Riot Games' League of Legends has been winning accolades and fans since it released last year for a few different reasons. It's a highly polished version of Defense of the Ancients, the company has supported the game with continuous updates and new content, and oh yeah -- it's a free-to-play title.
Lately, Riot has been working on a major update they're calling "Season One," designed to make the game a little more compatible with competitive play, as well as implement some of the most requested features for the game. The update should be out within a few weeks, they told us, but on the floor of E3, we got to see some of the new tweaks in action.
The main PvP.net game screen has been completely redesigned, and it looks cleaner and more informational than before. Rather than just a set of headlines, Riot has added full news posts and character updates to the front, so that players can see with a glance what's new in the game.
The play screen now offers "Normal" and "Ranked" game options, along with the usual Practice and Tutorial modes. Every player in the game will now get a ranking, assigned using a variation of the Elo ranking system according to your in-game wins and losses in three different queues: 3v3 or 5v5 premades (fully formed groups of friends), or 5v5 solo. Those rankings will be available on your own in-game character screen, or a new publicly available ladder website, where everyone will be able to check players' rankings and/or prove their own placement on the leaderboards.
We were told by Riot that team functionality isn't implemented yet, but it is coming, and eventually, teams will also be able to get ranked on the system. The new system is designed to put a number on just how good you are in the game, and while the ranking is only based on your win/loss ratio (so presumably, if you're great but can't seem to get on a winning team), the developers are confident the math will give you the ranking you deserve.
The interface for picking champions before a match has been updated as well. While players can stick with a blind pick system (the current implementation), there will also be a new "draft mode" option, which will let teams entering a match ban or choose champions in a fair order. It's a little complicated to explain, but the idea is that players who really know their champions will be able to counter what they feel are overpowered playstyles by making sure heroes are or aren't included in the games.
And even blind pick mode has an updated UI, along with the rest of the pre-game interface. We asked Riot about the game's loading times -- to keep things fair, they make everyone in an online game wait until everyone else has loaded up the map, and when facing off against players with slow computers, the wait can be long. But Riot says that's a necessary step -- their main goal is fairness, and letting some players into the match first wouldn't work for them. Outside of the loading delay, they are proud to say that "our queue time is less than a minute," so if you want to jump in and play the game, you can.
Finally, we asked about the one lack of content in the game so far: the maps. While Riot has released dozens of champions for players to play around with, Season One still finds LoL with only two maps, one made for 3v3 and one for 5v5. Riot simply said it was a question of resources. Not only would a new map take a long time to get graphically right, but there are so many champions and abilities and strategies that they need to make sure that every single one works flawlessly on a new map before they release it for play. That takes time, and in addition to all of their other updates, new maps have fallen down on the priority list.
But there is hope. The developers definitely made sure to say that, "When we release new maps, they have to be really well-balanced." When, mind you -- not if. So maps are still on the development horizon at some point, and in addition to Season One and all of the other updates this free-to-play game has seen, there'll be plenty of LoL-ing to do.