Tag Team Tech August 2016

Library of Legends: Implementing Multiplayer Online Gaming for Teens

Janet Scurio

Introduction

Do you know a gamer? Maybe you already know several. They might already come to your library for gaming, and with regular gaming programming, photo 1they might come back for more! The community behind mass multiplayer online role-playing games (or MMORPGs) is global and ever-growing. The game League of Legends boasts having the “world’s largest online gaming community,” with over 27 million people playing the game daily, and 67 million monthly (forbes.com). Some other popular MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft post about 12 million users, with a $15 monthly  subscription. Other MMORPGs and strategy games show potential for in-library play, too (DotA 2, WoW, Diablo 3, Starcraft II) but will cost money to sign up and play. DoTA (Defense of the Ancients) 2, a game similar in style to League of Legends, is available through Steam and is also free to play, but requires a Steam account, which kids and teens may or may not have. The rise of eSports is important to examine as well; The League of Legends World Championship boasts a viewer rating of 360 million hours viewed in 2015, compared to 2014’s 194 million (lolesports.com).

Why LoL

Beyond its immense popularity, it’s also free to play (alongside optional in-game purchases). Accounts are easy to create, and it’s available for Mac or Windows, giving it cross compatibility with systems already in place in a library’s existing information technology infrastructure. Many library IT departments may also enthusiastically back tournaments. Jessica Schneider, teen librarian at East Brunswick (NJ) Public Library, says that having a supportive IT department alongside with giving teens some control over the tournament’s dynamics results in a democratic, smooth rollout of tournament play. “These teens are also my main connection to the League gaming community at our high school and they get the word out and get people to sign up for the tournament,” says Schneider. “Without them, I doubt I would have the turnout that I usually do.”

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Photo credit: Riot Games/Swansea (MA) Public Library

With constant updates, downloadable content, new maps, and game modes, the long-term replay value is virtually endless. The game is supported by its built-in microeconomy, where players can buy, sell, and trade items for actual money. Game play is also adjustable for various skill levels; it’s possible for new or inexperienced players to play against an artificial intelligence, or to play against online opponents. LoL has a matchmaking algorithm that can pair competitors to those who sport similar stats and skills, ensuring there is a fair, equitable gaming experience.

The player base has been notorious for being rude to new or unskilled players, however, Riot Games is putting research into action in order to curb foul language and unsportsmanlike behavior in the game. This year, Riot Games tested whether the psychological concept of “priming” could curb bad behavior–players would be shown a tip such as “teammates perform worse if you harass them about a mistake,” or “players who cooperate with their teammates win 31 percent more games.” As a result, players’ behaviors improved with negative attitudes reduced by 8.3 percent, verbal abuse by 6.2 percent, and offensive language by 11 percent, compared with controls (nature.com). The “Summoner’s Code” provides guidelines for sportsmanlike behavior, and the Tribunal, birthed from the aforementioned research, allows volunteers to review a player’s chat logs and then vote on whether the offender deserves punishment.

The game is meant to be–and aims to be socially inclusive. The game encourages long-lasting friendships and working in teams. The library can offer an inclusive space that allows teens to develop leadership and organizational skills, as well as camaraderie and good sportsmanship. Several colleges also have been forming eSports teams to compete in leagues, which can result in scholarships; Robert Morris College in Chicago became the first college in the U.S. to make competitive gaming a varsity sport, initially awarding up to $30,000 in scholarship money (time.com).

Barriers

Some of the common issues might surface while planning any computer-based programming: hardware obsolescence, lack of hardware, and perhaps a lack of a high-speed Internet connection. Luckily LoL’s system requirements are relatively light–the minimum specs for a Windows computer ask for 1GB of RAM and a 2 GHz processor, a minimum, ubiquitous standard among most computers. The software is free and easy to download; perhaps the most time-consuming and labor-intensive step in planning is becoming familiar with the game if you aren’t already a gamer. Librarian Jessica Schneider saw value in hosting a LoL Tournament at her library after watching teens play the game on public computers. Having little
to no experience with gaming, she partnered with a gamer staff member who showed her how to play the game, run a tournament, and create an eSports community, right at the library. With a supportive IT department behind her, Schneider’s tournaments continue to thrive, bringing
droves of teens into the library.

