Summary: Maddening defects, awful community and overly expensive custom items don’t mean the game isn’t fun.
My roommate Jacob got me into League of Legends last year. I’ve never been good at real-time strategy (I can’t even beat half of the missions in the first Starcraft) but he was definitely having fun with it and it was free, so I tried it out. The learning curve, like most real-time strategy, is immense. During the first few dozen games you play—even against bots—you can hope only to get slaughtered. I’m fine with this, but then again I have twenty-plus years of gaming experience and I grew up during the early NES days when every game was designed to break you.
League of Legends has a big variety of characters suited to every style of play as well as incredible customizability through runes, masteries, and items. This, along with new champions being released every ~2 weeks, makes for a constantly refreshing experience that keeps people (Including me) coming back. I love being able to pick a character that I enjoy and change them up both before and after the game starts. If a game isn’t going your way, you can select different items in the middle of the match to try to turn things around. The enemy team murdering you with debuffs and ability power spells? Buy a Banshee’s Veil, which cancels one enemy spell every 40 seconds. This gives you control whereas in many competitive games you’d just be throwing up your arms and calling it quits when you get unlucky.
Another thing I enjoy about League is the happy camaraderie that arises when your team works together to overcome the enemy. When you ask for help in your area and people you don’t know stop what they’re doing to come help you fight an otherwise unstoppable foe, you feel like you accomplished something worthwhile. So many times I can honestly say “good game” even if I lose the match simply because me and my team were one entity that worked for the greater good and had fun doing it. I’ve sacrificed myself to take down an irritating enemy champion or an almost-dead turret just so I can egg on my team to push for the win. This is what League of Legends is all about.
Now for the bad stuff. Riot Games want your money so very, very badly. They will slant-drill into your wallet to dig every scrap of copper and funnel it into their coffers. They charge unreasonable amounts of real-life money for new characters and skins. (I see no reason to spend money on skins, though, as they contribute nothing at all to the gameplay.) New characters can also be purchased with points earned by playing the game, but this takes a prohibitive amount of time compared to outright buying them, which I’m sure Riot planned deliberately.
Riot also has a tendency to make each new champion overpowered at first to lure you into buying them and then nerfing them into worthlessness a few months down the line. In addition to this, they have a bad habit of weakening characters that are already underpowered, such as Vladimir, Soraka, and Sona. The only reasonable explanation for this is that they want you to feel relieved when they inevitably buff them back into mediocrity. Vladimir’s nerfs in particular are especially egregious because they released a fancy new $20 skin for him just before crippling his damage and cooldowns. The lust for money is obvious and transparent.
An equally big issue is the fact that League’s community is garbage. Nearly every game will feature a jerk on either team who deliberately plays poorly, disconnects (Often intentionally), harasses allies and enemies alike, and of course blames all of their problems on their team. It doesn’t matter if they have a score of one kill and twenty deaths; you can always find some moron frothing at the mouth that you have single-handedly ruined his gaming experience when it is in fact the other way around. Bonus points for racist/homophobic slurs coming from the moron in question. Even Riot acknowledges how bad it can get; there is a process for dealing with disruptive and prickish players but it doesn’t seem to do much. I report every jerk I see—absolutely without question—yet there doesn’t seem to be any abatement. All the time you see a Tryndamere or Teemo player (What is it with scumbags and Tryndamere and Teemo? Why are they all attracted to these two characters that otherwise have nothing else wrong with them?) say “SOLO TOP” in the chat and then proceed to lose the top lane and foist the blame on you, threaten to report you, and call you a faggot nigger Jew. It’s maddening.
Yet the game itself is still fun. Dominion (a new map and new method of play introduced in late 2011) is a blast. I play with friends and I have a blast. If we meet someone who wants to give us a hard time, we simply mock him. That is the secret to this game: Play with friends to minimize your exposure to stupid cretins. I don’t even care that they nerfed my main, Rammus. I still enjoy this game. I just wish they’d make more maps, lower the cost of champions, stop instituting pointless changes, and permaban repeat offenders. Yes, I know the game and servers are free. But I’m not asking too much. Unfortunately, Riot is making so much money off of characters and skins and streamed tournaments that they have no incentive to improve.
If you want to try the game out, here’s my referral link.
Edit 7/17/2012: I wrote a noobs’ guide to League of Legends for those who are struggling to learn the game or already know how to play and just want some useful tips.