Building Better Onboarding: Intro Bots

By Iniquitee
Hey everyone,

Welcome to another developer blog entry! Today we’re talking about something different: our approach to teaching new League of Legends players. If you’ve ever tried to teach friends or family how to play, you might know what a challenge (or pain in the ass) it can be, and many of you have given us great feedback about improvements you’d like to see. Today, we’ll dive into the principles we use to think about how to improve onboarding for new players, and give you a glimpse into an upcoming mode that aims to add a hand-hold onto the MOBA learning cliff.
Christopher ‘Pwyff’ Tom

Why onboarding?

League of Legends was built by and for core gamers, and the desire to learn and master the game coupled with the help of friends has gotten millions of players past its substantial learning curve. We’ve heard your feedback that sometimes that just isn’t enough: League is a game best played with your friends, and too many times we bring in friends from other games only to see them become frustrated and quit.

As a veteran player, it’s easy to forget all the things a brand-new player has to pick up. I’m sure we all remember some of the strange things we did when we first started playing – perhaps trying to smite champions or use abilities on turrets. We see new players of all sorts struggle with the same basics time and again, and even Beginner Co-Op vs AI matches often prove too much at once with too little direction for someone still learning how to move and cast.

We think we can do a much better job of exposing the intricacies that make up a game of League of Legends and letting new players more smoothly build up proficiency.

Our approach to onboarding

So how do we do that? We envisioned an onboarding experience that would be both learnable and fun, and created core principles to help get us there:

  1. Make learning fun
  2. Provide achievable and meaningful goals
  3. Offer well-paced information
  4. Reinforce through play
  5. Deliver appropriate challenge

I’ll use these principles to illustrate some of our current onboarding challenges and how we intend to address them, as well as provide examples from an upcoming mode specifically crafted for new players’ first few games - Intro Bots. Intro Bots is a new tier of Co-Op vs. AI, and features more than just new bot AI. The mode includes a number of systems that aim to let new players learn in a more guided and forgiving setting, so they can grow wings before jumping out of the nest.

Make learning fun

Making a game fun to learn, especially a game with as many things to learn as a MOBA, can be pretty challenging. The most obvious ways to teach someone can be very dry when you put them into a game. Onboarding new players is more than just teaching them to play: it’s showing them what makes the game engaging so they want to keep playing.

We start by defining what’s not fun - things like repeatedly having control taken away from you, being blasted with popups, or receiving a thorough beat-down in your first game with no understanding of how to improve. As it stands, Battle Training is undermined by jarring interruptions and nebulous goals, while Beginner bots often proves far too challenging for first-time Summoners.

We want Intro Bots to be a place where new players can experience the fun of League while they learn, so we’ve taken some liberties in order to reduce potential frustration. By tuning damage dealt and bot behavior we can give new players more time to react to new and dangerous situations, and by reducing death timers we can make mistakes less punishing while still allowing failure as a learning experience. The end result should be more learning through experimenting, and hopefully, more fun.

Provide achievable and meaningful goals

Once you know how to play League of Legends, your goals are invisible and often obvious. At any given moment you might know that the best thing to do is to farm, go back to base and upgrade an item, or rally around an objective with your team. Refining this goal-setting process is one of the key parts of getting better. But when you’ve just learned the basics, knowing what to do next can be difficult. In order to teach new players effectively, we have to provide appropriate goals that give specific direction and make improvements observable.

Battle Training features a great example of a poorly-tuned goal, with an early prompt that asks the player to destroy the outer tower right as the first wave of minions spawns. At that point, if players attempt to complete the quest they’ll walk face-first into the turret and die, and finishing the quest actually requires several minutes as well as waiting for additional waves of minions.

Instead of broad, imprecise goals, we want to provide incremental steps towards power and success, which led directly to the personal quests feature in Intro Bots. Personal quests seek to provide useful, immediately relevant goals that can help new players get a feel for the rhythm of a typical League game, which includes unintuitive things like leaving the battle to go back to base. Since these quests are contextually triggered based on what a player is doing (or not doing), they're always relevant to his or her situation.

Offer well-paced information

Dumping too much information on a new player can turn out very poorly. With all the things to learn in your first game of League, the risk of cognitive overload – trying to learn too many things at once and instead failing to learn anything at all – is very real. This requires us to think about teaching as an exercise in prioritization: first you move, then you attack. Next, you cast some spells, and finally you’re ready to hit the lane and engage with some minions or a champion.

By being careful with information pacing, we can introduce concepts over time as players progressively absorb them. As an added bonus, well-paced information allows training to grow with players: if you already play MOBAs, you can fly through Intro Bots more quickly than a true novice.

Some of the things we specifically chose not to include in Intro Bots tie into our goal of giving players a manageable learning curve. Our new recommended items page for new players removes trinkets and support items, because as important as they are to long-term success in League of Legends, vision and map control shouldn’t be priority focuses for a novice. Last hitting was a tough call, yet it’s still something we believe should be taught after players master even more basic skills. Trying to teach a brand new player all the skills of a level 30 Summoner risks overload and neglects foundational learnings, so in this mode we’re focusing on the basics while we explore alternatives venues for teaching the advanced stuff.

Reinforce through doing

Doing something a single time doesn’t mean it will stick, so we want to make sure players repeat actions until they have them down. For example, the current tutorial asks players to right-click to attack once, and to cast a single spell. Mapping a control scheme to muscle memory doesn’t always happen that quickly, and we often see new players fail to use the mouse and hotkeys correctly in their first few games.

With Intro Bots we’ve picked several lessons we think are critical for new players, and give them many chances to practice. Personal quests will remind players to buy items, level up your abilities, and recall to base at appropriate times until they take such actions without prompting. For players struggling with controls, we’ve added cursor icons that indicate which mouse button is required for your current action. When new players move on from Intro Bots, they should have the strong foundation needed to continue learning and play any mode in League without feeling lost.

Deliver appropriate challenge

From veteran MOBA players to those completely new to PC games, new League players span a vast range of experience. Creating an introductory experience that’s neither boring nor frustrating for all those players was thus a key goal for Intro Bots.

Previously, we’ve erred on the side of a steep challenge. In fact, a non-trivial number of our new players end up losing Battle Training, which is intended to be a tutorial. We’ve observed some of those same players go on to become Gold-tier ranked players, so this isn’t a problem with the players – it’s a problem with how we teach them.

With Intro Bots, we’re aiming for a more approachable difficulty that gives all new players a manageable first experience. At the same time, we’ve designed many features to be dynamic based on a player’s performance so the mode isn’t a pushover - players quickly performing appropriate actions and behaving like an advanced player will see fewer helpful features and lightly amped-up difficulty. Novice players should be able to enjoy several games of Intro Bots and steadily learn the basics, while more advanced ones will quickly grasp the essentials and move on to greater challenges in other modes.

A big first step

Hopefully this was a good insight into our approach to a challenge the average player may not always think about but widely affects the player base. We know Intro Bots aren’t an answer to every problem that exists in the new player experience, and we have a lot of great ideas and community suggestions for addressing how to teach things like out-of-game systems or advanced in-game techniques. These are beyond the scope of Intro Bots, but we’re continuing to look at ways to further enhance the new player experience.

Intro Bots is headed to the PBE soon and is due for a Live launch shortly thereafter, so let us know what you think of the full feature set. Thanks for tuning in!

Kacee “Iniquitee” Granke

1 month ago

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