LoL vs. CS:GO: Comparing two of the most popular e-sports in 2015

When I was in college, I was a fan of League of Legends (LoL), an online five-on-five MOBA. I was introduced to the game sophomore year, and after a brief ramp-up period, I started getting some games in every couple of weekends. I gradually became better at the game, understanding the nuances of each playable character and improving my game mechanics. I eventually reached a rank of Diamond V. I won’t go into the details of the League ranking system, so if you’re interested, feel free to follow the link and read up on it.

I decided a while back to “quit” LoL1. The game was, for various reasons, becoming increasingly frustrating for me. Compound that with the fact that I just didn’t have as much free time, and investing time in League games became an overall net loss. After a prolonged period of complete inactivity from all competitive multiplayer games, I decided to take up Counter-Strike (CS:GO). Although I devote considerably less time to video games now than I did in school, I can easily say that CS:GO is, in nearly every aspect, more enjoyable to me.

For the remainder of this post, I’ll discuss why I now enjoy playing CS:GO more than LoL.

Gameplay
Needless to day, first-person shooters could not be any more different from MOBAs. At its core, CS:GO is a fast-paced twitch shooter with strategic elements, while LoL is a slower, “grinding” style of game. I’ll assume that you’re familiar with LoL but unfamiliar with CS:GO, so I’ve provided a video which gives a brief introduction below. It’s a bit outdated, but nonetheless good for getting a good understanding of the game.

Though I must admit that I greatly enjoyed LoL, CS:GO remains appreciably more fun and less irritating for the following reasons:
1) Although CS:GO is undoubtedly a team game, I can single-handedly carry my team to victory in CS:GO if my aim and reaction time is on point (assuming my teammates aren’t complete shit). This is rarely possible in LoL, unless I am smurfing2 and playing a carry position (usually mid lane). I’ve actually lost numerous smurf games in League playing as top, even though it’s by far my best role.
2) Winning a CS:GO match with one or two disconnected players is difficult, but definitely possible. I’ve won some 4v5s and even a 3v5 in CS:GO, but have never won a 4v5 in League. To put this into perspective, I’ve played over 5x the number of League games than CS:GO games.
3) CS:GO is remarkably simple, yet its skill ceiling remains just as high as that of LoL. CS:GO weapons and maps are rarely ever changed, and when they are, the metagame shifts come about very quickly. LoL seems to change every two weeks, with either a new patch, champion rework, or jungle change.
4) Roles are less skewed in CS:GO; I can be the MVP of a round regardless of whether I’m entry fragging or lurking. League is, for reasons elaborated on by Thorin, a highly mid-centric game.

The combination of these four points makes CS:GO a more complete and enjoyable game for me. I’ve had my fair share of both great and terrible CS:GO matches, but I can easily say that the games where I’ve done well have given me more than enough enjoyment to compensate for several terrible games. On the other hand, my main position in League, top lane, is now increasingly difficult to hard carry with – many top laners must essentially now rely on team-based play to win. The irony here is that ranked League play is often referred to as solo queue, despite the fact that the result of solo queue games are, to a large extent, reliant on the ability of your team to not suck.

Strategy
A layman may make the following statement: “LoL is a considerably more analytical and strategic game, and has a higher cerebral skill cap than CS:GO.” This could not be further from the truth, and let me explain why.

Unlike in console shooters like Call of Duty or Halo, grenades in CS:GO can be used with amazing strategic effect. Smoke grenades can be used to block vision, molotov and incendiary grenades can be used to force opponents out of camping spots, and well-timed flashbangs can result in double or triple kills.

Each competitive map in CS:GO has its own set of grenade locations. Reading an opposing team and knowing when+where to use each type of grenade is critical to success. Employing a set of grenades to block vision or slow your opponent is often referred to as an execute on the Terrorist side, and a hold on the Counter-Terrorist side. On the contrary, it is also possible to “fake” an execute or hold by throwing the grenades into a certain location on the map but moving to another area instead. This enables mind games to run abound in CS:GO, regardless of which side your team is playing on. Complex rotations around the map and deliberate movements can be compounded on top of each other, depending on the reads and information players receive in each round. This makes it possible to do double and triple fakes, each of which can be read by the enemy team and reacted to swiftly. Learning how to adapt and read the enemy team with only tiny bits of information remains one of the most “cerebral” tasks I’ve ever had to attempt in a multiplayer game.

