The Summoner's Guidebook: League of Legends is hard but satisfying

The Summoner's Guidebook League of Legends is hard, but satisfying

I am not the only person to ever say League of Legends is a hard game. If you've ever read a message board for a game that isn't LoL (or any general gaming board), you have likely heard about how hard League of Legends is compared to whatever other game is being discussed.

Some veterans insist that LoL is not a hard game. Recently, a pretty famous internet blogger set out to prove that indeed, League is not hard and anyone can be good at it. Ultimately, I don't like his methodology, but he did not disprove my point.

League of Legends is a hard game. MOBA veterans and people who read and study guides don't find it that difficult, but if you're coming to LoL and don't read guides on how to play, it will be hard for you too. That doesn't mean it's a bad game; both awful players and experts can enjoy the game equally. It's the biggest game in the world. That means there has to be a way for bad players to feel comfortable too, right?

The Summoner's Guidebook League of Legends is hard, but satisfying

Why it's hard

I've talked a little before on why LoL is hard, but now I want to get into some actual serious detail. The first is obvious. There are somewhere around a bajillion characters in League of Legends. The odds that you will get into a game with an enemy you know nothing about is staggeringly high, even if you've been playing for months. Although I rarely pick him on purpose, I get Xerath every now and then in ARAMs and the results are always hilarious. Nobody plays Xerath, so nobody has any idea of what to watch out for. He's also effective on SR -- nobody there knows the matchup either -- but when I activate Locus of Power in ARAM, it's funny to see absolutely zero people attempt to juke the obvious oncoming lightning bolts.

The knowledge burden, as I've said before, also applies to items. Riot has tried very hard to lower this knowledge burden with multiple recommended item paths, while keeping the overall number of things you need to parse low. It fails in a few points (it recommends AP Tristana in some places, for instance), but it is an incredible effort and really does help. This does not change the fact that there are at least 40 gazillion items in the game, and knowing what they all do is a big advantage.

LoL's knowledge burden extends beyond that to combinations of things, though. Is AP Tristana even a viable build, and if so, how does it even work? If you haven't played it or seen it played, you might never know. It's also possible that you fell into a sub-optimal trap such as ADC Twisted Fate, where there are simply better choices. On top of that, the real issue with character burden is combinations and matchups; some characters have counters to other characters and some characters work really well together. Some characters don't follow a normal item progression for characters of their class, or perhaps they're like Udyr and simply have a hundred different options for items.

Let's put all of that aside for a second, though. The fact is that no gameplay mode is really obvious. Summoner's Rift seems simple enough: break the turrets and kill enemy players. However, because metagame things happened (roaming became a good thing and each team generally has at least one person roaming), pushing became something you generally want to avoid most of the time. If you tell most people -- even people that play LoL -- that pushing the lane is usually bad and the point of the early game is only to farm, you'll get a lot of weird looks. SR is so obtuse in terms of what actions you should do when (things like fighting for dragon, pushing turrets, stealing buffs, going for Baron) that if you actually think SR is at all easy to figure out, you are either horribly wrong (as you haven't learned enough to appreciate it) or you have been playing MOBAs way too long.

Dominion, the game mode I love the most, is not much better. The goal is to capture points, and people actually figure out much more quickly that killing players isn't the point. However, most people ignore minions (when pushing them is really nice) and try to fight on points rather than set up advantage scenarios and ambushes. It takes a long time for all the skills to gel in Dominion. It ends up being harder. There's no script to follow like there is in SR.

ARAM is by far the easiest gametype to understand, and yet it is still awkward. The goal for almost the entire game is to chip away at the enemy very passively and engage only when it will result in a very strong advantage for your team. Most people who play ARAM completely ignore this, but that's what the optimal play is. The only exception is if you're in a team that has to engage the enemy to stand a chance (or you'll get outpoked, etc.), where the best case is to simply get perfect engagements, bad opponents, or allies who know how to cast a surrender vote.

The knowledge burden for every game mode (yes, including Twisted Treeline) is enormous! There's a ton of stuff you have to learn to be competitive at all. Yes, you can pick up jungling in your first day or two and play reasonably well against your beginner opponents, but if you don't develop a greater understanding of the game, you will not have the same luck at level 30. There's so much stuff to know that thinking about it makes my head hurt.

The Summoner's Guidebook League of Legends is hard, but satisfying

There is an answer, right?

League of Legends is the biggest game in the world. That's very, very odd to me. If you were to travel back in time a few years and tell me that a game based on DotA would be bigger than any game ever made, I would have laughed in your face. DotA is not an easy concept to learn! How would anyone actually get into it?

As it turns out, the knowledge burden is one of the game's real strengths. Learning new tricks and strategies is fun, and each character is distinct, so there's always some new trick you haven't figured out. You may play mostly one role, but even then there are dozens of options for it -- regardless of the role you pick. Most of these options are totally different, unless you play ADC. Even if you play ADC, most of the false choices are pretty distinct.

As a player learns and develops skill with a variety of fun characters, I'm sure he's not thinking about how much stuff there is to learn. If you look at the huge ceiling of knowledge, it's daunting. However, if you just focus on one thing, whatever that one thing is, it seems pretty easy to learn. You learn that one thing, and move on to the next -- and before you know it you're writing guides on Mobafire.

Also, the game doesn't force you to learn all the little meta nuances. If you don't know what a Negatron Cloak is, it really doesn't matter if you're not at the skill level where people intuitively buy them in reaction to high magic damage. If you only know a handful of items or champions, don't know when to go get dragon, and can't last-hit, you're not going to be matched up against people who know much more than you. If you want to push yourself, there's another mountain to climb just around the corner. If you don't, then don't sweat it because you're doing fine against the people you are playing against right now.

That's really the trick. League of Legends is a whole bunch of little things that combine to make a hard game, but a lot of it isn't even obvious at first. You don't even think about things like lane composition until you start to realize that they matter, then you realize they do and you get a nice little "a-ha!" moment.

If you don't play League (and a lot of you don't), there's really no reason to be intimidated. When I was a noob, I knew what I was doing only slightly more than the other noobs, and it carried me to victory most of the time. I was something like 27-6 in SR when I started playing Dominion regularly, and I kept that record for a very long time because I never played SR. All I did was read a few guides and tried to practice the skills that I knew I needed to practice. Anyone reading this right now has tons of information aimed right at the beginner to intermediate player. If you're just coming into the game, don't be afraid! Reading about LoL puts you far ahead of the curve.

We understand what it's like to climb the skill ladder in League of Legends. The Summoner's Guidebook teaches you the tools you need to get a competitive edge. Whether you're climbing the ranked ladder, playing Draft Dominion, or getting crushed by intermediate bots, every enemy has a weakness. And every Thursday, Patrick Mackey shows how you can improve improve on yours.