How To Get Hearthstone On iPad Now & Get Started RIGHT

GREAT NEWS, everyone: Hearthstone is now available on iOS (iPad, iPhone, and iPoop)!

While many of us are rolling our eyes at the fact that this is a soft launch in test markets and the Android app is still months away, those who happen to have a Crapple device can now enjoy Hearthstone on the can..  See what I did there?  We are going to share how you can join in on the action while also looking at some upcoming features, tips and tricks, and other goodies.

First and foremost, there are two ways you can get the Hearthstone app on your iPhone and iPad.  The easy way is to live in Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.  The hard way is moving there just to get your Hearthstone fix wherever you go.

No worries – there is a third way to get Hearthstone on your iPoop device!

What you want to do is switch your Apple App Store region to Canada and trick your device into thinking you are there.  I’m not sure if you have to even have to change your address but this is what I tested successfully:

  1. Go into Settings then iTunes / App Store and tap your Apple ID.
  2. Click View Apple ID and then change your region to Canada.
  3. Agree to the terms then edit your profile.
  4. Choose “none” for payment.
  5. Copy and paste a Canada address from a public listing (i.e. apartment listings).
  6. Choose “none” for payment.
  7. Open up the App Store and download Hearthstone.
  8. Launch Hearthstone and play a match or two – ENJOY!
  9. Receive your FREE “expert pack” after playing one match.

After you test that Hearthstone has successfully installed, you can revert back to your original settings.  The trickiest part is finding an address that is publicly listed.  I recommend using something buried in the search engine results so we’re not all living in the same place (LOL).  Apartment listings, retail stores, and bank addresses are all public domain so it should not take long to find.  The specific steps thereof may vary if you have not upgraded to iOS 7.x yet but it is very easy to figure this out.

Poking The Hearthstone iPad / iOS App

[ source: Hung Tran Nguyen ]

There are two big reasons why the iOS test launch of the Hearthstone app are huge news:

  1. This means the bigger updates are right around the corner.
  2. Deckbuilding games lend themselves well to mobile devices.

I know lots of you geeks and gamers out there have been holding out for Hearthstone to come out on their preferred mobile devices.  Some are just waiting for Blizzard to polish the game further and balance everything out.  Blizzard opted to do a rather soft launch for Hearthstone but I reckon now may be the best time to jump in, unless you rather wait a two or three months for the Android app.

If you are hesitant about trying out Hearthstone, perhaps some thoughts from our own Stan Faryna may provide some  perspective for TCG/CCG newbies:

Assuming the average fight takes 10 minutes…

If you win on average one out of 20 times, that’s 3.3 hours to get one win. And not necessarily any gold in that time with the exception of possible quests and level-ups.

Where’s the “good” game play for the free player?  If you win on average one out of six times, that’s one hour to get to a win. You are unlikely to make gold to buy a pack of cards (or do the arena) with two or three hours of play.

Where’s the “good” game play for the casual player?
What kind of game play should a free player expect?
What kind of game play should a casual player expect?

 Hearthstone is without a doubt the TCG (Tradeable Card Game) for non-TCG/CCG players.   Is there a pay-to-win element?  Sure but what free-to-play game doesn’t have that (the answer is NONE)?  Are there balancing issues?  Absolutely but online games are almost always works in progress.  A look at the development road map may help you appreciate just how much Blizzard is committed to casual and hardcore gamers alike.

Let’s look at a few key points here.  I want to sell you on Hearthstone so we can have Geeky Antics / HorsePLAY! game nights.  Please keep an open mind…

 

Blizzard Has Mastered Mass Appeal

Between the familiarity of their intellectual property, the mythos and universe they have weaved for over two decades, and their accessible (not watered-down) game mechanics, Blizzard has mastered creating mass appeal for their properties.  Virtually everyone has heard of Blizzard, even if they’re not a gamer..  Or they’ve at least heard of World of Warcraft..  Remember that game?

Hearthstone Cameo On World Of Warcraft

Hearthstone is already becoming quite pervasive.  Even before we lucky gamers got into the closed beta, the game was teased in World of Warcraft.  That was back in 2012 and Hearthstone is popping up in more and more conversations.

