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Skill Dimensions: Jungle Timers vs. The World


jungletimers

Hi there, this is Tahalden bringing you the next installment of Skill Dimensions to discuss the most recent upset in the design evolution of League of Legends: Addition of jungle timers to the user interface (UI).

What exactly are jungle timers? Why are they cumbersome to track? And what has led Riot to add UI support for them? Let’s look at this issue from a skill dimensions perspective.

tahalden

(Artwork by kkako)

Introduction: Bookkeeping The Jungle

When playing a game of League, the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s nexus. Two types of objectives help you attain victory:

  1. Those that directly affect your march on the enemy nexus (turrets and inhibitors)
  2. Those that indirectly affect your chances at reaching victory (jungle buffs, Dragon and Baron Nashor)

At the lowest levels of play, the indirect objectives are often ignored. As skill level increases, the jungle objectives gain importance in the eyes of the players, and rightly so. Because of the subtle, but significant impact they can have, the jungle objectives constitute a mini-game by themselves at the highest echelons of play.

Knowing when an important jungle camp respawns is the first step in capturing it for your team and giving you a bit of an edge for the next few minutes. And let’s be honest, Baron buff on five of your team members is nothing to sniff at – At max level, the gold value of Baron buff amounts to about 5k gold per player! So what are the respawn times of these jungle objectives?

  • 5 minutes for Blue and Red buffs
  • 6 minutes for Dragon
  • 7 minutes for Baron Nashor

When an objective goes down, you know when you can contest it again, but you have to keep track of when a jungle objective was taken and perform some simple mathematics. In other words, at least one player (typically the jungler or the support) has some bookkeeping to do and this is where Riot believed the problem occurred.

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Post-Patch 4.12: Jungle Timers Added To The UI

Jungle timers constitute an addition to the UI that displays a countdown until the next spawn time of the major jungle objectives. These timers are only accessible by holding down the Tab key, the same you way you access the score/items board. Hence, they don’t clutter the game window and it requires the player to actively hit Tab in order to utilize the timers, which is something you cannot do when in the thick of battle.

The timers work similarly to the mini-map icons for jungle monsters: They appear in the new UI element when the jungle camps respawn and disappear when you clear the camp or when you find out the camp has already been cleared. If you have vision of the camp when it is cleared, then a countdown to the next camp spawn will be shown.

When the jungle timers were first introduced on the PBE, there was some confusion among players who thought the countdown would appear for the jungle camp regardless of having vision of the camp. Players and Rioters alike pointed out this information was wrong, but part of the backlash against the addition of the UI-supported timers stemmed from this misunderstanding.

Two Camps, Two Perspectives

Throughout the community, two ‘camps’ have spawned since the announcement: Those who absolutely dislike the change (1) and those who are in favor of it (2). I have the impression that the latter is a significantly smaller group, but let’s be fair: Change is always scary and it will take some time for people to get used to the idea.

  1. The major issue the first group of players has with the new functionality is explicitly showing the countdown as part of the UI. Before Patch 4.12, players had to keep track of the jungle timers in some way and hence, maintain an edge over opponents who did not do this. Knowing when Dragon is about to respawn while the opposing team does not is a major boon! Having this information freely available to everyone clearly removes this potential for an advantage.
  2. The second group of players emphasizes the fact that bookkeeping jungle respawn times is essentially administrative and your choice of tedious, cumbersome, annoying, … Having the game track it for you removes a rather dull aspect of the game. It allows players to focus more on making a proper play for a jungle objective, rather than just missing a window of opportunity because of a “laxness” of your team when noting jungle respawn times.

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Riot’s Design Value: ‘Clarity’

So why is Riot opting into the UI approach for jungle timers? One of their 6 design values is “clarity,” i.e. straight from their Dev Blog:

Players should fight their opponents, not the game. We strive to present information in a clear and precise way so that League can be about dominating opponents with skill and teamwork – not through bookkeeping hidden information.

A few things to take away from this:

  • Before patch 4.12, there was no obvious indication in-game how long it takes for a given jungle camp to respawn (or when it spawns for the first time, for that matter)

Riot wants to improve on the availability of game rules in some form or shape in-game rather than forcing players to pull up Google. From this perspective, jungle respawn times should be readily available in a clear and concise way, especially for newer players.

  • Maintaining jungle timers previously was anything but a user-friendly experience.

Given that maintaining 6 different jungle timers in the chat box window of the game is incredibly cumbersome, players literally choose not to bother with timers because of the obnoxious functionality of the chat history (especially if there are pesky chat spammers on the team). Alternatives exist, but they require Alt-Tab’ing out of the game or having an additional screen to access Notepad, making notes on paper (you know, with a pen or a pencil), or making use of ye good ol’ — hopefully well-trained — memory.

When maintaining jungle timers, you are bookkeeping hidden information and you do fight the game. This is exactly the kind of game aspect Riot targeted by adding “clarity” as a design value.

