It was recently announced by Riot that they would be adjusting the pick-ban phase for competitive play. In the past, professional and casual draft games had the same pick-ban system. Each team would be allowed to ban 3 characters each before taking turns drafting characters for their team in a snake-draft fashion. Due to the expanding roster of characters, game designers, pros, and fans alike have consistently suggested adding additional bans to compensate for the increasing number of strong characters. The rationale was that adding more bans would allow for more diversity to use niche strategies or pocket pick champions instead of consistently selecting top-tier or overpowered characters.

In implementing this change, Riot games made a very interesting decision that they haven't made in the history of LoL esports. Riot decided to use a different ban system for competitive play than casual play. Casual play such as the solo queue ladder and normal draft mode will continue using the old 3 ban a side system while competitive play will shift to a 5 ban a side system. In my mind, this is one of the best balancing decisions by Riot in a while and a hopeful sign of future balance.

Simply put, the professional game and casual play are entirely different beasts, a fact consistently emphasized by professional players on their streams. Competitive play has 5 players with extensive training working as a unit against other well-trained and competent opponents. In casual games, the vast majority of players are below level 30, unranked, or not in Master/Challenger elo and don't have nearly the same amount of game understanding, skill, and dedication of professional players. In fact, there's usually even a wide difference in game to game performance level even for players who are at a similar elo ranking. Even in game modes like the old Ranked 5s ladder the lack of skill and cohesive practice means that casual players aren't playing the same game as professionals.

One great example of how different rules for different levels of play can lead to a more exciting product is the defensive 3-seconds rule, which is strictly enforced at the NBA level of play but is rarely if ever called in pick-up games. The defensive 3-second rule prevents players for standing in a close area underneath the basket for more than 3 seconds at a time. In the competitive world of the NBA, 7 foot players such as Marc Gasol would normally be able to stifle under-the-basket players simply by standing underneath the basket. This would lead to a less entertaining product because it would prevent exciting plays like dunks. In addition, it would force players to shoot from the outside instead of driving to the basket, reducing game diversity. On the other hand, the defensive 3-seconds rule is rarely relevant in pick-up games. The reduced skill and athleticism of players means that the aforementioned situations would almost never come into play. Changing the ban system for Riot is similar.

Adding in more bans leads to a more interesting professional product. Bans will not only lead to an increase in champion diversity but also allow for more strategies since teams can collectively decide to ban out counters to potentially off-meta strategies such as poke comps.

On the other hand, keeping the old 3 ban system for casual play is a shrewd decision by Riot because it fits the differences between competitive and casual play. Casual players don't have the time to learn a lot of different characters at a high level. Adding in more bans might push players with limited characters out of contention, especially when their favorites become more ban-worthy due to meta shifts. In addition, many casual players don't have the time or interest to play out a lengthy draft phase. This problem would be further exacerbated by dodges (especially if the additional bans push out players with limited champion pools.)

Overall, the different ban systems in pro and competitive play is a great decision by Riot. Hopefully, they will keep an eye out for other opportunities where differentiating pro and casual play will benefit both parties. Although it's important to maintain a cohesive product, Riot should make sure to make decisions while balancing the interest of both groups as well as entertainment and competitive integrity.

by Ryan Tang, on 2017-01-08, in #Article