Riot Might Reconsider League of Legends Sandbox Mode

According to Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street, Design Director for League of Legends [official site], the company is up for reconsidering the implementation of a sandbox mode based on feedback from players and the associated community.

The ruckus kicked off last week – I don’t think we wrote about it so I’ll explain the context here and why the initial statement seemed so nonsensical.

Essentially, as part of a new outreach blog called “Riot Pls“*, Riot explained some of the features that had been sidelined or shelved, presumably with the hope that more clarity and an explanation would mean players would stop getting antsy when they failed to appear. As part of the “Here’s What We’re Not Working On” section they stated that they were not working on a sandbox mode where players could try content out before unlocking it as well as practice specific skills:

We’ve heard a number of player requests for a Sandbox Mode, with two main reasons: the first is trying out new content – which is something we value too. We want players to know what they’re getting and to be happy with the things they’re unlocking (we may investigate other ways to do this). The second is that players want to practice very specific skills without the constraints of a regular game. For this point, our stance is that sandbox mode is not the way to go. We want to make sure we’re clear: playing games of League of Legends should be the unequivocal best way for a player to improve. While there are very real skills one can develop in a hyperbolic time chamber, we never want that to be an expectation added onto an already high barrier to entry. On an individual level, we know this isn’t always true – some just want a space to practice flashing over walls without having to wait at least 3.6 minutes in between – but when that benefit is weighed against the risk of Sandbox mode ‘grinding’ becoming an expectation, we just can’t accept the tradeoff. We never want to see a day when a player wants to improve at League and their first obligation is to hop into a Sandbox. We do want to support your ability to grow in mastery, and there may be other avenues to do so, but not this.

I remember reading this while in the audience for The International (I always seem to be cheating on one MOBA with another – at the League of Legends Paris All-Star last year I turned my screen away from the other people in the room so I could buy a compendium for TI4). The gist of it seems to be “Hey, we still want people to be able to have fun and not be expected to go through a gruelling training regime before they are deemed fit to play, also players want the things a sandbox mode would offer but we don’t think a sandbox mode is the best way to achieve this”. The whole thing feels detached from the reality of play and the processes by which people improve in other games, both digital and analogue. It assumes that the tutorial (such as it is) is adequate preparation for going into a match involving real people and that repetitions of these matches should be the best way to improve.

I was able to go straight into real matches because I had about 1,000 hours of Dota 2 under my belt so all I needed to do was get used to the lack of a courier, the absence of denies and a clutch of new abilities. But even then I still needed to take pointers from the various wikis, from Reddit and from friends. The best way for a player to improve at the moment (from my observation) is to try a game or two then use all manner of external resources to see how to refine what you’re doing. That includes looking at the subreddit, watching Twitch streams, rewatching YouTube advice videos, scouring the wikis and all manner of other non-Riot produced content. The statement on Riot Pls seems to ignore that process.

I also saw someone linking to a study on deliberate practice as part of the discussion. Deliberate practice is something oft cited as a way to improve in many different areas from sports to typing. It’s frequently given as an element of practice which separates an elite performer from a very good one even if the two put in the same hours. It involves performing tasks (often set by a coach or a tutor of some kind) with the aim or targeting a specific aspect of performance. This stuff isn’t about having fun in that moment, it’s about effort and concentration. This manifests in sports as trips to the batting cage or sparring sessions – repetitions of an element of performance. In a MOBA it would be wall-flashing again and again or trying to land skillshot after skillshot.

You can see why pro players would find that useful, but there’s also a strong element of mastery at all levels of play. The statement that “playing games of League of Legends should be the unequivocal best way for a player to improve” ignores the idea of deliberate practice entirely.

With regard to the grinding “expectation” I’d also say if you mess up in a real game you’ll either get flamed or you won’t. Having a sandbox feature might mean the flaming specifically tells you to fuck off back to the sandbox but I suspect not having the sandbox won’t mean the flaming would never happen. You’d just get told to uninstall or whatever the current insult du jour is. If a new person felt an obligation to use the sandbox and wasn’t having fun doing so, perhaps that would say far more about the usefulness (or otherwise) of the existing tutorials and other on-boarding.

