League of Legends History
League of Legends (abbreviated LoL) is a multiplayer online battle arena video game developed and published by Riot Games for Microsoft Windows and macOS. The game follows a freemium model and is supported by microtransactions, and was inspired by the Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne mod, Defense of the Ancients.
In League of Legends, players assume the role of an unseen “summoner” that controls a “champion” with unique abilities and battle against a team of other players or computer-controlled champions. The goal is usually to destroy the opposing team’s “nexus”, a structure which lies at the heart of a base protected by defensive structures, although other distinct game modes exist as well. Each League of Legends match is discrete, with all champions starting off fairly weak but increasing in strength by accumulating items and experience over the course of the game. The champions and setting blend a variety of elements, including high fantasy, steampunk, and Lovecraftian horror.
League of Legends was generally well received upon its release in 2009, and has since grown in popularity, with an active and expansive fanbase. By July 2012, League of Legends was the most played PC game in North America and Europe in terms of the number of hours played. As of January 2014, over 67 million people played League of Legends per month, 27 million per day, and over 7.5 million concurrently during peak hours. League has among the largest footprints of any game in streaming media communities on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch.tv; it routinely ranks first in the most-watched hours. In September 2016 the company estimated that there are over 100 million active players each month. The game’s popularity has led it to expand into merchandise, with toys, accessories, apparel, as well as tie-ins to other media through music videos, web series, documentaries, and books.
League of Legends has an active and widespread competitive scene. In North America and Europe, Riot Games organizes the League Championship Series (LCS), located in Los Angeles and Berlin respectively, which consists of 10 professional teams in each continent. Similar regional competitions exist in China (LPL), South Korea (LCK), Taiwan (LMS), Southeast Asia (GPL), and various other regions. These regional competitions culminate with the annual World Championship. The 2016 World Championship had 43 million unique viewers and a total prize pool of over 6 million USD.
League of Legends is a 3D, third-person multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. The game consists of 3 current running game modes: Summoner’s Rift, Twisted Treeline, and Howling Abyss. Another game mode, The Crystal Scar, has since been removed. Players compete in matches, lasting anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes on average. In each game mode teams work together to achieve a victory condition, typically destroying the core building (called the Nexus) in the enemy team’s base after bypassing a line of defensive structures called turrets, or towers.
In all game modes, players control characters called champions, chosen or assigned every match, who each have a set of unique abilities. Champions begin every match at a low level, and then gain experience over the course of the match to achieve a maximum level of 18. Gaining champion levels in matches allows players to unlock their champion’s special abilities and augment them in a number of ways unique to each character. If a champion loses all their health, they are defeated, but are automatically revived in their base after enough time passes. Players also begin each match with a low amount of gold, and can earn additional gold throughout the match in a variety of ways: by killing non-player characters known as minions and monsters; by killing or helping to kill enemy players; by destroying enemy structures; passively over time; and through unique item interactions or champion abilities. This gold can then be spent throughout the match to buy in-game items that further augment each champion’s abilities and game play in a variety of ways. Champion experience, gold earned, and items bought are specific to each match and do not carry over to subsequent matches. Thus, all players begin each match on more-or-less equal footing relative to their opposing team.
Across matches, players also earn rewards that are applied to their account. Player accounts begin at level one and progress through a maximum level of 30 with experience points earned at the end of every match. As a player progresses they unlock content initially barred to new players. These include both “summoner spells”, abilities to be used in battle, and Runes and Masteries, which provide small statistical power bonuses to a player’s champion. Player level is separate from character level; both a level 30 account and a level 5 account would begin at character level 1 at the start of a new game. Playing matches also provides “Influence Points” (IP), a currency that can be used in lieu of “real money” to access certain locked features. In September 2017, Riot announced plans to revamp the system, however; upcoming changes include allowing accounts to level beyond level 30 and reworking IP.
