Friday, March 8, 2013

A Response to Meta Shifts

First the League of Black Cleavers, then the League of Warmogs, now the League of Blade. What will Riot do next? The League of Banners of Command? There has been a lot of recent outcry from the community, high ELO and low ELO, that the buff of items which dictates the style of play is bad for the game. That forcing players to build certain items because it is good is inherently poor game design. This article goes through my thoughts and opinion on 'meta shifts,'

Warning: Incoming wall of text.

Check out my response to meta shifts after the jump!

The above video is a great video on, basically, what I am trying to argue. Watch the video if you do not want to read the wall of text below. The article below builds up on my variations on this idea and my thoughts on meta shifts.

First off, I cannot pose my argument without analyzing the issues of the other side. As a university political science student who wishes to go into law, understanding both sides of a coin is crucial for a proper argument. In a popular ReignOfGaming Blog, Hashinshin states that Riot is intentionally forcing players to use certain items by making them stronger than other items which causes players to abuse said items until they are changed. Albeit, Hashinshin makes a valid point on how the game is played in a micro oriented sense, he fails to see the bigger picture.

It is not simply high ELO players who are making this argument and public outcry for Riot to change their ways. The majority of League of Legend Players are low ELO players and they feel the worst effects of such changes. As such, I am sure that there is a general consensus that follows the argument placed above. However, the strength of one item does not mean the 'balance' is compromised. Personally, I hate the term balance as it implies equality; which, as I will point out, is not the point of balancing.

Now that the argument has been made clear, it is time for my counter-argument. I begin with a definition of the terms 'meta' and 'balance.' These two terms are commonly used with each other as they determine the changes for each other. The meta is a term used to describe the ideal way to play a game; while, many different factors can determine a meta, in League of Legends it commonly refers to the items, champions, play-styles which are implemented by professional team which then trickle down to Solo Queue. Balance is a term used to describe what changes should be applied to a game which would determine or shift a meta. Generally, balance is linked with making 'over-powered' factors weaker so that a game state is less dominated by one thing.

Following the above definition of balance, the question arises if balance is meant to bring equality among all factors in a game. If Riot wanted to make every single item as cost effective and efficient as any other item in the game, it would certainly bring about an interesting meta. However, eventually, as with all game designs, a perfect meta, where every play-style, item, and champion are equally viable, is impossible due to game mechanics. Instead, game developers go with a 'rotating' method of meta and balance.

With the understanding of a 'rotating meta,', it is simple to see my argument. That game developers who balance a game, indeed, want to force players to play a certain way; however, this is not intrinsically bad for a game. Balancing of a game does not mean that they want to make every item, champion, or play style the same in terms of viability and strength, which is why I initially stated that balance does not imply equality. Instead, balancing is just a method for game developers to change how a game is played.

Champions that would not have been played previously, get a chance to 'rotate' in with the meta that is determined by the Riot balance team. At the end of Season 2, if I told you that Kha'Zix in the mid lane was strong, people would have laughed; however, at the beginning of Season 3, Kha'Zix was one of the most contended picks for mid lane. The change in Black Cleaver changed the viability of Kha'Zix and rotated him into the meta as a popular pick.

This is not an isolated case for League of Legends. In the previously popular PvP game Guild Wars (which I have played more hours than I would ever admit), this was exactly the case. Skills on certain classes would be buffed to be strong and used by everyone, then nerfed to be weak and used by no one. There was an ability for healers that let them heal the entire party for ~80 HP with a very short cool-down and low mana cost (Light of Deliverance  if you are interested). Eventually, people came up with counters for the ability, then it was nerfed out of existence. Rotating metas kept the game, which had a very stale PvP system, unique, fresh, and fun.

With the ability to change how a game is played, one would ask why would game developers want to change it in the first place. The answer is simple, that balance is a very simple way to keep a game refreshing and new. Imagine playing chess where there are only four pieces on the board, imagine playing Starcraft II with 2 units on every race, imagine playing on the same Summoner's Rift for three seasons with the same champions, and same items. Variety brings excitement and keeps people playing.

"If people are forced to play a certain way, the game does not bring about creativity for the players." This statement is false. Although Riot does determine how a game should be played it does not determine the specifics. It leaves it to the players to think up of the combinations they can do. Specifically, with team compositions. The Black Cleaver meta, which took over the start of Season 3, created the birth of the armor shred team composition which M5 (now known as Gambit Gaming) used in tournaments.

In conclusion, my argument against claims that balancing is done poorly by Riot is the claim that Riot is, actually, doing a typical job. Under the assumptions that a 'perfect meta' can never exist, Riot brings diversity  and viability to different groups of champions and items with balance changes. The fact that Black Cleaver, or Warmogs, or Locket of the Iron Solari, or any item in the future for that matter is built on everyone does not mean the game is out of balance and the Riot balance team is made up of idiots who don't realize that Locket of the Iron Solari is amazing. As a matter of fact, the multi-million dollar company that Riot is has a competent balance team who understands how games should be balanced. I'm not saying that blatantly overpowered items like Blade of the Ruined King should exist (as seen by the hotfix), but I am saying that certain items and champions will always be favored over other items and champions - it's part of any changing game.

So when players say "oh my god, Locket of the Iron Solari is built on everyone it's so strong right now," maybe you should stop building your Black Cleaver and build a Locket instead; enjoy the back-and-forth team fights with unique strategies Locket brings instead of the Kha'Zix mario penta kills.

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