Jeremy Edge, LPC
Why League of Legends Can Feel So Addicting and What to do About it: From a Counselor Who Plays
Updated: May 17, 2021
League of Legends is a fast-paced 5v5 video game. Created in 2009, it has become one of the most popular PC games out there. As of 2021, there are around 115 million monthly active players. League of Legends teams compete all over the world for millions of dollars. The first-place team in the 2018 League of Legends World Championship took home a prize of over $2.4 million. This game is also free to play.
So, what about League of Legends, or League, is so fun? What about it makes people want to play 14 hours straight? And why is it so hard to stop playing?
As a League player, I know how fun and problematic it can be. Many people say video games can be addicting when someone can’t stop playing. Rather than viewing it as an addiction, I think a healthier way to view it is problematic or disordered. Problematic gaming is when the game is causing problems for you and those around you. Disordered gaming is when gaming has become a legitimate Gaming Disorder diagnosis.
There are a few reasons why League is so engaging and can become a problem.
Low Barrier to Entry
As previously stated, League of Legends is a free to play game. Anyone with a computer can download the game and start playing. There is no monthly subscription fee or upfront cost to play the game in its entirety. You can buy products in the game to enhance the experience like skins, champions, and different items. But those are just add-ons to the main game and have no actual affect on your gameplay.
Unlike some games that require an up-to-date graphics card or expensive computer, you can play League on almost any computer as long as you have a good internet connection. This also reduces the barrier to entry in playing the game. A version of League (Wild Rift) is available for smartphones and will soon be available for consoles. Just like the PC, the entire game can be played for free.
Another reason League has a low barrier of entry is the games only last between 20-50 minutes. There is a specific start and end time. Many games are ongoing and never stop like Rust, Minecraft, and Final Fantasy XIV. If you are pressed for time, a League game is quick and easy. It’s easy to justify pushing off responsibilities by saying things like, “I’ll just play one game then do my homework.” Or “It’s not too late, just one more game.” The more you get involved in this kind of thinking the more problematic gaming can become.
Easy to Start, Hard to Master
League of Legends is easy to start but extremely hard to master. League is a competitive game where the point is to win. You can play “ranked” games where you can play against others who are, theoretically, around your same skill-level. There are nine ranks. The higher rank you are, the better player you are. Players are proud to be high ranks because it means they are very good.
It’s like if you played a lot of pick-up basketball. The more games you won, the more status and recognition you would get. You would also get a cool badge or symbol showing everyone how good you were at basketball. The League rank system is a way to recognize how good you are at the game and a way to play against others who are as skilled as you.
People spend countless hours playing ranked games to rank up. Many “grind” or play up to 14 hours per day to improve their rank and skill. Competitive games like League of Legends reward players who put in a lot of time to master it. This is a big reason why League causes problems for people.
Video games in general are great at using measurable progress. League of Legends has multiple ways to show how you’re progressing. There is a daily experience bonus for winning a game, your rank improves the more games you win, you gain random items or loot when you level up, and you get graded on how well you played each game. These ways to measure progress makes it fun to learn how to improve. You are incentivized to get better and win more games.
We all like to see progress. If we feel we are not making progress in our lives, video games can fill that void. If we feel we cannot make progress in work, relationships, and/or school but we see progress in our games, it’s easy for games to become a major focus in one’s life. This is when gaming can become a problem.
A Lot of Positive Reinforcement
There is a lot of measurable progress but also a lot of positive reinforcement in League of Legends. Like discussed earlier, you are rewarded the higher rank you are. You’re rewarded for being a good team player through their Honor system. You are rewarded when you make a good play and kill your enemies. Even the sound effects are rewarding like killing minions to encourage better farming.
The more positive reinforcement we have during an activity, the more we want to engage in that activity. It feels good to be rewarded and video games do that extremely well. Video games offer more positive reinforcement than most other activities.
School has some positive reinforcement through grades, assignments, teacher and parent’s recognition, and class rank. But the reinforcement is not as immediate or as frequent as in League or most video games. That is why it can be hard for some students to put math homework first then play League.
Novelty & Niche
As of May 2021, there are 155 champions or characters in League of Legends. Each champion has specific abilities to use to outplay your opponents. Each champion falls into one of five categories or role which requires a different type of play style. A support champion plays very different than a jungle champion.
