Understanding Your Champion Decisions: Player Psychology



Sun 16th Dec 2012 - 7:32pm

Have you thought hard about why you play the champions you do? Or perhaps why, exactly, your favorite champions are your favorites? Is it because that champion has lots of favorable matchups? Is it because of how the champion plays? Or is it because you want to make a point with that champion?

These are the kinds of things that I like to spend my time thinking about. For example, Fizz and Diana are some of my favorite champions. But why exactly? Is it because they're strong champions right now? Maybe it's because I like their playstyle? Is it because some of my favorite pro players play them? Perhaps I just like them for flavor reasons?

In my time thinking about things like things, things that have no real world practical application that I can either see or really care about, I think I've come up with some answers, at least in my own case. The short of it (since I'm guessing you probably don't care too much about me and mostly just want to know what the hell my point is) is that I like them the most not because of their playstyle – I hate taking risks, and assassins tend to be risky – but because I just love how their flavor is realized in the game. In fact, a Fizz ult that I've actually landed or a well-place Moonfall give me an intense feeling of satisfaction – not because of my own skills really, but because I love how it brings the flavor of the champion to life.

Don't worry, I'm getting to my point, and it's a pretty cool one (at least, I think so).

I've begun to my expand my thinking to why other people play the champions they do. I know why I play my champions, but why do you play yours, and why do my teammates play theirs', and why do my enemies play whatever they play?

I believe that I have found the beginning of an answer, and the answer, at face value, actually has nothing to do with League of Legends. In fact, it comes from the design theory for an entirely different game – Magic: the Gathering (if you're unaware for whatever reason Magic is the first and biggest trading card game).

Specifically, Mark Rosewater, current head designer for Magic, has come up with a philo-psychological theory that answers the question of why people play Magic. He calls his theory 'psychographic profiles' (an idea that has existed in market research for a while). Rosewater has created three profiles, which he calls Johnny, Timmy, and Spike (names that have not existed in market research for a while).

If you'd like to hear about the profiles from the source, you can read about them from Mark Rosewater himself in these two articles:

You can also download a podcast in which Mark talks at much greater length about the profiles here:

Naturally, these sources make more sense to someone familiar with Magic than they do to someone who isn't, but I think you should be able to get a good idea of what's going on from these if you lack that familiarity. Also, I'll be referencing specific Magic terminology and cards throughout the article; this is mostly for the benefit of those who also understand Magic, but I've taken pains to make sure the article is still sensible to somehow who's never heard of Magic.

Whether you looked at those sources or not, I'll give a brief description of each of these profiles before I go on to explain how they apply to League of Legends theory.

Each of the profiles answer why a particular person is playing the game, what is they're out to do – and people are fully capable of belonging to more than one profile. Timmies are looking for emotional satisfaction. In Magic, they love big effects, chaos, social interaction – they're looking to evoke a specific emotion in themselves. Spike's goal is prove himself; he wants to demonstrate his skill by playing and winning. Spikes like efficient cards, powerful spells, and whatever can help them win; they like to analyze what is powerful, why it's powerful, and how it can be improved. Finally, Johnnys are looking for creative satisfaction from the game. They see the game as self-expression, and look for ways to make an impact through what it is they're doing; they like combos, care far more about deck construction than the other two, and generally are looking for some way to express themselves in the game.


Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast;

Now, how does this tie in to League of Legends? The answer is that these profiles apply quite well to League, almost as well as they do to Magic. There are some discrepancies, to be sure (League, for example, tends to emphasize the Spike side of things more than Magic does, especially since most Magic players are casual), but I think these profiles transition quite well into the player psychology behind League of Legends.

As an example, I know from my interest in Magic theory that I am a Timmy/Spike (yes, hybrids are possible – in my case, the Spike side is less important than the Timmy side, as I am a Timmy primarily). I play Magic because I love doing wacky things, and I love being hit in the face with immersive gameplay (ex: holy crap, I'm a spell-flinging storm mage and I just cast like twelve spells at once thanks to a giant Epic Experiment; or: I'm unleashing the power of the Scion of the Ur-Dragon and combining that with necromancy to make an awesome engine to harness the legendary power of the dragons). I still do care about winning, so my decks tend to be rather competitive (at least compared to the rest of my Magic-playing friends, who have not a shred of Spike in them), and I have few qualms about using the most powerful cards at the time to accomplish what I want; but for me, accomplishing what I want – that is, having fun with absurd effects or giant armies or unstoppable creatures – is secondary to winning.

