Over the years, League of Legends has evolved from a fairly niche game into an esports juggernaut. As viewership grew, professional teams made a conscious effort to build up their brands and attract outside investments.
One byproduct of this process was increased practice hours. It made sense at first. After all, League of Legends became much bigger than any game ever was, so pros had to put in the work to stay at the top. But somewhere along the way, things spiraled out of control.
Between triple scrim blocks, VOD reviews, and Solo Queue grinds, 12-hour workdays became the new norm—and pro player burnout turned into a serious issue in the West. Unfortunately, it’s not about to get better anytime soon.
Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Later, Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell formulated the 10,000 Hours Rule, which postulates a person needs 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in a given field. While your mileage may vary, it’s clear you need to invest time and effort to achieve mastery in a particular trade.
Yet things are different in League of Legends: the trade itself never stays the same. It’s no secret Riot subscribes to the notion that major balance changes are good for the game. While a constant stream of patches might spice things up for casual gamers, it’s a massive headache for professional players. A single large balance patch can undermine months (or even years) of practice by altering items, champions, and mechanics, so much that you’re practically playing a different game. With that, even seasoned veterans find themselves struggling to keep up with the ever-changing state of the game.
Still, at one point, it seemed like things were about to get better. In the past, a major balance shake-up like the juggernaut patch could easily decide the outcome of a huge event, like the 2015 World Championship.
More recently, Riot at least seemed content to hold off the biggest balance shifts until the off-season. However, everything went out the window when the publisher introduced a number of sweeping changes right in the middle of the 2018 Summer Split. Granted, Riot later admitted they made a mistake, but the damage was already done. Once again, pros were stuck playing catch-up.
The commitment issue
Of course, this wouldn’t be so bad if League of Legends wasn’t such a time-consuming game. Even casual players need to put aside 40 to 60 minutes for a single LoL match, but that number becomes much, much larger when you throw in VOD reviews and pick/ban prep. If we go back to our Bruce Lee quote, few pro players even have the time to practice one champion (or even one role) 10,000 times.
But surely this problem comes up in other esports too? Well, not exactly. Two of the largest competing titles—CS:GO and Dota 2—employ an open circuit model, so their pro players have to compete in many different tournaments instead of playing in a single league. With that, pros tend to set up boot camps and pull out all stops right before the most important events. While these bursts of productivity can be challenging, as they require players to give their all over the span of several days, they’re usually followed by some much-needed downtime.
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Meanwhile, the League of Legends system is more akin to a marathon. LoL pros are expected not only to play through spring and summer splits but also (if they’re good enough) attend events like MSI, Worlds, Rift Rivals, and All-Starts. At the end of it, there’s hardly more than a month’s rest before getting back to grind.
The Korean example
Another issue stems from the way teams approach practice in the first place. Throughout the years, South Korea has always been viewed as the strongest League of Legends region in the world. Thus, many Western teams attempted to mimic Korean practice regimens by signing Korean coaches and enforcing grueling training hours.
However, this doesn’t account for the cultural differences that exist between these regions. In Korea, practice is king. Every loss, no matter how unlikely or unlucky it was, is followed by sitting down at your computer and grinding games to ensure that such a failure never happens again. But there are diminishing returns to long hours. Even the 10,000 Hour Rule puts an emphasis on deliberate practice, meaning you have to put your 100 percent toward improving—something that’s hard to expect from a person already grinding League for 16 hours a day.
Even if you somehow manage to implement the Korean system, it will still be flawed. In the West, good players aren’t as prevalent, so even the best Korean coaches won’t have the same levels of authority and control over their roster. In the end, can you really catch up to a better region by using worse infrastructure?
So where does this leave us? Western pros are stuck in an exhausting loop where they have to put in monstrous hours because of the way League of Legends balance, competitive scene, and practice regimens work.
Until one of these factors undergoes a drastic paradigm shift, long practice hours will remain an issue.
Photo Credit: Riot Games