Accounts are given rankings based on the Elo rating system, with proprietary adjustments. These ratings are used in automated matchmaking to make games with players of comparable skill level on each team.
League of Legends consists of three main maps, or “Fields of Justice.” Each have different terrain, objectives and victory conditions, as well as varied summoner spells and items. A fourth map, the Crystal Scar, was discontinued.
Summoner’s Rift is the most popular map in League of Legends. On this map type, two teams of five players compete to destroy an enemy building called a Nexus, which is guarded by the enemy team and a number of defensive structures called turrets, or towers. One nexus is located in each enemy base on opposite sides of the map, in the lower-left and upper-right hand corners. These structures continually create weak non-player characters known as minions, which advance toward the enemy base along three paths: top, middle, and bottom lanes. Players compete to advance these waves of minions into the enemy base, which allows them to destroy enemy structures and ultimately win the match. Between lanes are neutral areas of the map known as the ‘jungle’, arrayed in four quadrants. A shallow river divides the map between the teams, but doesn’t actually impede movement; all champions can wade through it no differently than dry land.
Each team wishes to defend their own structures and destroy the other team’s structures.
- Turrets – Each lane is guarded by powerful defensive structures called turrets. Turrets deal exceptionally high damage and will attack enemy minions and players that approach them. Turrets prioritize enemy minions in their vicinity, but will immediately attack enemy players if they attack allied players. Thus, by advancing an allied minion wave into the range of a turret, a player can do damage to the structure without themselves being attacked. When destroyed, turrets provide gold and experience. Turrets that are destroyed are destroyed permanently for that match and will not respawn. Some turrets, depending on location, will regenerate health over time if they are damaged but not destroyed.
- Inhibitor – Each lane contains one Inhibitor. A lane’s Inhibitor can be attacked after a team has destroyed the three turrets guarding its lane. Destroying an Inhibitor will cause the allied Nexus to spawn Super Minions, more powerful Minions that provide a buff to surrounding Minions. If destroyed, inhibitors will respawn after five minutes.
- Nexus – Each team has a Nexus that can only be damaged once all the turrets in a lane and that lane’s inhibitor is destroyed. Destruction of the enemy’s team Nexus ends the game.
Some objectives are ‘neutral’, meaning that they will not attack champions who pass by, but champions can choose to pick a fight with them if they wish to gain a reward at the cost of having to fight for it. They include:
- Jungle monsters – Neutral monsters spawn at various intervals in the Jungle, and provide the player with gold, experience, and sometimes other rewards for killing them. They are the most common neutral objective.
- Elemental drakes/Elder Dragon – Elemental drakes are powerful monsters located in the bottom half of the river. All members of the team that kills the drake are provided with buffs that last the entire game and accrue cumulatively. The drakes are flavored after the Four Elements, with each drake granting a thematically appropriate buff. A random elemental drake will respawn six minutes after the previous one is killed. The Elder Dragon spawns instead after 35 minutes have passed in-game. When killed, it provides a stronger buff than an individual elemental drake, but it wears off with time, unlike the earlier drake rewards.
- Rift Herald – The Rift Herald is a powerful enemy located in the upper side of the River. Killing the Rift Herald allows it to be summoned again as a battering ram to attack enemy towers. This monster will never respawn after it is killed.
- Baron Nashor – Baron Nashor is the most powerful neutral enemy, located in the upper side of the River. It will spawn after twenty minutes, replacing the Rift Herald. All living members of the team that kills Baron Nashor are given a buff which makes nearby minions more powerful. Baron Nashor will respawn seven minutes after it is killed.
Many of the details have changed over time; League is not a static game, with mechanics being both introduced and removed since launch in 2009. For example, the Rift Herald was only added in 2016, and had its abilities reworked in 2017; Dragons gave gold rather than buffs from 2009–2014, and the dragons only became elementally flavored drakes in 2016; jungle monsters have been added and retuned; the length of time it took for inhibitors to respawn was 4 minutes rather than 5 minutes for a time; Baron Nashor gave a stronger buff to the statistics of champions but no buff to minions from 2009–2014; and so on.
