By Tristan Zheng
July 26, 2018
League of Legends is dying. That’s the rumor anyway. League has dominated the esports scene since it debuted in 2009. It once attracted a fanbase of almost 1,000,000,000 players, that’s 1/7th of all people on earth. Through thick and thin, League has seen great success as it generates hundreds of millions of dollars through microtransactions and tournaments.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that League of Legends single-handedly elevated esports to its current status. League revolutionized so many different aspects of MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) games; it really established the genre as a serious player in the games industry.
After eight successful seasons, it seems League of Legends is dying out. The fanbase is slowing down. Players are leaving out of frustration or boredom. Active users are declining, despite the best efforts of developer Riot Games.
League of Legends is waning. It isn’t dying just yet, but it is losing momentum. There was a time when games averaged hundreds of thousands of viewers on a normal day, even outside of the competitive series.
During the League Competitive Series, League would have up to 400,000 viewers, even outside of the big tournaments like the Mid-Season Invitational and the World Championship. Those events each attracted nearly 1,000,000 viewers in seasons five and six.
Now, outside of a competitive series, League of Legends sees a maximum of 80,000 viewers. During an event, they might reach 300,000 viewers, if they’re lucky. How the mighty have fallen.
Riot Games needs to make some serious changes.
They need to address players who are quitting or taking more breaks than usual. It’s no secret that several streamers and professional League of Legends players are venting their frustration at the current balance. A few professional players have abandoned League altogether.
Again, League is waning, but it won’t be dead anytime soon. Its numbers are still respectable, just not where they once were. It’s not quite as bad as Team Fortress 2, yet.
There’s no lack of new content. League of Legends is constantly updating and still adding champions. However, many players are stepping back as a result of some controversial changes.
A hundred new games are released every single day. Not just AAA title, but the hundreds of independent titles as well. All of these games are direct competitors to League of Legends, even if they’re not in the same genre. That’s partially why Fortnite has had such a negative impact on League’s active user count.
Fortnite is still growing, and it’s dividing the attention of esports players. With more than a fanbase growing by the hundreds of thousands every single day and a family-friendly art-style, Riot will need to up their game to stay relevant.
League of Legends bet it all on the competitive community, rather than the experience itself. Fortnite has focused on a free-to-play model with cosmetic loot.
A loss in League of Legends is a serious blow. The whole game is designed around toward slow, methodical wins. Fortnite is on a hard timer. Plus, its wacky atmosphere makes it easy to remember the good and the bad. It’s not all about winning.
Now that Fortnite has taken over, its numbers are above and beyond anything League of Legends could pump out, especially when pros and celebrities are at the controller. Fortnite pros have achieved something League players never could; they went mainstream.
League of Legends launched with some great balance. Every playstyle was viable. There was a time when victory was the result of skill and practice. Then came the end of season four.
Once we enjoyed the harmony of a perfectly balanced game, then the metas attacked. The most notorious of these is the tank-meta and the assassin-meta. Each brought champions who were insta-picks and champions who were completely forgotten.
For example, during the tank meta, champions like Poppy, Maokai, and Nautilus were dominating the field while AD Carries and assassins struggled to make a difference in the game, especially when the fights came around.
Riot Games tried to address the meta, but they just created another one. The assassin meta saw assassin character take over the field, sometimes winning games in under 20 minutes.
During the assassin meta, if you weren’t a tank or a bruiser, you were fodder. AD Carries and squishy mages feared for their lives as names like Katarina, Leblanc, and Talon dominated every aspect of the early to mid-game.
Those are just two examples. The balance system has consistently failed to fix one issue without creating another. The problem is League of Legends is symmetrical. Equal opposition is at the core of its design.
New strategies like “gold funneling” are only driving more people away. This allows a handful of players to dominate while the others are frustrated to their limits. Mid-laners were almost obsolete whenever top laners veered into the mid-lane.
Now, Riot’s only form of balance is nerfing items and buffing counter-picks. Fix the current issue and sort out the rest later. One side becomes overpowered, only to get nerfed in the next patch. It’s extremely frustrating, especially when playing against the meta.
If they can’t fix the meta, this style of musical chair balance will doom League of Legends. The balance system was perfectly fine before. Now, it’s rare to see a game where everyone has an equal opportunity to win.
I’ll say it. League of Legends has one of the most toxic gaming environments in gaming. This is partially because of the emphasis on winning. People don’t care about healthy competition. They only care if they’re winning or losing.
This tension leads to anger and frustration. Thanks to the anonymity of the internet, players aren’t afraid to curse and scream and spew hateful nonsense at each other. While players have their mute button, that doesn’t stop people from trolling or griefing.
Some trolls are even guilty of “feeding,” (intentional dying) just to make the game harder for their teamates.
To be clear, the majority of League of Legends players are normal, well-adjusted people. However, there are those who can’t stand to lose, who get easily frustrated, and who feel the need to scream and yell into the microphone.
This toxicity has only gotten worse. Players who “feed” or “troll” actively make the game worse. Meanwhile, people who “flame,” otherwise known as verbally abusing their teammates, make the community weaker. Riot won’t even punish these mean-spirited players.
Both are bad, but when you leave the trolls and feeders to themselves without even a suspension or a rank decrease, they can create more flamers and continuously keep making the game toxic which is something you don’t want.
It’s a vicious cycle. Trolls create flamers. People laughing at flamers, in turn, create more trolls.
Every patch has a few bugs crawling out the seams. Watch any Twitch streamer, and you’ll probably see a new bug every week.
New bugs are even found during LCS (League Competitive Series), costing players a match or causing the game to reset. There’s nothing more frustrating that closing in on the enemy, knowing that prize money is just a few clicks away…only to get stuck in an invisible wall.
While bugs are small, they add up; death by a thousand cuts and all that. No one wants to play competitively if they know an item won’t work until the next patch. If they want to stay relevant, Riot Games needs to address bugs before they become a problem.
League of Legends has some big problems, no doubt about that. It’s old, it’s unbalanced, it’s toxic, and it’s buggy. These obstacles are not insurmountable, but they are daunting.
Overwatch and Fortnite keep building their audiences with no sign of slowing. It’s tempting to make the switch, but don’t give up hope just yet.
Sure, League of Legends can be frustrating, but Riot is constantly working on making the game better and fixing the flaws. If they can fix the balance issues, police the community, and address as many bugs as they can, maybe, just maybe League of Legends will return in a blaze of glory.