What’s amazing is how people that would otherwise make fun of deckbuilding games or actively avoid them are enjoying Hearthstone.  For some, it’s the lore and mythos behind the game but, for everyone, it’s the balance and relative ease that makes Hearthstone appealing.

Blizzard has had a fantastic track record bringing niche genres into the forefront and pioneering fresh video game concepts.  Starcraft and Warcraft made RTS games more mainstream than ever, paving the way for eSports.  Diablo made hack-and-slash lootfests a thing.  World of Warcraft got everyone on the MMO bandwagon and introduced billions of gamers to the Warcraft universe.  Now, Hearthstone is bringing TCGs to a much wider audience than Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic The Gathering combined.  Let’s not forget Heroes Of The Storm, which is positioned to make the MOBA/ARTS genre even more of a mainstream activity.

 

You Don’t Have To Do PvP

Expert Mode bot battles should be coming back.  During the Hearthstone beta, you could battle more difficult bots for better rewards.  For some reason, Blizzard gave this feature the axe but there is still Practice mode if you really hate losing or just don’t like PvP.  I get it: no one likes to lose all the time.

Adventure Mode will change things up quite a bit by providing a story-driven single-player experience.  According to the Gamepedia unofficial Hearthstone development wiki, the first installment/episode is set to follow the iOS app release.  Assuming the test launch does not count, we should be about six weeks away from this, likely sooner.

My recommendation is that any new player avoid any PvP matchmaking and stick to friendly duels with friends and Practice mode.  You want to at least grasp the core mechanics and unlock the basic cards for your heroes of choice before diving into more competitive play.  Doing otherwise will lead to unfair expectations and quick judgements.

There are plenty of players out there that do strategy streams, podcasts, and videos.  I am also more than happy to coach new players.  Add me – my BattleTag is Yogizilla#1722.  Hearthstone is definitely meant to be enjoyed with friends.  The community as a whole is friendly so it’s a great place to connect with new geeks!

Learn the basics and the game suddenly becomes more fun..  And you lose less, regardless of the cards.

Hearthstone - Board Layout & Basics Diagram

If you jump straight into human matches, you’re just asking for trouble.  The forced tutorial does a good job of introducing the board layout and basics but a little practice makes PvP much more fun.  You want to at least unlock most of the heroes and core decks before you can find your sweet spot and WIN!

 

Wait..  Is Hearthstone A Pay-To-Win Game?!

Hellz to da NO!

Certainly, the pay-to-win element is there.  I have to reiterate that this is just how free-to-play has to be.  The 20% or so will always make it possible for the rest of us to play for free or on the cheap.   Let’s not forget that video games have business interest and have to make money like everyone else.  It’s only when the pursuit of financial interest over-powers player skill and fun that I would say a game is truly pay-to-win.

We’ll be highlighting EP17 of HorsePLAY! LIVE here on Geeky Antics to dig deeper into the issues of pay-to-win, pesky paywalls, and weak core mechanics.  For now, suffice to say that Blizzard has balanced Hearthstone quite well.  They’ve made it so that skill and fun are still the focus, though paying with time and/or money still give you an edge.

I would say that, compared to other deckbuilding games, Hearthstone has the most diverse meta.  I’ve seen tons of different types of decks and combos.  More importantly, every player has a fighting chance if they are patient and learn the strategies behind it all.

Archmage Antonidas - Legendary Card For Mages In Hearthstone

Now, there is the matter of legendary cards.  In some deckbuilding games, expensive and uber-rare cards are almost auto-wins and insta-adds for any deck.  I don’t find that is the case in Hearthstone, though they help without a doubt.

I have not spent any real money on Hearthstone (yet) and I have beaten plenty of uber decks.  I slacked quite a bit during the beta and it’s only now that Season 1 started that I am really doing my time – in a good way!  In my case, I am familiar with the game mechanics of deckbuilding games as a whole so that helps but I have brought new players into Hearthstone and they picked up the game rather quickly.  That proves that it’s not about the cards you own or even how much time you put in.

To me, any game that requires too much investment of time or money is not fun.  You should be able to pick up a game and enjoy it right off the bat.  If it’s a competitive game, time spent mastering the game should be rewarded but new players should also have the opportunity to compete in a fair and balanced environment.

