Should New Champions be temporarily excluded from Ranked Play?
League of Legends (LoL) maintains a regular update schedule that has seen it remain prominent as one of the most popular PC game titles in the world. A core part of these updates comes from its constant tweaks and additions to its roster of playable champions.
As of August 6, 2020, LoL currently has 150 champions, with the latest being Yone. LoL developer Riot Games often promotes each champion’s upcoming release both in the game’s client and elsewhere through marketing or social media campaigns. These releases serve as major content moments in the game to excite players.
For all the benefits, though, there is one downside to new champion releases. Primarily, how they interact with League of Legends’ Ranked Play mode. It is unpleasant for many players to have teammates test champions for the first time in a competitive environment with high stakes for the average player.
In 2020, it is time to revisit this topic and question how well the purported reasoning holds up.
Riot’s old stance
In 2017, Riot game developers addressed this topic in a Q&A session. They said:
Releasing a new champion or a major champion update is a big deal for us and for players, especially at the slower release cadence we use these days. After the teasing and the hype and the spotlights, we want players to be able to try the champion out right away. For players whose primary way to engage in League is through ranked (and that’s a lot of players) a week can feel like a long time, especially since the champion will have been on the PBE before that.
However, we sympathize with the basic problem you’re hinting at, of someone going into ranked with a champion they have never played before, and having your team possibly pay the price. While we think the new Practice Mode will help some with this problem, we also have discussed requiring you to play with the champion – even if it’s as little as one game – before you take him or her into ranked. No concrete plans at the moment, but it’s something we’ll keep on our radar.
And while this has been “on their radar” for three years now, no actual change has come. New champions are released overpowered, untweaked and played in ranked games by players who have at best spent a few hours playing them and at worst for the first time ever.
This once again opens up the question:
Should New Champions be Enabled for Ranked?
The stated reason for allowing new champions to be enabled for ranked upon release is that many players play LoL primarily or solely in ranked. Riot states that they do not want to deny these players the ability to play the exciting new champion in the mode that they are most comfortable in.
This reasoning rings hollow. The ranked game mode should be, above all else, a game mode in which every player tries their absolute best to win. Playing a new champion for the first time in the ranked mode cannot, by definition, be the player trying their best.
If these players are so inflexibly stubborn that they cannot fathom taking thirty minutes of their time to play the new champion in a different game mode, they should not be rewarded. For a company so accustomed to enforcing arbitrary rules upon its players, this reasoning by Riot is exceptionally flimsy.
What are some Potential Fixes to this Situation?
There are different options available to try and address the issue of new champions’ immediate availability in Ranked Play upon release.
The most obvious option, discussed in the above Q&A, is instilling a time lock. Upon release, a champion is not available to play in the ranked game mode for a set time period, such as a week.
Though efficient, this does not entirely address the problem. Nothing is preventing a player from merely waiting out the week and then immediately jumping into the ranked game mode and picking the champion for the first time in that mode. While it reduces the problem, it does not solve it.
A more elegant solution is even proposed by Riot in the Q&A: simply have a limitation that players must play a champion at least once, in any game mode, before they can play that champion in ranked. This will help both new champion releases and, in general, keep players honest about their intentions in the ranked mode.
It carries the additional benefit of dissuading alternate accounts used for smurfing or trolling, in that it adds additional barriers to play.
For a game like League of Legends, Riot Games has repeatedly stated that it wants the Ranked Play mode to be one of competitive integrity and sportsmanship. It is time they implement actual features and changes that appropriately improve the environment, beyond automated ban systems. It is time they actually work to resolve issues rather than simply denying their existence.