Dote Night: LCS Is Like Holby City (And That’s Good)


Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart. THIS WEEK, however, she will be telling you why she’s preferring pro League to pro Dota and what any of that has to do with medical soap operas:

I’ve been away from my own PC for big chunks of the last couple of weeks. It’s mainly been for work reasons so in addition to not being able to play any Dota or League I’ve also been able to watch very little. The semi-absence has been irritating, in that I’ve missed gaming but it’s allowed some nebulous inklings and ideas to form into actual thoughts and opinions.

The most interesting was that while I prefer playing Dota to League, I prefer watching League to Dota.

I found myself in a hotel room in Iceland on Sunday night knowing I’d set my alarm for just after 4am in order to make my flight and still watching match after match of North American LCS. Some I paid close attention to, others I had on in the background as I worked or packed, glancing over when there was a swell in urgency from the commentators or when a play caught my eye.

I do this when I’m at home working on my regular articles and features too. My second monitor is often set to the main Riot Twitch channel, either with matches playing out softly in the background or dormant, awaiting a later stream. The latter has led to weird yelps of surprise because it will sometimes burst into life unexpectedly and loudly with me having forgotten the tab was open.

The thing about League’s pro scene which I prefer to Dota’s is its regularity. Dota has some great tournaments and eSports companies put on fantastic events. ESL One’s Frankfurt event last year brought some of the best Dota I’ve seen this side of the TI3 finals. But there are complications when it comes to the scheduling of tournaments and the teams who are able to participate. Evil Geniuses declined an invite to Red Bull’s Battlegrounds event because the finals for both that event and The Summit 3 take place around the same time. EG want to focus on winning The Summit 3. It’s not surprising because, after a boost by the community, the prize pool is about twice as much.

It’s a pro scene which runs off third-party involvements and tourneys because Valve isn’t interested in setting up a centrally-run league system or competition rota. They run The International every year to crown a best team from those cherry picked for invites or who go through the qualifying system, but for the rest of the year they take a back seat in terms of organised competition.

The tournaments themselves can be great fun to watch and if you keep an eye on enough of them you start to pick out broader narratives. You follow the interpersonal team dramas or the rise and fall of lineups. You’ll build an understanding of how the teams sit in relation to one another.

But I’ve always had a preference for longer narratives that I can dip back into. League’s pro scenes play out over two several-month stretches called the spring and summer splits. The current format for the EU LCS spring split is a nine week regular spring season then a couple of weeks of playoffs. There’s also a promotion/relegation element. The bottom team from the LCS will get pushed down to the Challenger series (the next competitive league down) and the top Challenger team will join the LCS. The 8th and 9th placed LCS teams then duke it out with the 2nd and 3rd placed Challenger teams to occupy the remaining two spots in the LCS for the summer split.

All of this means that I can watch the competitive narratives and team dramas play out over a single backdrop. It moves it closer to a soap opera – I watch Holby City and Casualty in a similar way. I know the characters and I watch the shows when I can or when there’s a particular event but if I miss a week or a few matches I can dip back in far more easily because a lot of the context remains the same. There’s a sense of stability and familiarity with variation within.

Isn't it just so... NEAT AND TIDY

There’s another aspect to which game I prefer to watch that I hadn’t realised until I took a break. It’s that I currently prefer League’s map, aesthetically. They’ve reworked it, making changes to the neutral monsters, the landscape and the colour palettes. I enjoy how the results appear on my screen – the world is bright and interesting for the most part. The bits I’m still not keen on are the red and blue bases which just feel so boring and empty. It’s like the teams have moved house and not bothered unpacking yet. There’s just a nexus and some defensive structures, like a widescreen TV and some boxes to sit on. No wonder they spend most of their time in the lanes and woods.

The Dota map is beautiful and I really enjoy being on it myself as I play, but there’s an intensity of colour which it lacks in comparison to League. When I’m watching a match rather than playing, that slightly more muted quality starts to translate into a visual dullness. I get a kind of aesthetic restlessness. It’s only low level and it doesn’t stop me from actually watching matches but it does help to create a very basic sense of preference.

There are other aspects of each game which affect how I watch and why I enjoy one match and not another but those are two which came into focus after some time away. If you’ve watched both I’d be interested in whether you’ve gravitated to one, particularly if it’s not the one you play more often.


  1. Aldehyde says:

    I imagine it also helps immensely that teams don’t disband, get remade under different names, constant shuffles every second month.

    I see the appeal in LoL both as a game and for spectating business but I just can’t get into it. I prefer Dota 2 despite all its flaws with how the pro scene is built up. Or, rather, how it isn’t.

