Updated: May 17
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