Jungle Timers – Can Be A Step in the Right Direction

So, knowing Riot’s stance on the matter, how can we adapt to the significant change in the way jungle objectives are handled in the game? To reiterate my previous blog post: Skill in League of Legends comes in three flavors or dimensions, all of which can contribute to truly mastering the game:

Micro level (champion mechanics, the here and now, team fights, JUNGLE TIMERS, …)
Macro level (long-term plans, action-reaction, map awareness, CONTESTING JUNGLE OBJECTIVES, …)
Game Knowledge (champion abilities, map mechanics, RESPAWN TIMES, …)

The micro and macro levels can both directly lead to a victory in a match, while game knowledge enhances both skill dimensions. Jungle objectives are an essential part of a game of League and are affected by skills on all three levels. So, how does the new UI addition really affect the game on these three levels?

  1. Micro: Killing an important jungle objective (Baron, Dragon, buffs) and noting the time when you did is an individual skill that you or a team member can maintain. If you are successful at performing this small task, while the opposing team is less so, this can lead to an important advantage for your team. Adding the UI element obviously removes this aspect of the game and leads to a decrease in skill requirement on the micro level.
  2. Macro: Gaining an advantage over the opposing team by contesting jungle objectives can be an important goal when going into a match. You can plan your next few moves as a function of when important jungle camps respawn, e.g. if you want to deny the enemy mid laner’s blue buff — especially if he or she is very dependent on it. In the late-game, Baron Nashor as a jungle objective can dictate the flow of the game. The new UI element for jungle timers directly provides the information you need to facilitate making decisions on the macro level.
  3. Game Knowledge: To maintain jungle timers and to gain an advantage over the opposing team through jungle objectives, you actually have to know what the respawn timers are for the relevant jungle camps. The new UI element for jungle timers means the information is easily available in the game and suggests to new players that those buffs and major jungle monsters may well be worth the trouble, ultimately helping them improve their skills on the macro level.

UI-supported jungle timers move the game slightly away from the micro level, and refocus the jungle mini-game more toward the macro level. This does not necessarily have to be a bad thing.

  • Players can focus more on other gameplay aspects on the micro level.

Support players and junglers are often the designated team members to maintain the jungle timers. Freeing them from this burden helps them focus more on their own individual mechanics.

  • Moreover, the freely available timers increase the in-game support of macro-level planning.

Many new players primarily focus on their individual mechanics. This is not unexpected because during the course of the game not a lot of game elements motivate new players to consider long-term plans. Integrated jungle timers improve on this significantly. The now more macro-focused aspect of jungle objectives will help more experienced players improve their strategizing in terms of buff, dragon and baron control.

At the end of the day, this will help bridge the gap between casual play and the professional scene. Jungle objectives are an essential part of professional game planning. Confronting casual players — the potential watchers of the professional scene — with a more pronounced focus on the macro level in their own games will greatly benefit their understanding of how professional games develop. Perhaps this can bring in more eSports enthusiasts to watch the professional leagues around the world.

While not a reason for League to follow this approach, there are plenty of precedents among the plethora of alternative MOBAs that provide UI support for jungle timers. Given that the game is ever evolving and aims to modernize all aspects of play, the jungle timers are a welcome addition. Besides, in all fairness, maintaining jungle timers was never the most exciting feat of the game.

Conclusion

The addition of jungle timers as a UI element has been quite controversial with a divided community on the topic.

  1. On the one hand, many players believe the change reduces the skill requirement of the game and makes it easier for lazy players to reach victory.
  2. On the other hand, many players welcome the modernization of the game owing to the dullness of manually maintaining jungle timers.

While both groups of players have a valid point, Riot has decided to move forward with the change from the perspective of one of their six design values: clarity. This change comes with multiple advantages:

  • Jungle respawn times are readily available, which is valuable especially for teaching new players about the importance of jungle objectives.
  • The jungle-objective mini-game is refocused more towards the macro level rather than the micro level.
  • This new focus can help to bridge the gap between casual players and the e-sports scene.
  • No more tedious tracking of jungle timers!

Don’t consider the UI support of jungle timers as a decrease in required individual skill level. Instead, try to see the advantages of the addition in terms of long-term planning in a match: perhaps more objective-oriented play could be the way for you to improve and climb the ranks?

So if you have been timing the jungle respawns previously, have you lost an advantage over enemies who did not maintain timers? Not necessarily. You are bound to find a reckless jungler sneak-stealing your buffs because he or she doesn’t know how to properly handle jungle invasion. You will outplay them.

What is your take on the UI-supported jungle timers? Drop a comment below!


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Tahalden

A game-design blogger on League of Legends, with some editor work on the side. Alternate mathcrafter, professional stargazer, dedicated gamer, Skarner fanboy. Getting better at games by understanding their design philosophy is a thing! Follow me on Twitter @Tahalden or on Facebook for updates.

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