When we reach October 27, League will officially be 10 years old. That’s older than Dota 2, CS:GO, and my sister’s chihuahua that she says is a pure breed but definitely has some pug blood in him.
League has changed a lot in those 10 years, too. When I started playing the Tribunal existed, pick order and call order were locked in a battle for supremacy, ARAM was a custom game mode you had to fish for, and Poppy was a weird champion no one played.
Most of Riot’s changes were for the better. The League of Legends of old was a mess right down to its infrastructure. The servers couldn’t handle all the players and would crash mid-game, forcing Riot to give players free IP boosts.
Now the client is fluid and mostly functional. The characters have better art direction and design. Even the map and visual effects are much easier to look at. Baron, Dragon, Gromp, and even player health bars got reworked so that they’d be more visually appealing. Don’t even get me started on splash arts!
Despite every improvement, I miss that old kind of LoL. It’s not that I’m a salty AD carry or that I miss when players were so bad that you could take over a game after three solo kills. It’s that old League of Legends truly had a different soul. The game once had a spittoon-rattling wild west soul where meta was only kind of meta, nothing made sense, and nobody knew what the hell was going on.
Now, League’s donned its fancy dress suit, bought itself a slick new pair of shoes, peppered West Texas with oil rigs, and hit 1.4 billion dollars worth of anime skin paydirt. Before I mix too many metaphors, I wanna look back on three factors and how they changed the soul of the game.
Mama’s family recipe Spaghetti code
For a long time, League of Legends had so many bugs that you could sort them into species and pick favorites. LoL had a serious spaghetti code problem, but it wasn’t just spaghetti code. It was Mama’s Family Recipe Spaghetti Code. LoL’s code was flawed in a way that had character and humor.
It was hard not to chuckle when the word “taunty” appeared in chat every time the jungler taunted a jungle monster. Even some of the game breaking bugs were so amusing that it was easier to forgive them. Heimerdinger could wall in minions with his turrets and unleash them in an unstoppable mega-wave. Blitz could pull Baron out of the pit at spawn. Alistar could knock someone out of the game for 5-10 seconds.
Not so long ago, every map in the game served a hot, heaping helping of Mama’s family recipe spaghetti code. Eventually, Riot would haul out a new client, fix the source code, and put an end to most bugs we knew and loved (and hated). It was the smart thing to do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pour one out for Taunty.
Tightened champ design
A lot of the game’s ridiculousness wasn’t an accident as much as it was by (champion) design. In the old days, Riot didn’t have a tight champion design philosophy. Lots of champions came out half-baked and full of random AP and AD ratios.
There are many examples of ridiculous champ designs and off-builds, like AP Tryndamere or AP Yi, but the queen of them all was Poppy. No champion better shows how Riot changed their design philosophy than Poppy.
Before her rework, Poppy was a complete mess. Pre-rework Poppy was a top lane bruiser-assassin with no waveclear, severe mana problems, and one of the best late games in the business. She had an ult that let her pick a target, reduced damage from that target, and made it so no other champion could touch her for 6 seconds.
Most ridiculous of all was her Q, Devastating Blow. Devastating Blow was a low cooldown, empowered auto that did magic damage and scaled off of AP, but could still crit and would convert the crit to magic damage. That meant pre-rework Poppy could viably build Trinity Force, Gunblade, Infinity Edge, Statikk Shiv, Sorcerer’s Shoes, and Void Staff and be a mixed damage assassin. On top of that, her in-game model was basically a blue goblin with giant pigtails.
She was a walking disaster. Riot did to Poppy, what they did to many of the old walking disaster champs. They made her into a sensible tank with cool abilities that synergized with each other. Was this the right choice? Yes. Did it still hurt my feelings? Yes.
I missed old Poppy because she had the unique kind of heart that belonged only to the beautiful idiot champions that were as plucky as they were buggy. League was once full of these champions. Now she’s sensible because League is sensible. Yet here I am, missing the days when Poppy was the little blue pigtail-goblin who made every AD carry want to cry. When you played champs like pre-rework Poppy, it felt like you were coloring outside the lines. The picture wasn’t nearly as clean, but the whole process was so dumb and fun that it didn’t matter.
Everybody got better
Riot isn’t the only reason the game changed. We, the players, reshaped it ourselves. As a community, we started to learn the game and tried harder to be good at it.
Many of us started hunting for the in-meta champions. We started getting builds from pros instead of a random person on mobafire. We learned how to ward. We learned how to gank. We watched pros and actually read the patch notes. We got better at the game.
We got better and we reinforced League’s meta. You’re welcome to go AP Ezreal now, but instead of facerolling players who won’t respect your abilities, you’re more likely to face a Yasuo that knows how to reset their autos and Windwall your damage. If you ban Yasuo, are you ready for the enemy support to lock in Braum and spam a mastery 7 emote over your cold, greyscale body?
None of this is to say the game isn’t a blast in its current form. It’s fun to play with a team that’s thinking strategically. It’s fun to roam to a lane and have team members from all sides fall into a bloodbath. It’s fun to solo kill an opponent by outplaying them more than they outplayed you. League is fun!
It’s just changed and it’s reasonable to miss what it used to be. It’s reasonable to miss the nonsense, the wild west, the meta-less Rift. You, me, and any other old hand - we aren’t imagining it. The game had a very different feel that it likely won’t have again. League has grown into the shoes it was always supposed to fit and while I accept that, I’ll always have a special love for the unique nonsense the game once was.