In the Twisted Treeline, two teams of three players compete to destroy the opposing team’s Nexus, which is guarded enemy Towers. It is conceptually similar to Summoner’s Rift, but smaller to account for three vs. three rather than five vs. five. Rather than Summoner’s Rift 3 lanes of turrets and 3 inhibitors, Twisted Treeline has only 2 lanes and 2 inhibitors, with the jungle in between. The other differences are the addition of two “Altars”, control of which grants the occupying team a variety of bonuses, and the replacement of Baron Nashor with Vilemaw, an evil spider deity. Living members of the team that slays Vilemaw are granted a temporary bonus, similar to the death of Nashor.
The Howling Abyss is used for “ARAM” (All Random All Mid) matches, and is five vs. five. The difference between the Abyss and the other maps is that there is only a single narrow lane of Turrets and an Inhibitor, and no neutral jungle area. Thus, rather than skirmishes and hidden movement, the Abyss focuses exclusively on large team-fights in the sole middle lane. Players cannot return to their allied base to replenish health and mana or purchase items unless they have been killed. ARAM was launched as an official mode in September 2013.
The Crystal Scar was used for Dominion mode, a discontinued game format where teams of five players competed to capture control points and hold those points for the longest possible period of time. The map consists of a circle with 5 control points. Each team controls a base known as a fountain, located at the bottom left and right hand corners of the map. Each team scores points by capturing and owning more objectives than the other team over time, which is then reduced from the other team’s “life” total. These points count down from an initial score of 200. The first team to reduce the other team to 0 points achieves victory. Dominion was launched on September 26, 2011 and was retired on February 22, 2016, although the Crystal Scar is used for certain other rotating formats, such as Ascension.
League of Legends includes several game types players can select.
- The Tutorial is the first game type available to new players. The tutorial is played on the Howling Abyss and is intended to teach new players the rules and gameplay of League.
- Co-op Vs. AI is available to new players after completing or opting out of the Tutorial. It is played on Summoner’s Rift, Twisted Treeline, and (formerly) the Crystal Scar, and pits teams of human players against an opposing team of computer-controlled artificial intelligence champions.
- Normal Matchmaking uses an automated match making system to pair teams of similarly-skilled players against one another.
- Ranked Matchmaking is available to players upon reaching account level 30. It uses a similar system as Normal Matchmaking; however, pre-made teams must be of comparable ELO strength, so expert players and weak players are not allowed to team together in Ranked. After playing 10 or more Ranked games, accounts are given a public “rank” that roughly correlates with their ELO ranking.
- Custom Games allow players to play any map with any combination of player or AI teammates and opponents.
League of Legends also includes three ways teams may choose what champion they will play for a given match:
- Blind Pick allows the two teams to select their champions simultaneously. The players only learn the champion selections of the opposing team when the match begins. It is available on Summoner’s Rift, Twisted Treeline, and the Crystal Scar for Normal Matchmaking games and Co-op vs. AI, and for all modes in custom games.
- Draft Pick allows each team to ban five champions each (a total of ten champions banned), removing them from the match. Teams then take turns selecting their champions while being able to see the selections of the other team. It is available on Summoner’s Rift for matchmaking games, and for all modes in custom games.
- Random Pick randomly assigns a champion to each player. Players accumulate re-rolls by playing multiple matches, which they can use to randomly select another champion for that match. It is available on Howling Abyss for ARAM (All Random All Mid) games, and for all modes in custom games.