Furthermore, at the highest level of CS:GO, players must know what to do in nearly all situations, regardless of their role within the team. An “entry” player, who runs out and aggressively takes fights with players on the enemy team, will often end up in the same situation as a more “supportive” player. No two rounds are ever played out in exactly the same way, and players may be forced into positions with which they are not often put in during scrimmages and regular play. Although LoL is similar in that no two games ever turn out the same, matchups of two widely-played champions in the same lane can become stale.

Community
Again, having experienced both games, I can confidently say that the LoL community boasts an increased level of maturity. A noticeable fraction of CS:GO games I play contain players who troll, make racist/sexist comments, or are just plain annoying. League players in above average ranks will simply ignore trolls, and take losses much better. The immaturity of the CS:GO community remains one of the biggest pain points of my CS:GO experience.

Despite this, I will admit to enjoying a little bit of trash talk. If I completely outplay an opponent, I will often immediately type a BM3 message in all chat. In CS:GO, the player I targeted these comments toward will often immediately retaliate, or wait to outplay me in a gunfight before firing back. In my experience, these exchanges rarely ever turn into truly nasty comments, and make for some competitive banter during the game.

Nowadays, if I fire up a game of League and initiate a little smack talk during the game, I get absolutely no response from the enemy team. A sarcastic “nice gank – you got your laner killed” or “is this the first time you’re playing this game” will not even elicit a sly “lmao” or text emoji, just complete silence in chat. It’s almost as if League players are intent on sticking the trash talk deep up their asses before ejecting it by reporting me at the end of the game, even though I said absolutely nothing malicious. I’ve now been reported in League a countless number of times, but have never gotten suspended or banned. Keep wasting energy reporting me post-game, folks.

Professional scene
This is the one area that LoL wins big in for me. The professional scene is rife with money and weekly professional matches with strong production crews. CS:GO, on the other hand, has basically only one respectable set of bi-yearly tournaments: ESL One. The amount of prize money in ESL One is absolutely pathetic, so the rest of it basically doesn’t matter.

There’s really nothing else to say here. If the executives were smarter, they’d diversify their competitive e-sports portfolio and move some prize money from Dota 2 to CS:GO. Unfortunately, they’re not, so we’ll just stop right here and move on.

Closing thoughts
I want to close with some thoughts about Valve, the maker of CS:GO, and Riot Games, the maker of LoL.

Valve has received incredible quantities of shit from the CS:GO community for treating its players (both casual and professional) poorly, and for throwing tens of millions of dollars towards Dota 2 while CS:GO remains relatively neglected. LoL, on the other hand, has become somewhat of a player’s bastion. Mark Merill, co-founder of Riot Games, is supposedly holds professional players in high regard, and occasionally responds directly to issues posed by the greater League community. He’s even gone far enough to defend Faker, who is widely considered to be the best LoL player in the world. Yet I haven’t heard a peep from him regarding the situation of MYM, a former pro-gaming team in the Riot-owned League Championship Series, who failed to pay its players and coach for months after the end of the season. If you’re going to be “on the player’s side” in all aspects, then fucking do it; don’t practice hypocrisy. Although Valve isn’t known for its stupendous player rights (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), it at least doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

Stop calling League of Legends a “game changer” for e-sports (no pun intended). It, as with any other game, has its flaws, which League fangirls and fanboys essentially refuse to acknowledge. Riot Games remains another money-sucking company in the e-sports industry; it just does so without maintaining the negative outwardly presence of “big corporations” such as Valve and EA. This does not mean that CS:GO is a better game than LoL, or vice versa. All of the information I’ve provided in the previous sections simply reflects my opinion regarding these two very different games. I encourage you to try both and form your own, but in doing so, please reflect on the points I have made above. If you disagree, I’d love to hear back.

