Patch 3.6 changed this by removing the Proving Grounds, replacing it with the Howling Abyss, and making ARAM a dedicated gametype with its own matchmaking. Now I play probably twice as many games as before, typically 8 to 10 ARAM games with no other matches. As it turns out, even I'm vulnerable to casual fun. The 3.6 patch also added in quite a few cool features that make ARAM much, much better than the pick-up custom games. I think that it's a great addition to League of Legends, especially for those who aren't particularly hardcore.
ARAM stands for "all random, all mid." It's a gametype where all players are forced to lane, Summoners' Rift-style, but with a twist: Everyone occupies the same lane. Additionally, all champions are selected randomly from each player's list of available characters. The one lane gameplay already creates chaotic situations, and the random character select magnifies that greatly.
There are a few additional rules in ARAM, and prior to the Proving Grounds, these were soft-enforced. In Howling Abyss (and in the old Proving Grounds), these are enforced by gameplay. These include restricting the use of the base; characters cannot recall to it, buy items, or recover health at it unless they die. A few summoner spells, most notably Revive, are disallowed as well. Additionally, the ARAM maps include a Dominion-like start (begin at level 3 with more gold) and more passive gold and XP than in a normal Classic game.
The end result is a faster game with more action and less strategy. You don't have to spend any time thinking about objectives; you spend a lot more time doing mechanical things like zoning and punishing mistakes. Last-hitting is less emphasized, but it's not less important, since gold is still a valuable commodity. Overall, the gameplay is fun and a bit mindless but still rewards skilled play.
I love new features!
The most obvious addition to ARAM is simply that it is a normal matchmade queue. Being a part of matchmaking means that it takes less time to find games and people are actually punished for dodging. In the old custom games, players tended to disconnect if they got champions they didn't like, and everyone else would get dumped back in the lobby. This, combined with the fact that everyone had to sit in the lobby and wait for people to join the game, was kind of annoying. Because ARAM now has matchmaking, people are punished for dodging, which discourages players from doing it. If you want casual fun, just click on the ARAM gametype and sit in queue for maybe half a minute. It's a much better experience just from that alone.
However, the new ARAM mode also blind-picks teams, meaning you don't know what the other team randomly rolled. Before, if the enemy team had some really dominating character like Nidalee, someone would generally dodge. Now you don't know, and that is kind of a nice change. It is "all random," after all, and part of "all random" means sometimes the RNG picks Jayce.
Additionally, if you get a champion you don't like, the new ARAM mode includes a reroll mechanic that allows you to change your character! You build points toward rerolls by playing ARAM games; you build these points more quickly if you have more characters in your roster (since you're more likely to get someone you don't want). In practice, you seem to get a reroll about once every 3 to 6 games, so you do still have to play with the spirit of "all random." However, if you really don't want to play Shaco, you can spend a reroll and play someone else. You can store up to two rerolls at a time, which forces you to think a bit about them but still lets you save up if you have a lot of good picks in a row. This helps curb dodging even more, since there's a mechanic in place to allow you to avoid playing characters you really don't like.
Just as in all other modes, you can also swap characters with your team. Recently, I had an interesting situation where I got Janna, whom I was pretty happy with. However, a teammate had Volibear, who is terrible in ARAM, and asked me to trade. I accepted the trade and spent a reroll, since I had my second reroll almost fully charged. I got Yorick, whom I am also pretty happy with. However, our Sivir player saw that I got Yorick and asked me to trade, which I was more than happy to do, as I really like Sivir. Another time though, our Master Yi player traded him away for Sona, then rerolled her. We lost that game. A little pro tip: Don't reroll if you have Sona, ever.
Naturally, like anything I do in any game ever, I think of ways to game the system. The ARAM game mode has plenty of ways to exploit little advantages.
My champion roster is not especially large. I own around 40 characters, which is a fairly small roster for someone who has been playing League for over a year. Of those, only two are questionable choices in ARAM (Poppy and Rammus), and most of the others are really strong. My penchant for playing supports, mages, and ranged carries leads to most of my roster being fairly viable in ARAM, and I have some pretty OP picks in my roster like Sona, Soraka, Nidalee, Ahri, and Zyra. Because my roster is kind of small, it doesn't work as well for ARAM; I get fewer rerolls than someone with a bigger roster. Additionally, my roster is heavily diluted by the free week champions. This was a problem when I played custom ARAM games, but it really got annoying for me lately when I rolled Tryndamere and Volibear (neither of whom I own) with an Udyr game as well. Of course, there's a way to game the system a bit.
I went to the shop and looked for low-hanging fruit -- champions who are good or decent in ARAM, like Annie, whom I don't own yet (yes, I played League for well over a year without unlocking her), and picked them up for low cost. This helps pad my roster so the free week champions are less likely. At the same time, it also gives me more rerolls since my roster is bigger.
Of course, people who bought champion packs are basically hosed. I like having a compact roster of characters I actually play, instead of a fat roster of champions I would never, ever pick. I think that this helps out free players who never spend any money at all, since they pick and choose each character they unlock.
Unfortunately, I never got an email back from Riot about the problem of Shaco being on my roster. I guess that's what rerolls are for.
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