The free to play, PvP sensation League of Legends (LoL) is custom crafted to cultivate expert use. From the welcoming screens right on to the last click, Riot Games makes expertise in gameplay an obvious priority. What makes the gameplay so brilliant? Focus on intrinsic, intuitive actions and a manageable cognitive load.
“But, Dave, LoL boasts 80 playable champions (each with five unique skills), 35 kinds of marks, seals, glyphs, and quintessences available in three tiers unlocked over 30 summoner levels. Each summoner level grants a mastery point to spend over three trees and 49 interdependent masteries. And even if you survive all that and get into a match there are 107 in-game inventory items! Holy poo that’s a lot to think about!” you might be saying. Players clearly have a lot to learn and think about on their quest to become champions. To consider all of that at once would leave players in a growing cloud of confusion where finer detail becomes unattainable due to massive cognitive load. The reason I can give Riot a standing ovation for keeping it simple is the way they break it up.
The player makes the bulk of their decisions off of the battlefield so that by the time their boots hit the ground (assuming they don’t fly or hover or have hooves of course) the player has just four active champion skills and two summoner skills to worry about resulting in a low cognitive load. With so few skills your actions are more reflexive and intuitive. The overly large skill icons have high contrast cool-downs and washout effects for availability that make your action sequence mercifully obvious. With the skills easily dedicated to both memory and a static finger assignment players become engrossed in the intrinsic play of the game: pushing forward, falling back, hiding, kiting, watching your map, and yelling expletives.
While you fume over that “OP ulti” and swear that you only died because you were lagging, the one-click leveling process will put a smile on your face with its colorful, hard-to-miss plus buttons and hover details making progression a breeze. The health and mana bars are proportionate and take center stage on your HUD; complete with regeneration tic values so you can quickly assess your situation before laying down the hurt or putting your running shoes on.
The in-game shop, which is critical to your success on the battlefield, is chock full of items that grant stats, abilities, auras, and even gold-earning bonuses. This is easily the most annoying aspect of the match but I’ll talk more about that another time. Despite offering over a hundred items the shop becomes manageable by also providing a short list of Riot’s preferred collection which is specific to your champion. You can play the game perfectly well just by opening the shop, double-clicking a suggested item, and rolling out to re-join the carnage.
All of this to say that by segmenting the choices LoL allows the players to focus on more rewarding and complex factors that have much less to do with numbers and pretty pictures and much more to do with awareness.
DISCLAIMER: The low cognitive load accounts only for the UI and mechanic choices…the PvP gameplay is rife with complex scenarios and teamwork challenges that can and will tax the gray matter of even the best players. That’s the fun part.