1This isn’t exactly true. I still do occasionally play games of League, but only to remain connected with friends who I no longer see in person.
2Smurfing refers to the act of deliberately playing at a considerably lower rank (and thus, with players who are less skilled than you are).
3BM, short for bad-mannered, is a shortened phrase for “targeted angry comments” in a multiplayer comms. It’s a generic term used by gamers to describe players who I’ll use this phrase to denote lighthearted trash talk.

A short discourse on video games

Introduction

As a male in my early 20s who still enjoys indulging in video games, I will try my best to present this topic from an unbiased standpoint. I have seen and played a reasonable number of video games since the PS1 days, and my beliefs on this topic reflect my current standpoint. I seek to be mostly informative in writing this article, which presents a number of trends and observations which I have noticed over the years, and I provided my overall stance on the mental and physical health impacts.

Disclaimer: there is no real organization to this article. Rather, I’ll simply be providing some free-form commentary on the current status of video games.

Video game violence

I’ll start off by talking about what is perhaps the most controversial aspect of modern video games – violence. Video game violence is unfortunately not uncommon; most popular online multiplayer video games today involve the destruction of an opposing team’s buildings or players. The competitive nature of these games has also led to various immature in-game actions, such as “tea-bagging” and “gorilla jumping” 1. In the realm of single-player or campaign games, the popular “first-person shooter” (FPS) genre essentially revolves around a player character carrying a weapon, moving around a map, and shooting enemies. Even if you’ve never touched a single video game in your entire life, you’ve probably heard of either Halo, Call of Duty, or Counter Strike; they are all popular first-person shooters. Many trendy role-playing games also contain particularly violent or bloody scenes, some of which are directly scripted into the game. The list of violent RPGs is endless, and while I would’ve liked to see more passive, story-driven video games, the unfortunate truth is that violent video games are highly marketable.

Ultimately, it’s up to parents to ensure that their children are not exposed to such violence until an appropriate age. Parental control has been in effect for movies and TV shows for a long time, and the Entertainment Software Rating Board seeks to mimic such content-based ratings for video games. Since the motion picture rating system seems to be working well for movies, one would imagine that ESRB-based ratings work reasonably well. Yet, opponents of video games still seem intent on portraying video games as instilling “dangerous” and “unhealthy” thoughts, all while conveniently forgetting the recurring violence in movies and TV shows. I personally know a teenager whose parents forbid him from playing Counter-Strike, which contains no gore or foul language, but allow him to watch Game of Thrones, which contains copious amounts of female nudity, sexual violence, and graphic content. Such is the hypocrisy of activists such as Jack Thompson, who seek to discredit and blame the video game industry while overtly ignoring the analogous effect of consumable media.

I am not saying that video games aren’t a part of the problem; rather, I’m simply saying that they should not be considered the only problem. Parents know their kids best, and it should be up to them to control their kid’s consumption of various forms of pop culture. And while video games and movies/shows are indeed two different beasts, those who blindly condemn video game violence without looking at the bigger picture are fooling not only fooling themselves, but also those that they influence.

Gender representation

Most video games also indirectly strengthen stereotypical perceptions of male and female beauty. Male characters are often tenacious, physically large or strong, and maybe have a battle scar or two. By a similar token, most female characters are slim, somewhat large-breasted, and, depending on the genre, highly nimble and athletic. Unlike male characters, female characters were often relegated to the role of a sidekick or aid to the male protagonist. They are also almost always human or human-looking (hello, Mass Effect).

These observation are likely a result of the fact that the video game base is predominantly male. Fortunately, as more and more female gamers have appeared in clans, communities, and forums, the character gender balance in video games has also been slowly improving. Next-gen video games now incorporate female playable characters, and non-human female characters are now more prevalent. Although this is likely a subliminal response to the increased diversity of the video game base, it may also be purely for the sake of parity (though the former is more likely than the latter).

As an example, I’ll examine League of Legends (LoL), a popular online multiplayer video game which involves picking and playing as a certain character, or “champion”, if I were using LoL-speak. Although this game is only one of many games in its genre (and the genre itself is one of many in the broad set of video games), you’ll often see this general ideology repeated between well-known video games. On the left hand side, I show a randomly sampled set of eight male LoL characters along with their respective primary and secondary roles. On the right hand side, I show eight female characters sampled under the same conditions.

