Welcome to Ask Riot!
Let’s talk about working as a game designer, getting better at League, and future champion mastery ranks.
Why do I suck at League?
Games like LoL test a wide range of different skills. If you feel you’re not doing as well as you should, it probably means you’re doing ok at some of them but being held back by your performance at the others. List of things I’d suggest thinking about below. Some skills are much more important to improve at than others of course and it’s possible to offset weakness in one area with strength in another.
- Your ability to make optimal decisions based off your understanding of how the game rules work (e.g. which items are the best choices if you want an early game build on a fighter top lane, or which champion best serves the needs of a team comp)
- Your understanding of where to put yourself relative to your enemies, allies, objectives etc. and ability to do so quickly and constantly while doing other stuff (e.g. where to stand as a support to stress the enemy bot lane, or how to flank in a team fight as an assassin)
Breadth of Roster:
- Whether you can play a wide enough range of champs to pick whatever your team needs (e.g. are you a nothing but tanks top lane player or can you go Rumble or Fiora when that would be advantageous)
- How well you can get your champion to quickly do exactly what you want (e.g. executing that Riven animation cancelling just right, lining up the Blitz hook perfectly through the minion gap etc.)
- Your ability to track both what’s happening in game direct and on the minimap effectively at the same time (e.g. recognizing when you really should be running back to your tower rather than trying for one more minion wave before backing – I fail particularly hard at this one)
- Being able to communicate and coordinate quickly and effectively with your team (e.g. executing a 1-3-1 lane push that doesn’t just become ‘they 5v3’d us and we lost an inhib’).
- Tilt resistance basically. How well you can recover from setbacks mentally to keep your future performance high (e.g. keeping a deliberate, controlled approach to trading in mid lane after getting first blooded by Shaco, rather than becoming super aggressive or super passive).
Strategic Decision Making:
- Recognizing what strategies each team should be trying to execute during different points in the game and playing around that (e.g. knowing when to try and stall it out and wait for your late game scaling, rather than constantly 5v5ing mid for no good reason).
Reading Your Opponents:
- Predicting what the enemy is going to do, or wants to do, and taking advantage of them when they do so (e.g. waiting in river brush to ambush that mid laner you know’s going to come over to do Raptors)
- Your ability to take in a lot of stuff happening at once and figure out what’s relevant to you (e.g. spotting the critical spells to dodge in a busy teamfight that looks like a fireworks factory exploding).
Or, if you want a much shorter version that’s a great starting point for most of us:
- CS better
- Place more Control Wards
Are you making champion mastery ranks past 7?
When we look at progression systems in a lot of other games, they often just feel like a grind — we don’t want Champion Mastery to feel like that. We’re trying to find a spot between a performance feedback system and progression system, which is why grades play a larger role in the later ranks. We do see value in adding additional levels, but we are focusing on improvements to the overall grading system first.
The next steps for the system are probably coming in a few areas:
1. Better grade calculations and transparency
Have you ever finished a game, looked at your grade and said, “I carried, I don’t understand why I got an A-. RITO PLS”? We want to reduce this feeling by creating more transparency into how the system is generating your grade (without making it gameable). We also want to make the way we’re calculating grades take into account the nuance of real player decisions more accurately. For example, trading some farm to focus on ganks might be the right choice to win a game, even if it means your individual stats take a hit. Ideally, your grade should reward you for doing the things that help your team to win the game, not just the things that boost your statline.
2. Further progression, with exciting new challenges
We feel the performance gating on Mastery 6 and 7 makes achieving those tiers feel meaningful. Unlocking those later levels through Hextech Crafting, though, isn’t as great and is definitely something we want to improve. We also want to give more levels so you can prove your mastery even further, but we want to make the grading system more comprehensive before we add more levels that rely on it.
3. Providing feedback to help players learn
Learning League is hard, especially without someone to help guide you to victory. We think there is an opportunity for champion mastery to give feedback that you can act on to improve your game. As our grading system improves, we’ll be able to give you more feedback on why you got your grade, and the kinds of things you could be doing to improve your skill further.
