The Human Side of Emotes04.01.2018

Hey Y'all, On Insights, we draw on a wide range of scientific inquiry and structured thinking methods to try and represent players’ needs, desires, behaviors, and thoughts in Riot’s strategic decision-making. In past posts we’ve talked a lot about some of the quantitative analysis stuff we do, but we wanted to start sharing some of the other ways the Insights team supports decision-making at Riot.
In this post, we’ll talk through how observational research labs have contributed to the design and development of the Emote system in LoL. While quantitative analyses are often better-suited to helping us understand the “What” of behavior (analyzing the actions of large groups of players), Labs help us explore more of the “Why” of behavior (getting deeper on discussing how individual players think and feel about their actions or experiences).
Emotes as an Expression System

Our first designs on an “in-the-moment expression” system came from thinking through how we were already, and weren’t yet, serving player needs for expression and recognition in LoL. We realized we had some general in-game expression and customization opportunities with skins, smart pings, and champ mastery, but didn’t have a way to actively represent how you were feeling at any particular moment during a game of League. We also weren’t quite sure if this system should be more about functional communication (“Let’s take Baron!”) or more about emotional expression and recognition (“Damn, nice play dude!”). With this as a starting point, we started to test what such a system could be… and if it would actually feel worth using.


Our main goals in running research labs on the Expression system were:

  • Determine where on the spectrum of “expression” to “communication” this system should sit
  • Thread the needle of minimizing gameplay interference while making the system memorable and fun
  • Observe how players use and interact with this kind of system design
  • Get a feel for how interesting or appealing a system like this would be


A couple of the many considerations we kept in mind during the labs were:

  • Because the lab can be a somewhat artificial environment, we had to consider that this was a place where we may get a unidirectional signal. If players in the lab didn’t use them at all, then that would give us a pretty good signal that players in the “real world” wouldn’t use them much. If players in the lab used them a ton, then that wouldn’t necessarily mean players in the “real world” would use them a lot or would use them in exactly the same ways.
  • This lab was held at our LAX campus. The one with the giant Annie & Tibbers statue right as you walk in. So another thing we have to consider in lab feedback is that often the players coming in are super excited to be there, and to be getting to try stuff that no one else has seen yet. Sometimes that excitement can make things feel cooler or more interesting than they’d actually feel if the player had just come across them naturally in a game of League.

With early Expression system prototypes, we invited several LoL players in to try it out and share their thoughts. Here’s what these labs looked like:


Emote Lab Tasks

First, we talked through the players’ prior experiences with whatever they thought of as “Emotes” in League. We did this first to get a baseline of these players’ perceptions before they were exposed to, and potentially influenced by, any new material.


Then we introduced some system and content prototypes and concepts to get their initial reactions. We guide players to focus their feedback specifically around their own experience, so we can understand how they interact with the product… rather than understand their logic in anticipating how others will experience the product.


Next, we had 5v5 playtests with a prototype Emote system to observe and experience the system during League gameplay.


After playtests, each player filled out a quick individual survey about their experience. We give this survey immediately to get players’ initial feelings, unfiltered and unbiased by post-game discussion with other players or researchers.


Finally, we had a group discussion to understand general or shared impressions. These discussions can also sometimes offer a peek into how community or conversational dynamics can shape—or reshape—a player’s perceptions.



During those tasks, we also observed and recorded the players (with their express permission, of course!). This helped us to better understand the in-the-moment experience of using the system. Here’s one player experience that increased our confidence that we were on the right path on emphasizing the expression aspects of the system. It happened in a game where one team was getting crushed, and it made the one-sided stomping a bit more light-hearted and fun for both teams:


What's Next for Labs

Currently, most of our labs run out of our Los Angeles campus, and obviously this isn’t perfectly representative of our global player base. We test some of our biggest changes in other regions—we recently sent a team to China and Korea to test the new Runes Reforged system, and previously went to a range of regions for the League Client update and Summoner’s Rift update—but we don’t yet have a process nailed down that lets us routinely run international labs. This is one of the biggest opportunities for the Labs team to explore in 2018, but for the foreseeable future, Los Angeles will still be the headquarters of gameplay testing.

If you’re thinking: “I live in the LA area and I’m hyped as hell about labs, where do I sign up,” well, we’re trying to figure out how to unlock an opt-in system, but currently there are some major logistical and methodological hurdles that make that impossible. For now, the best way to get involved with player labs is to keep your eyes peeled for surveys hitting your email inbox or game client—all of our recruiting starts with a survey.


Let us know if you’ve got any questions or thoughts in the comments section below!