Starting Ranked

It’s quite a week for my inner (and increasingly outer) nerd. I spent some time Monday playtesting new stuff at Riot. This morning I head off to two days at San Diego Comic Con with members of Riot’s leadership team. About a dozen folks from the Talent team and me are attending the LCS on Saturday at Riot’s new Battle Arena. And then on Sunday I cap it off with the Magic Origins pre-release. I’ve outlined my week to a handful of people–crazy smile plastered across my face–and so far every single person responds with “You’re living the dream!” I don’t think I can reasonably expect many weeks like this one, but the fact that I even get one is pretty special.

And last night, around 9pm, I decided to play my first Ranked game of League of Legends.

Now, I’ve previously talked about my anxiety and confusion about when to wade into Ranked play (that article also outlines what Ranked play is and how it works). It’s apparently highly stressful, filled with toxic players and long hours of climbing League’s tiers on a seemingly endless hamster wheel. And yet the more I’ve played, the more I’ve wanted to know where I fit into those tiers. How good (or bad) am I in the universe of North American League players?

As I sat in queue for my first Ranked game, my mouse hovered over the “Exit” button. I almost chickened out at thirty seconds in the queue, and then again at forty. At forty-five seconds, the game had started and the proverbial die had been cast.

I don’t know if I’ve ever done a Draft in League of Legends, but I’ve seen it enough time to know how it works. I was third in the pick order for my team, which saved me the a lot of worry about who to ban and also being on the bottom pick order where I was stuck with whatever role wasn’t selected.

Thankfully, the roles sorted themselves with minimal haggling. I still usually play Fizz mid or top, but those were the first two spots called. I explained that I could do anything but jungle, so ended up with support. Oddly enough, I’ve been playing a ton of Taric support — he’s the second Champion after Fizz that naturally made sense to me, and accounted for my first five S+ ratings in the Champion Mastery system. It’s fair to say that Taric is my second-best Champ (in fact, the image above is my current desktop wallpaper). So, okay, not a bad way to start.

As the load screen for the game started, I noticed that most of my teammates were ranked Silver. Um… what?! Hoo boy.

For the first fifteen minutes of the game, both teams fought to a stalemate. My Ezrael lane-mate was super aggro, dying and killing with abandon while I frantically tried to help. I accidentally stole a kill (which I find happens sometimes with Taric’s Shatter ability if I mistakenly follow it with a basic attack), but otherwise was neither the reason we were winning nor losing our lane. Their jungler, Xin Zhao, started camping out in bottom lane, which I guess is as flattering as it was annoying.

As the lane phase broke down and we started to group up, the game swung in our favor. By eighteen minutes we had a 2k gold advantage, and after that the towers started to fall on their side. By thirty minutes we had a 12k gold advantage, had a sizeable lead on take-downs, and we destroyed the enemy Nexus at almost exactly the thirty-eight minute mark.  I ended the game with an “A-” from the system, scoring 2/7/18 (two take-downs, seven deaths, eighteen assists). Not awesome, but certainly not my worst support game ever. My best personal moment was destroying an enemy Inhibitor while four of their team beat on me. I last-hit the Inhibitor with my dying breath.

And here’s the thing: My team barely spoke in chat, and when they did it was basic information sharing or encouraging “nj!” (translation: “nice job!”). Ezrael didn’t yell at me when I stole his kill. Neither team trash-talked throughout the game. It wasn’t a cheerleading, gungho positive team experience. It was… innocuous.

I had a few witnesses to my game–members of the Talent team who were working late and lingered when they heard I was playing my first game of Ranked. Afterwards they congratulated me and smiled weary, endearing smiles.

“That was fun!” I said.

“Ah, you’re in the fun stage,” they responded. I had the feeling that if they felt comfortable patting me on the head, they would have done so.

“People were nice!” I said proudly.

“Yeah. Just wait…”

“But–”

“The highs in Ranked are high. Enjoy it. You did great and won. You’ll rage-quit sometime soon, though, and swear off League for a week at some point. Just wait…”

So I went to bed last night a little giddy and a little uneasy. If Ranked is really that bad, why do people do it? Are those tired, shake-your-head smiles of my teammates inevitable? Am I going to pat some padawan on the head some day? Can’t I just have fun? Maybe I’m older than and wiser, and have better perspective despite my slower reflexes. Maybe I can keep this all just a game.

Whatever happens, I’m definitely in a honeymoon phase right now. With Riot. With League of Legends. With my inner gamer-nerd who is finally being let out to play. Maybe my coworkers are right and those hardened, grizzled days are ahead of me. This is all part of the process, they tell me.

Maybe. We’ll see. I don’t see any harm keeping hopeful optimism alive.

-jms

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