 

Arena Gives You Bang For Your Buck

I totally recommend this game to anyone curious about what makes a deckbuilding game fun.  I will say that it is best to stick to Practice and friendly matches.  Once you unlock the basic cards (one per hero level for a total of 10 unlocks), your deckbuilding options really open up and you’ll be able to try out new strategies.

I would say after at least a week or 12 hours of solid gameplay, you may want to try out Arena Mode.  If you can win at least three matches, you’ll usually get a better deal than buying just one so-called “expert pack”.  The buy-in for Arena is currently 150 gold whereas a card pack costs 100 gold, both around or under $2 USD.  To put this into perspective, you can earn around 300 gold daily in a reasonable amount of time without it feeling like a total grind.

Hearthstone - Arena Mode - 10 Key Levels

Arena is essentially a survival mode where you duel random players until you lose three times.  You can have these matches at your leisure and retire whenever.  Each run can last up to a maximum of ten wins, as you can see by the keys in the image above.  Realistically, you can expect to win two matches at most when you are just starting off.  To date, I have only won about four matches at most on Arena and I am a fairly competent player.

Overall, I think Hearthstone is great right now and will only get better.  This is one of those games I want to play with my friends and our Geeky Antics community.  I have no reservations recommending this game but I do hope this mini guide helps you get started the right way.   Give it a try and look us up.  We’d love to play with you!

Beyond The Graphics: Realism Vs. Immersion In Video Games

The Game Theory Podcast
Episode “Science of Immersion in Video Games”

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I’ve been meaning to dive deep into the topics of realism, immersion, and video game violence for a while now.  The folks at The Game Theory Podcast dissect these issues very well in these two episodes.    You, the awesome geeks and gamers in our community, have also really started to talk about game mechanics and the psychology of gaming so it’s time to really talk about it.  I’m stoked about the response because this is the heart of what makes the world turn – game mechanics!

Recently we talked about realism in shooters (FPS games) and the surge in realism units.   Obi touched upon the main facet of immersion and realism: graphics.  Your typical gamer will first judge a game by theme and presentation, but I would argue that these alone do not create immersion and realism.

We will continue through the key points here with this in mind:

HD graphics do not guarantee immersion or fun, though they do improve realism.

To me, graphics only serve the purpose of providing an initial hook, much like theme, effective marketing, or good buzz/word of mouth could accomplish.  I am a firm believer that graphics won’t see much innovation within the next decade or so.  Even more importantly, graphics should be judged more on the art style, cohesion in presentation (and storytelling), and overall tone of the experience, not in terms of frame rates and resolution.

The questions we need to ask ourselves should revolve more around replay value, community, and support.  Innovation and fresh new ideas are important as well but, as we’ve seen with indie games, new is not always good.  The next few sections will give provide a game mechanics crash course but, if you are already familiar with game design and the psychology behind it, feel free to skip ahead!

Game Zen or "The Flow Zone"

Basics Of Game Mechanics: Immersion, Realism, And Stickyness

 

Realism is what we’ve mainly been talking about so let’s tackle that first.  Realism can be defined as a state of simulating or copying real life.  When the world as we know it is translated into a believable digital form, it can be considered realistic but not necessarily immersive.  The more important thing to consider here is that a story-driven video game, much like a good book or movie, should allow us to suspend our disbelief and get lost in a new world (while likely losing track of time).  Thus, good graphics are a significant part but not the major or only factor to consider here.

Immersion is what I think we really think about when we talk about realism.  Immersion is the experience of feeling fully-indulged and perhaps committed.  Simply put, it’s getting lost in an experience. The most immersive video games have dynamic elements such as customization, branching storylines, and personalization.  Immersion can be impersonal or personal; for the latter, think of role-playing games.

Stickyness is similar to immersion but it focuses more on the aspects of game design that keep people coming back.  It’s more about the commitment and lifestyle changes than the actual experience and indulgence itself.  Today, stickyness is usually forced through terrible game mechanics like those we saw in Farmville or Tiny Tower, where game developers act as if you are dedicated to their game only and can set your schedule around it.

