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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 ask.fm 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

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Philippa Warr

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