A Wife-Saving Game

[Special Thursday edition!]

Last week my kids were finishing up two weeks of sleepaway camp, giving my wife Sarah and I unprecedented freedom to be spontaneous with our time. On Thursday, she floated the idea of dropping by Riot in the late afternoon to play some League of Legends with my co-workers. As I’ve said several times, Rioters don’t need an excuse to play League, so after a quick office poll we arranged a time and got a group together for her visit.

Sarah’s one request: She wanted to play with players of her same level. See, my wife has recently been crushed when playing with me and the kids. The rest of us are all level 30 (the highest level you can reach in League, and the entry point to Ranked play) and log a lot more hours on the game than her, so when playing with us she gets matched up against people of our skill level. As a result, the game just isn’t as fun, which makes her want to play less, and thus the divide between us widens.

On Thursday, we all gathered in our “PC bang,” a huge PC cafe on our campus modeled after the ones found all over Korea. We’d found enough people for three full teams–four players for me and a full nine other players between levels 10 and 25. We even found two awesome folks, Sung Ho and Brandon, to coach the two teams of “noobs.”

I jumped into a game with Tristan, Elisa, Paul, and Alex — all Silver or Gold ranked players, making me clearly the worst player in the bunch. I played Fizz mid, though it had been quite awhile since I’d loaded up a game with my main Champion. We fell behind in the game, and at one point I was 3-9 (three take-downs of opposing Champions versus nine deaths), but we swung the game in our favor later and I ended 12-10. I was a fun game, and we all fist-bumped and high-fived afterwards.

“What the–?” one of my teammates said, as we all turned around.

The other teams were literally roaring. Five voices raised as one were chanting “Go! Go! Go!” while six other voices were screaming “No! Noooo!” and then all at once ten players and two coaches erupted as one into a hysterical explosion of noise.

At the center of the cacophanous maelstrom — My wife Sarah. The other players hugged and high-fived her. She was red-faced, panting, and smiling from ear to ear.

So what happened? Apparently it was a back-and-forth game. As Sarah’s team made a push to win (which means destroying the other team’s base, called a Nexus), a big team fight broke out. Sarah was the only survivor–nine other players littering the floor–and so she turned and started thwacking the enemy Nexus with her big sword as Garen. She singlehandedly won the game.

There were a lot of notable things about the game Sarah played that day. First and most obviously, she had a chance to play with and against people of her same skill level. I’m not sure she’d ever experienced parity before, and it was FUN. Apparently feeling a little competent is a key ingredient to a game’s allure.

Second, it was the only game anyone in the room could remember pitting two all-female teams against each other. League’s player base is overwhelmingly male, so it was refreshing and unique to see ten women competing. In fact, one of the coaches snapped a photo before the game started (Sarah’s the one with the visitor badge):

IMG_0546

League of Legends is a social game, and playing in a PC bang is a particularly social experience. The women exchanged summoner names and are now friends in game. They’re talking about getting together regularly to play and level up together. It was a powerful bonding moment for Sarah, and I think the other women too. Why does League have such a vibrant global community, the reasons were on full display.

Finally, it was a reminder to me of why this game is so friggin’ fun. If I had closed my eyes and listened to the noise, it was like a dramatic championship final in any sport–like an extra time goal in soccer, a hail mary pass in American football, or a last-second three pointer in basketball. All twelve participants were totally into the game and invested in the outcome, and all were beaming afterwards. Yet unlike most sports, that same sort of dramatic energy doesn’t exist in pick-up games of soccer, football, or basketball. Last Thursday captured the energy of a championship in a meaningless afternoon videogame. Awesome.

Sarah has been talking about that game throughout the past week. Her interest in League is waxing again, and she may have even made a new friend or two.

Life is good.

-jms

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