We’ll proceed with this discussion with the understanding that we are determining what really matters in what we consider “good games”.  In doing so, we’ll further distinguish immersion from realism and why the foremost is far more important.

 

Personal & Impersonal Immersion: What About Role-Playing?

One of the easiest ways to design an immersive video game is to make it more personal.  Personalization allows players to see themselves as their digital avatar and feel more fully-vested in the virtual world.   Personal immersion usually involves the main character and his abilities, decisions, and so fort but it can also incorporate story, supporting characters, environments, and so much more.  Traditional Dungeons & Dragons can be considered the most personally immersive experience.

Of course, all the aforementioned does not mean that we as the players cannot identify with a character if we are not pretending to be them.  Impersonal immersion places us in pre-set roles but the immersion comes in the form of the things that remain dynamic.   Even “on-rail” or linear games can be immersive provided the experience sucks us deep into their worlds.

Role-playing games tend to favor personal immersion and the beauty of this approach is that every experience will be unique to each individual player.  On the flip side, we have games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, where the characters have been chosen for us yet we can easily be immersed in the experience if we enjoy it.  The common thread here is that the details tend to create more realistic and immersive worlds.

What’s interesting is that even fantasy worlds with magic, dragons, and other craziness can be both realistic and immersive.  The trick to creating realism is keeping your facts in check and establishing a believable premise.  In doing so, storytellers and game designers alike can have players see their creation as real, maybe moreso than the real world we live in (just ask the LARPers). Great storytellers know how to keep people hooked long enough to instill a sense of commitment, total “surrender”, or loyalty.

 

The Fun Quotient: What Does Gabe Zichermann Think?

Gabe is considered to be one of the forefront authorities on game mechanics and what he calls “gameification by design”.  One of his most well-known theories is the fun quotient, which simply states that theme and realism do not matter, games just have to be fun. I agree with this design philosophy but I do feel theme is a much bigger factor than Gabe thinks.

Theme is not only part of the initial draw. Theme is a big part of immersion and stickyness too. This is evident in our choices between otherwise exact games. League of Legends comes to mind for me because I prefer DotA (Defense of the Ancients) and Guardians of Middle-Earth (sometimes Smite too) yet I am constantly drawn back to LoL. The characters are a big draw for me (YAY boobies). Heck, I sometimes even read the lore and get intrigued, even though the experience is by no means story-driven. Every now and then, we strange MOBA/ARTS players find ourselves role-playing, flirting with the digital avatars, and being fully immersed in the characters, even if only for 20 to 60 minutes at a time.

Fun is paramount but I also find that community is a critical component in keeping us addicted to our games of choice. The interaction, both social and objective-driven, make for more fun and immersive experiences. We forget about the food we are cooking, block out nagging wives, and forget our worries. This is not to say that the most fun or immersive experiences have to be multiplayer-focused, but it certainly helps unless maybe you are a total hermit or introvert, which is okay too!

Prioritized Sensory Information & The Impact On Immersion

The gang at The Game Theory podcast touched upon sensory stimulation and prioritization of information. One thing they did not get into really was the way game developers can guide us through the intended experience to distract us from the aspects that may otherwise detract from it. In such a manner, sub-par graphics can be excused if everything else is impressive. A better example exists when we look at boundaries in linear and open world experiences but we will get into that in the next section.

Since we have no smell-o-vision (yet), game developers have to rely on stimulating our senses of sight, hearing, and touch (i.e. force feedback and vibration) to create immersive experiences. Let’s look at a great horror game. While great graphics may help create a more realistic and immersive experience, it’s the sounds that create more tension, despair, and fear. I would say sometimes it is better for things to be left to our imaginations as we can often conjure up far more gruesome or compelling things.

The prioritization of audio is not always the best option but it certainly bolsters immersion. After all, who doesn’t get lost in good music? Tactile response is an aspect that can be improved upon but there are good examples of it out there. Nothing beats total silence and non-events interrupted by a sudden, unexpected vibration jolt. This works great for horror so it’s no wonder we are seeing a surge in survival horror with Slender, Outlast, Day Z, etc.

