League of Legends: hell is other people, pt. 2

, | Game diaries

The game has been going on for a while. It’s a close one! Characters are changing dramatically as they get up to levels 13, 14, 15, where their distinct abilities are coming into their own. Dire stuff is happening all around. Now equipment is powerful enough to really matter. I’ve got Karma up to level 14, even though I’ve been mostly sharing a lane. One guy on the other team is level 17 already! We’ve traded a couple of turrets, but no one is getting steamrolled yet. It’s getting real.

I look over at everyone’s level on our team to see how we’re doing. Dingus is level 7.

After the jump, I get by in spite of my friends

Part of the appeal of a real time strategy game is the power fantasy of building and leading an army. Well, not really an army, unless you’re playing something by Creative Assembly. More like a collection of toys that would have represented an army when you were a boy. RTSs aren’t about war. They’re about how boys envision war: with discrete units with personality and lots of cool “What if it could shoot laser beams from its eyes?” stuff.

But what many of us look for (As we get older? As our reflexes dull? As we lose interest in childhood power fantasies?) is something akin to team sports. The PR guy for League of Legends is Chris Kramer who used to be at Capcom. So it makes sense that he would know enough about their respective genres to call League of Legends the Street Fighter of RTSs. He’s got a great point. Like Street Fighter, this is a game anyone can jump into. Cool stuff will happen, even if you don’t quite grok the gameplay. But it rewards a very meticulous level of skill.

A key element Kramer’s analogy misses, and what makes League of Legends as infuriating and as great as it is, is how it’s an unrepentantly collaborative game. At some point, the skill involves being able to play well with others. In League of Legends, you can leave behind your power fantasies, because you’re only 10% of the equation. The other nine players have just as much input as you. With any luck, your five players will have more skill and synergy acumen than the other team’s five players.

So when I look over and see that Dingus is only level 7 — right at the half way point for everyone else’s average — my immediate thought is that this is a design flaw. The same as when someone drops, turning a 5v5 game into a 5v4 game, or when I try a new character and I have no idea what’s going wrong as he keeps dying over and over to other new characters I’ve never seen before. League of Legends is such a frail construct for how much it depends on other people. There is none of the power and glory of a 1v1 win in Starcraft II or Supreme Commander or Ruse. It’s even more pronounced that other team-based RTSs like World in Conflict or Command and Conquer 4. This is a game about the limits of power, about how there’s no I in team, about pulling together and winning one for the Gipper, about thanking God and Jesus and your mom. In other words, like Team Fortress 2, this must be how dorks play sports. And when we get into the locker room, I’m going to give that Dingus a talking to about hanging too far back in the lane or running around and killing wolves in the jungle. Actually, forget waiting until the locker room. I’ll give him the what for while we’re playing!

But it turns out Dingus wasn’t actually level 7, which is why he kept laughing when I berated him over Skype. I don’t know if it’s a bug or a line of sight issue or if I’m supposed to hit F5 whenever I check everyone’s level, but sometimes League of Legends lies to me about what level people are. So then I end up looking like the asshole on the team who’s berating the guy who’s actually doing just fine. At which point I blame League of Legends and my lack of sportsmanship from having never played competitive sports when I was a kid because I was too busy making forts for my Star Wars action figures, all of whom were whatever level I wanted them to be.

Up next: heaven is other people, pt. 2
Click here for the previous League of Legends game diary entry.