There is no question about it – League of Legends is declining in NA/EUW/KR/ETC:
The viewership numbers are there and even the largest communities such as Reddit recognize that League of Legends is on a steady decline while rapidly losing its position as number one, and Riot is trying hard to hide it. For example this year Riot didn’t release their traditional biennial player-base numbers, a practice that Blizzard also resorted to with World of Warcraft when the numbers weren’t so hot. Since the Dynamic queue debacle Riot’s issues have been highlighted and the community is starting to see how Riot Games has changed into a company that views its community as nothing more than “just a statistic”. And now that Overwatch has broken the PC gaming monopoly, Riot will have no choice but to get their game back to community standards or continue to bleed players to Overwatch and possible future titles. (Link). While the game itself is in no actual risk of dying (it would need to lose a lot of its players to truly die) Riot Games, which is a company with over 1,000+ employees currently (a 2013 estimate) may have to do some major future cutbacks and corporate restructuring to adjust to a smaller game.
Why China and Casual players are what actually ruined League of Legends:
The problem with Riot is not that they don’t care about their game, or that they want to run it into the ground. Riot’s problem is that they sold out player loyalty for the numbers game, and currently only look at their various communities as numbers, and because of this they only look to appeal too the highest percentage as every business does. To them numbers are more important than community requests and many of the changes they make are based off of mass polling where everyone’s vote is weighed the same – which while being a standard for a business is no way to run a game where you’re changing the gameplan away from what made you #1. When people on Reddit say “Why won’t Riot bring back solo queue? Literally everyone wants it back” that is actually not true at all. Reddit represents maybe 5% of the game at max. China alone (which doesn’t even touch Reddit) makes up the vast majority of the League of Legends playerbase, (Link). So Reddit needs to realize – if anyone’s requests are being listened to, it’s China’s, and that it’s just standard business procedure. It also doesn’t help that Tencent (Chinese investors, and sole reason why the Chinese are able to play League) completely own the game as of 2015 as well. (Link). Even before this full-purchase Tencent owned a majority share of Riot Games as early as 2013, around the time us veteran players began to notice “big change”. In China, gamers are able to play very few foreign games due to strict government regulations, and League of Legends developing that connection with Tencent alone allowed the Chinese to play and handed Riot a massive core player-base of Chinese players (which alone is larger than any other esports fanbase currently). Essentially, Riot sold us out for the foreign player-base and investors, and Reddit (for whatever reason) still doesn’t realize this. When the President of Riot Games responds to requests from the Reddit community like this, it’s obvious they don’t have much respect for our suggestions. (Link)
Why Riot won’t change their approach any time soon:
I stopped taking League of Legends seriously as early as mid Season 4, when I started to watch Riot Games begin taking massive casualization steps, and really begin toning down the competitiveness of their game in all aspects. It became apparent to me at that point that Riot was going to follow the overcasualization route that slaughtered World of Warcraft’s NA playerbase. A PVP game needs to have competitive drive and rewards for different skill tiers to achieve success in the current esports market. The Chinese/Casual players that dominate this playerbase don’t have the same interests as those of us that played in the earlier seasons, and its clear that Riot making changes to appeal to these crowds is doing lots of damage to their original base which built the game and the LCS through massive playerbase and viewership – this is a trend which Riot shows absolutely no intent of changing. Unless Overwatch manages to scare Riot into making drastic changes by threatening the Western playerbase, the game will continue to decline without change in the Western regions. Riot probably won’t intervene anytime soon either way because they’ve shown us that they’re content with running servers with very low player bases (servers such as LAN, AUS, LAS, ETC all operate with a fraction of the players NA does).
Denied Requests/”We’re working on it”:
Over the years we as a community requested with massive support of the English speaking League of Legends communities 10 basic features, all of which were rejected or “put on the shelf” by Riot. All of these are systems which competing PC games have, are basic necessities for any game with an esports scene as large as League of Legends. Keep in mind that some of these requests Riot has been promising us as early as beta.
1.Tribunal Revamp: The Tribunal was a system which allowed the community to review and police players who were reported often and was scrapped in 2012. It has since then been “under maintenance”. The system was invented by Lyte and will probably not come back as he no longer works for Riot (Link).
2. Voice Chat: Those of us who consistently play ranked have been requesting Voice chat since day one. For a company that pushes teamwork and Dynamic queue as hard as Riot it’s insane that we don’t have this basic essential method of communication. Riot also has a history of pressuring third party programs that have attempted to bring Voice chat into League of Legends. An example of this being the Curse Voice client, which despite having a beautiful interface and smooth interactions, was shot down and gutted by Riot shortly after it’s release – forever ruining the program’s reputation and chance of growth.