As I mentioned before, the details lend a lot to immersion. When our senses are stimulated in a deliberate manner, even non-story-driven games benefit. In open world games where exploration is a major focus, lavish worlda with nooks and crannies to explore are a fantastic thing to experience as a gamer.

Quality definitely trumps quantity. I still find Shenmue’s worlds to be as good as, if not better than, anything we have seen in the Elder Scrolls games to date. Almost every detail provides deep interaction and triggers new events. Having a massive world like we see in Skyrim is nice but it can be overwhelming to the point of breaking immersion. Once again, theme helps maintain the illusion of reality and immersion alike. If you enjoy the mythos, you will dig deeper and stick with it longer.

The most interesting thing about prioritized sensory information is that the right balance can make otherwise ho-hum aspects shine.  Back to audio, the right sounds can build us up for visuals that may not otherwise have impact.  When you look at these efforts as a whole, we appreciate the creative aspects individually as well.

Willingness and pre-disposition to certain experiences help improve or detract from immersion.  This places a greater focus on the sensory information because game developers can illicit emotional and psychological responses even when other information does not immerse us enough or, worse, causes disruption.  It’s certainly easier to accept something we are already familiar with or believe in, but immersion goes beyond any individual’s framework for realism or their world views.

With traditional pen-and-paper games, veteran GMs and DMs understand that they can’t force players to do things they are unwilling to do.  The challenge is finding ways to guide players through the experience as they intended it.  They have to seduce their participants or risk having reluctant players that ruin the experience for the rest..  Or just giving up before the good parts start up.  There’s no doubt that a seductive narrative can make it easy to give up our existing realities but I must reiterate that a gripping story is not the only path to achieving deep immersion.

Think about the last memorable game you enjoyed so much you replayed it or logged hundreds of hours in it.  Chances are your memories will all tie into senses.  To this day, I still recall the music from the original Sonic The Hedgehog and I remember that being a huge factor for why I would tune out the world and get lost in the bright colors and hyper-fast action.  Sonic was never a deep game (unless maybe you consider the Adventure games on the Sega Dreamcast) so it brings up some interesting points…

Deadpool loves breaking the fourth wall!

Breaking The Fourth Wall

The term breaking the fourth wall, goes back to the early days of live television and stage performances.  Just picture a stage or TV set where there are three walls.  We are able to look in because there is no physical fourth wall.  The fourth wall is essentially us: the audience, gamers, players, readers, etc.  Video games sometimes try to get cute with tongue-in-cheek antics that bring self-awareness to the gamer within the virtual construct.  This can be entertaining but it kills immersion because we are reminded that essentially all we are doing is killing time or playing pretend, with no direct value being created in the real world (usually).

When characters in a video game are aware that they are in a video game, immersion suffers (though we can forgive Deadpool or Zelda for this) but there are better examples.  Some argue that games with no HUD (Heads-Up Display) are more immersive.   I’d say that is a fair point but it depends on the context.  I definitely feel that the visual assets are far more important than the quality of the graphics.

That may be so but the biggest immersion-breaking gaming trope that comes to mind immediately for me is the tutorial.  The best games find ways to teach you the core mechanics naturally.  Pop-ups and forced tutorials make me want to smash my head against a lawn gnome, just because such an action would probably be more worthwhile.

Another game-breaking trope are the elusive invisible walls we see in so many games.  A good game would find a way to weave the boundaries into the story or guide us through the proper paths and habits.  Game developers should not place a heavy focus on exploration if it is not obvious where you can go and can’t go, or where you should look or shouldn’t.  It’s really quite simple yet this mark is often missed.

More commonly, gamers experience bugs/glitches that are so bad that the game is no longer enjoyable, let alone immersive.  Cumbersome core mechanics are a similar shame.  Clunky controls, wonky movement, repetitive gameplay, and so many other things plague games and prevent us gamers from getting immersed.  All this tells us that anything that breaks the game thus disrupts the experience and ruins immersion.

Now for another concept in game mechanics:

The flow zone or “game zen” is when the perfect balance between challenge and reward is achieved.