Players are rewarded for playing one champion really well. This is when they “main” a champion. This is a similar idea to mastering one area in your life or finding a niche. If you are an accountant, your niche is accounting. If you are a nurse, your niche is in healthcare. If you main Draven in League, your niche is playing that champion well.
People enjoy and are internally motivated to master one thing. If you don’t know what you want to master in your life, League of Legends has 155 options to choose from. Mastering one champion can give people the false sense of security that they don’t need to master other areas in their life, like school, work, relationships, or their mental health.
It Takes Skill
League offers many areas that require skill. Here are some areas in League of Legends that require skill:
All of these areas require time and attention to improve upon. The better you perform in these areas, the more games you will in. People enjoy challenges and with these many challenges to work through every single game, people can spend a lot of time improving. The natural drive to improve can make League of Legends hard to stop playing.
Can Make Money
People can make a career from playing League of Legends. If a player is good enough, they can join a professional Esports team or become a streamer. Compared to the number of players, there is a very small percentage of people who can make a legitimate career from playing League of Legends. However, many who play League see that as an option. They see their favorite steamer make millions by playing eight hours of video games per day and think they can do it too. They have a fun personality and they are really good at League, maybe they can do it too.
When people start to justify playing League over all other responsibilities for the chance to make it pro, it can become a problem. Take it from streamer, Ninja. Before he made it as a streamer, he had a job and stayed in college. He only quit his job when he was able to pay his bills primarily through streaming. Listen to his perspective in this interview on not dropping everything to become a professional streamer.
League of Legends is fun but can be problematic. It can be hard to balance with the rest of life. Here are six things you can do to help if League has become a problem for you or someone you know.
1. Have Start and End Times
Rather than being ambiguous about when you’re going to play, have a schedule of when you are going to play. You can probably fit around 3-4 games in a two-hour time block. See what works best for your schedule and stick to it.
2. Do Something Productive Before You Game
We can easily procrastinate and put things off to game. Accomplish at least a few things prior to gaming. It’s best to complete all your responsibilities then jump into League. This can help with not getting frustrated in games too. When we don’t accomplish anything in the physical world, we are depending on League to fill that for us. If we don’t play well in League, we might become more frustrated than if we had been productive that day.
3. Have Something to do After You Game
If you have nothing planned after you play League, it can be easy to play for longer than intended. Have something you can look forward to or things you have to accomplish after you play. This will help put boundaries up for your gaming.
4. Think About Things Besides League
Our thoughts can drive behavior. Rather than thinking about the last game you played and what you could have played better, think about things around your work, school, relationships, or other hobbies. Solve a problem at work. Think about how to improve your relationship with your spouse. Think about how you’re going to tackle that yard project you’ve been putting off.
The more thoughts we devote to League, the more we will want to play. Just like it’s healthy to diversify our time with multiple activities, it’s healthy to diversify our thoughts.
5. Find Purpose
Video games can give us purpose when we feel we don’t have one in the physical world. Find purpose in your life. Even if you feel life is meaningless and you have no purpose, think through what areas give you meaning. If you need help finding purpose, talk with people you trust to find what that purpose could be. Find an area in your life where you can make a positive difference and pursue that.
6. Set Up Protective Factors
One of the best ways to keep from problematic gaming is to have protective factors or systems in your life that protect you from too much gaming. An example could be a career or relationship.
You naturally want to do well at your career so you are motivated to focus time and energy towards that rather than game all day. You enjoy solving problems at work and learning new things. Those activities protect you from problematic gaming. A relationship is similar. You want to spend time with your spouse and that can’t happen with playing games all day. Find protective factors in your life to help you make healthy boundaries with playing League.
League of Legends is intended to be a fun hobby. It can provide a lot of value to people. But, it can also become a problem if we are not carful. It’s all about balance. When we effectively balance video games with the rest of our lives, it can be a very positive experience. If we feel inadequate in some way and are looking for games to fill a void, that is when gaming can become something problematic.
In the past, I’ve struggled with balancing League with the rest of my life. I’ve changed my habits, thoughts, and behaviors and now, League is a positive activity for me. I’m able to effectively balance that with my work, family, and personal life.
If League of Legends is causing problems for you, reach out to me. I can help you balance League with the rest of your life. Click here to book an appointment.