Hello! I am Robin “Tahalden” Lombaert bringing you my first article on Cloth5, which will kick off the first installment in my series on League of Legends’ game design. In a nutshell, the goal of this series is to help readers improve their skill level by understanding the game-design choices that go into making and balancing League.
(Artwork by kkako)
To lay the groundwork for this series, I will first discuss the different skill dimensions that can be defined in League. Afterwards, I will dive into the six design values that Riot has defined for League. So sit back and enjoy the read!
When discussing skill types in League of Legends, they are actually fairly equal in terms of impact on the game. There is not a hierarchical ‘set of levels’ that can be reached consecutively through improving at the game. I like using the term “dimensions,” because it nicely captures the identity of a type of skill. In principle, if a player focuses on one of these skill types, he or she can increase his/her chances at winning a game as much as choosing another skill type. In the end, the choice should depend primarily on which skill dimension best suits the player.
Essentially, most skills in League can be attributed to one of these three dimensions:
- Micro: Individual mechanical skills (Including within team fights)
- Macro: Team and map-oriented skills (Including understanding of the “meta”)
- Knowledge: Factual game knowledge of champions, items, map mechanics, etc.
For the sake of keeping in line with the current real-life meta (2014 FIFA World Cup), let’s draw an analogy with football (a.k.a. soccer – Across the pond from my perspective).
This is not an entirely random analogy as there are many parallels that can be drawn between the League of Legends eSports scene and the professional sports scene, such as for football. At the end of the day, the eSports scene attempts to emulate the more traditional “nondigital” sports scenes, but the similarities do not stop there.
1. The Micro Level
Essentially, the micro level is about a player’s mechanics throughout the different stages of the game.
- How good are you at last-hitting minions in lane during the early game?
- How proficient are you at executing lane ganks from the jungle?
- How well can you execute ability combinations?
- How do you fare during teamfights in terms of positioning, depending on your role in the team?
To put it differently, micro-level skills do not concern any long-term planning. The micro-level dimension includes any event in the game that requires you to act here and now. In a way, the micro skills include most of the actual action in the game.
A shoutcasting duo commentating a LoL game typically includes a play-by-play caster who focuses on the individual plays and single events in the game.
When one watches a football match, it’s also the flashy plays and goals we’re looking for. Do you recognize any of the following epic plays?
2. The Macro Level
Any given action in the game usually leads to another, and in a way, this is League’s expression of ‘cause and effect.’ The macro level concerns this succession of actions that — ideally — leads to reaching the goal of a game of League: Destroying the opposing team’s nexus before they destroy yours.
This can be planned for before the game even starts by selecting champions that have good synergy with one another and can be used to implement a given strategy. Similarly, football teams will figure out strategies on the blackboard (Well probably some kind of iPad nowadays) before a match even begins.
The execution of that strategy, however, is always counterbalanced by the strategy of the opposing team. Going into a game with a clear plan does not necessarily mean the enemy will allow you to execute that plan. So the macro level is not only about planning beforehand, but also about the actual execution. A good dose of improvisation is required to react properly to the moves of the opposing team within the confines of your own strategy.
- What kind of a team composition do we use, i.e. what is the strategy to achieve victory?
- How do we successfully execute our team composition given the composition of the opposing team?
- When, how, and more importantly why, do we rotate/translate to a different location on the map?
- Given the current state of the ongoing game, should we be focusing on: Taking down turrets? Dragon or Baron? Catching someone out of position? A 5v5 team fight?
If a single action or event is at the micro level, then the sequence of an action and reaction will follow at the macro level. Always keep in mind both your own team’s strategy and the strategy the enemy team is attempting to execute. Be mindful of the consequences of your actions and the fact that no matter how much you plan beforehand, your plans are always trying to be bested by the plans of the enemy.
Obviously, the macro level is as important as the micro level for reaching victory, hence, a shoutcasting duo typically includes a color caster who considers the implications of individual plays, team fights and discusses the overall strategy a team is following.
