Ever since eSports became a massively popular phenomenon there was always one game that comes out on top as the most popular both in player base and tournament views. For a long time it was Starcraft 2 with micro intensive battles where the slightest mistake could cost one player the game. Blizzard did a fairly good job in creating a Multiplayer community with the release of Heart of the Swarm and the new Battle.net. The Multiplayer is new and has a fresh feeling to it with the new units and strategies (though the game may feel unbalanced at times, it isn’t to the point of broken). Three distinct races allow for all players to find a play style that suits them best. The ladder system is what really shines in the Multiplayer. Being matched up against an opponent of equal skill (most of the time) to compete for ladder points. Blizzard has done a good job promoting and emphasizing the competitive nature of Sc2 with tournaments such as the World Championship Series that always draws in a good amount of viewers to watch Pro Sc2 players compete.
But Starcraft 2 also has one problem that hurts the casual gamer. The game can be frustratingly hard. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication for players to climb the ladder and earn that promotion to the next tier. While there are many players that find this competitive nature to the game exciting and enough to keep them invested, more casual players may end up in Platinum league and never get into Diamond. However this is not the issue that turns off many casual players. The main issue is that at some point the game becomes so frustratingly hard that playing on the ladder feels more like work rather than playing a game. At the higher levels of play, mistakes become more difficult to overcome as your opponent often knows how to exploit that and ruin your day. While this isn’t a terrible problem, its easy to understand why casual players would give up on the game. Blizzard hasn’t done the best job fixing this as its not something that can be fixed. The only thing that Blizzard could do, and they have done, is implement unranked matchmaking similar to that of League of Legends. This way players can play without worrying about ladder points and rank commonly known as “Ladder Anxiety”. While this does help to try and alleviate the pressure that comes from playing on the ladder, it still won’t change the difficulty level of matches played. This game rewards practice and skill more than creativity.
League of Legends
One of the most surprising developments was how much fun I found League of Legends was. The first thing to understand about this game is that it is best enjoyed when played with friends. Starting up a 5v5 with 4 of your friends on skype, figuring out a game plan or just laughing as you witness (or take part in) some of the most ridiculous plays you can make in the game. Though there are many moments of hilarity in this game, it can also be a very competitive game. Teamwork is the foundation of the game that, when done properly, can win games that should have been lost. It is a very fun game to play as it is to watch apparently. League of Legends now dominates the eSports scene. Riot’s tournaments have the most viewers out of any tournament as teams compete for a large cash prize as well as Fame and Glory. Riot does a fantastic job at keeping their player base happy with frequent updates, new user content, and balance updates that are based on the current meta of the game. It’s easy to get invested into the game when you buy a couple skins for your favourite characters (or to spend way too much on skins, I cannot say I haven’t). But what probably makes the game very popular is the fact that it is Free to Play. There is no cost of entry into the competitive Multiplayer which allows anyone to try the game.
While making the game Free to Play is a great marketing tool, it also contributes to a major issue found in League of Legends. Anyone who plays ranked matches will know where I am going with this as those in unranked matches may also know. With no cost to entry to play the game, the player base is incredibly huge. It is often the case that in games where you’re not playing with friends, you may end up with unskilled players on your team that hold your team, as well as you, back. However these players are not the problem, the main problem is the surprising amount of players that are uncooperative and hostile. Some players have a problem that, if they don’t get the champion or role they want, they will purposely try and throw the game, making your team lose. Commonly known as “Elo Hell”, it makes ranked matches in solo queue (Matched with random players) very frustrating. Riot has tried to fix this problem by allowing players to report others that are harming the game experience. These players are than judged by other players in what is known as the “Tribunal”. It’s a good idea but leaves the judgement in the hands of players who can be very unforgiving for someone who may have simply had a bad day and took it out on his team-mates (I’m not saying its okay to be rude to others in game, but permanently banning players is very heavy handed).
Comparing the two games is not as cut and dry as some would have you believe. There are many among the Starcraft 2 community that look at League of Legends as a game that requires no skill while those of the League of Legends community that see Starcraft 2 as a dying relic of eSports (despite it only being 3 years old). The truth is that both games have their challenges and both have strong eSports presence, but the two cannot really be compared effectively. The League of Legends playstyle is based off of the Defense of the Ancients custom map first made in Warcraft 3. This map, commonly known as DotA, was a very popular game with a large community. Many games have since tried to recreate the success of DotA, arguably only League of Legends managed to do so. Though the genre is based off of Real Time Strategy (RTS), it has become a sub-genre known as Massive Online Battle Arena or MOBA for short. League of Legends and all MOBA games are about selecting one Character and battling in an arena match, 5v5, to destroy the enemy’s fortress. Each member of the team selects a role to contribute to the team’s composition to have a better chance of defeating the enemy team. Starcraft 2, on the other hand, is the expansion of the original RTS phenomena Starcraft. The game has always been about intensive micro battles as well as being able to handle and control your economy and spending to build a massive army. The game has always had a serious competitive scene which is why many see Starcraft 2 as something you have to “work on” rather than play. The eSports scene for Starcarft 2 has always promoted it as a serious, competitive game that requires practice and build order timings in order to become the best. It’s easy to say that Starcraft 2 requires more skill than League of Legends, but that would be ignoring the fact that they are two very distinct types of games. One requires team work and the ability to effectively coordinate a team of 5 while the other focuses more on the player’s own abilities to manage an economy and an army. League of Legends can have some of the most intense 5v5 matches that boil down to what team can use their abilities properly to overpower the other team. These matches can be won or lost simply because of one team was able to coordinate their efforts better and exploit any weaknesses in their enemy during one engagement to turn around the whole game. And in a similar way Starcraft 2 also has had very intense 1v1 matches that push players to the very edge of their abilities. Matches that last around an hour, several engagements fought with the risk of losing the game at the loss of one engagement. Neither game is superior to the other as both offer their own advantages and frustrations.
With everything that’s been discussed about the two games, the most important factor is that you enjoy whatever game you play. From my own experience, playing a game simply to get better at the game quickly feels like work. At that point you have to ask, is it really worth playing if it becomes like work? I believe that, while there is a competitive nature to both these games, that no one should lose sight of the fact that it is still a video game, meant to be enjoyed.