There are currently 138 champions in League of Legends as of August 23, 2017. League divides its champion types up a number of ways. The most salient difference is the type of damage a champion deals; some champions deal largely physical damage, which is resisted by the armor stat, and other champions deal largely magic damage, which is resisted by the magic resistance stat. Some champions deal a combination of both and can choose which to emphasize; and some rare abilities deal ‘true’ damage which is not mitigable by either armor or magic resistance. Riot Games has classified all champions as one of six types to aid beginners. Not all champions perfectly fit their type, of course. The official Riot classifications are as follows:
- Marksman: Marksmen, also known as “AD Carries”, are ranged champions that usually deal physical damage. These champions are usually high DPS rather than burst; they focus on sustained long-term damage, and are usually the best at destroying objectives like enemy turrets or elemental drakes. They tend to have weak defense, though. Examples of marksmen are Ashe, Caitlyn, Miss Fortune, and Varus.
- Mage: Mages, sometimes known as “AP Carries”, are champions with powerful magic damage skills and support skills, but weak defense and low mobility. Mages are a diverse set of champions. Some emphasize killing single champions from range very quickly; some specialize in area of effect damage to multiple targets; some specialize in immense range to attack enemies safely from afar. Examples of mages are Karthus, Lissandra, Lux, and Swain.
- Assassin: A champion who specializes in killing another champion as fast as possible, usually within melee range. These champions tend to go after the enemy’s AD/AP Carry and other ‘squishy’ champions, but tend to have weak defenses themselves if caught. They are distinguished in having excellent mobility which allows them to reach and strike at priority targets. Examples of assassins are Diana, Fizz, Katarina, and Zed.
- Tank: Champions who are hard to kill and soak up damage for their team. In exchange, they usually deal less damage, but can compensate with useful “crowd control” abilities to distract or disable enemies, or force enemies to fight through them first before they can attack the “carries”. Examples of tanks are Malphite, Sejuani, Rammus, and Zac.
- Fighter: Champions that blend the attributes of a damage dealer and tank, combining moderate survivability with damage. A common designation for close-range melee fighters, since they need to be able to survive long enough to close in on their target. Examples of fighters are Jax, Elise, Rek’Sai, and Wukong.
- Support: Champions whose skills are meant to directly aid the rest of the team by providing healing, buffing allies, debuffing the enemy team, or a combination of the above. Support champions often are paired with another champion in the early laning phase of the game where the support doesn’t attack minions, but instead focuses on aiding their partner and harassing the enemy champions. Supports are also expected to pay the most attention to the map as a whole, placing wards which grant vision and watching for surprise enemy movements. Example of supports are Alistar, Nami, Soraka, and Taric.
Item choice plays an important role in the above, and can shift the style of a champion. For example, if the champion Jarvan IV purchases all damage items, he functions something like an Assassin; he can kill enemies quickly, but dies rapidly himself. If Jarvan buys all defensive items, he’s a Tank focused on disruption and buffing his allies. Somewhere in-between, he’s a Fighter. In the same way, champions like Morgana, Annie, and Karma can build item sets that are focused on high damage like a Mage, or item sets focused on disrupting enemies and aiding allies like a Support.
Special game modes
Riot Games, starting in 2013, has released a number of special limited-time game modes. These special modes would usually be accessible for two weeks, then retired. In 2016, Riot announced that “Rotating Games Mode” would be a recurring event, so that every weekend a previously released game mode would be made accessible again for that weekend. Game modes in the current rotation include Ascension, Ultra Rapid Fire (URF), Hexakill (Twisted Treeline), One For All (Summoner’s Rift), Nemesis Draft, Nexus Siege, Legend of the Poro King, Doom Bots of Doom, and Hunt of the Blood Moon. Special game modes not seen in the rotation include One For All (Howling Abyss), Hexakill (Summoner’s Rift), Black Market Brawlers, Definitely Not Dominion, and Snowdown Showdown.
The Ultra Rapid Fire (URF) mode was originally a 2014 April Fools’ Day prank that proved so popular it became a proper rotating game mode; in URF, champion abilities have no resource cost and have their cooldowns reduced by 80%, double the normal cap of 40% that can be attained through items. Additionally, champions have increased movement speed, faster passive gold gain, and faster attacks.
