A few changes to League of Legends' most popular map could change the entire game

Riot announced yesterday that Summoner’s Rift, the most popular and widely-used League of Legends map for competitive play, will be receiving a series of adjustments and a visual overhaul.

This map, in many ways, IS League of Legends; changes of this nature are more akin to changing the nature of a baseball diamond than the sort of map adjustments you see in other games.

So what’s being adjusted, and how will it change the game? The first, and most obvious change, is the fact that map will look better.

The power of looks

"I think, as far as aesthetic goes and the way Riot have been trying to head visually, an update to the map really was something that's necessary for keeping the game ... let's say visually relevant," Randall "Wombat" Fitzgerald, a long-time League of Legends caster (commentator, if you're not up on the lingo), said.

"Whether we like to admit it or not, the game needs to attract player attention and keep that attention. The more beautiful a thing is, the more likely someone who has been resistant to it is going to say ‘well, maybe I'll give it a go,'" he continued. "That's a good thing, I think. Maybe I'll end up on the unpopular side of things, but I always welcome a better looking version of things."

Allowing the map to be more readable, and adjusting the camera angle, will have an impact on the game as well.

"There's also been enough games on both a casual and professional level to statistically prove that the map as-is isn't sufficiently balanced — I believe there's a 55 to 60 percent advantage for the blue team, due to constraints imposed by the isometric camera angle," James "Obscurica" Chen, a freelancer for Riot’s own LoLeSports site and other eSports publications, told Polygon. "The other side simply has less 'safe' territory to work with, and the new map will hopefully rectify this."

"I believe there's a 55-60 percent advantage for the blue team, due to constraints imposed by the isometric camera angle"

The important thing to realize is that even small aesthetic changes could have a big impact on competitive League play.

"Unlike games like Starcraft or CS, it's the units that are balanced to a singular map instead of the other way around — everything from how fast the neutral NPCs are cleared out to how quickly a unit moves from object to object determines how viable they are to play, especially, of course, in the upper ranks," Chen said.

The scramble for advantage

Dragon is a powerful neutral monster on Summoner’s Rift, and killing him gets you both a gold and experience bonus. In tight matches, extra gold and XP can be a major advantage.

"Dragon and Baron (another NPC character) feature reworked design and art, driving them toward feeling more intimidating and powerful," Riot’s site stated yesterday. "From a purely gameplay perspective, we focused on clarity, eliminating randomness in their attack patterns so skilled players can predict and avoid the monsters’ attacks."

That's dry language for what could be a major shift in competitive play.

"As it is now, Dragon is a fairly static secondary objective, damage and debuff to whoever is tanking it. This means that there's fairly little thought put into how to approach Dragon as a gold grab outside of what the other team is doing," Fitzgerald explained.

"So you see full-team, or four man, moves towards it and often fairly hotly contested fights. Depending on how the changes end up panning out, we could see smaller forces attacking Dragon earlier on if the bulk of its damage is avoidable as it could well be via the proposed AOE shots."

His explanation is filled with jargon, but the point is that if Dragon’s attacks are non-random, they become predictable and avoidable, meaning that players could attack the objective earlier in the game to try to gain that gold and XP advantage.

"Likewise, if the idea is to buff Dragon overall, it will take a more concentrated effort where the damage from the Dragon needs to be considered alongside the possible interference from the opposing team. That means there will be a lot more strategic thought about when and how to approach and take the objective," Fizgerald said.

"It's really all up in the air, but I like to be a pie-sky dreamer and I'm hoping to see some upheaval in the action/approach to these secondary objectives as they have been one of the more static bits of the game," he continued. "The dances can turn into exciting team fights, but more often than not, they are just little two minute distractions that fizzle out and with the long-game changes of the past year, the buffs and gold rewards have felt a little lackluster."

The game will be easier to watch

It's important to remember that League of Legends isn't only one of the biggest games in the world in terms of players, it's an amazingly popular spectator sport. These changes to Summoner's Rift won't just benefit the players, but those watching during live events or from their home.

"As to the individual elements, I think they've done a fantastic job increasing readability. The minions really pop, the jungle creeps all have a nice glow that sets them out from the backdrop," Fizgerald stated.

"The lane colors are fairly bright and that is where the bulk of the casting is going to take place in general. That level of pop and ability to distinguish mobs from players from spellcasts for spectators is going to make the game more watchable, I think. People who are less familiar with the game are going to have much stronger visual cues as to what belongs to which side and what the teams are working toward."

These changes are just updates to the game’s visuals combined with a few tweaks to non-player characters on a single map, at least on paper.

In practice, this could drastically change how the game is played at the higher levels; even small changes can lead to massive changes in strategy and timing, and these aren’t exactly small changes. Expect some very interesting play to begin once these changes are rolled out to players.

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