ANYWAY, with that general reaction, and vocal displeasure from the pro players a user called Damien on wanted to know of Street “Will you reconsider doing a Sandbox mode due to the recent feedbacks?”

He answered “yes”.

I should add that it’s not a statement that Riot will actually change its mind, but it does acknowledge the feedback. I’ve been thinking about the response this morning and it ties into ideas I’ve had about tutorials. At the moment I’m thinking Riot might eventually offer a version of a sandbox to fill some a tutorial roles but not call it a sandbox.

*Presumably “Rito Plz” is less SEO-friendly


  1. holylegstick says:

    Uninstalled the game specifically because of this issue. The complacency and lack of innovation Riot has demonstrated has been a perennial bugbear and this was the final straw for me personally. I still follow the LCS regularly though, and am looking forward to worlds.

    • Asurmen says:

      It’s, er, a MOBA. What are you expecting? What matters is the core game and the systems around it.

      • Incanus says:

        Maybe is he expecting new maps, more innovative heroes and mechanisms, more way to new strategies, more game alternatives modes.

        Maybe. And why shouldn’t he? I mean, HOTS have different maps, and new ones are coming. It’s interesting.

        • Distec says:

          I think an issue that needs to be resolved with these games is how they’re treated as e-sports. How many times has Soccer or American Football reinvented itself recently? How many additions and innovations have been bolted onto those sports in the last century? I don’t personally care for sports, but my uneducated guess is very little. There’s a constancy to them that most competitive video games typically don’t have with their endless unlocks and updates, and any of those have the potential to disrupt the core game. Soccer hasn’t needed a “balance pass” for forever.

          So there is a rationale to keeping everything stable and unchanging, although there’s no reason more options can’t be made available for more casual play.

          • Bioblit says:

            Football is constantly changing in small ways, season-to-season. The biggest change of recent years is goal-line technology, meaning no more mistakes with goals being refused and non-goals being given. The formatting of competitions is different throughout the world, and again, gets changed occasionally: the 2016 European Championships will be bigger and more teams will get to compete in the finals than in previous years, and as such the qualifying format has changed slightly. In terms of smaller changes, some for this season’s Premier League are: teams will be punished for mobbing the referee; simulation is more harshly punished (retrospectively I believe); managers and coaching staff are held to a stricter code of conduct on the touchline, which can get them sent to the stands.

            So even ‘stable’ sports are constantly changing and evolving: both in the metagame and the actual rules. The rules change to bring greater control and consistency to the metagame, and the metagame changes to react to both itself and changed rules. Professional league does this, and so does football (both the sports I reaally know anything about). Esports just do it at an advanced rate, due to still being in their formulative years as a sport.

          • Asurmen says:

            Bioblit, all of those small changes also happen in LoL, amusingly also in seasons. The point being made by Distec is that professional games don’t decide to massively reinvent themselves. No one cries because they lack innovation. The core game is still pitches of certain sizes in the same lay out with the same concept, score goals while preventing your opponents doing the same.

          • Bioblit says:

            Asurmen: I know this, and this was essentially what I was trying to get across. The only difference between what I said and what you said (aside from me rambling), was that you have said LoL re-invents itself often.

            I’d say that LoL’s patches aren’t so dramatic as this, though they do of course change the game significantly more than any of the more established sports. Although, as I said before, this is because League specifically, and esports in general, are still a rather new phenomenon, and are still finding their feet in terms of competitive structure.

            Compare this to football, which has been set up for well over a century now, so doesn’t need to change much any more. The point I was making is that no sport stays as it is forever, and they always change aspects of themselves: it’s just that with more established sports, changes aren’t always so apparent unless you follow them closely. For instance, I know very little about professional basketball, yet I have no doubt that changes to the rules have been made in my lifetime.

            Also I was unable to reply to you directly; this is probably obvious and usual, but I don’t comment often.