3. Replay System: A basic feature, which is a basic essential to RTS/MOBA games is only now being considered by Riot Games in 2016. Currently League players need to resort to sketchy third party websites/clients to record/download replays. A concrete Replay system system was considered as early as beta (Link), but now that we have these sketchy third party sites Riot claims “it’s not a high priority since there are other alternatives”.
4. Sandbox Mode: A simple game mode with resourceless gameplay where you basically go to drill mechanics or test strategies. Every competitive esport has this game mode except for League of Legends, and Riot in 2015 stated they would not implement it into the game (Link). This decision was recently withdrawn after massive community backlash, however an ETA or even general planning of a future Sandbox mode has yet to be released.
5. Competent Coding: It’s no mystery that the League of Legends we play today is all spaghetti coding and band-aid fixes. When champions and mechanics that weren’t even touched during patches randomly break, you know that the game’s base code is incompetent. The community has been pushing Riot to do a complete rehaul of their code since early 2012, and they haven’t and don’t plan too anytime soon from what we’ve seen. While they have done a decent job improving their game client recently, there are bigger priorities such as actual gameplay that are in more dire need of improvement at the moment.
6. Consistent Game Balance: One thing that Riot has done extremely poorly since the beginning has been how they balance their game. Riot is a company that doesn’t necessarily “balance” but instead “buffs” and “guts”, and because of this we never see an LCS-viable champion pool larger than 20. This method of “rotating the meta” by just nerfing the FOTM (flavor of the month) champions into unviability is completely incompetent and terrible for the overall balance and champion diversity in the game. In fact if you ever want to see which champions were FOTM in prior seasons, just go to any LoL site which tracks winrates and scroll down to the 40% range.
7. Boosting/Botting Policing: Both Boosting and Botted Account Leveling have been massive since as early as season 2, and Riot has let these companies thrive even today off complete incompetence in policing them. Even Riots recent move of banning all of those Challenger and Master players was a terrible response – most of them that weren’t streamers probably won’t even come back to the game to play through its current state and will instead shift into full time zero-risk boosting. Riot’s method to police this is to “ban in waves” however, with all of the different methods and workarounds different people are using to get around Riot, their ban waves overall prove to be very ineffective due to how rarely they occur, and often have miniscule results.
8. Griefer/Intentional Feeding Detection: We have all been in those games where you get that Riven that decides they don’t want their team to win and begins “jungling” instead of defending at 45 minutes. We currently have zero way to detect these “sophisticated” methods of griefing, and unless they’re blatantly feeding (literally 0-20-0), the intentional feeding report fails to catch people who actually die intentionally.
9. Anticheat Detection: This was an extremely big issue throughout Season 5, and those of us that consistently played ranked that season waited as long as 5 months for Riot to finally pull the plug on scripting (at the time) by implementing the cheating report option. While this worked for awhile, Riot started slacking again and Script providers are once again far ahead of Riot. I have also heard that specifically in Korea this is taking a huge toll on their Ranked ladder as scripting providers are going as far as bribing Riot employees. (Link).
10. Solo Queue/Competent Ladder: Although this was very recent, it’s easily the most requested feature to date. There’s no question to Dynamic queue not being a complete failure, which Riot even admitted to (Link). For whatever reason, however, Riot refuses to revert it back and instead continues to band-aid fix the broken system in attempt to somehow repair its massive problems. This is easily the most damaging thing Riot has done, and it revealed to a lot of people Riot’s true mindset and arrogance as a company.
Recent Systems Riot has Given us:
1. Seasonal Skin Discounts: A free RNG based system which gives us free seasonal skin discounts.
2. Loot Boxes: Another system designed to promote micro-transactions purchase via buying dust.
3. Clubs: A clan like system where you can invite your friends to group under a unique name/tag.
4. Facebook Friend Finder: Allows you to find friends on Facebook who also play.
5. Dynamic Queue: Allowed the former Ranked Solo/Duo queue ladder to be played with as many as 5 people at once, while removing team Ranked 5v5. Also promoted teamplay in ranked and came with a new champion select which included automated role selection as well.
6. Mastery Points: A system where you gain “Mastery” points for playing a champion, at rank 5 you earn a taunt and at rank 7 this system now links up with the Loot Boxes. This is a system that rewards grinding rather than skill and consistency on a champion, and has no real purpose other than cosmetics.
The Problem And Source of Decline?
Riot ONLY Cares About Toxicity, Social Settings, and Skins – while a healthy PVP game is determined by Balance, Quality, and Communication.
Unless Riot completely changes their current Mindset and Attitude, expect LoL numbers to continue to decline among the western market as competitors such as Overwatch rise and contest its place. League of Legends however being a free game will never fall into truly damaging playerbase numbers on any of its servers. Also because of the core Chinese player base, the game overall will survive with decent numbers for a long, long time – just not as the #1 game we previously played it as.