Designing Experiences Beyond the Game

Verbs wrangled by Weszt Hart

Inside the extensive world of a League of Legends  UX designer

Five years ago I didn’t know someone could be a UX designer for a videogame. I’d read plenty about UX for web and mobile, but next to nothing about gaming, so I just assumed that any UX work there had to mean creating in-game overlays, menu screens, maybe some user testing, and probably lots of site design. Most of the design work had to go to game designers: people well-versed in creating characters, levels, or art and figuring out the killer game play mechanics — you know, all the cool stuff.

But five years ago, I was on the outside looking in.

As someone who’s been in the gaming industry since 2011, I see a different world: a world diverse, rich, and full of UX challenges, yet lacking in UX designers. I belief this lack may be due to a perception there isn’t much of a place for UX designers in gaming — a perception I’d like to help change.

With this mind, I’d like to look inside the ever-expanding world of League of Legends through the eyes of a UX designer. Playing the game is a small part of a much larger core experience.

A taste of what UX considers in the world of League of Legends

The Core Experience

  • To play League of Legends, you install the desktop app (most folks call it the client). The client launches the game, keeps the game patched, and helps players stay updated on League news and promos. Social features keep players connected to their friends and clubs. The store helps players purchase in-game content and collection tools let them manage those purchases.

  • When a player decides to play, they choose from a set of maps, modes, and queue types.

    • Rotating Game Mode regularly offers new ways to play.

    • Many players dive into ranked, with its champion-focused draft pick process.

    • Players can play with friends or alone and a matchmaking process assembles teams of similarly skilled players.

  • During a game, players keep informed through the HUD, which includes a map with current player locations, a scoreboard, and other information. An options menu allows them to customize HUD, volume, and other settings. Text chat and pings help teams coordinate.

  • At the end of a game, players can review post-game stats of both teams. If someone was unsportsmanlike during the match, players can report them; if someone was a great teammate, they can be honored or even sent gifts.

Across all these features, designers have to consider concepts foreign to many environments, such as mastery, sportsmanship, and teamwork, plus a healthy amount of arcane knowledge.

Many of features currently in our client weren’t originally part of it, but’ve been added and modified over time. Some were integrated pretty hastily, which led to a fair amount of tech and design debt we’re still paying off. Much like an operating system, the client’s a living, breathing space, where at any time various teams may be creating whole new features that ideally work together seamlessly.

It’s a complicated environment with many difficult problems still to solve, but it’s an environment where UX designers can have a direct influence.

Companion experiences

Outside of the client, there is a large ecosystem of sites and apps that offer a wide variety of content and services. Here are a just few examples:

  • Leagueoflegends.com

    • The primary website of League of Legends where the game is downloaded. Provides game info, news archives, and access to many (but not all) sites within the network.

  • Lolesports.com

    • Focused on the League Championship Series (LCS) and esports. Provides news, match summaries, player and team information, broadcasts of competitions from our own studios and live events, and access to many related websites.

  • LoL Friends App

    • The official League of Legends mobile app. Helps players stay connected with their League friends when they’re away from their computers.

  • Riot Games Merch

    • Online store for physical merch.

In addition to these, there are dozens of smaller sites for player support, server status, short-term events, college programs, viewing parties, and more.

Because of the sheer number and diverse needs of all these websites, creating, connecting, and maintaining them is a huge challenge, but one that should be familiar to most UX designers. The spectating experiences of esports (live, web, and TV) are probably not as familiar a space, but again one where we need UX designers to contribute.

What do you think?

The ecosystem of League of Legends has experienced explosive evolution and the problems are sometimes at an imposing scale. As League has grown, a surprising number of features, services, and systems were needed to expand and improve the overall experience; at this point, the game itself is just a small — though crucial — part of it.

Video games have always been on the cutting edge of technology. The expectations and challenges will only grow. From ecommerce to esports, broadband limitations to broadcast television, there are plenty of tasty problems for a UX designer to help solve alongside us.

We can learn a lot from gaming about creating immersive, engaging, social experiences on multiple platforms (desktop, mobile, consoles, etc). Game designers have been hanging out for decades in some spaces UX is only just now entering — and vice versa. There’s a lot to learn from each other.

Five years on the inside has shown me tremendous opportunities for UX designers to bring their wide-range of skills and design methods to the rich world of online video games. In another five years, there’ll likely be even more opportunities and even more complex challenges.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you take a close look at the game industry. We could really use you. There’s a lot of work to do.

Want to take a closer look at Riot? Visit our Careers page for opportunities to join Riot or learn about what kind of trouble you could get up to here. Chime in on the conversation at the “UX Design at Riot Games” blog today, where you can read more from Rioters working in the experience design space.