A Look at Design Philosophy Behind League of Legends

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Lead Designer for Riot's League of Legends, Ryan "Morello" Scott attended a discussion surrounding building an esport and the design philosophy behind one of the most popular MOBA's all time. The hour long discussion marked the first meeting for the GDC Esports Summit. Moderator Frank Lantze from NYU Game Center posed some interesting questions to Riot designer that let us into some of the lessons Scott has learned and some of the approaches he takes to League of Legends game design.

Defining League of Legends

One exchange saw Scott admitting that sometimes he struggles to describe LOL to others who are unfamiliar with it. Lantze offered up his own definition of the game as being one part chess, one part basketball, and one part Pokemon. "It's chess in the sense that, at its heart, LOL is a strategy game. It's a game of position and tactics and decision making. It's like basketball because it's about execution, being on a team, in real time, calling plays, those kind of dynamics., and it's like Pokemon in the sense that it's intentionally Baroque. There are all of these elaborate things you need to memorize. In order to play this game, you need to know reams and reams of information."

Mistakes and Successes

Lantze asked Scott what it was like being the designer of one of the most popular games today. "I would say the best way to describe how it feels is that you get near sighted. You're kind of scared because it is a pretty daunting task. If you make a mistake, a lot of people suffer." He went on to discuss designing champions like Yorick as examples of characters that were great ideas, but that there were "we didn't do our due diligence into making the right kind of 'minonancer' for example." That is, Scott saw some LOL champions seemed to lack focus in one area of expertise, and this limited their further development and use. However, Scott also explained that the opposite was true. "As a developer you can make things that are meaningful for players and actually change their experience for the better," he states.

Riot's Work Flow

Lantze asked if Scott could provide a small overview of Riot's development process on LOL. "We play test two a day, everyday, all new champions that we're developing, balance changes, sometimes features," he explains, "We also test new items or item changes and system changes." Next, the team gets feedback and uses that feed back as iteration points for the day. Finally, the team tests again at the end of the day and watches the effects of the changes they've made. "We try to use a very structured, engineering style of thinking," he stated.

The Paradox of Designing LOL

Lantze pointed out a particular paradox that exists in a game like LOL in that the game itself is extremely, if not impossible, to master. Yet, designers still need to make it accessible enough for people to take an interest. Scott explained that what he's learned about what approach connects the most iconic games is that they have a deep mastery curve. "Our assumption is that players desire mastery. We think the paradox is actually that if you try and make your game broadly appealing first and then make it deep, you'll fail. Accessibility is great, but it can't be the foundation of the game if you want to build a mastery game. If you build depth first and make a game that is rich in decision making, highly challenging, and let's you master things over hundreds of hours, then you've made the game already and all you have to do is teach."

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Rag Dhiman

has over a decade’s experience of working with clients to develop solid solutions to their problems. With a Microsoft and iOS background, he specialises in a range of technologies including XCode, Objective-C, OS X, Windows, HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, C#, .NET and SQL Server. Rag enjoys problem solving using up to date technologies; his current interests include the iOS Sprite Kit and the new iOS framework. He has developed multiple apps for mobile devices. In his spare time Rag likes to develop his photography skills and he is a petrol head who particularly enjoys motor car racing.