Maybe I am just getting old and jaded but I feel games lack proper rewards or other hooks to keep us invested.   Sometimes games are too easy or too hard, which is augmented further by lack of rewards.  Scaling is another major game development pitfall because we as the players are not properly prepared for the shift in challenge.  These things certainly detract from immersion because it’s hard to indulge when we’re too busy huffing and puffing.

Accepting the transparency of the fourth wall further reinforces that we are willing to make certain concessions to enjoy a creative work.  Artists, writers, and game designers are all tasked with the challenge of maintaining the illusion and appealing to our senses.  This is the very essence of immersion: hooking us in and keeping us hooked.  The epitome is when the experience is so good we come back to it in our heads and in conversations..  but that’s for another discussion!

Why Is Violence So Prevalent?

It seems that you can’t talk about realism without violence coming up so let’s talk about that briefly.  The scope of this obviously goes beyond what we’re really getting at here but here’s my main thought on the topic:

While we may complain about the excessive violence in video games, there is no doubt that violence appeals to our hidden, more visceral desires.

I am of the opinion that violence has been over-done in video games yet I still find it satisfying when I am in that dark place where all I seek is blood.  The sad truth is that game developers today still see this as the easiest opportunity to create mass appeal and get gamers hooked.  As long as it works, it will continue to be prevalent.

What’s interesting is that if we had 100% realism in violent video games, it’d be a very exclusive experience.  Imagine if a headshot always resulted in a kill (unlike in Halo or CoD).  Imagine if there were no respawns.  For the average gamer, that does not sound like fun yet I go back to the days of Soldier Of Fortune II: Double Helix.  The “real damage” servers running infiltration play modes were always fun for me, even if I spent a lot of time in spectator mode.  The Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and Arma games have always been the most realistic but not to a degree where they sacrifice the fun quotient.

Even on Call of Duty, I prefer Search & Destroy but no one really plays that so I’m relegated to play deathmatch and other terrible modes.  I can’t lie: the violence is gratifying but the fun and immersion is introduced when you go deep with the tactics and teamwork aspects.  Shooters may be stale these days but, when you play with friends on a regular basis, it’s satisfying to know people have your back.  I am intrigued by realism units in Arma II but I worry if the realism may be TOO much…

What are your thoughts on video game violence?  Leave us a voicemail on the GANG Hotline at (206) 415-4987 and we’ll flesh out the core issues further together!

 

Ghost In The Shell - One of the classic VR/cyberpunk experiences in sexy anime form!

Conclusion:  Virtual Reality, Simulations, And True Immersion

With all the talks about Sony’s Project Morpheus and Facebook buying the Oculus Rift, some gamers are hoping that virtual reality will finally be here to stay.  I personally feel it would be nice to have another way to enhance and experience video games but I don’t see the need for VR to come in and improve realism.  VR comes with a strong promise behind it.  We are hoping that we will have truly immersive experiences but, as we already revealed, if the core mechanics are lacking and features feel tacked on, immersion is disrupted and inhibited.

Alongside RPGs, simulation games provide a genre that lends to deeper immersion but I would argue that not every simulator is immersive or realistic for the same aforementioned reasons.  I’d say that realism may be served in high doses but that does not guarantee deep immersion.  Ultimately, games have to be fun for us to log in the hours and consider them true escapisms or alternate realities.

Wrapping up my diatribe before HorsePLAY! LIVE starts up in a few minutes, I believe true immersion does not require realism or high-end specs.  It always boils down to the little details and core mechanics that make a game fun and allow us to surrender ourselves to the experience.  We can definitely talk about this further so, before I go off on more tangents, leave us some comments and we’ll keep the conversation going.  See you guys on the ObioneX2 Twitch Channel!

Game Theory: The Barriers & Mishaps In League Of Legends

Game Theory Podcast
Episode 21 – League of Legends with JT Eberhard and Michaelyn

I only recently discovered this podcast, thanks to Stitcher Radio, and boy is it right up my alley!  The show is the culmination of avid gaming fandom, psychoanalysis, and game development/design knowledge.  It’s the perfect podcast for anyone that wants a complete look at video games from a mostly scholastic perspective.

