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League of Legends patches come with their own placebo effect

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Changes don't need to happen for the players to feel them

Jeffrey Lin is the lead game designer of social systems at Riot Games, the studio behind League of Legends. It's an impressive job title, especially at a company whose product isn't as much as a single game as it the culture around that game, including things like competition and events.

Lin described one of the stranger aspects of adjusting the game in a recent interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It seems that the placebo effect works when it comes to perceived changes to the game's champions.

"For example, there was a time when we nerfed a particular Champion and saw the win rate of the Champion plummet a few percentage points. However, we found out after that the nerf didn't get implemented into the patch," Lin explained.

"The simple fact that the patch notes described a nerf to the champion had a weird psychological effect on the play patterns of players and resulted in a drop in win rates," Lin continued. "When we’re releasing huge pre-season patches that have hundreds of nuances and interactions, we are very careful to how 'valid' the data is whether it’s from players, social media, or even in-game data! So yes, there are almost always unexpected outcomes with patches, and we’re always surprised by the lessons."

The rest of the interview is just as interesting, and it's fun to think that the perceived quality of a champion can impact how people use that champion during actual play.