Today I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me a lot recently. I spend a lot of time on Team Liquid, particularly in the League of Legends sub forum. For anyone who doesn’t know, teamliquid.net is a forum that was made for competitive Starcraft Broodwar players and is one of the most highly regarded forums for Starcraft outside of Korea. In the past couple years, the focus has shifted on the site from Broodwar towards Starcraft 2 and in the same timespan, a fairly large LoL community popped up on the forums and has grown to the point where we have our own LoL sub forum on teamliquid. While I love the TL LoL community, there have been some issues between some members of the SC2 community and the LoL community. Essentially any time a professional LoL event is going on, there are dismayed Starcraft players who come into the live report threads to trash talk LoL as a competitive game. Their gripes are always the same, namely that MOBAs are less skillful games than Starcraft and that of all the mainstream MOBAs, LoL has the lowest skill ceiling. They think that by promoting a less difficult game, the competitive LoL community is hurting the future of eSports by encouraging casual games as opposed to competitive games. My goal with this post is to prove them wrong.
I want to start by refuting the point that MOBAs are less skillful games than RTSs. I cannot argue that the mechanical difficulty of a game like Starcraft 2 is considerably higher than LoL. You simply need to do more actions per minute to compete at a high level in a game of SC2 than you do in a game of LoL. But with that being said, I want to ask why it is that some people place such a high value on mechanical skills in an eSport. Since when do we attribute skill merely to games with mechanical barriers that require countless hours to overcome? I say that you would be hard pressed to find someone who would argue that Chess has a low skill ceiling, but yet, Chess has infinitely less mechanics involved in playing it than even LoL. So why is it that when this discussion comes up between two video games, players become so fixated on mechanics? The beauty of high level MOBA play rarely comes from individual execution, and rather it comes from the flawless executions of teamwork. Watching a team of five players execute a single strategy perfectly in LoL is impressive on a completely separate level than watching a professional Broodwar player systematically destroy an inferior opponent. It’s just a straightforward case of comparing apples and oranges. MOBAs test a different skillset than RTSs, and while it’s perfectly acceptable to be more impressed by one than another, it’s foolish to act like one’s preferences are objective fact.
Moving on to the comparison of how skillful LoL is compared to other MOBAs, again, I think the issue largely comes from computer game players fixating on mechanics. The mechanical ceiling in all MOBAs is relatively low compared to other genres of competitive games, but as I stated earlier, this isn’t the focal point of these games. It doesn’t make sense to say that DotA is an innately more competitive game due to the fact that a DotA player has to do a few more actions per minute to deny and manage a courier. Ultimately, these mechanical differences aren’t what make the games interesting to watch. The facets of these games that captivate viewers are things like champion and build synergies, roaming and map control and impressively executed teamfights. And frankly, I don’t see how these higher level facets of the MOBA genre are so much easier in LoL than they are in DotA. Traditional MOBA players like to complain that stronger towers, summoner spells, lack of denying and lack of loss of gold on death make LoL an easier game, but that really begs the question, “why aren’t old DotA pros flocking to LoL for free money?” The fact of the matter is that there is more money in LoL than there is in DotA right now, and looking at the popularity trends, this disparity is only going to get more extreme. If succeeding at LoL were really so much easier, wouldn’t we see DotA teams transitioning to LoL for easy money? We’ve seen instances of DotA/HoN pros switching to LoL (Vigoss, Chu8 for example), and while they’ve proven quite capable of doing well at LoL in the Solo Queue environment, the lack of crossover success at the tournament level speaks volumes to the relative depth of LoL. As I see it, the differences that DotA players like to cling to as examples of LoL being easier are all really just design decisions made by Riot. And while I can understand and accept that some might not like the way they drive the gameplay, I don’t actually think there’s a good argument out there to say that they have created a game that requires less skill or has less depth than DotA. The games feel different, but to call one better and one worse based on highly debated gameplay mechanics just feels wrong.
The overarching point I’m trying to make here is most of the criticism that people throw at LoL is unfounded. It seems that some people want to cry that the sky is falling and that the next step is the Mario Party 13 Pro Circuit, but in reality Riot has actually made a great game that’s worthy of our respect as competitive gamers. The game has been out for years and the tournament scene has fostered great innovation that has driven the metagame to new and exciting heights. Professional players routinely show that they’re more skilled than casual players and that the real skill ceiling of the game is nowhere near being reached. Regardless of your personal feelings about LoL, you can’t deny its merits as a competitive game, let alone the advancement it brings to the state of eSports by bringing new viewers and players to the table.