Competitive Balance Review: Does Blue-side have a map advantage in the current League of Legends map dynamic?

Figure 1 Fairness is a fundamental issue in sports and eSports.

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Figure 1

     Fairness is a fundamental issue in sports and eSports. If arbitrary or random features in a game, such as say, winning the coin toss in a football game, have a demonstrable effect on the outcome of a game, players and fans may become disenchanted with the sport.  Games are constantly evolving, adding in new rules, amending those which already exist; this creating the new Meta-strategies and competitive landscapes.  In League of Legends, content-patches are made to the game to balance out champions, map objectives (Dragon and Baron), and adding or amending items and jungle camps.  With every change, the Meta of the game shifts, allowing different champions or strategies to become competitively viable, or, fall by the wayside.  Overall, these frequent shifts in the League of Legends Meta-game are probably a good thing as it contributes to dynamic dialogue among gamers and fans, encourages bold new strategies, facilitates perceived competitive imbalances at any one time, and absolutely requires up-to-date research and practice regarding the game.  However, for all the benefits of these patches, the pro-LoL scene still has a huge issue, which has yet to be addressed: The shocking continued disparity between Red-side and Blue-side starting map positions.

     As shown in Figure 1 above, the win rate for Red-side vs. Blue-side is unequal, raising concerns over competitive balance. With Red at a 44% win rate over the lifespan of the professional game, Blue has taken quite an advantage.  While on its surface, 44-56% may not appear like that bad of a spread, the following example may help highlight the magnitude of such discrepancy.  In the time up to 2013, the NFL had a problem with their traditional overtime rules – turns out the team which won the coin toss had a ridiculous advantage, and had an incredibly high chance of winning (about 60%), due to “sudden-death” overtime rules, where the first team to score any points automatically won the game.  Essentially, the team on the losing-end of the coin toss had no chance of answering the score by forwarding a rebuttal on offense.  The public outcry over this advantage reflected such a constant drumming for competitive change that recently the NFL Competition Committee was pressured into thus changing the game’s overtime rules, citing said competitive balance as the reasoning.  Similarly, in the world of LoL, the 56% win rate for Blue is still staring the pro-community in the face, and ripe for a competitive adjustment, as occurred in the NFL.  So with all the constant patches to League over the years, why haven’t the win rates changed?  Why is there not more public outcry from the LoL professionals on this disparity?

     Some possible answers to this lack of momentum for competitive change to Red-side vs. Blue-side balance may lie in the sides themselves from a player and team statistics perspective.  First, let’s see if the sides have individual player disparity, or if one side’s players are statistically better then the other by looking at each side’s stats broken down by kills, deaths, assists, and creep kills.  Interestingly, the data below shows virtually every statistical category is equal, except for minor indication of some extra kills and assists for Blue.  However creep score slightly favors Red, and deaths are, for the most part, equal.         

Figure 2

     What this table suggests is that players are not necessarily playing any better given their starting point, and therefore we can likely rule out the possibility of player statistics being the main issue in assessing the competitive in-balance of the 44/56% split.  Next, let’s take a look at the impact of starting Red-side vs. Blue-side positions on the key Dragon and Baron map objective.  According to the info graphic at the top of the page, Blue team take more Dragons then Red, and also take more Barons.  According to data run by eSportsfanz, 44% of Dragon kills go to Red-side, compared to 56% for Blue-side.  Well isn’t that interesting…looks similar to our win rate.  For Baron, the spread is 48& Red, 52% Blue.  So, both objectives are taken primarily by Blue, which makes sense du to the overall win rate.   

     In conclusion, the Red-side vs. Blue-sdie data and player performance indicator suggest players by in large are not statistically swinging victories, given the individual player stats from Red-side and Blue-side offer little significance in the win rate.  However, Dragon and Baron do see significance in win rates for each side, and will be an important monitoring point moving forward as to calls for competitive re-balance of the team starting points on the map.

     There is a rising concern over competitive balance in professional League of Legends and for the betterment of the eSports community, it may be about time for the powers that be to really take a hard look at the percentages and decide if optimal competitive balance is truly achieved with the current Red-Blue map dynamic.  If Riot expects the professional game to continue to flourish, they need to decide whether or not it’s important to look at these balance issues in regard to map objectives.