My only complaint is that the show hosts are sometimes a little TOO smart for their own good.  We are taking a different approach with our upcoming Bit-By-Bit Gaming show (formerly Game Mechanics 101).  I think the voice of the gamer needs to be heard more and, if you listen to TGP episodes, they often look at game mechanics from the outside in (i.e. their LoL and rogue-like episodes).

In Episode 21, League of Legends (LoL) is scrutinized heavily.  While I do not agree with all their conclusions and lament the fact that the general consensus is that the game should be avoided, I see their points.  LoL is a mainstream game so it’s to be expected that there will be plenty of trolls and little kids ruining the fun for the rest..  But the issues extend far beyond that.

One aspect that is common in all first impressions of League of Legends or any MOBA is that the communities tend to be very caustic.  LoL is particularly bad in this area for a few reasons:

  • Every Tom, Dick, and Harry aspires to be a pro player and make tons of money, or at least score free stuff.
  • Due to the aforementioned, no one wants to admit that they are not as good as they’d like to think.
  • Poor sportsmanship leads to externalization of opportunities, so the trolls rarely improve and new players are scared away.
  • The way the game rewards and announces game highlights caters to a selfish style of gameplay and more finger-pointing.
  • Since the game is free, there’s very little keep young, angsty squeakers away from the general populice.

The list goes on and on but, essentially, League of Legends has been both a boon and a bane to MOBAs.  With LoL’s massive popularity and eSports buzz, everyone feels more pressured to step up their game rather than enjoy the experience.  What’s more is that the scoring and team dynamics feel more like Call of Duty than a MOBA.  It’s very centered around K/D (kill/death) ratio rather than teamwork and setting up plays.  What’s more is that it’s hard to play LoL casually, even with friends (sorry Obi), because everything is about winning rather than just having fun.

With this heavy focus on frags, people tend to get desperate when they die more than they kill.  When a sure-fire kill ends up in a death, the frustration piles on.  Throw in teammates that are feeding or screaming at you for seeming like a total newbie and now an otherwise fun game becomes a vein-popping, heart-attack-inducing experience.

Wow, this is sounding a lot like Call of Duty, eh?

ms-paint-rages-league-of-legends-ryze-misses-last-hit

One of the biggest frustrations for me is how Riot decided that, in all their infinite wisdom, they would focus on individual performance most of the time and only bring the team focus into play when it is least logical.  In ranked play, you can literally have five or more consecutive games where random teammates throw matches or just rage quit.

Leavers, flamers, and ragers are only a symptom of the root issues.  I concur with the folks at GTP that the design of LoL encourages poor sportsmanship.  The tribunal, loading screen tips, and honor point systems are decent enough band-aids but they are flawed because…

  • There is no incentive to giving honor to other people.
  • It is human nature to complain rather than compliment.
  • The visual feedback (i.e. profile ribbons) attached to honor points seems unattainable and/or worthless.
  • Most people go pee, grab a snack, or watch videos/Vines while the game is loading, ignoring the sportsmanship advice and game preparation (the same happens post-game).
  • The core mechanics do not support good sportsmanship.

Riot has been campaigning to remind people that people who are helpful and calm during gameplay win more matches, but they do not support the behavior organically or internally, if you prefer.  The core mechanics could easily be fixed to address the glaring issues with the game.  If you are curious what some of these issues could possibly be, just watch to see how people always fight to play certain roles or positions.  Most want the glory to themselves, so ADC, Mid, and Top are always the preferred picks.  There’s too much pressure for Jungler so they are usually the last picked and the most blamed..  And Support players are often expected to be miracle workers.  If you get first pick and go as any of offense-focused positions, do not under-perform because jealous people will troll you hard.

Welcome to League of Legends!

What’s even more disheartening is how LoL does not factor in how well you played with your team or the fact that leavers cost you a match.  A loss is a loss and, thus, you get stuck in elo hell..  Unless maybe you assemble a reliable pre-made team and avoid solo/duo queue.  If a teammate loses his Internet connection during your qualifying matches, you’re pretty much fubared.  Bronze and Silver tiers consists of taking two steps forwards and three steps back.  Not very fun.  Normal matches are a similar hellish experience.

league-of-legends-why-did-you-leave

While Diamond Tier players and above may argue that elo hell is a myth, I argue that it is very real.  On a greater scale, the design decisions behind League of Legends make it a rather exclusive experience.  In spite of that fact, millions of people worldwide play the game and it is the #1 online game for the PC, heck, all platforms.  Statistically speaking, that means there are a lot of frustrated, bitter scrubs and wannabe pro players out there..  and most of them only stick around to troll and make others miserable too.