Setting and lore
League of Legends takes place in the fictional world of Runeterra. In Runeterra, the champions of League of Legends are a collection of heroes and villains who have a variety of backstories, often related to the political struggles of the various countries of the main continent of Valoran. Additionally, some champions are extraplanar and come from worlds other than Runeterra, but are visiting for their own purposes. These champions sometimes clash with each other, roughly reflected in the gameplay of League of Legends.
The setting has gone through two phases: the ‘original’ setting that was canon from 2009-2014, and the rebooted setting from 2014–present. The original setting was very focused on justifying the exact mechanics of a game of League in the world of Runeterra. The MOBA predecessor to League, Defense of the Ancients, featured two warring sides with two separate hero rosters; however, in League, any combination of champions was legal to create a team. To explain this, in the original setting, Valoran was functionally ruled by extremely powerful time mages who could intimidate the other nations into compliance with their whims. They created the “Institute of War”, also known as the “League of Legends”, to resolve disputes and act as something like an international sports league. In these disputes, “Summoners” (aka the game player) could control any of Runeterra’s greatest heroes or villains in their struggles, thus justifying why a team of 5 characters who all hated each other might form. Additionally, these time mages would actually power-down the characters to “level 1” before each match to make things ‘fair’; some character’s backstories even involved them explicitly having their powers sealed by the Institute of War due to them being too powerful otherwise, such as the demigoddesses Kayle and Morgana. This explained why characters might participate in multiple matches and have to relearn the same skills each time. After a match, a “Judgment” would sometimes be handed down, with the winning Summoners able to give land and privileges to those they favored.
The narrative team at Riot eventually decided this setup was too constraining, and “rebooted” the story behind League of Legends in 2014. In essence, the original story put too much emphasis on the faceless player stand-in Summoners and the Time Mages of the Institute; “the very idea of all-powerful Summoners made Champions little more than puppets manipulated by godlike powers.” Any interesting champions the Narrative team created were rendered as secondary, mere servants to the Summoners, unable to influence their own destiny. Many champion’s lore did not give them reason to join the Institute, such as serial killer fire spirit Brand or void monster Rek’Sai. Riot wished to let champions take the center stage and have stories of their own, pursuing their own unique goals. For example, Riot has since released a plotline about a lost empire in the Shurima desert and a plotline about a clash between the pirate Gangplank and the pirate-hunter Miss Fortune in the city of Bilgewater, both of which were driven by the champions of League of Legends, not Summoners. Riot compared this style of narrative to comic book characters and classic literature, where interesting characters can have many adventures over time and not necessarily have all of them make sense in the same continuity. A side effect of this is “that the game and story aren’t one-to-one copies of each other.”
The world of Runeterra consists of a number of countries and city-states, locked in a web of rivalry, alliance, and conflict. The two largest and most powerful entities are the states of Demacia and Noxus, who have fought wars in the past, and are in a Cold War-esque state currently, with each seeking to quietly undermine the other. Demacian champions tend to value themes like chivalry and honor, while Noxus prides itself more on trickery, strategy, and ruthlessness. Piltover and Zaun are a city-state at the forefront of technology; Piltover, the “respectable” half of the city, has a “steampunk” style, while Zaun, the neglected undercity of Piltover, is a darker vision of the power of technology, engaging in ethically questionable research. The Freljord is an icy domain riven by a three-way civil war between rival claimant Queens Ashe, Sejuani, and Lissandra. Bandle City is a peaceful domain of yordles, a race of small humanoids unique to League of Legends. Ionia is an island nation with a number of themes, including music, monks, and ninjas. Bilgewater is a port town with a pirate theme. The Shadow Isles are an island chain that was magically corrupted, and have become haunted by a malign force known as the “Black Mist” which leeches life and empowers the undead. Targon is an ancient mountain peak with Greek mythology theme. Shurima is a fallen empire lost to the desert with a somewhat Egyptian theme. Icathia is another fallen and abandoned city where Void monsters from another dimension have crossed into Runeterra, with a Lovecraftian theme.
