Verhille: League of Legends is a global epidemic

BY DAN VERHILLE | MARCH 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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It may come as a surprise to many to hear that the people over at Riot Games proudly tout themselves as having made the most-played video game in the world. Their free-to-play PC game, League of Legends, has become a global epidemic with no end in sight.

The game is reportedly played in 145 countries with 12 million daily active players and a whopping 1 billion hours of the game are played every month.

Some of you may be thinking I'm a little late to the game. I resisted trying League of Legends for a long time despite having heard mostly good things from my friends. Mostly, I had heard the games could last over an hour, and I was worried about the time commitment, which does turn out to be rather large.

I'll admit that League is a good time, but I feel obligated to post a disclaimer of sorts that it's a time warp. I'm not joking — this game is like quicksand.

The basic objective of League is to destroy the other team's base, or nexus, which can only be done by defeating the AI-controlled minions and towers guarding it. Players in teams of five versus five or three versus three must fight behind their minions marching down one of three lanes toward the other team.

Each player or "Summoner" controls a champion that he either selects from the 10 free to play champions of the week or from his personal bank of champions. More than 100 champions exist in forms ranging from space bugs to Spartans to robots to werewolves; if Riot Games has accomplished anything in its champion designs, it's eschewing the need to remain faithful to any genre.

Each champion has unique abilities that are generally adapted toward a specific play style, but with the use of runes, masteries, and items — all nonsense terms to me when I began — can fill a more specific niche on a team. What's disappointing to learn at the outset is, all of those jargon words provide very real statistical advantages to the players who have unlocked them with experience points.

Maybe you can see where this is going … if you're just starting out, you're going to get pummeled. It's not going to be very fun or sporting, but eventually the tables will turn.

Unlike most other online games whose lobbies are laced with profanity and vulgarities, League is actually one of the most respectful communities I've participated in, so losing's not all bad. Sure, in any group large enough there will be a few assholes, but the arbitration process does a fairly good job weeding out the jerks because the remaining majority is usually very kind and helpful.

Although the players are usually nice, all too often people are too stubborn to acknowledge imminent defeat, and you will find yourself spending 20 extra minutes getting tossed around by a storm while your winning opponents take their sweet time finishing you off.

The key to not getting annihilated is coordinating your champion selection with your teammate, which is always something of a chore given that there are only 10 free options, but more can be unlocked with experience earned from games or by purchasing them.

Each champion has several alternative outfits, or skins, which can only be purchased. Often, they serve the function of allowing hyper-sexualized champion women to show off their stature-toppling balloon-breasts in sultry outfits that seem entirely inappropriate for combat.

When I first discovered that it cost $5 for a policewoman version of my favorite character, I thought there was no chance people would actually fork over the dough, but rationality be damned, the "alt skins" are extremely popular and responsible for keeping this massive free-to-play game afloat.

I'm curious as to what percent of the 12 million active daily users qualify as leeches (playing but never buying anything), because I question the long-term solvency of any system that supports so many players without the reliable support of a subscription fee.

My biggest complaint with League usually stems from service issues: lagging out and reconnecting is a mess; sometimes there's a 20-minute wait just to log in, and all too often the program crashes completely.

Although service issues are to be expected with a free-to-play game, my greatest annoyance is something Riot could fix quite easily: A team cannot surrender until the game clock reaches 20 minutes, even though the game can essentially be unwinnable for a team within 10.

Outside of some minor faults, League of Legends is worth trying while the phenomenon lives on. Hopefully, the newly released Mac client for the game will balance the gender ratio, but somehow I doubt that is what's keeping the girls away.

League of Legends

League of Legends is arguably the most widely played video game in the world. Here are some interesting statistics:

• Played in 145 countries
• 12 million daily active players (Instagram only has 7.5 million for example)
• 1 billion hours played/month
• 90 percent of players are male
• 85 percent are between the ages of 16 and 30
• 60 percent completed some college

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