How can I be a game designer at Riot?
The pedantic answer is that you have to pass a job interview, so I’ll skip right to the kinds of things that will help you pass an interview.
The interview steps are:
- Someone (probably a recruiter) has to notice your application
- We send you a written design test
- You do a phone screen with 1-2 designers
- If that goes well, we’ll fly you to the LA office for a day-long interview with 6-10 Rioters (broken up over one-hour interviews)
- If you pass that interview, we’ll make you an offer. Sometimes you don’t quite pass the interview, but we ask you to keep in touch, and we often end up hiring these folks when the right position comes along.
Getting past that first step can be challenging. We can get over 100 applications a week for game design spots at Riot, and like many companies, there really isn’t a feasible way to give every application several hours of scrutiny. Therefore, it really helps you to stand out. You do not want to stand out because you use a weird font or color on your cover letter and resume. You want to stand out because of the content of your cover letter and resume.
If you don’t have professional game experience, then your resume will probably be on the slight side. And that’s fine. However, it is appropriate to take credit for any game-related accomplishments that you do have. If you are a raid leader or streamer or wrote a strategy guide or made a Starcraft mod or have been a Dungeon Master for 10 years, you should include that!
If your resume is on the lighter side, then you’ll have to lean more on your cover letter. So let’s talk some about what you can put in that cover letter:
First, you have to love games. I’ll assume that’s a given here. We get a lot of applications that argue we should hire them because they love games. That’s important of course, but not nearly enough.
The three things you will do as a designer at Riot the most often are: analysis, problem-solving and creating things. So the advice I often give is to demonstrate that you have experience in those areas. It doesn’t have to be professional experience, and for many of our designers, that was not the case. We are one of those studios that will hire a promising candidate right out of college/university. We do it all the time.
Problem-solving and analysis are hard to demonstrate in a cover letter, though you’ll have a better chance if you make it to the design test phase. You could mention if you have done a lot of theorycrafting for a game and even provide the link. This kind of thing may need more explanation in a cover letter than you’ll be able to get through or present in a resume.
In terms of creating something, we’re much more interested in someone who has taken an idea through the entire start-to-finish process than someone who can just brainstorm a bunch of cool ideas. Idea generation is honestly the easy part of this job. It’s the iteration, prioritization, hard calls, feedback, compromises, and playtesting that really make up the day job of a game designer. Demonstrating that you can make — and finish — something is super valuable.
So what can you make? If you have technical competency (or friends who do), then building a game on your own using a package such as Unity is outstanding. Bonus points if you put your game up for sale on a mobile app store or Steam. If that scale seems impossible for you to consider, then make a mod or a map for a game. Bonus points if other players play and enjoy your content. If that scale is still too large, then make a board game or a card game. My colleague Stone Librande always says that if you don’t enjoy making a card game then you probably won’t enjoy making Halo either.
Worst case, you could submit a purely theoretical design, like coming up with a new class for XCOM or a new champion for League, but assuming you haven’t actually tested those concepts out, then you won’t have experienced the full gamut of creating something. Depending on the scope of what you’ve made, you can either describe it in the cover letter (and offer to send if we’re interested) or you could just include it with your application. I sent some D&D campaigns that I designed with my first application to Ensemble Studios.
Finally, I talk to folks who desperately want to break into game design all the time, and I know it can be really frustrating or just feel impossible. I know that feeling is tough. I know it sucks. Believe me, I remember very well when I was on the other side and wanted to be a designer more than anything. The good news is that the gaming industry continues to grow, so there are more opportunities than ever to get your foot in the door. Your first job may not be at Riot (or Blizzard or Infinity Ward or Bungie), but maybe you can leverage a first game job at a smaller or indie studio to eventually get to your dream studio.
Best of luck! Let me know when you land it.
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