League of Legends: How Riot Can Solve the Problem of Smurfing

League of Legends. Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Courtesy of Riot Games. /
League of Legends. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo courtesy of Riot Games. /

Riot recently discussed their philosophy regarding smurf accounts and why the ladder is intentionally difficult to climb. But a simple change could improve the League of Legends ranked ladder for everyone.

On Monday, Riot Games official support account sent out a tweet regarding the League of Legends ranked experience that has caused a fair bit of discussion regarding the climb. The crux of the issue is a high elo player, Damir, talking about how he is 36-0 on an account with Diamond 2 MMR, yet the account just reached Platinum IV. Riot responded to the tweet with the following:

"The climb takes a lot longer now. This is intentional. We really don’t want players creating alt accounts just to blow through the climb. We encourage players to stay on their mains. Smurfing ruins the game experience for others."

This post has prompted a lot of people to ask some very pointed questions about the ranked ladder, whether smurfing is as big a problem as Riot appears to believe, and whether the ladder should be as much of a grind as it currently is. Now, I agree with the overall sentiment from Riot that smurfing ruins the ranked experience, but I also acknowledge that a lot of players have good reasons for having smurf accounts other than just wanting to boost their ego by stomping worse players.

Many high elo players want to have an account in a lower MMR so they can get into queues more quickly or be able to dodge games without having to wait on the time penalty. Some players genuinely want to challenge themselves by getting multiple accounts into Challenger. And many others simply want to have an unknown account where they can practice new things without damaging their main account’s MMR.

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Riot’s solution to the issue of smurfing has been to make the process of leveling and ranking up new accounts more difficult and time-consuming, trying to incentivize players to stay on their mains. However, this incentive has not removed or improved any of the reasons a high elo player would want to play on a smurf so, unsurprisingly, many have continued to do so. The result is therefore that the ranked experience is overall worse for everyone.

Smurfs continue to smurf and get frustrated at the number of games they have to play. This in turn makes the lower rungs of the ladder less competitive and fun, because smurfs will be in more games as they slowly rank up. And finally, players who are actually improving and climbing do so at a slower rate, thus becoming more frustrated at the climb as well.

As someone with a full-time job and very little time, I can tell you that it is hard to play and grind out games. I only just finished my placements and still have a ways to go to get back to my rank from last season, let alone continue to improve. Thus, I want to propose an option for Riot, slightly borrowed from TFT, that could greatly improve the ranked ladder: scaling LP gains based on performance in-game.

In a given game of TFT, your LP gains and losses will be determined by two factors: your MMR compared to the rest of the players in the lobby and where you finish. Right now, the same formula applies to games on Summoner’s Rift, but the “finish” aspect is a straight-up win or loss calculus.

League of Legends players know that not all wins and losses are created equal. Some games you feed your butt off in lane, some games the other team makes a miracle comeback and win. Perhaps Riot should modify the formula for LP gains and losses to account for that.

Add another factor based on performance (perhaps using some of the statistical indicators I use to determine if I carried or fed in that game) that will award more or take away less LP to players who perform better and takes away more or award less to players who perform worse. Essentially, players who carry their team to a win and those who ride that player’s coattails will not be awarded similar LP, even if their MMR is similar.

Now, an obvious problem with this is that it can lead to stat-whoring with players on the losing team playing to protect their KDA or other stats. However, Riot could use multiple data points beyond the obvious KDA or CS/minute to determine performance, including things like objective and vision scores.

The benefit of this system, however, would be that smurfs would be able to climb through the lower part of the ladder much quicker. Because they would be one of the better-performing players with a lot of consistency, they would get massive LP gains. This could also factor into their MMR, getting it to climb much more consistently.

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There are, of course, other ways Riot could attack the ranked/smurfing problem, including removing the LP and going with straight MMR, more tightly tying your rank to your MMR (so a Diamond player isn’t going against Plat players because of their MMR), or just allowing high elo players to have a second account without going through the ranking process. In the end, though, Riot’s current approach to curbing smurfing isn’t going to discourage more players from playing on smurf accounts. It’s just going to trap them in lower elos to ruin more games for longer.