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Inside League of Legends' Practice Tool

"We call League of Legends a sport. Well, sports have things like batting cages, driving ranges, and a hoop where you can practice free throws. Why doesn't League have any of that?"

If you’ve ever seen a great baseball game, it’s likely that the batting cage never once entered your mind. When you watch a professional basketball game, you don’t think of the players running speed drills or practicing free throws. But without those hours of practice that players put in, there would be no great games to witness.

It was a similar argument, made by the players of Riot Games’ wildly popular game League of Legends, that convinced the developer to add something that had been absent from the game since its launch in October of 2009. So one month ago (eight years after the fact), League of Legends got its very own batting cage.

“For a long time, players said that they would love some way to practice League outside of the core game loop,” said Greg Street, Riot’s design director. Their response, traditionally, was that the best practice environment for League of Legends was a live match. “The game is all about getting better. Every game you play, you can say ‘I learned something from that that will make me a better player.’ Even if you lose a game, you come out of it 1 percent better.”

Riot told players they weren’t going to prioritize a dedicated mode for practice—according to Street, they simply felt like they could spend that time on more important, impactful changes. But the calls kept coming in; players wanted somewhere outside of the pressures of a real game where they could hone their skills.

Eventually, Riot gave in. “The argument that really persuaded us was, we call League of Legends a sport. Well, sports have things like batting cages and driving ranges, and a hoop where you can go practice free throws. Why doesn’t League have any of that?” A couple of months later, Riot released their first iteration of what they would simply dub “Practice Tool.”

Practice Tool is, in essence, a heavily stripped down version of the program Riot developers already use to test and tweak existing elements of the game. “The core functionality was pretty easy to implement,” said Street. “We already had it.” Most of the work that’s gone into the new mode has been about refinement, taking it from an expert tool to something they could put in front of their players.

A lot of that work involved polishing the UI, but an equal amount was just figuring out which features were unnecessary inclusions for players. Being able to reset your cooldowns, get infinite gold or respawn minions is useful to people looking to hone their skills; being able to spawn enemy champions with specific builds, or speed up the game time to a point where the server lags behind the client, is not something players need access to, according to Riot.


Endless Lv1
last hitting practice

“We called it a 'practice tool,' not a sandbox or an editor,” said Street. “We wanted to let players practice League of Legends, we weren’t focused on giving players a whole toolbox of fun things they could try and make their own game mode with. Those weren’t the goals.”

The goal, he said, was to make something close to a batting cage: “Players can pick a skill that you want to get good at, spend a session getting good at that skill, and then take what you’ve learned into the multiplayer game.”

What they didn’t want, according to Street, was for the practice tool to take on a life of its own. “We want the tool to be full feature, but we don’t want it to be too fun and sexy, so that it becomes the way you play League from then on. If people are playing League of Legends, we would much rather they play multiplayer, not spend their precious game hours drilling in a practice mode.”

To that end, Practice Tool is pretty much just that—a tool, for players who want to practice their fundamentals without distractions. But for players dipping their toes into League of Legends for the first time, Street insists that there’s no substitute for a regular match.


Brush up on early jungle clear

“Part of the joy and frustration of being in a game with nine other people is you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. It’s that uncertainty, said Street, that creates everything of depth in League of Legend’s design. “Practicing on a field with no human opponents is only going to get you so far when you end up in a situation with particulars that might never come up again. I just don’t think the magic is there otherwise.”

Street had another way to put it: “If you’re trying to get your child excited about baseball, sticking them in the batting cage for hours on end isn’t going to develop that love of the game. That’s something they do after they’ve decided this is something they want to get better at.”

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