/dev: Ranked Schedule Changes

Talking about why League is shifting to three Ranked splits, and impacts on the rest of the year.

Earlier today we announced that League is shifting to three Ranked splits starting next year. Additionally, the large gameplay changes that normally launch during Preseason in November will launch next January instead. This blog will go into why we're making these changes, and a few impacts they'll have on the rest of the year.

Key info

  • The current ranked split will be extended to January 9
  • Preseason Season 2024 gameplay changes go to PBE on November 20
  • Gameplay changes go live with patch 14.1 on January 10, 2024
  • Split 1 also begins on January 10
  • Split 2 begins in May
  • Split 3 begins in September

What led to this decision?

We split this year's (2023) season into two splits to make Ranked meaningful across the whole year, rather than players plateauing halfway through and either leaving Ranked or switching to smurfs. With the mid-year reset behind us, more players are still playing Ranked in the current middle-of-the-year window than in previous years. By adding November and December to the season and shifting to three four-month splits, we think we'll see even more improvements.

For example, there's a subset of players who only play Ranked and nothing else. Giving them their missing two months lets them play League year-round. For everyone else, having more splits in a year also makes it easier to take a break from ranked for a few months and skip a split, since you won't be compromising a full 10-month climb as a tradeoff anymore.

Having three ranked splits also gives us three points in the year where we can make bigger changes to core gameplay without disrupting in-progress climbs. The "midseason" style patch will come at the start of the second split, responding to larger issues with season start changes and making wider game health improvements like 2022's durability patch. The third split will start with smaller changes, given proximity to Worlds and team focus shifting toward the following year's larger season start changes.

This change also starts everyone on the same page at the beginning of the year. One of the side effects of Preseason is that when January rolls around, some players have already gotten a handle on the new changes while others are experiencing them for the first time. By launching changes at the start of the year, everyone establishes the new meta together. (On that note of discovery, Season Start often falls flat for non-Ranked players who played throughout Preseason since they aren't actually getting anything new.)

Last, we think players will be excited to have the opportunity to earn three Victorious skins a year, one per split!

By moving the gameplay changes to launch alongside Ranked at the start of the year, we ensure Season Start is the most exciting time to play League, and Ranked is a more even (albeit potentially chaotic) playing field.

Managing Risks

All that said, we're keenly aware that launching our biggest gameplay changes at the start of the Ranked season raises many risks. Before committing to this shift, we identified and assessed the biggest ones.

Ranked and Esports Stability

The most obvious risk to discuss is how we'll ensure Ranked and pro play are in a good place at the start of the year. We're putting the gameplay changes on PBE early (aiming for Nov 20) to give us time to adjust before launch. We're also putting them on tournament realms so pros can practice on the changes before the season starts.

Historically, the first patches of the year are typically high-disruption while we stabilize the game, so we don't expect 2024 to be drastically different compared to past years. Once we return in January, we'll make a sweep of final tuning changes prior to patch 14.1 shipping, and quickly follow the patch with balance updates based on the first few days of the season. After that, we'll remain open to larger adjustments in 14.2 and 14.3.

Responding to Feedback

Any time we make large gameplay changes we want to make adjustments based on your feedback. And because the Preseason changes are shifting to the start of Ranked (and will primarily be tested on PBE), we want to explain how feedback will be handled since it may not immediately lead to massive changes before things go live.

The feedback we're best able to act on is bug reports. After that, feedback on specific interactions can oftentimes be helpful. For example, between an item effect and a particular champ ability, or how stat adjustments affect things like Kai'Sa's evolutions. These are pretty close to bug fixes, in the sense that they help us avoid abuse cases and unintended interactions.

The trickiest feedback is more qualitative thoughts on our headline features, like whether they feel fun, fair, better than before, or should exist in League at all. We use this feedback to tell us what we need to watch most closely when the changes ship, but generally don't react to it on PBE. Even in cases where PBE feedback is loud, we want to see players everywhere play with the changes on live servers. If the feedback remains unchanged, we'll address it in the patches after release.

Reasons to Play in November and December

Because Ranked has historically been offline in November and December, many players look forward to Preseason's big gameplay shakeup to keep League interesting through the end of the year. Since Preseason’s content is moving to the start of the year, here's what we'll have on offer.

First, the current Ranked split will extend into January. Second, if you specifically enjoy having something fun to do that isn't climbing the ladder, we're bringing Arena back for its second run in December!

Rate of Change Across the Year

We mentioned this above, but want to reiterate that shifting to three splits and consolidating preseason into January doesn't mean we're going to ship three preseason-sized patches a year. We'll target a midseason-sized patch for split 2 in May and something smaller than that for split 3 in September. Having three known windows to make major fixes to the game ensures you'll never have to wait too long before we can act on game health issues.

Removing Ranked Ladder Downtime

While adding November and December to the Ranked calendar will be exciting for Ranked-only players, others may be worried about not having a clear "don't play ranked" window. We think having more frequent, shorter splits will make it easier to skip one and come back strong, but we'll watch during the current extended split and next year's Split 3 to see how this holds up in practice.

This is the biggest shift to League's annual structure we've ever made. We're excited for the benefits it offers, but we know change of this magnitude is always intimidating. We'll do our best to make the transition as smooth as possible, and hope you're excited too!