  2. DiamondDog says:

    I’ve not played League for close to a year now but decided to dip back into the LCS for the new season. Took a few games to get my bearings with the new rosters and team names but I was pleasantly surprised how much I still enjoyed watching games, even though I’m now completely out of touch with the meta and picks/bans.

    Although I was dismayed to see how quickly Riot have adopted a lot of the surrounding nonsense I recognise from football coverage, and have grown to despise.

    This is new territory and it already feels like a bank of white guys in suites overanalysing everything is inescapable. Thank god for sjokz,

    • Evilpigeon says:

      As you mentioned it’s new territory so it’s natural to take cues from similar pre-existing events. How exactly would you do it differently?

  3. Zankman says:

    I still think that roster shuffles and team instability is what is keeping competitive LoL (and other team-based E-Sports) from truly flourishing.

    Like, Riot should really impose a “Transfer Period” like in the Association Football/Soccer world. It would really force teams to be more careful how they do their short and long-term business.

    I mean, right now changes just happen willy-nilly, causing so much shifting and instability, random controversy… World Champion teams just get huge roster shifts or entirely disband; you, as a viewer, cannot get attached neither to a team/brand nor to a squad, only individual players.

    In terms of structure, adding a Transfer Window, as well as directly going for a stricter approach to contract making, would really help things move on smoothly.

    I think that Riot needs to revamp their system & that 3 relationships can be greatly changed and improved: Riot Players, Riot Teams & Teams Players.

    Enforcing minimum and maximum salaries, minimum and maximum roster sizes, minimum and maximum contract lengths, standardizing the ruleset for having and maintaining coaching staffs…

    To return to the topic: Yes, the LCS, as a regular week-to-week show (counting all of the other leagues from the different regions as well), all polished and neatly presented, is a great way to present your product.

    • Aldehyde says:

      Hmm, I thought restricting player transfers was one of the big points to LCS. Guess I was mistaken, I do not follow LoL.

    • Daniel Klein says:

      (usual disclaimer: I work for Riot, but these are just my opinions. I also don’t work in our eSports department (I work on making new champions), so take that into account too)

      We already do have transfer periods! They’re pretty tightly enforced, too. There were two very high profile incidents this split where a top team (CLG) was heavily penalized for poaching a player and a coach (i.e. approaching them before the transfer period had begun). Not only did they have to pay a fine, the relevant player/coach were also barred from appearing in competitive play for the first few weeks of the split.

      • Zankman says:

        I am *baffled* to hear this, what the hell? Why is this not advertised and made to be a big deal, both for transparency and entertainment?

        How is then a team like, say, Coast just randomly bringing players in now?

    • Premium User Badge

      Philippa Warr says:

      If you head to 4.2 the transfer windows for the current season and the rules governing that stuff are given :) Riot’s 2015 Rule Book

    • Evilpigeon says:

      Last season was probably the worst you’re going to see fo big teams exploding. The reason for this was that Riot standardised the ruleset for all the major leagues around the world. One of the major consequences was that Korean orginisations could no longer run multiple teams. Due to this many of them imploded as they lost all their players. This was made worse by China swooping in and outbidding everyone for the new free agents.

  4. cederic says:

    Hmm. On a game like DOTA or LOL with an identical map throughout surely they should offer map skinning as an option. Either “Supply your own textures” or at the minimum the ability to change the colour palette. Bright orange tree leaves on a sickly green trunk? Hey, it’s your eyeballs..

    Write to Valve Pip, they’ll listen to you.

  5. PedroTheHutt says:

    One problem with LoL and Riot running the eSports side is that there is zero interest in tier 2 competitive LoL, much less tier 3. Which means no viewers, which means no prize money. So while in Dota 2 you’ll find tournaments with prize pools ranging from a few hundred bucks to a few thousand bucks all the way to $10k before breaching into the top tier prize pools, in LoL it’s basically the fancy steady pay of the LCS with season winning bonuses, and then a dead drop to playing for some skins or riot point coupons. Which makes the climb to the top tier LoL much less sustainable if you don’t have someone financing your lifestyle. Which is probably why pro LoL players are on average a fair bit younger than Dota 2 pro players. As once you’re out of high school (or college) it’s hard to combine the time required to get to the top tier of the game with anything else as there’s no prize money to help keep the lights on.

    • cyrenic says:

      Are you sure about that?

