Why getting kills matters but not as much as League of Legends would have you think

Hello fellow Summoners! This article is a bit different from what we usually cover on ManaPool. As an assignment, I was asked to take a game and deconstruct it. Naturally, I gravitated towards the one game that brings both great joy and aggravation to millions of its players, myself included. It’s a staggering dichotomy, and it’s one that has fascinated me for a long time. I’ve been playing since Pre-Season One on a multitude of accounts across a number of different regions, but this is the first time I’ve put my thoughts about the game on paper.

Ever wonder why people keep coming back despite the rage-inducing scenarios and a community known for the poor behaviour of (some of) its players? As much as I would have liked to answer this question, it was far too big of a subject to handle in just one paper. Instead, I focused on aspects of the in-game interface – in particular, the announcer and team/champion statistic windows – as a starting point in uncovering why players feel the way they do.

So, if you’re up for digesting some thicker text, I invite you to keep on reading.

 

How visibility and accessibility of information in the interface of League of Legends affects player behaviour in a competitive team environment

The MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, genre of video games has skyrocketed in popularity over the last five years.[i] Spearheading this rising trend is Riot Games’s League of Legends, where ten players split into two teams compete in the Classic 5v5 game mode. Given that defeat in any endeavour elicits frustration at the best of times, combining a highly competitive atmosphere with the necessity of cooperative play creates opportunities for negative attitude to perpetuate. Toxic behaviour begins as blame for mistakes are assigned to teammates and escalates when no constructive discussion arises.[ii] Riot has made attempts to mitigate the impact of these interactions by implementing punishment systems such as the Tribunal,[iii] but work is still being done to prevent toxic behaviour. Amongst this are efforts to modify the interface during gameplay to encourage a positive attitude towards other players.[iv] It is in this proactive approach that League of Legends serves as a case study for how features of a game interface impact player behaviour.

Toxic behaviour begins as blame for mistakes are assigned to teammates and escalates when no constructive discussion arises.

Observing the victory conditions of a match begins to unravel the motivations that can sometimes produce toxic behaviour. To win a game, one team must either destroy the opposing team’s Nexus – a building protected by four layers of turrets – or force the enemy to commit to a surrender vote. The latter is a mechanism meant to end a game in which the majority of players on one side feel that they are too far behind to catch up. While appropriate in the context of match lengths that potentially extend into the 60+ minutes range, the option to forfeit is sometimes used as a weapon to harass one’s own teammates.[v] Even if every player is aware of the two conditions, more prevalent in discussions of the game and in the game’s interface are representations of sub-goals that need to be achieved in order to secure victory.

To progress in League of Legends, a player generates gold by killing other players, neutral monsters, monsters called minions that belong to one of the two teams, and defensive structures. Gold is then used to purchase items for a player’s champion that give a variety of benefits such as stat bonuses.[vi] The importance of generating gold via killing is reflected by the HUD which prominently displays kills/deaths/assists, or KDA ratio, as well as the number of minions slain. These statistics are commonly referred to when determining the progress of a game – to see whether a certain team is winning or not.

Baron Nashor is one of the neutral monsters a team can kill to gain additional gold as well as team-wide buffs.

Baron Nashor is one of the neutral monsters a team can kill to gain additional gold as well as team-wide buffs.

Further accentuating the role of kills is the announcer who speaks every time a kill is made. Beyond just a simple alert, the announcer calls out the status of a player as he or she accumulates kills, using words such as “Dominating,” “Godlike,” and “Legendary” in near revelry.[vii] The announcements make the player who achieved them feel good, thus providing positive feedback on the behaviour of seeking kills. As discussed in “The social endocrinology of dominance,” people are more likely to repeat a competitive task after victory, and achieving victory may be a means to gain social status.[viii] By moving the spotlight onto a player for succeeding a kill, the game promotes that mechanic as a method of achieving overall victory. Tone and word-choice also encourage idolization.

Assists are often undervalued. This could be due in part to the announcer revelling in kills and not also bringing attention to assists.

