The Question Of When

This blog is an opportunity to explore whatever’s on my mind that week, which means I’m covering topics from Riot Games, to people- and talent-related topics, to League of Legends. Last week was all about talent (and thanks to those who chimed in on the comments, which were the richest and most thoughtful I’ve seen yet).

Today, it’s League time.

I hit level 30 at the beginning of January. Since then, I’ve been logging pretty much equal time in Summoner’s Rift (the “classic” game, and the basis for our e-sports) and ARAM (the most played “casual” format). It’s amazing to me how much better I’ve gotten in both game modes since January. I still play Fizz as my main champion, and now can confidently say that I don’t suck with him. In fact, if I’m playing Fizz mid-lane, I’m almost never the primary reason my team loses–something I couldn’t say even a few months ago.

One of the things that happens when you hit level 30 in League is that you open up the opportunity to play Ranked games. Check out this forums thread to explain Ranked, or here’s the information from the Wiki. Suffice it to say, once you start Ranked you have to play ten unranked games, and based on your performance in those games you get slotted into a tier and division. Once you’re slotted, you fight your way with and against other people in that tier. Do well and you move up. Do poorly (or don’t play) and you eventually move down. It’s a slightly complicated system, but not any more complicated than other competitive formats, from chess to tennis.

There is a fair amount of lore associated with Ranked play. For example, the general belief is that players are more toxic in Ranked because the pressure is higher. People will yell at you over chat and call you names. Trash talking between teams is in effect. Most people also believe there is a “grind” associated with Ranked, because to move up you generally need to play a lot of games and if you take any time off during the season you run the risk of falling. That said, the people who play Ranked generally love it. League’s highest highs occur in Ranked play.

For the last two months, I’ve been wondering when I’ll wade into Ranked.

And it’s clearly a matter of “when,” not “if.” Why? I can think of three main reasons why Ranked appeals to me. First, I’m competitive. I ran track in college and played four sports in high school (alas, people used to look at me and ask “What sports do you play?” Now they ask, “You played sports?” Must… get back to… gym!). Measuring myself against others and seeing if I can play well under pressure, improve, and win, are all things that drive me. I’ve got sort of a laid-back personality, so sometimes it surprises people how competitive I am. But lordy… I’m competitive.

Second, I’m achievement oriented and the idea of “mastery” appeals to me. If I’m going to dedicate time to something, I want to feel both confident and competent at it. The idea of climbing tiers and having a tangible gauge of how I’m doing is super attractive. Being competitive means I like to measure myself against others. Being achievement oriented means I like to measure myself against myself. Ranked play allows me to do both. I’m never going to be Challenger tier just because I have a demanding job and a family, but… how far can I get?

Finally, I work for Riot Games and am passionate about what we do. Most League players–and the vast majority of those who reach level 30–play Ranked. I want to have the same experience as our players and understand Ranked from the inside-out. I think it makes me a better head of Talent and a better Rioter. I suppose there’s also a sense of belonging going on here, since wading more deeply into competitive League play helps me feel more deeply a part of the Riot “tribe.”

Also, it’s worth noting that my son Jonah is level 30 and itching to get started in Ranked. My daughter hit level 28 this past weekend, and my wife is level 22. We’re not too far away from having four-fifths of our own Ranked team.

So. I’m clear that I will eventually play Ranked. The question now is… When to start?

I’ve been asking a ton of really good players that question, and I’ve been astounded by how diverse the answers are. Here are some of the advice I’ve received, all delivered with equal amounts of conviction:

  • Don’t wait. Just jump in. You need to start somewhere, so just get in there.
  • Know three different Champions in at least three different positions (Top, Mid, Jungle, ADC, Support) and be able to play them well. Then you’re ready.
  • Get 200-300 wins in unranked Summoner’s Rift games to give yourself a good experience base.
  • Have one main Champion you know super well, especially if you can play him/her in multiple positions. You’ll learn others organically, but you only need to know one well to start playing Ranked.
  • Play 1,000 games of Summoner’s Rift before wading into Ranked. Otherwise you’ll just be stuck in Bronze V and people will yell at you.
  • You’ll know when you feel ready. Don’t rush it.
  • You and Jonah should do it together. When you both have time to dedicate to Ranked (maybe this Summer?), you should have it as a shared experience. It will be more fun for both of you.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve only scratched the surface on Yoda-like wisdom here. The more people I ask, the more I’m confused.

But apparently that’s not stopping me from asking. Okay, League of Legends-playing readers… What say you? When’s the right time to start my Ranked journey? Chime in on the Comments and I’m all ears.

-jms

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