Misery loves company.

For the more casual MOBA players, there’s ARAM (All Random All Mid), a battle-royale style mode focused more on action than strategy, and bot matches.  There is also Domination, which shifts the focus more to land control and objective-driven play rather than straight-up killing and lane pushing.  Still, the core experience resides in the traditional 5v5 three-lane game mode..  And there’s lots to be desired there.

I will reiterate that I LOVE League of Legends but, as I listen to these brilliant GTP folks talk about LoL from the perspective of newbies, I can’t help but nod in agreement.  One of the strongest points made in this episode of the Game Theory Podcast is that League of Legends rewards the end result rather than the process.  I could not agree more.  Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm seems to be doing a better job of making each match fun from beginning to end, mainly by using a team-leveling system and starting players fully powered-up.  Plus, there’s no loot so you can focus on the action and team strategies.

Another aspect of League of Legends that sucks is the overall sense you get of feeling like you need to grind.  LoL is “free to play” (more like freemium) but, in order to truly enjoy the game, you have to put in many hours before you can unlock enough champions to experiment with and find your strongest picks.  The amount of IP (Influence Points), the free in-game currency, you earn does not vary much, whether you play well or terribly.  There is a slight bump for high frag rates but nothing for setting up plays.

The defense for this design decision is that catering to K/D makes it easy to see who is fed and set up plays accordingly.  I disagree.  That is what pressing Tab and viewing score summary screen is for.  All the announcements and point distribution puts a heavy focus on K/D and this really hurts the game.

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One reason there is such a huge rift between players in League of Legends is that feeding is often seen as a single-person issue.  What people fail to see is that feeding is often a missed opportunity for teams as a whole.. and Riot.  People tend to get antsy when matches take too long (LoL and most MOBAs are inherently slow-paced by design) or they give up when their teammates badger them too much (including unsolicited “advice”).  Riot could help alleviate some of these issues by creating more fast-paced modes.  Another good update would be to create a coaching mode where know-it-alls could help out the players that opt-in for “pro tips”.

UPDATE:  The new Team Builder mode alleviates many of the aforementioned issues by allowing players to queue up for the positions they really want to play..  But this is just a start.

Speaking from firsthand experience, I have seen a huge difference between matches where I just play and don’t bother communicating, and matches where I encourage my teammates and engage in authentic, friendly banter.  Every now and then you’ll have the asshat who decides to be an Internet tough guy when you’re just trying to create some synergy and good will, but usually people will respond in kind to your efforts.

Our own Stan Faryna has a brilliant suggestion here: remove anonymity.  People don’t act as tough when they are exposed and vunerable like everyone else.

Sadly, the notion of preemptive good will goes against most Internet rationale as people prefer their anonymity and  ability to just blend in with everyone else.  LoL’s honor system was supposed to help encourage more good will but it’s not quite working out that way.  People these days are also quite jaded and cynical so, if someone is being nice, they always suspect there are hidden motives.

I can knit-pick about LoL’s shortcomings all day long but, at the end of the day, it remains a game I truly enjoy in one of my favorite genres.  I do feel Riot needs to step up their game as there are more quality MOBAs coming out.  DotA 2 and Smite are taking more risks to find what works best whereas League of Legends has remained mostly the same for around four years now.

It’s easy to blame the community or human nature for the issues in League of Legends but the truth is that it’s lazy programming that make the players the way they are (or at least augment their ignorance and angst).  Most players have enough knowledge to be dangerous but not enough to understand that it’s a team game.  As such, if you’re entering LoL for the first time, brace yourself: it is a fun game but the trolls will try to eat you alive.  Play with some friends – it makes things FAR more enjoyable!

Welcome to League of Duty!

Source:  http://gametheorypodcast.libsyn.com/episode-21-league-of-legends-with-jt-eberhard-and-michaelyn