In direct relation to kills are assists, obtained by damaging (but not killing) an enemy or otherwise contributing to the fight.[ix] Although assists do not grant as much gold as kills do, they are nevertheless a vital avenue of income. In fact, the game rewards players who have multiple assists by increasing base gold amounts (up to a cap) for subsequent assists.[x] The difference, however, is that assists are not prominently displayed in the same way that kills are. As such, assists are often undervalued, and the traditional roles meant to generate gold primarily from assists are, with the exception of a few powerful champions, generally the last to be picked.[xi] Called the “Support,” these players are assumed to provide benefits to the team, be they passive stat bonus auras, health regeneration, or crowd control (CC). However, without immediate, tangible rewards and/or public recognition,[xii] such as with the announcer described above, players are unmotivated to adopt this role.[xiii]

Taken together, the heightened value of kills and the diminished value of assists produce a team dynamic that favours individualistic play. In the context of a “Normal” solo-queue, a player is matched with four strangers by an algorithm that determines relative skill. Because the feedback provided by the game, namely KDA and kill announcements in particular, is the only way players can divine the rules of the game, the most accessible information becomes the metric by which skill is ascribed. Since kills are only awarded to the player who dealt the final blow, competition within a team can occur that may lead to detrimental behaviours such as withholding from a team fight, waiting for your teammates to die first, and deliberately saving powerful skills to secure a kill.

KDA is displayed in the top right, with items and current (not accumulated) gold in the bottom left.

KDA is displayed in the top right, with items and current (not accumulated) gold in the bottom left.

Yet despite the necessity of generating gold to achieve victory, the accumulated gold value is noticeably missing from the HUD. Aside from a player’s personal income, shown in a small box in the bottom left corner of the screen, nowhere is the total gold made by the player displayed. More relevant to the discussion about behaviour, the combined gold generated by the team is absent. The system that keeps track of these values is present within the game; “Spectator” mode provides an active display for team accumulated gold, and the post-game statistics show individual accumulated gold. Omission of this information implies either that accumulated gold is not as important to players as other statistics[xiv] or, more likely since the information is featured prominently in “Spectator,” that accumulated gold reveals too much about the progress of a match. The latter can be argued, however, as the interface provides enough information related to gold in the form of visible item inventories, map icons to show structures, and total number of minion kills.

The number of kills matters less than the gold value of said kills. However, the perception of the state of the game provided by the interface takes precedence over accumulated gold.

Returning to the notion of using forfeiture as a weapon for harassment, negative attitude is prevalent in games where the opposing team acquires many kills early on.[xv] As the announcer alerts every player on kills/deaths, a string of deaths on one team can have a significant impact on morale. With the option to surrender available after 20 minutes of play, many players may opt out of the game if they feel that recovery from a disadvantaged position is impossible. But the game has a system to help the weaker team catch up. For every consecutive kill that a player makes, the value of his or her head goes up. Conversely, for every death, the amount of gold gained for killing that player is reduced.[xvi] With this mechanic, the number of kills matters less than the gold value of said kills. Other sources of gold can also be utilized to bring a team back into a game. These are structures[xvii] or creatures[xviii] that, when destroyed or killed, grant gold to every member of the team. Securing these objectives is as important, if not more so, than acquiring player kills if the amount of gold earned is equivalent or greater. However, because this information is not visible, much less readily accessible (total gold values can be calculated manually, but this takes time), the perception of the state of the game provided by other aspects of the interface – the HUD and the announcer – take precedence over accumulated gold as a metric of progress.[xix]

As a result of obscuring team accumulated gold, players approach a match with varying notions of what the most important objectives are in achieving victory.

In order for a team to operate in cohesion, its members must form and share mental models.[xx] The game’s interface is the instrument that enables players to come to similar conclusions about the state of the match. As a result of obscuring team accumulated gold, players approach a match with varying notions of what the most important objectives are in achieving victory. These discrepancies inhibit communication,[xxi] subsequently leading to misunderstandings and frustration that foster negative attitude.[xxii] By focussing on kills rather than assists and other objectives, and considering kills are a reward granted to a single player, elements of the interface also encourage individualistic behaviour. Compounding this, since the direct effect of kills and deaths (i.e. accumulated gold) is not visible, the impression that volume of kills is the greatest contributing factor to victory is perpetuated amongst the community.

In examining League of Legends as an environment dependent on cooperative play, the accurate communication of information is shown to affect the behaviour of players. While victory conditions are hard-coded into the game’s script, the methods of accomplishing victory are left to player interpretation. Through observing the HUD and the announcer, players construct the game on a meta-level, and these analyses spread within the community to define rules for appropriate play. With the interface serving to relay information, the greater visibility and accessibility of statistics related to kills is given increased value over the obscured metric of team accumulated gold. As a result, the game promotes behaviour conducive to competition at the expense of strengthening cooperation.


