What I'm Not Playing This Week: League of Legends
I know you were worried last weekend when Hitcher and I ran off to Vegas. Sometimes you can just feel those slots calling you, y’know? Anyway, everything worked out fine, we’re both back safe and sound, and we spread enough hush money around that town that you’d think no one there had ever even HEARD of a stripper. And if you were wondering what I wasn’t playing last week, well, don’t worry too much because it’s the same thing I’m not playing this week: that terrible free-to-play DotA clone garbage, League of Legends.
More specifically, I’m not playing LoL because I play a vastly superior, not-free-to-play, DotA clone game, Heroes of Newerth.
Hit the jump as I explain the rivalry between these two largely identical games, and why I’m totally right, and also probably why I’m a douchebag.
You could be totally forgiven for having never heard of Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, or even Defense of the Ancients. Really, it’s fine; I was a console kid once upon a time, too. You’ll come around, I’m sure. Defense of the Ancients (hereafter DotA) was a custom map in Blizzard’s Warcraft III. It was a breakout hit, and became nearly as popular and as competitive as the core multiplayer experience in WarIII. Of course, being a custom game had its disadvantages: there was no way to track individual players in any sort of ladder ranking, the game engine was getting a little gray, and the infamous “leaver” problem, wherein any player could up and leave a game, dooming his teammates to a practically un-winnable four-on-five scenario, with no repercussions. Essentially, the core gameplay was extremely engaging, but many players, and eventually game makers, realized that using Warcraft III and Battle.net as a platform was really holding it back.
Enter Riot Games and S2 Games. Both fairly fresh game companies, both playing host to game designers who helped develop the original DotA map (although the drama and politics surrounding the movements and contributions of various designers to various companies would be a much longer post than this one) both hoping to capitalize on the community’s desire for a standalone DotA-style game. Riot releases League of Legends in October of 2009, using a free-to-play, microtransaction-based model, as well as a boxed product that unlocks additional in-game content. Following a protracted public beta phase, S2 releases Heroes of Newerth in May of 2010. They both share the same DotA-inspired gameplay involving two teams of five duking it out on a large, three-lane map with creeps and defense towers, with the ultimate objective of destroying your opponents’ final base structure.
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: Why is HoN so much better than LoL? First off, and probably my biggest gripe with the game, LoL‘s business model involves selling things, for real money, that directly impact gameplay. Sure, some will make the argument that you can earn the currency just by playing the game, but some playable characters are so prohibitively expensive that in order to get them, you will have to spend money for the privilege of playing them. HoN on the other hand, carries only its $30 price tag, which gets you access to the entirety of the game’s content, save for some strictly cosmetic items currently being added to the new in-game shop. Gating off certain aspects of gameplay to premium users is something that simply doesn’t sit right with me, and is an immediate turn-off for me when comparing these two games.
LoL also features a heavy focus on a sort of over-arching, persistent progression, allowing players to further customize and their “champions” (yes, they seriously call them champions) outside of the game. Basically, if you play a certain character a lot, it will get better. This means that a certain character at level 8 in a certain game might well be different from the same level 8 character in a different game, just because that player has spent more time playing the character. My main problem with this is that it engenders the concept of a “main”, much like in a fighting game. It makes sense in those games, but unfortunately LoL is a heavily team-based game, where character picks should be based on what would be best for the team, rather than what each individual player “likes”. Players will favor certain champions simply because they’ve put time into leveling them, not because they’d be a good pick for the team.
All of this is is without even getting into things like art style, or gameplay mechanics such as denies, but in my honest opinion that stuff is pretty extraneous, especially compared to the things I’ve listed above. That stuff is really a matter of taste, whereas the other stuff has a serious impact on my ability to take LoL seriously as a competitive proposal. And I’m not the only one; the competitive scene for HoN is thriving right now, while the LoL competition is largely non-existent.
When reached for comment about their not-playings, I was told the following:
Allen Park: Bulletstorm, because i’m boycotting Cliffy B’s games until he makes another Jazz Jackrabbit
John Colaw: Bulletstorm, because I watched Taken, The Expendables, They Live and The Losers earlier this week and I’ve had a machismo overdose.
Justin Hutchison: Heroes of Newerth, because Danl’s a prick.