      Assuming by tier 2 you’re talking about the challenger series, there’s definitely prize money to be made in it: link to

      • PedroTheHutt says:

        I’d call that closer to Tier 1.5 as most of the competing teams are still very clearly sponsored teams, who are obviously helping sustain the players financially. With Tier 2 I mean the level of competition comparable to Dota’s, where for the most part sponsorless teams (or at least teams who aren’t branches of such illustrious brands as Cloud 9 and Complexity) fight for glory, and in case of Dota 2, prize pools of a few thousand dollars, but who show real potential to make it into the top tier of competitive play. That layer (and every layer below it) of competitive play is completely swept under the rug by Riot, so my issue with how they run the eSport side of the game still stands.

  6. NelsonMinar says:

    Thanks for writing this. I keep trying to explain to my friends why I find LCS so compelling and I have a hard time. You’ve explained it well. I’ve never been a sports person myself, LoL is the first “sport” I’ve really enjoyed watching. I think it’s because I can relate to it as a gamer in a way I’ve never related to caber tossers or cricket bowlers.

    The visual update to the map really helped the broadcast. The players stand out much more strongly against the background now, it’s much easier to watch. Also Riot’s production is top-notch; all the filler material between games is great. Particularly the slickly produced human interest stories.

  7. crashb says:

    i’d never really thought about the aesthetics of dota’s map before reading this article. i think that the muted colour palette of the dota map is an intentional aesthetic decision, so that heroes and abilities are more immediately distinguishable from their surroundings. the art guide released by valve a few years back showed that they had invested a lot of time into making each hero’s colour palette and silhouette instantly recognizable from every other hero. i think valve is paying a lot of attention to these details, as the player’s ability to distinguish between heroes can make the difference in a teamfight. the muted colours in the map are likely part of valve’s effort to increase hero visibility.

    and league’s bases are dreadfully boring.

    • n0m0n says:

      I saw those guidelines before, though I can’t say they always succeed. I don’t know how many times I have confused Mirana for Luna or Lycan for Beastmaster. Sure, with their vanilla skin it is pretty easy to tell the difference, but the problem with the workshop items and modular approach to champion/hero skins in general makes for a lot of situations where I’m caught completely by surprise by an ability I didn’t realize was in the game.

      If I played more often I would probably get used to this, but as far as my experience, I have never, not even once, mistaken the identity of a League champion, while I feel like it happens every once in a while in DotA. I also feel like the scale difference is another thing that makes me favor League. In DotA, I feel like it is sometimes “hard to see the forest because of all the trees” – the level of detail is sometimes so fine that it distracts the eye from seeing the full picture.

      To me, it seems like Riot read the same design document and actually followed it better than Valve’s designers have done themselves.

  8. Alfius says:

    I see Dignitas on that team roster. Are those guys still around? I remember getting curb stomped by them in the Battlefield 2 tourney at i27 back in ’07.

    Good times.

    • Harlander says:

      Dignitas? Unrelated to the Swiss organisation, one presumes?

  9. shadowbadger says:

    I dont play MOBA’s, I’ve tried DOTA 2 a couple of times and found it completely impenetrable, I downloaded LOL but I think booted it up once and had one game but got completely dumbfounded by it all.

    However I really enjoy these columns and it has peaked my interest in the Esports side of these games. I watched a lot of the last International for DOTA2 and really enjoyed the Newb channel that explained what the hell was going on in the matches.

    What I would love to see is maybe a quick guide to where is the best places to watch the LOL league games are? Are there commentators that would be better for someone who has only a passing knowledge of the game? Maybe an introduction to the teams in the league, who are the favorites, underdogs, what are their relationships? Did some members of one team jump ship to create a new team that now rivals the old one etc..

    In other words cheers Phillipa, you write good.

    • shadowbadger says:

      And I’ve just realized that I spelt your name wrong. Sorry about that!

  10. Sonny Bonds - Lytton PD says:

    It also doesnt help that along with all the churn in team’s lineups, the teams will play in tournaments with 2-3 stand in guys I’ve either never heard of, or who are pretty legit and on a completely other team.

  11. vivlo says:

    i dislike a bit watching a match of LoL, despite having played and enjoyed it some time. It’s too boring and neverchanging, so it fits the “background noise” category but i’m not fond of it really. I watch Dota regularly and those games interest me more, and tbh didn’t care about the pro scene first, just got accustomed with some names after watching games, even now i didn’t understand (and didn’t bother trying to) what the article explained about the seasons and how the tourneys work on the longer terms. But i don’t have as much experience in LoL as in Dota so maybe i’m not completely objective, maybe i just read the Dota mechanics better which renders watching it more interesting. The new LoL map is indeed quite nice however.