The dynamic queue conundrum: why Riot is wrestling with their community

If you’ve been following the general discussion surrounding League of Legends lately you’ll have heard about the dynamic queue debate. The situation has escalated from an unpopular decision by Riot to pros having secret, un-streamable solo queue alternatives built on the private tournament realm, content creators quitting the game, and a prolonged uproar on social media. The solo queue debate isn’t going away any time soon, and Riot’s attempts to deal with the heat so far have only stoked the flames higher. What exactly is the deal with dynamic queue, why are Riot sticking to their guns, and why are players fuming?

The good old days

Once upon a time, there was a standard system of solo queue that existed for years, largely unchanged. There would be the occasional tweak here and there, such as the change from ELO to divisions, with MMR in the background, or the addition of the Masters tier between Diamond and Challenger.

The system wasn’t always perfect, of course, and there was room for improvement. Initially, players could solo queue (which also allowed you to duo with a friend appropriately close in rank), or they could queue with four other players of any rank with the ranked teams feature. There was a clear delineation between a competitive mode for proving yourself and a social mode that still managed to be a challenge. Fans were largely happy with the system, and while there was a continuous stream of requests for changes, it was Riot who decided that it was time for an overhaul.

A dynamic shift

Dynamic queue was announced seven months ago, originally with somewhat vague language. The old split queue would be replaced with a single, group-focused dynamic system. For a while, it was treated by Riot as an experiment that could be rolled back. The early dialogue was further confused by the fact that the new champion select experience, including role selection and a cinematic lobby, was bundled in with the queue changes and was a nearly universally popular addition.

As the months dragged on, the complaints slowly mounted and an undercurrent of anger continued to build. Some of the most common complaints surrounded being matched against a team while playing solo, or being matched with a three or four-man premade group and being in the minority. This could be incredibly rough and led to one-sided stomps, or, worse, becoming the scapegoat for the premade group’s frustrations.

Queue times were still long in Dynamic Queue—in some cases, pros would play multiple rounds of Overwatch or Hearthstone as their queue ticked along for over an hour. The system also led to mismatched teams, where you could be stomped by someone tiers above you or find yourself rolling over someone tiers below you. This was not helped by the fact that boosters could use the new queue system as a great way to boost accounts without having to jump on their account to play solo queue. Discontent continued to build until the explosion a few days ago.

Fans say they’re ready to wash their hands of Riot.

Fans say they’re ready to wash their hands of Riot.

Communication breakdown

In their original announcement, Riot wrote:

“This upcoming season we're replacing the solo/duo queue with a dynamic group queue, where you'll be able to climb the ladder with any number of teammates, going from single participation all the way to a full team comp. There's no longer a penalty for players ranking together, so the benefits of grouping up will always prevail. You'll still need to be of similar rank to your queue-buddies, and the system is designed so that groups will almost always play against similarly grouped opponents (so if you're in a premade five, there's a 95% chance you'll run into another premade five), but now you'll be able to compete the way you want to.”

Sounds good and confident, right? Their follow up post five months later in their second Riot Pls post lacked the same conviction. Instead, it was much more cautiously worded. If this post had body language, it would have its hands up in a pacifying gesture and a wide stance, ready to be tackled by an angry audience. The highlight is this passage, regarding feedback on the changes:

We know a lot of things that can be solved with iterative improvements, and our current top three priorities are improving the solo player experience against premades, lowering queue times, and smoothing out role selection weight. In an ideal (and optimistic) world, getting these numbers right would make a second queue unnecessary, but it’s not something we’re dismissing as of yet.

Finally, on June 1st, Riot dropped the bomb:

With the introduction of dynamic queue, we alienated a portion of League’s passionate player-base who believe a ranked competitive experience should be limited to a solo (or duo) endeavor. We agree dynamic queue standings don’t reflect pure individual skill as well as a solo ladder, but they also don’t inhibit competitive team experiences, and that’s a trade-off we want to make. After considering all possible options and assessing the gains (and losses) of dynamic queue over the last five months, we've made the decision to not bring back solo queue.”

The tone shifts again from nervous to solemn. Riot knew this would be an unpopular decision, and they released it alongside a wealth of charts, data, and even a developer round table. This did approximately nothing to soothe the oncoming storm.

The blowback 

Not only did the recent announcement confirm the end of solo queue, but it also introduced ‘autofill’ at high queue times. Pros went from being able to choose two roles to being pushed into one. TSM’s Hauntzer streamed a game where he waited three minutes and was forced into support, the Immortals’ Pobelter had a similar experience where he was put as a support for a team of Diamond ranked players who refused to switch with him.

Doublelift is one of the most visible pros who made the announcement on Twitter that he would no longer be playing solo queue, but he’s not the only one—in fact, a league of pros have formed on the Tournament realm, forming an underground solo queue so that they can practice in peace. This means aspiring pros and players without access to the tournament realm get less access to a competitive environment, and it means that fans can’t watch some of their favourite players stream.

Rioters who engaged on Reddit found themselves downvoted, screencapped, quoted, and insulted. Players claim to be quitting in droves (no hard data has been uncovered yet that support a major hit to Riot’s player base, but the League subreddit has been aflame for a week solid now), and Riot still isn’t backing down on their decision. Even content creators are quitting League, SoloRenektonOnly and Keyori among them, citing Riot’s recent decisions to some degree in their statements about leaving League.

Even Tryndamere, co-founder of League of Legends commented at length on his personal blog. It’s definitely worth a read to see his thoughts on why Riot had inconsistent messaging on the matter, but the long and the short of it is clear: dynamic queue is here to stay.

LemonNation brought attention to the Tournament Realm solo queue bracket.

LemonNation brought attention to the Tournament Realm solo queue bracket.

So, what now?

The problem is that players feel like they have invested so much into the game, and that Riot is being stubborn and ruining their experience. Now, Riot Games is League of Legends, and this is their game to do what they like with. However, they’ve worked hard to make it seem like League is a community effort. Efforts ranging from /ALL Chat to community cosplay features to the Fiora revisions have all been about building camaraderie and trust. Riot Games very much want to come across like your friends, all involved in building something awesome, and they want your say too.

With Dynamic Queue, Riot is burning through that hard fought and accumulated goodwill. The community is looking at Riot and seeing an uncompromising company putting their own thoughts and possible profits above the needs of their loyal customers. It’s not a good look for a company to have, and especially one that has worked so hard to be accessible and relatable.

It’s possible that all Riot needs to do is keep their heads down and wait for the shelling to stop. In a couple of weeks, a new champion release or a cool new cinematic could rip all of our attention away from the latest controversy. However, League is starting to show its age, and games like Overwatch are luring away players. League of Legends isn’t going to go away overnight, but it’s possible that the damage is done to its foundations and reputation. It’ll be interesting to see how the company continues to react, and whether dynamic queue is truly here to say—or if the pressure is enough to bring back solo. While the company has faced down countless trials before, the demand for solo queue might be the hardest one for them to argue against.