The game already features bot training and a spectator mode, but what other systems could Riot implement to acclimate new players? His answer surprised me: The problem isn't the learning curve, it's the community. "There's a couple things we don't mess around with, and one of them is [the] integrity of the game," George tells me, in response to a question about cheating in League of Legends. Integrity is about more than cheating, however, and one of the most important things that Riot monitors is how people behave in the game. "Here at the regional EU finals, we actually had to make a pretty touch decision, and we actually had to ban a player from one of the teams prior to the tournament."
As it turns out, the League of Legends tribunal – Riot's community peer review system – had recommended that the player in question be banned from the game. "And we went and we hand-reviewed his record and everything, and yeah, he's got some marks against him in the tribunal for bad behavior in games." It's not easy to tell a team that one of its teammates can't play in a tournament, he said, especially with real cash prizes on the line. The simple fact, however, was that the player wasn't upholding the standards that Riot has set for League of Legends.
That standard actually plays into Riot's plans for improving the game for new players. The biggest challenge, he says, has nothing to do with learning the rules. "When you get into a game, it's not that you can't learn the rules or they're impossibly difficult. It's that sometimes, occasionally, you'll have somebody in the game who's not very interested in helping you, and is actually interested in making sure you don't have a good experience, or isn't very understanding that you're a new player," George says.
"And I actually think that's a far better problem to solve in the immediate term." Learning the rules and becoming accustomed to League of Legends isn't difficult, he said. "Imagine you can do that with a group of helpful people, as opposed to people who are complaining about X, Y or Z."
George acknowledges that those people exist – League of Legends is an online game full of anonymous players, after all – but Riot is working to "actively try to fix" the problem. "We think it's a two-pronged approach. Remove the people who aren't interested in being a good community member, and also encourage people, or highlight people who already are."
It sounds like an amorphous goal, but Riot sees it as something tangible. The studio has a dedicated team known as Player Behavior and Justice ("lovingly called PB&J," George says). "Their mission is to get the bad players out of the game and encourage everybody else to be a better sportsman in the community." The team tracks a number of statistics, including the percentage of "toxic games" that a player is likely to encounter. George added that Riot is planning to start talking more about its community issues in the coming months, noting that the studio has actually hired some PhDs – a cognitive neuroscientist and a behavioral psychologist – to help with the initiative.
"I think that's the approach to take there," he says, reiterating that the key to helping new players doesn't lie in changing the systems in League of Legends, but rather in improving the community. Once that problem is solved, Riot can start thinking about how to optimize the ruleset. No matter how streamlined those rules become, he says, a "negative experience" will ruin the game every time.