God help me, I've started playing League of Legends

It's only three months into 2019 and already the year is off to a banging start. There are so many excellent new games to play like Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2, Metro Exodus, and even more on the horizon. But I'm not playing any of those games. For some damn reason I've decided now is the perfect time to become hopelessly addicted to League of Legends.

Help me.

I've somehow plunked around 25 hours into it in just five days. That's enough to be a part time job. And even though I intend to use my weekend productively, deep down inside I know the sun will set on Sunday with me in my underwear, unshowered, unshaved, and untouchable in bottom lane as I snipe another garbage-tier Tristana who thought they could step to me as Caitlyn.

When I was a kid my parents told me if I played Dungeons and Dragons I'd end up worshiping Satan and using my siblings as a blood sacrifice to cast black magic. That kind of hyperbole reminds me of the way people talk about League of Legends. But diving in has been a surprising experience—in a very good way. It's not nearly as bad as comment sections say it is. Here's what I've learned so far.

Players aren't as toxic as you'd think...

Getting into MOBAs is a bit terrifying. They're hopelessly complex and hotly competitive—a perfect recipe for inflamed egos and unsportsmanlike behavior. League of Legends' reputation in the gaming community would have you believe it's a savage tribe of sociopaths who spew filth that would make your dear old gran faint. But my interactions with other players have been far from hostile. Hell, sometimes they're downright pleasant. The worst I've had to deal with is my team's exasperated comments when I'm playing especially poorly and, I mean, I get it. I suck.

League's negative community reputation feels a bit overblown.

Compared to Overwatch, where voice chat is ubiquitous and opens a door to all sorts of ugly exchanges, League of Legends' ill-behaved seem to have less opportunities to ruin my fun. A ping system supplants the need for most communication, and any actual talking is done via text chat. A good portion of players I've met have been pretty courteous even when we lose. That's partly because, starting out, I'm playing with people who are just as awful as I am (and the occasional "smurf" account). I've seen players chime in that they don't know what they're doing and to have others step up to provide a bit of guidance.

That said, I haven't yet unlocked League's ranked mode. If Overwatch and other games are anything to go by, that's probably where players are far less forgiving and more prone to lashing out. But, right now, League's negative community reputation feels a bit overblown. Or maybe other games have just become so much more toxic that someone calling me a dummy for getting ganked feels quaint. 

...But I totally understand why some people get frustrated 

Because holy hell can League be a frustrating game. There are matches where I feel like a high school football team going up against the Patriots. It's a bloodbath that we can't escape for 15 minutes (the minimum match length before LoL lets you initiate a surrender vote), and only if the entire team agrees to surrender, which is rarely the case because there's always one hopeless optimist who refuses to throw in the towel.

Where I can shake off the frustration of a close loss in Apex Legends as long as the finale was at least thrilling, League of Legends' long match times are so emotionally exhausting I feel demoralized even after a well-fought game. It's a unique kind of despair to dominate for half an hour only to have the opposing team swing back and slowly erode our lead over the next 30 minutes until we lose—especially when players on both teams are prone to go AFK or quit matches in League's casual mode.

Even though I've just started out, I get why players get a little exasperated with other new players who obviously booted up the game without the faintest idea of what they're supposed to do. Because League is such a team-oriented game, seeing your mid-lane mage dive on the enemy tower three times in a row and die is aggravating. And it's not like you can just type out an entire guide to that player when you have your own lane to deal with. There's a reason why people get so upset about unnecessary deaths.

League is a game of highs and lows, and the moments when my team works as a cohesive unit easily make up for the matches where things go wrong. While it's fun to play ADC (the champion who starts weak but becomes unstoppable later) and steal the show with insane kills, I find it just as rewarding to be the support who protects and nurtures that player to greatness. Seeing them obliterate the entire enemy team is like watching your child walk across the stage to receive their diploma, only I'm in my underwear and listening to Prozzak (you can't play League and not listen to bad electronica). I imagine League's ranked mode only amplifies these peaks and valleys, but I like playing a multiplayer game that demands such a big investment in a given match. It creates palpable tension and stakes.

There's a lot of dumb free-to-play nonsense that's easy to avoid 

Plenty of nuances between League of Legends and Dota 2 end up making a world of difference in how each game plays, but none is bigger than their financial models. Dota 2 gives you every character for free but charges for cosmetics, whereas League of Legends offers a free weekly rotation of champions but requires you to grind or purchase the rest. Of course Dota 2's model is much friendlier, but I actually appreciate League's drip-fed roster because it stops me from feeling overwhelmed by too much choice. I'm sure there will be a tipping point where I'll feel pressured to grab my wallet, though.

Even so, I wouldn't call League stingy. I've permanently unlocked 11 champions so far (not including the free rotation of 10 champions) and have earned enough currency to buy some of the cheaper champions when I want to. Where things get a little overwhelming is when it comes to all the secondary crafting resources that can be used to buy skins, new color palettes, and other cosmetics. That kind of stuff is fine, but it just doesn't matter to me like it does in other games so it's easy to ignore it and focus on learning new characters and getting better overall. I can fuss over what costume I have after I understand how the hell to "freeze a lane" and when to do it.

One caveat to that is rune pages, which are a kind of meta customization system that let's you choose a few passive buffs to give your champion. It's a very granular system that is easy to ignore but pretty essential to creating effective builds. The problem is that you only have two customizable rune pages and every champion has their own combinations of runes that best suit them. You'll either need to buy more pages (which are stupidly expensive) or constantly adjust the two you have for each champion you intend to play. It's dumb. 

But there's a lot of dumb lore that isn't easy to avoid 

Lore is usually dumb. And no lore is dumber than League of Legends lore.

These days, it feels like most games dream of having a whole subgenre of YouTubers whimsically describing the subtext behind obscure passages crammed into item descriptions and tool tips. The kids can't get enough of it, I guess. But let's be real: Lore is usually dumb. And no lore is dumber than League of Legends lore.

I don't mind that it exists. What annoys me is how Riot throws it in my face in lieu of providing information that would, you know, help me be better at their very complex and difficult game. More often than not, loading screen tips will contain completely useless nuggets of info like "Did you know? Caitlyn's hextech rifle was crafted by her parents for her twenty-first birthday." or "Above the city of Nashramae stands a replica Sun Disc, built long ago to honor the lost legacy of ancient Shurima."

Gee, thanks Riot. I'll be sure to remember that when Master Yi ganks me for the seventh time.

Clicking the "Learn More" button on a champion's profile takes me to League of Legends' lore website where I can read overly-long biographies and entire short stories dedicated to that character or just marvel at very detailed (and sexualized) concept art. But actual information about that character? Oh, we'll just put in a tiny, nondescript box that links you to a different LoL website.

I'm sure I've pissed off some dedicated League fans who adore its lore and appreciate knowing the motivations of an engineer who honestly just looks like my aunt's bijon shih tzu. But all of this seems so superfluous in a game where several characters are actually in a kpop group and if I hit enemies at just the right time gold pops out of their head.

That lore might make my eyes roll, but I'm enjoying pretty much everything else about League of Legends. I might not argue its virtues compared to Dota 2, but learning its complexities has excited that part of my brain that also fawns over Path of Exile and Warframe.

League of Legends has long felt like an impenetrable subculture in PC gaming. I know millions of people play it, but I'm probably not alone in acknowledging that most of what I know about League has been hearsay. The truth is that millions of people are playing League of Legends because it's actually super fun and rewarding—not because they're servants of Satan (that I can tell, at least). It's 2019 and I just started playing League of Legends and I'm having a great time. It's not as hard to get into as people would have you think. Just read a champion guide first. Please.

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.