Yes, this is a generalization, but I think the associated conclusions are nonetheless quite damning.

Online multiplayer games

Most video games combine elements of strategy and reflex. Early turn-based games, for example, relied on the player making appropriate decisions and moves in order to progress. The reflex part —–, and can be attributed to a huge rise in the computational power of state-of-the-art computers and networking systems. These advances have led to which has allowed for millisecond response times through the internet. Matchmade multiplayer games – games where a player is randomly assigned to a lobby of other players – are now commonplace, and many of the predominantly single-player game franchises now have an online multiplayer component.

The huge rise in these types of games (League of Legends is one of them) has prompted somewhat of an evolution in the gaming world. Tournaments with cash prizes are now held around the world for a variety of different multiplayer games. The sudden rise of e-sports has prompted a change in the methods of consumption for such media as well. Video game streaming platform Twitch.tv, which is dedicated to livestreaming various entertainers playing video games, was ranked 4th in peak internet traffic in a February 2014 study, behind Netflix, Google, and Apple. Valve, an online video game management and community platform, was ranked 7th, just barely behind Facebook. These figures have been growing at a rapid rate over the past year.

The increasing popularity of e-sports has proved to be worrisome for many parents, who fear that the increase in such online video games will lead their kids to lead more sedentary lifestyles. This is especially true now that players can connect with friends through such platforms. As such, many parents limit the amount of time with which their children can play these games, citing their mentally addictive properties and potential health issues. Others say that video games promote dangerous fantasies (cue all the Grand Theft Auto haters). My parents limited my video game time every week when I was in elementary and middle school, primarily so I could learn self-control and time management when I grew older. Regardless of what you believe, there is an undeniable truth – the video game industry has blown up with the advent of the modern transistor, and will continue to grow as its audience expands beyond the stereotypical group of “nerdy and young adult males”.

The bottom line

At this point, you probably believe that I have somewhat of an aversion to video games. After all, they can be violent, enforce gender stereotypes, and don’t seem to immediately contribute to one’s career. This belief could not be further from the truth. Let me explain why.

I am a firm believer in moderation. With the exception of truly toxic/dangerous elements and objects (such as lead, arsenic, and Big Macs), consumption of everything should be in moderation up to a reasonable amount. This amount can often be determined through common sense and/or experience, and the consumption of video games are no exception. Like sugary drinks and mobile phones, video games have received heavy criticism due to their “overconsumption” by adolescent and young adult gamers. I believe that, while there are indeed lots of issues surrounding video games, they can also be excellent tools for relieving stress, staying mentally sharp, and connecting with friends, provided that they are played in moderation. In this sense, video games will not dominate one’s day, and it henceforth becomes easy to separate fantasy (video game world) from reality (real world), i.e. the division which exists between them no longer becomes thin and worn out.

My general rule of thumb is as follows: if you spend t hours per week engaged in physical activity, you should not exceed t hours of video games in that same week. Although I don’t strictly adhere to this rule, I believe that this holds true for myself when averaged out over several weeks. This policy has worked quite well for me, and has allowed me to focus on my daily work and errands while still staying physically fit and happy.

As a final word, I encourage you to read future articles about the negative effects of video games with a grain of salt. An open-minded reader will understand that most of them are written by middle age men and women who likely do not fully understand the nuances of video games. Terrible journalism such as this article is what makes me truly lose faith in news stations and online newspapers. Not only is the title misleading, but the conclusions of the study itself violate the very foundations of causation-correlation. I’m not saying that the conclusion is false – it’s just incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to wholly understand the effect of video games on adolescents. Having played violent video games myself, I’d like to think that I turned out just fine.

1 The tea-bag and its variants have become so prevalent in the multiplayer games that a collision bug in popular online multiplayer game PlanetSide 2 was accidentally deemed as a purposeful way to remove the obscene gesture from the game. I might get to this in another article down the road, if there’s enough interest.