[i] Tassi, Paul. “Riot’s ‘League of Legends’ Reveals Astonishing 27 Million Daily Players, 67 Million Monthly.” Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/01/27/riots-league-of-legends-reveals-astonishing-27-million-daily-players-67-million-monthly/>.

[ii] Kou, Yubo, and Bonnie Nardi. “Regulating anti-social behavior on the Internet: The example of League of Legends.” (2013), 2.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Lin, Jeffrey. “The Science Behind Shaping Player Behavior in Online Games.” GDC 2013. GDC. Moscone Center, San Francisco. 27 Mar. 2013. Lecture.

[v] Kou, 3.

[vi] “Gold – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Gold>.

[vii] “Kill – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Kill>.

[viii] Mehta, Pranjal H., Amanda C. Jones, and Robert A. Josephs. “The social endocrinology of dominance: basal testosterone predicts cortisol changes and behavior following victory and defeat.” Journal of personality and social psychology 94.6 (2008): 1078.

[ix] “Assist – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Assist>.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] “Champions – League of Legends.” Champions – League of Legends. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://www.lolking.net/champions/>.

[xii] Interestingly, Riot recognized this attitude within the community and launched a campaign called “Teamwork OP” that sought to bring attention to undervalued roles and the mechanics that vastly improve chances of winning games.

[xiii] Mehta, 13.

[xiv] Toups, Zachary O., Andruid Kerne, and William Hamilton. “Game design principles for engaging cooperative play: Core mechanics and interfaces for non-mimetic simulation of fire emergency response.” Proceedings of the 2009 ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on Video Games. ACM, 2009.

[xv] Kou, 2.

[xvi] “Kill – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Kill>.

[xvii] “Turret – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Turret>.

[xviii] “Dragon – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Dragon>.

[xix] Toups, 7.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Kou,3.

Sources

Consalvo, Mia , and Nathan Dutton. “Game Studies.” - Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://gamestudies.org/0601/articles/consalvo_dutton>.

Kou, Yubo, and Bonnie Nardi. “Regulating anti-social behavior on the Internet: The example of League of Legends.” (2013).

Lin, Jeffrey. “The Science Behind Shaping Player Behavior in Online Games.” GDC 2013. GDC. Moscone Center, San Francisco. 27 Mar. 2013. Lecture.

Mehta, Pranjal H., Amanda C. Jones, and Robert A. Josephs. “The social endocrinology of dominance: basal testosterone predicts cortisol changes and behavior following victory and defeat.” Journal of personality and social psychology 94.6 (2008): 1078.

Tassi, Paul. “Riot’s ‘League of Legends’ Reveals Astonishing 27 Million Daily Players, 67 Million Monthly.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/01/27/riots-league-of-legends-reveals-astonishing-27-million-daily-players-67-million-monthly/>.

Toups, Zachary O., Andruid Kerne, and William Hamilton. “Game design principles for engaging cooperative play: Core mechanics and interfaces for non-mimetic simulation of fire emergency response.” Proceedings of the 2009 ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on Video Games. ACM, 2009.

League of Legends Statistics

“Assist – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Assist>.

“Baron Nashor – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Baron_Nashor>.

“Champions – League of Legends.”Champions – League of Legends. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://www.lolking.net/champions/>.

“Dragon – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Dragon>.

“Farming – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Farming>.

“Gold – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Gold>.

“Kill – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Kill>.

“Turret – League of Legends Wiki – Champions, Items, Strategies, and many more!.” League of Legends Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Turret>.

the author

Executive Editor of ManaPool. A student of game design, Amber is currently writing from the frozen north that is Canada. She has a penchant for tactical team-based games and a particular taste for theorycrafting. Want to discuss community and player experience? Talk to her!

  • http://www.manapool.co.uk/ Evil Tactician

    I found this a thoroughly interesting read – and it does highlight some contradictions between what Riot wants from their players and what they promote / encourage. There’s such immense psychology behind what is presented to players, how game mechanics work and ultimately how players behave to others as a result.

    It’s a great game and I hope they’ll ultimately get it right as the only thing frequently ruining the experience is how many players choose to interact (if you can call it that) with others. Unfortunately each game has 10 players and it only takes 1 to ruin it for the rest.

    • http://www.manapool.co.uk/author/lachrymosity/ Lachrymosity

      Absolutely. Riot’s Tribunal is a very cool system, but it’s ultimately a reactive action. Combining it with further proactive actions (like what they’ve done with the tips that appear at the start of a match) and we could really see a shift in the community.