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Building a Sport: The Design Philosophy of League of Legends

This morning at GDC (Game Developers Conference), I had the pleasure to attend a talk by Frank Lantz (NYU Game Center) and Ryan Scott (Lead Game Designer). This is the first year that GDC has hosted an eSports summit and what a great way to kick it off, with perhaps the most popular PC game at the moment; League of Legends. Frank was conducting a casual interview with Ryan and brought up some interesting questions and points of interest. Below, you can find some takeaways/notes from the talk and be sure to leave any feedback in the comments below. It should be noted, that Ryan is answering these questions and I'm just paraphrasing.

What is the process for testing changes to champions, items, and overall gameplay mechanics?

Lead designers playtest new champs twice a day. In the morning they all gather to play and test these new changes. After this session has ended, they gather feedback from the team and take the time to make quick adjustmeents for the afternoon play session. In the PM test session, they play with the revised changes and hope to get it fined tuned enough. If not, it is rinse and repeat. It should be noted that only recently did they start to work 6-12 months ahead. It was common practice in the past to work very reactively on the game and this did not allow time to work on a roadmap or bigger picture items.

How can you make the game more accessible?

It's not something we really think about when designing the game. History has shown us that competitive/complicated games yield a high user base. They are happy to invest time and effort into a game that they like. From a game design standpoint, we try to focus building depth first and then worrying about accessibility later.

The biggest takeaway from this answer was trying to spend as little "money" on complexity to yield the most depth in the game. People will yearn to master it.

What was the reason for removing the "Denial" feature what was prominent in DOTA?

It was a highly debated feature to be removed, but what it boiled down to was that it made little sense to test the same skill twice. Talking about CS, we wanted to focus primarily on this lane management aspect.

What makes a good broadcast?

The same thing that makes other professional sports broadcasts good. Putting the proper visuals on the screen. Having a visual hierarchy and putting relevant content on the viewers screen.

What is the amount of interaction that the design team has with pro players?

Personally, not as much as other team members who casually talk to some players on a daily basis. Their influence is helpful and can often be a factor into changes in the game. We take into account if teams or players complain about winning with a boring single style or if there is a OP way to draft/play to win.

What do you like about Valve/DOTA in general?

I loved playing TF2. I think I had quadruple hours put into that game. It was affecting my work, I had to stop. We have a casual curiosity about DOTA but we don’t obsesses over their practices. We take ideas from all games not just MOBAs. Do we have a special relationship with dota? Not really, we just play a lot of games. Game designers should be playing all types of games, otherwise they will cease to advance and innovate.

Does the design team have any influence over the big pictures?

Very little. Best way to describe it is that a separation of church and state. We just want to focus strictly on game design. We do interact with tournament organizers with some issues. I.E does the current game mode limit the type of gameplay and picks we see in the meta? If so, we try to make adjustments to make games/tournaments fresh and appealing.

What are some ways to increase diversity in summoner spells? We see Flash picked up in all, if not most games.

No, we think it really adds to the gameplay and makes the games much better. We did think about getting rid of it three years ago, but decided to keep it. It's such an integral part of competitive play at this point.

How do you test games on the design team since the level of play is probably low?

We have some challenger and diamond 1 players that we recruited to help the design team. This helps a lot in making sure that high level of play is tested throughly.

That's about most of the interesting POIs from the talk, hopefully we will have some other interesting eSport talks from this year's summit. Feel free to leave any comments below.

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