would make letting go of the currently flawed system an easy decision when considering how the increase in flexibility can improve the overall quality of ranked games by emphasizing the team-based nature of the game instead of continually bucking against it.
What’s your take on Riot’s plans for League of Legends in 2016? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!