'League of Legends' is about to change and it's all your fault

Riot Games lead designer Greg Street discusses how input from eSports pros and everyday players influenced the 2017 update.

Riot Games

League of Legends players should probably give up on the idea of a game editor. Riot Games lead designer Greg Street hates to slam the door on any particular idea, but he's fairly confident that players will never be allowed to mess around with the game's core mechanics. Riot simply doesn't want players to create 1,000 new versions of League of Legends in the hope that one new game mode might stick.

"Philosophically, that's something we're really reluctant to do," Street says.

This doesn't mean Riot is afraid of change. League of Legends patch 6.24 goes live on December 7th, and it should be game-changing enough to satiate fans hungry for something new. For example, the 2017 season update introduces a practice mode where players can try out tricky maneuvers over and over again, with the option to instantly reset cooldowns, test out new paths through the jungle, play around with infinite gold and lock champions at specific levels.

Players have been clamoring for this feature for a while, but Riot was initially reluctant to introduce a dedicated League of Legends practice space, Street says.

"We had always resisted that, saying League is a team game and we really want, if players only have a couple hours to play, we'd rather they were playing League of Legends and not practicing League of Legends," he explains.

But players responded with a strong argument for practice mode: Riot kept saying that League of Legends was a sport, and sports have training facilities. If this were soccer, players could hit the pitch and practice dribbling; if it were basketball, they could shoot free throws at a local court until their arms were numb. If Riot ever wanted League of Legends to be taken seriously as a sport, it needed a practice space.

Street and his team eventually agreed with this logic, and on December 7th practice mode will be here to stay.

Riot learned a lot about listening to players in 2016. As the eSports industry has boomed, plenty of League of Legends professionals have become massively popular, and a handful of coaches and players have publicly expressed concern over the way Riot handles updates and splits revenue for major tournaments. For example, Riot rolled out a major patch just before the regional playoffs of this year's World Championships, drastically altering the way players had to approach the early game. Plenty of pros were upset that months of practice were now partly moot.

Street is the person in charge of changes like this one.

"And we knew that was going to cause some pain for the pros," Street says. "On the other hand, we knew that people not watching their games would also cause them a lot of pain." He says that games were simply too boring until 15 or 20 minutes in, meaning fewer viewers were tuning in to the early game. Ideally, Riot would have rolled out the update months ahead of time, Street says.

"But the finals were really good. Even the final Worlds game was really tight, so we feel like it was the right change to make," he explains. "We'd do it again -- we'd make that same decision again. Hopefully in 2017 we can detect any big, systemic changes that need to occur and make them earlier."

Riot has also learned how to better deal with real-life money issues on the professional scene. Studio co-founder Mark "Tryndamere" Merrill answered one accusation of unfair revenue sharing in August with a Reddit post that suggested the owner of TSM, one of the top North American teams, was withholding millions of dollars from his players. It didn't paint Riot in the best light, and Merrill edited the post shortly after publication.

One month later, Riot outlined new opportunities for revenue sharing among eSports teams, aimed at making the game more profitable for professional League of Legends coaches, players and owners. This represents a deeper philosophical shift for Riot. Street says that the eSports and development teams used to keep each other at arm's length, like the separation of church and state.

"More recently, we've realized that's silly and we're just hurting ourselves," Street says. "So now we coordinate much more tightly with those guys in eSports. We realized that the pros could be enormous advocates for the game, and if they're not advocating for it, if they have concerns, that's stuff we want to hear and act on."

Now Riot runs some potential new features by eSports pros. Street's team is floating around the idea of an updated ban system that would allow players to disable a total of 10 champions at the beginning of a game, rather than the current six. The development team has asked professional players and coaches for their feedback on this particular potential feature.

Even with a renewed focus on professional League of Legends, Street hasn't forgotten about everyday players. He says Riot's goal is to build a game that's fun and balanced for everyone, from casuals to professionals. With 103 million people logging on every month all across the globe, that's a tall order.

"It is a gigantic challenge," Street says. "We're kind of stupid, because we want to create a balanced environment for all of our players. It would be really easy to say, 'Look, we designed for the pro players, and the rest of the community is just going to have to keep up ...' That isn't our approach. Instead we're like, no, we want to create a good environment for all players. And to make it even harder on ourselves, we want to use the same ruleset for all players."

The 2017 patch includes a handful of major updates, including massive changes to the jungle, assassin buffs, new highlight and sharing functions, and the ability to watch post-game replays. Some of these changes are driven by professional demands, and some of them are an attempt to make the game more engaging for everyday players -- all 103 million of them. The ability to share gameplay clips, for example, has been a long time coming, Street says.

"It's a feature that literally we have been working on -- not steadily working on -- but was on our list for years," he says. "It was this long-standing player promise that we just kept punting down the road. And we felt like this was finally a time just to do it and ship it, and try to give something to players that they've been asking for for years."

Patch 6.24 isn't the end of League of Legends, of course. There are still plenty of changes to implement and new champions to introduce (the current champion total is 134, with no plans to slow down new releases anytime soon).

Riot remains interested in implementing oft-requested features -- like native voice chat, Street says.

"For Riot to take on voice and build it into League of Legends, we have to offer something that's better than Discord, better than Skype, better than Curse, better than whatever players are already using ... We definitely agree that if we're saying this is a team game, if we're saying coordination is important, then yeah, we do need to eventually provide an in-game voice system. It will happen at some point -- I don't know if it'll be this year or next year, or down the road."