LoL Preseason 2021: Gameplay Changes — Ranked Smurf Detection, Mid Nerfs, Crit Updates

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Riot Games has shared some more news on the LoL Preseason 2021 Gameplay changes. They are introducing a ranked smurf detection, nerfing the middle lane’s impact on the game, and updating the crit mechanic.

LoL Preseason 2021: Ranked Smurf Detection

Riot Games have long been using a smurf detection system in normal games for a while. This is how the company has been able to grow the League of Legends player base over the 10 years. Beginners generally play against fellow beginners, while smurfs battle it out in a realm of their own. For them, normal games are not a learning experience but simply a means to unlocking the Ranked queues anyway. The unranked smurf detection system has been generally fulfilling its purpose. It only became a problem when you tried to play alongside friends that are new to League, since all of you would end up in the smurf queue anyway. Then again, maybe you should keep things organic for your friends.

Since Patch 10.19, Riot Games has been ninja-testing a similar approach in ranked queues for some regions. There’s a key difference in the approach, as the system does not operate on variables like KDA or CS per minute but finds discrepancies between the visible rank and the hidden MMR. The result, however, should be the same: people who play better than they pretend to are moved into a smurf queue. 

The preliminary results from the ranked version seem more controversial. There has been, although scarce, reports of genuinely new players identified as smurfs. I don’t find it particularly worrying now, since it’s at least another 2 months before the Season 2021 begins. As far as Riot Games are concerned, we’re already in the experimentation phase with the Worlds 2020 patch locked and the tournament started.

Unfortunately, the ranked smurf detection can bring a negative change to Clash. The monthly tournament currently bumps the team’s tier up based on the player with the highest rank. The new queue may initially prove to be a gatekeeper that would deflate the provisional ranking, placing people lower than they could have ended up before. Unless caught by other smurf detection mechanisms, malicious players will have an even easier time playing Clash as a fake Tier IV team. Let’s hope there’ll be a solution before the new algorithm backfires in an entirely separate mode.

Preseason 2021 can affect Clash experience in a negative way
Preseason 2021 can affect Clash experience in a negative way

LoL Preseason 2021: Mid Nerfs

The Lead Gameplay Designer for League of Legends, Mark Yetter, announced important mid nerfs on September 26. In the current iteration, mid lane cannons will be giving out 10 less gold in the first 14 minutes. Besides, mid lane cannons will be attacking turrets 30% faster.

The gold reduction is somewhat minor. Cannon minions spawn every three waves early on, so you’re losing 120-130 gold depending on the cut-off point. However, this is one Control Ward and potion less that you could have otherwise afforded. I would say that the value is in line with Riot’s intention to remove how much mid lakers can change the game with roams. The reduction in vision and sustain should make sticking to the lane a safer option.

In my opinion, the change to cannon minion attacks is bigger. It punishes roams that do not reap any rewards by threatening the outer turret in the middle lane. The change further establishes champions with good wave clear (such as Lux and Malzahar) as counters to roamers who now have to think twice before making a move elsewhere on the map. 

Expect fewer clickbait videos like this in Season 2021

Short-term, I expect that Bronze-Silver games will become even less proactive now that it does not take a genius to take down the middle lane turret very fast. After losing giving up the first turret gold, less skilled assassins will avoid ganking before killing their lane opponent. Long-term, however, this change should make the matchmaking healthier by distributing the mid lane’s former power across other roles. A good gank from the Jungler would become even more important when it comes to opening up the map. 

LoL Preseason 2021: Crit Update

In an earlier post, Yetter also shared an upcoming update to crits. It is essentially a well-meaning nerf, which would reduce both the critical strike damage (200%->175%) and crit chance per item (25%->20%). The idea is to make Attack Damage and Attack Speed more viable by making crits weaker and increasing the number of required numbers to reach 100% crit chance.

This change looks good on paper. Item diversity has often been an issue with League, and it would be fantastic to address it while also replacing ⅓ of the shop. I am worried about potential changes to crit-dependent champions like Yasuo, Yone and Tryndamere, but Riot Games will have at least 6 weeks to nail them.

Preseason will hit the PBE on September 30 (coinciding with Patch 10.20 rollout to live servers) or a couple of days later. Don’t forget to sign up for a PBE account, since the registration page is very likely to crumble under the demand.  

What is new in LoL Preseason 2021?

A third of the shop is getting replaced entirely with another third updated. Mid lane players will have lower impact on the early game because of gold reduction and a cannon buff. Ranked will now track smurfs and put them in a separate queue.

How does smurf queue work in LoL ranked?

Player who were identified as smurfs play in a separate pool. Game detects smurfs by checking for a major difference between player’s visible rank and the MMR.

How can I test the Preseason 2021 changes?

You should sign up for the Public Beta Environment server. New League of Legends patches are shipped there at least two weeks before they hit the live servers.


by Denis Matusovskiy
September 29, 2020


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