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.

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 It’s a bit outdated, but nonetheless good for getting a good understanding of the game.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.

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.

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.