Streaks and player experience in League

January 2, 2018

As a dedicated League of Legends player, I am often bothered by streaks every now and then. In winning streaks the game seems so easy to climb up and I get matched with the most supportive and skilled teammates that one can ever ask for from League. In losing streaks, it seems hopeless to win no matter how hard I try. It feels like the match result is already destined even before a match starts. My years of ethnographic research with fieldnotes, interviews with many League players at varied ranks, and continuous observations of players' online discussions confirmed that I'm not only in having these complicated feelings about streaks. It has become clear to me that even if streaks are really caused merely by system randomness and are fully explainable by mathematical equations, their role in shaping player experience of online games can hardly be dismissed. Players cannot be reduced to rational actors that always calculate cost and benefit in interacting with online games, managing their frustrations, and optimizing their play style. Oftentimes they draw from limited information (that might be erroneous or incomplete), develop plausible explanations of complex phenomenon, and carry out certain actions (which might appear irrational or superstitious) to cope with undesirable situations, just like what a person does in everyday life.

 

Streaks are very, very common in our daily life. A student might have a streaks of A+ in a series of courses, a scholar might have a streak of paper acceptances/rejections, a driver can have a row of safe driving days, and a World of Warcraft player might have a lucky day in getting tons of rare items. When it comes to online games, things tend to become trickier because there are so many running algorithms and analytics that are hidden from players but play a determining role in arranging the 'luck' of players.

 

As such, streaks are an exemplary topic characterizing player experience with League, and perhaps MOBA games: It unifies the complicated player experience that we haven't fully understood, the ranking system that evaluates players' individual performance based on team-based matches, and the matchmaking system that utilizes individual ranks to arrange team-based matches. Each of these features would take lots of efforts so that better understanding or improvement can happen. And as system complexity grows, unexpected or unintended effects become easier to happen, making systematic investigation even harder.

 

As the present stage, it is both valuable and important to document and explicate how players actually perceive and react to streaks, especially in the current academic and industry conferences where gamers' opinions and experiences are much less heard than researchers or practitioners. In our recently accepted CHI2018 paper entitled "Playing with Streakiness in Online Games: How Players Perceive and React to Winning and Losing Streaks in League of Legends," we try our best to give voice to League players, drawing upon our understanding of League, and content analysis of players' thoughts and practices revealed in their online discussions.
 

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