League of Legends is not for loners
When I first heard “League of Legends” tossed around in conversation among my guy friends, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit. Without missing a beat, I lumped it into the usual category of video games: mindless, violent entertainment designed to pass long, empty hours. After researching League more thoroughly, however, I found that, in this case, I was far too quick to judge. League is no standard game — with 67 million players a month, “pro teams” that draw 32 million viewers and compete for a million dollars in the World Championships and a collegiate league that inspired the incredibly well-organized and competitive Rice League of Legends club, League, or LoL, as it's called, deserves a fresh look. It’s time to put some misconceptions to rest and for Rice students to give the game and its players a chance.
First, LoL’s fanatics are not the stereotypical Cheeto-munching, couch-potato gamers staring at their computer screens in isolation for hours on end. In truth, League is an exclusively social activity that requires sophisticated communication and facilitates bonding.
“It’s designed to be a social experience,” Sid Richardson College junior Jacob Saldinger, a non-competitive player, said. “A lot of games have a good single player mode in addition to multiplayer. But League requires you to participate on a team of five every time; it’s 100 percent social
Part of League’s strategic challenge rests in its requirement that one’s “champion,” or avatar, must work alongside others in a team. The best teams practice together to develop rapid communication skills and coordinate strategy.
“It’s really hard to get five people to go along with one cohesive plan,” Jones College junior Brian Lee, the external vice president of the Rice LoL club, said. “You have to work as a unit, resolve disputes about which strategy to choose in a matter of seconds and have the discipline to follow along with a plan even if you’re skeptical.”
Another draw to the game is the unprecedented “pro scene.” The game developer, Riot Games, organizes regional, national and international championships, which are broadcast on the web. The viewership is substantial — last year, over 10 million more viewers tuned into the League of Legends World Championships than to the NBA Finals.
“It has the most unmatched pro scene of any game out there,” Sid Richardson College junior Tyler Clapp, another non-competitive player, said. “The structured tournament system and competitive aspect of the game has made it easy for it to become so popular.”
Riot promotes pro-league viewership as much as playing the game itself. League of Legends thus takes on the quality of a sport — it can be enjoyed both directly and indirectly.
“There’s a lot of access points,” Saldinger said. “You can play yourself [and] you can watch people play. There’s a lot of strategy as well as brute mechanical skill, like football. Riot’s been really smart about leveraging those aspects to promote the game in as many ways as possible.”
Riot also sponsors a collegiate league, in which teams from various colleges compete against each other in regional and national tournaments for tuition money instead of straight cash.
“I started playing LoL in high school, and I was really interested in being on an intercollegiate team going into college,” McMurtry College freshman Savion Lee, a coordinator for the McMurtry LoL team, said. “I just really like the community environment and bonding with other people who have the same interest.”
The Rice LoL club is broken into several five-person “elitist,” or varsity, and junior varsity teams. The coordinator for each team arranges practices and friendly inter-college matches with other team leaders. The club also organizes tournaments, where students compete in matches against each other and other universities.
Many other students at Rice, however, choose to play the game just to blow off steam, or to hang out with friends and get to know people better.
“Some video games just involve you sitting in a room by yourself for hours on end,” Clapp said. “League’s just not like that. It’s social, and the games are discrete — after 30 minutes, you’re done. The appeal lies in the bonding potential and the fun rush of [defeating] your friends.”
Though the game offers a lot of room for improvement, Saldinger, Clapp, Brian Lee and Savion Lee all agreed that trying to be good isn’t necessarily the point.
“Just give it a shot,” Savion Lee said. “It teaches you great communication skills, and it’s not super intense. It’s just supposed to be fun and social — light competition among friends.”
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