Of the current maps, Summoner’s Rift is set at the Institute of War from the ‘original’ League storyline; the Twisted Treeline is set in the Shadow Isles; and the Howling Abyss map is set in the Frejlord.
The game’s developer Riot Games was co-founded by Brandon “Ryze” Beck and Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill, who were roommates while they attended the University of Southern California. They partnered with Steve “Guinsoo” Feak, the previous designer of the popular Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne custom map Defense of the Ancients, and Steve “Pendragon” Mescon, the administrator of the former official support base for the map, to develop League of Legends.
The original inspiration for “DotA” was a 1998 mod for StarCraft created by community member Aeon64 called “Aeon of Strife”. After the release of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its subsequent World Editor in 2002, DotA was created by another modder, Eul. He ported and expanded the “Aeon of Strife” mod to the new engine and named it “Defense of the Ancients”. Guinsoo later made DotA Allstars by inserting his own mix of content to “DotA”, greatly expanding the number of heroes, added recipes and items, and introduced various gameplay changes. Guinsoo then passed the mod to IceFrog after accepting a job at the newly formed Riot Games.
The idea of a spiritual successor to Defense of the Ancients was that it would be its own stand-alone game with its own engine, rather than another mod of Warcraft III, began to materialize at the end of 2005. League of Legends was born “when a couple of very active DotA community members believed that the gameplay was so much fun and so innovative that it represented the spawning of a new genre and deserved to be its own professional game with significantly enhanced features and around-game services.”
Riot Games officially opened its office in September 2006, and, as of 2013, has over 1,000 people working on League of Legends. According to Marc Merrill, when creating the various champions in the game, instead of leaving the champion creation to just a few people, they decided to open up the champion creation process to everyone in the company based upon a template where they could vote on which champions made it into the game.
League of Legends was first announced on October 7, 2008. It was in a closed beta from April 10, 2009 to October 22, 2009. It then transitioned to open beta until release.
League of Legends was released on October 27, 2009. Riot Games self-publishes and operates the game and all of its customer service aspects in North America. Riot Games has signed deals regarding the distribution of League of Legends in Asia, Europe, and North America. By July 2013, the game has been released and was distributed in Australia, the United States, Canada, Europe, Philippines, and South Korea.
The game is distributed in China by Tencent Inc., the largest Internet value-added services company in China best known for its QQ Instant Messaging client. The game has been distributed to Tencent’s growing 300 million Internet user base through its leading QQ Game portal. The deal was one of only a handful of partnerships to bring a U.S.-developed online game directly to China.
In Europe, Riot Games initially signed an international licensing partnership with GOA, the video games department of Orange’s Content Division and Europe’s largest gaming portal. On October 13, 2009, GOA and Riot announced that they would start channeling server access for players located in Europe to GOA’s dedicated servers. This partnership did not last; on May 10, 2010, Riot Games announced that they would take over distribution and operation of the game in Europe. To do so, Riot Games established a European HQ in Dublin.
On July 16, 2010, Riot Games announced that Garena would publish the game in Southeast Asia. Additionally, Southeast Asian players had the ability “transfer accounts” to import their progress stored in North American or European servers into the Southeast Asian server. The game has since been distributed by Garena in Taiwan as well.
In March 2013, Riot Games released a beta version of an OS X client in addition to their Windows client. The Mac client was since moved out of beta and OS X / macOs players have had full access to League.
Riot has since expanded to many countries, after the initial North America / Europe / Korea / Garena’s Southeast Asia launch. In 2012, a Brazilian and Turkish server were added; in 2013, Latin American & Russian servers; and a beta of a Japanese server was launched in 2016.