Revamp League of Legends with three features

LoL Replay PBE UI, by Riot Games

DOTA 2 Reborn's kicked off a storm of envy in the League of Legends community, as can only be expected between two games of the same nominal genre. While I usually consider comparisons between the two a waste of time—each has been successful mostly by ignoring the other and doing their own thing—the client-side issue is an exception. As the features and functions offered by the rival game's rework lies largely outside in-game design and philosophy, there are less subjective grounds of direct comparison and criticism. In fact, the lack of functionality's been a sore point for quite a while.

Of course, it's worth recognizing that League of Legends is saddled with a tech debt that DOTA 2 doesn't have. LoL started as an indie release, after all: a small-scale game with a mere fraction of the original DOTA's heroes pool, made on a budget so tight that they had to resort to Adobe AIR as its basic framework. It's honestly impressive that Riot's been able to do so much building off so little. But while I doubt much of the original code still remains after years of revamps (fewer things are coded as invisible minions nowadays), the legacy structure imposes its limitations even unto present day.

If you're wondering why LoL seems full years behind DOTA 2, despite Riot being an absolutely gargantuan and wealthy beast of a company nowadays, it's entirely because of how they started. The tech debt of a Valve-backed project is comparatively much milder, simply because they can afford the initial resources and man-hour investments to future-proof the product. This goes doubly with Reborn, as it's explicitly meant to showcase Source 2's strengths.

But debt has to be paid off eventually—and now that Riot's one of the biggest studios out there with countless hundreds of employees to metaphorically shove at the problem, it's time to do so. And there are three features and updates, in particular, that need to be addressed in LoL 2.0.

Play it back again

Ekko, by Riot Games

Replays, already, please! It's been promised since Year 0, back when DOTA designer Steve "Guinsoo" Feak was a major and public presence with the company. Its basic structure and UI was demo'd on the Public Beta Environment a couple years ago, and there's been absolutely no word of it since.

Riot's excuse was that they wanted server-side storage, which is either a wet dream or nightmare for their recently hired games archivist depending on how she wants to look at it, and thus needed the infrastructure to back it up. Well, the Amsterdam server's up, the American ISPs have been largely negotiated with and their scheduled continental centralization is slated for "Soon."

And we're stuck here waiting, twiddling our thumbs, hoping that the on-switch'll be flipped any day now.

Look, replays are absolutely vital for any competitive game—and given the amount of resources pumped into Riot's esports department, surely they haven't actually overlooked this. Not only does it make for better competitive integrity (video replays catch visual bugs, but being able to examine the code-level interactions is even better—don't be like FIFA with their allergy to video referees), but it makes for better professional play too. Even Riot's extremely well-trained LCS spectators can't catch everything—rewind functions are saved for major fights, so seemingly inconsequential skirmishes that nonetheless set up the results of later interactions tend to get passed over.

True, third-party replay services do exist. But native support makes a big difference—namely, they're not expected to break from patch to patch, and are expected to have Riot's full support and customer service backing their use.

Wax on wax off

To more fundamentally back up a replay system, a sandbox mode should absolutely be implemented as well. And this, too, is vital for the game's competitive development. Custom game modes are not enough—even the basics of something as fundamental as last-hitting are mostly taught and learned inefficiently, with no way to practice the nuances affected by level and income (nothing in the game tells you how to farm against a turret. You're forced to learn haphazardly that it's tower-tower-auto for melee and auto-tower-auto for caster minions, but only at specific ranges of Attack Damage). And never mind specific optimized combos affected by cooldown reduction, how attack speed affects attack-move commands, or exactly how far away a jungler can be from a lane and still be in time for a gank before the minion wave moves out of range.

Team-level practices are similarly sub-optimal in the current paradigm. Practicing optimal wave control is one thing, but the development of micro-level playbooks are largely rudimentary thanks to the lack of good ways to practice. The best way to towerdive, the best timings for laneswaps, exactly how to transition from laning to fighting to take advantage of powerspikes—all of these have level- and gold-dependent nuances that make it very difficult to practice or test on a deliberative basis.

Combine sandbox and replay, and what do you get? Like a decade's worth of Christmas presents to every pro team across the globe, all at once. Imagine an eleventh-person catbird seat for a coach in command on a per-session basis, setting relative experience and gold values, starting conditions, and matchups. Imagine being able to set up specific fights and positions to test approaches and tactics!

Imagine that a DDOS was just a nuisance, and a savestate can be made of a game to be returned to on a later basis. It would actually be a damn shame if the server-side replay storage wasn't designed with this specific feature in mind, given just how often DDOSes have affected the Challenger Series teams—and, indirectly, who's had a chance to make it into the LCS.

How do I shot skills

Ashe, by Riot Games

For the preceding two features, I discussed mainly on the basis of competitive play. They cross-apply to players of all skill levels, of course, but it's admittedly less obvious why an account level one newbie would even care about fine-tuning and rewatching their plays.

But replays and sandboxes set up the infrastructure for something that League of Legends desperately, desperately needs. The last feature I want is not, by any means, the least: a massively retooled tutorial.

It's been said ad nauseum: unless you want to distill it to Heroes of the Storm's simplicity, MOBAs aren't easy games to get into. While the esports aspects and streaming culture's successfully raised an unmatched player population, that really only makes it even more daunting for the new player to enter the fray. Fighting versus bots is all well and fine, but bots don't give step-by-step instructions on the whys and hows of good warding, ganking, or itemization.

A sandbox and in-game rewind function, though, greatly expands the scenarios that can be scripted to teach newcomers. If a newbie were to play a one-on-one fight on Howling Abyss versus a ramped-up AI, the ability to rewind and show them how the fight would play out with an entirely different item set or skill level sequence would be vastly more educational than the current Ashe-only Thornmail-building joke that's currently used to teach the basics.

It's not hard to imagine an entire range of single-player missions and challenges too. "Here's a level 6 Nocturne—help your ally and gank the mid laner!" Or with higher difficulties, "Shurima's under siege—pull a Froggen and defend your nexus alone against a swarm of super minions with Azir, while the enemy team harasses you!" Heck, they can monetize this and fulfill a largely unwhetted appetite for League of Legends lore too by designing IP/RP-unlockable scenario packs with this specific objective in mind: to vastly expand the tools and means of teaching players, and make it fun to do so.

There are plenty more things that can be added to an upgraded LoL. Opt-in voice chat to replace Curse Voice, two-key authorization to protect accounts that can often be valued at hundreds of dollars (guilty as charged—look, I really liked the new Lux skin, and I'm collecting Sona's), among countless other little things and small tweaks. I'd especially like a mobile app to spectate games, bet IP on outcomes, and manage runes and other account settings. But the three above? They are a level-up for LoL itself. They mature it in a way that no other updates really will. More so than itemization fixes. More so than new champions or skins.

They would make League of Legends itself, in and out of game, a much better experience.