3. Game Knowledge
The final skill dimension encompasses actual knowledge of the game. League currently sports:
- 119 unique champions, each with at least five active or passive abilities
- Over 150 unique items with different uses and build paths
- A wide array of runes and masteries
The set of actual game mechanics on Summoner’s Rift adds another chapter to the League of Legends compendium to be studied. It is safe to say that fully grasping the game is a daunting task.
So what is the difference between this dimension and the previous two? It does not directly lead to a win. However, it does contribute to both the micro and the macro level of play.
Comparing this to football, knowing the overly complicated concept of offside and all its caveats (No, I don’t play football, obviously — but let’s be fair, the concept has a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to it!) contributes to your gameplay (micro) and strategic planning (macro). Only the application of that knowledge, can net you a goal.
Your game knowledge contributes to your micro-level play by allowing you to know exactly what abilities a specific champion has and even how much damage an opposing champion’s ability does. This game knowledge can mean the difference between a successful all-in maneuver or an instant trip back to the fountain.
Similarly, that knowledge contributes to your macro-level play. During champion select, if you see the opposing team forming a poke-heavy siege composition, it may be wise for your team to form a heavy-engage/heavy-dive comp such that you don’t give them the chance to slowly poke you down during the course of the game.
So What Does All This Mean?
With the final goal of destroying the opposing team’s nexus, your skill on both the micro and the macro level can directly contribute to a win. You greatly enhance your skill on both levels by increasing your game knowledge and you can improve your gameplay by working on either one of the three skill dimensions.
However, to truly master the game, all three are important.
This mastery goes deep — Even the best of the best still have areas to improve upon. The rise (and downfall) of the 4v0 fast push in the professional scene is a great example.
In the 4v0 fast push, a team swaps their marksman/support duo to the top lane and freezes the lane until the arrival of the third minion wave, which contains a cannon minion. With that wave, they then push forward to the turret and kill it with the help of the top laner and the jungler (micro). Of course, the opposing team can perform a similar tactic in the bot lane and take down the turret there. Hence, you must balance your aggression with the defense of your (either first or second-tier) bot turret. If executed well, this can lead to a significant early-game advantage over the opposing team (macro).
In the professional scene, sometimes the advantage gained this way was huge (e.g. one team would take down the inhibitor in their fast-pushing lane, while the opposing team had barely taken down the second-tier turret).
This strategy showcases how micro-level play can influence the macro-level play. How well you execute the fast push (micro) determines whether you gain an advantage over the opposing team or not (macro). However, without having the game knowledge for this strategy, you are less likely to succeed. For instance, you want to know which champions excel at quickly sieging down a turret, and how minion control works in the early game.
So even though focusing on one skill dimension to improve your gameplay is a good way to begin moving forward, recognizing the intricate interactions between the three dimensions remains important. A player with excellent mechanics may be raking in the kills in lane or in team fights, but what do these mechanics mean if the player doesn’t know how to make the right choices? Whenever you have to decide to go for a play or not, always ask yourself the question: Will this move help you gain an advantage over the enemy team?
When you think about skill in a game like League of Legends, there are essentially three different dimensions in which you can improve your play: micro, macro, and game knowledge.
- Micro-level skills concern individual and mechanical prowess in the game.
- Macro-level skills include team and map-oriented aspects of the game.
- Your raw game knowledge then enhances both micro and macro skills.
In general terms, the micro level contains isolated actions, while the macro level deals with sequences of actions and reactions. Additionally, the three dimensions interact with each other, and recognizing these relationships remains important when working on your skill dimensions.
When you want to improve your League skills, pick one of the three dimensions and focus on it alone. In principle, broadening your scope in any of the three dimensions will net you a noticeable increase in victories on your quest to climb the ladder.
At the end of the day, keep in mind that truly mastering the game requires you to improve in all areas. What do you think is the best way to master the game? Would you work on all dimensions at the same time or rather focus on one of them? Which dimension, according to you, has the greatest impact on your overall skill level? Drop a comment below!