How to Roll Out LoL Programming

“Playing goes much smoother if the game is installed on computers,” says Schneider in regards to running a smooth LoL tournament. The game can be especially bandwidth heavy, so after-hours programming, when the library’s Internet connection is mostly free, has worked best at New Brunswick Public Library. “Watch for updates, and make sure the game is up to date,” is her other piece of advice.

The two predominant types of LoL programming found at public libraries are usually in the form of tournaments, usually in teams of five pitted against other teams of five. 1 vs 1 tournaments are also common, but not as popular. Open play sounds exactly as it does, where computers with the game loaded would be set up, only waiting for login information from players. The players then either team up, play against each other, play online, or play alone.

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Photo credit: Jessica Schneider

Some libraries have also offered workshops and walkthroughs for new or inexperienced players, especially those who may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the style of gameplay LoL offers. An explanation of how the game’s microeconomy works might benefit new players as well–especially because valuable items can be bought and sold sometimes at a financial profit.

Offering a live stream could also be beneficial; not only does this allow library programming to reach a wider audience via an online broadcast, but it also allows teens a stage in which to present a skill, either gaming or public broadcasting. Spectators who might not be able to attend a program can still do so by tuning into a live stream. “Shoutcasting” gives teens a voice and establishes a leadership role; teens can sit in a sports broadcast studio and give commentary on the action.

Prizes offer an excellent incentive–as if offering the game itself was not enough. RP cards can easily be purchased either online and local stores, and potentially funded by programming money, or perhaps a Friends group. Riot Games, the maker of LoL, will provide prizes if you register the tournament with them, but you need to know all competitor usernames in order for the prizes to be distributed accordingly.

Public Libraries Are Already Hosting LoL LAN Parties

A handful of public libraries offer League of Legends play, either in an open-play style or tournament-style, usually competing in teams. The Glenside Public Library in Glendale Heights, IL has offered a 3 vs 3 tournament for teens, awarding prizes to the top performers. Puyallup Public Library in Puyallup (WA) offered League of Legends Open Play as a part of International Games Day, with library staff walking more inexperienced players through the game’s mechanics. More experienced players were allowed to play on their own or team up with other program attendees. As a part of Teen Tech Week, Swansea Public Library in Swansea (MA) has a LoL After Hours Tournament, where a $5 entry fee gets a Summoner pizza, soda, and the chance to win $10 LoL RP cards for the winning team. East Brunswick (NJ) public library has a similar tournament, allowing both a 1 vs 1 and a 5 vs 5 style bracket play, along with a shoutcasted live stream hosted by the local access channel and Twitch.tv, prizes, and food and drinks for both players and spectators.

Conclusion

Could a thriving gaming community already exist at your library? Take notice of what teens are already playing, chances are it could make for quality programming that brings teens into the library. To add, League of Legends offers unparalleled support for community events, as you can publicize a potential LoL tournament event directly on the LoL website, along with registration, details, and prizes. With an already established and ever-growing community, the library can offer teens a safe, inclusive environment to learn new gaming skills, acquire new ones, make new friendships and participate in events that encourage good sportsmanship and healthy competition.

WORKS CITED

“Meet America’s First Video Game Varsity Athletes.” March 27, 2015. http://time.com/3756140/video-games-varsity/

Lincuna,Gian. “Community Gaming at East Brunswick Public Library.”January 27, 2016.  http://blog.wardesports.com/community-gaming-east-brunswick-public-library/

Maher, Brendan.  “Can a video game company tame toxic behaviour?” Nature, March 30, 2016. http://www.nature.com/news/can-a-video-game-company-tame-toxic-behaviour-1.19647

Magus. “Worlds 2015 Viewership.” December 15, 2015. http://www.lolesports.com/en_US/articles/worlds-2015-viewership

Scurio headshotJanice Scurio is a teen services librarian in Madison, Wisconsin. With an extensive background in information technology, she has served as an expert advisor for other libraries looking to implement more youth STEM programming, such as Minecraft and LEGO robotics. When not at the library, she enjoys karaoke, eating sushi, running marathons, and making fun electronic music.

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