This very much transfers to League. I enjoy Fizz because I'm a sucker for anything water-related, and (until Nami's release) Fizz is the only water-based champion in the game. I like Diana because I find the moon enchanting. I like both of them because I'm a fan of the spellsword archetype, and these two are very much spellsword variants. I also enjoy mobility and teleporting a lot, and both Fizz and Diana have that. Thus, the reason why I like these champions is, primarily, because they work to bring to life the flavor behind them, and that flavor resonates with me. The fact that both Fizz and Diana are strong champions certainly helps my attachment to them, and I'm unlikely to play champions that aren't competitive, but I enjoy much more the engagement I get out of the champion than I do the champion's stength.

Thus, in my view, the profiles all make a good transaction to League. I can see how my own profile affects the way I play League, and a little bit of thought makes it relatively apparent that any player's psychographic profile most likely affects their gameplay behavior as much as it does mine.

It also seems to me that some champions are designed with a particular psychographic profile in mind. Some champions just seem designed to harness some aspect of thinking, whether it be a playstyle, a particular flavor, or just presenting a strong champion.


Image courtesty Wizards of the Coast;

To expand on both these points, Timmy players would be attracted to champions who have some kind of gameplay hook, who simply reek flavor, who are just overall fun to play. Champions that may have been designed for a Timmy perspective would be champions based around lore or flavor, or a particular mechanic, or ones who just go out of their way to be fun. Champions that may appeal to a Timmy mindset would be such champions as Zyra and Oriana (gameplay mechanic), Nami and Draven (flavor, personality), or Lux and Katarina (just fun as hell to pull their abilities off right).

Similarly, Spike type players would be interested in champions that are simply regarded as strong, for whatever reason. It also seems to me like some champions are designed not so much to evoke flavor or to generate a particular feeling or emotion in players (these are Timmy concerns, remember), but rather simply to present a strong champion, or perhaps a champion designed as an answer to a particular situation. These champions may be someone like Irelia, who for me lacks a strong sense of flavor and is rather a combination of several of the strongest mechanics in the game. Other examples may be Galio or Teemo, who are obviously designed as an answer-type champions, or the rest of the current 'god tier' top laners: Jax, Jayce, and Darius, who are all more or less just straight up strong champions that are difficult to beat (though Darius has a strong Timmy element in him, via the emotional satisfaction of his pull into his ult chains).

Dark Confidant

Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast; There is no joke Spike card yet, so here's a good example of a Spike type card instead: power at any cost.

Finally, there are the Johnny-type champions. Now, I'll freely admit that this one is the most difficult for me to understand, largely because my own Johnny side is often suppressed by my Timmy or Spike traits, combined with the fact that League is much less focused on creativity and building than Magic is (Magic, after all, has well over ten thousands unique cards, while League has a little over a hundred champions and a few dozen items). However, I would posit that Johnny-type champions would be ones that are adaptable, ones that reward creativity in building or playing. The prime example is probably Jayce, who is built around the idea of creative ability usage. Other examples in this vein may be Zyra, LeBlanc, Shaco, or Kha'zix (though each of these also have strong elements of other profiles: Kha'zix seems to have a strong Timmy element, while the rest seem more Spike-focused).

It also seems to me that Johnny players may be the most likely to use a non-standard build or team composition. This is because, as I discussed above, Johnnys like to express themselves through the game, thus they may feel the need to make the point that Karma doesn't suck guys, look I'll play Karma support and win stop blindly following the meta and wake up sheeple! Hyperbole aside, Johnnys do seem the most likely to try unorthodox builds or unusual picks, largely because they want to stand out due to their creativity and willingness to try new things.

Don't think that Johnnys are just in it for attention either; oftentimes Johnnys do have a point they want to make, or an area they want to explore, but frequently the only person they're trying to prove anything to is themselves. 'Proving' oneself is much more a Spike trait than it is a Johnny trait.

And there you have it. I have made my case that Magic's psychographic profiles – Johnny, Timmy, and Spike – are very much a transferable concept, and that they apply to League nearly as well as they do to Magic. Perhaps, in reading this article, you've come to recognize something new about your own personality and thinking; perhaps you've identified which profile you belong to, and have thus been able to understand why you like the champions you do, or why you feel the desire to make the in-game decisions you do.