You sit down in your chair, roll up your sleeves, and prepare for a sit in meal upwards of forty minutes, when you play League of Legends. It’s something to take your time with, enjoy, savour. It’s a slow build to a massive crescendo. It’s French cuisine, carefully packaged and not enough to stuff your face with, but rather force you to take your time over it.
ARAM, currently only available in custom games, is McDonald’s blasted down your gob with a firehose, over too quickly for you to do anything but wildly flail around, desperate for something, anything to grab a hold of, so that you don’t have to endure this high octane saturated fat for any longer.
I absolutely love it.
The acronym stands for All Random All Mid, although I prefer to throw in a couple of exclamation points in so that you know what you’re getting in for. It was popularised in the original Dota before becoming a staple of Heroes of Newerth, and now it’s found its way into Riot’s monolith of a MOBA. The idea is that everyone goes down the same lane, and it’s essentially chaos in a lightning bolt for about twenty minutes.
There are a few special mechanics that utterly change the way the game is played. Firstly everyone starts at level 3, which means they have their full suite of abilities (bar their ultimate) from the getgo. They also have nearly 1500 gold, which lets them buy one major item for their build from the beginning. The major change to both of those things, though, is that you can only buy from the shop when you’ve just respawned; leave the pedestal and the shop locks out, forcing you to stay out in lane.
It also doesn’t heal you. That last is especially important, because it means that to replenish your healthbar you’re going to have to do one of two things; grab a health pack from the side of the map, or die. Throw yourself into the fray, fully aware that you’re not going to come back, because death brings glory. A fully replenished health bar, the ability to buy your next item, and glory.
Forget the single lane for a moment. By making your health bar a one use thing, and having every blow you take a permanent strike against your survivability, ARAM fundamentally changes how you play League of Legends. Sometimes, death really is the answer, forcing you into a moment where knocking off a big chunk of your enemy’s health bar so that your team can mop up a kill is beneficial for everyone around.
Which means that a MOBA, which is one of those games where death is never the answer, something that has people raging at you, apoplectic with rage at the fact that you’ve not only failed, but also given the enemy team an advantage, is rewarding ridiculously aggressive play that gets you killed, provided you know when to charge.
It underlines something I’ve been noticing in MOBAs recently, that indecisiveness and cowardice are the fast track paths to defeat. If you’re finding yourself cagey, favouring staying out of a teamfight and surviving over throwing yourself in there with the threat of death looming over you, but a very good chance you’ll take someone with you, you need to get yourself in ARAM as fast as you can.
Because it will teach you things. It will show you your cowardice and it will throw it in your face. The game is over so fast, and it’s so ridiculously boring to sit at the back, alive but useless, that you’ll throw yourself in there just out of a general dissatisfaction at your own continued existence. Every fight is a teamfight, and if you often find yourself out of teamfights, now you have a way to practice.
And that’s where the single lane comes in, forcing everyone into a cramped confine. The All Random aspect is mostly just fun, forcing you to not just grab the best group of champions for teamfights, and instead forcing you to think on your feet. It’s immersion therapy for people who aren’t so good at MOBAs, throwing you in at the deep end and waiting for you to swim. You might drown over and over, but eventually you’re going to start paddling.
Which is one of the reasons it’s already so popular. When a game like League of Legends is so often so serious and po-faced, especially on the part of the players, sometimes you want to just mainline some cheeseburgers and throw the haute cuisine in the maitre d’s face.
If you have an urge to start shouting ‘America’ at the top of your voice, this is acceptable.
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