          • Asurmen says:

            Think there’s been some mis communication, because I didn’t say LoL reinvents itself often. I said the exact opposite, that it has minor changes every season just like an established sport, but the core of the game doesn’t change nor should it. It actually seemed like you were arguing that other sports do change significantly all the time as it seemed like you were arguing against Destec and you had the same opinion as the OP and the person Destec replied to :)

          • Bioblit says:

            Miscommunication is probably accurate; one or both of us haven’t managed ot get down what we mean properly. It’s all getting a bit confusing now though, maybe we should leave it?

        • Xocrates says:

          Riot has actually invested quite a lot in making more interesting heroes recently but, tellingly, they’re clearly designed to be played on Summoner’s Rift.

          Over the years, Riot has made pretty clear why they don’t want more maps, and honestly it got hard to disagree. Even with so few maps, people already joke that some aren’t played – Riot themselves admitted that if they had launched Dominion today, they wouldn’t make it a permanent mode. They’ve also showed data regarding the featured gamemodes that have a tendency of massive dropoffs past the first couple days.

          Quite frankly, given the way the genre – and LoL in particular – works I prefer Riot’s approach – diversity through champ comps, and the occasional temporary game mode.

          We can argue that HOTS did it, but quite frankly I don’t think it works there either. One of the reasons I stopped playing was because I kept getting maps that I disliked, to the point of actively starting to hate them.

      • Stevostin says:

        …and the quality of games. Once upon a time there was no such a thing as match making in multiplayer games. Can you imagine going back to this? Hell no. This reminds how a multiplayer’s game content is mostly brought by the players. Now those publishers, they have two great focus: keep the ppl at 1K hours under their belt as long as possible, and get as much as possible of the tryer to spend a few hours.

        This latter issue is constantly overlooked by player and even, as seen above, journalists but it’s crucial for the success of the game. No matter your ranking system, your noob games will be a mess because you hadn’t had the means yet to establish one player’s level. As long as people launch game to try hero/item while other are already decided on developping specific skills, the game will be decided upon random mix of both. You have more “tryer” in your team, you’re doomed. And this goes on for actually a lot of games, because there are so many heroes, item, etc. This will damage the quality of your games (in the sense: feedback from your action over the result in game, ie play well and win) for hours and hours and hours. I can totally see Riot’s point here and it reads pretty clever IMO.

        • pepperfez says:

          Your last paragraph seems to be arguing against itself? I mean, if having people play games only to try new heroes/items/strategies/whatever leads to worse games, wouldn’t it be beneficial to let them do those things outside of a competitive setting?

  2. TentSalesman says:

    Valve introduced a Sandbox mode when the DOTA 2 ‘Reborn’ client was launched in the Source 2 engine. Let’s you try out not just in-game skills but preview cosmetic items.

    Nothing but positive reactions to it, as far as I can tell. It’s a great feature.

    • fenghuang says:

      Incorrect. Dota 2 already has “Sandbox” mode in the form of lobby games that anyone can host and activate console cheats on. This was already available since December 2011.

      Reborn is just a Source 2 version of Dota 2 that Valve intends to transition to.

  3. Bioblit says:

    When learning the game, /r/summonerschool is far better a resource than the main League subreddit, considering that /r/leagueoflegends is mostly full of whining and dank memes.

    Also, the currently favoured style of in-game toxcity is to spam in all chat “all report [insert champion name here] for [noob/flame/feed (pick one)]”. I haven’t seen a demand to uninstall for a long time, and only once in the last month have I seen anyone wish cancer on another player (in my game).

  4. vlonk says:

    Riots denial of a sandbox cripples some players more then others. You can set up a quasi empty game and learn your jungle timings, your lane last-hitting etc. but some skills are time limited windows in the game that need a copious amount of time to set up over and over again. A good example would be a jungler ganking attempt right after finishing his jungle run-through. While in lane you gain XP, the minions gain power to and slowly all the numbers get out of the “real” zone. The “flash over walls” example is probably one of the best examples. This can be bloody tough to learn when you need to wait minutes for every attempt at it.