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New Features in Season 1
The most important addition to League of Legends that came with the release of Season 1 is the inclusion of ranked games. Now players can compete against other players in a way that will be measured beyond just a simple win-loss ratio. Ranked games can be queued for solo, or in groups of two, three (only for Twisted Treeline), four and five. Other than the addition of draft mode (discussed later), the game plays exactly the same and your stats are calculated very much like they were before, but with divisions for Solo, Twisted Treeline and Summoner's Rift. Your wins and losses are recorded separately for each map and for your solo endeavors and your ranking is calculated based on a number of factors, but primarily wins.
Participation in ranked games allows players to be placed on the ladder, which shows them how they match up to other players. Your Elo ranking can be viewed in relation to other players on the League of Legends website. Normal games still exist and can be played, but do not affect your ranking in any way. If you are a League of Legends beginner, this is a great place to get experience or warm up for competitive play.
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In order to make League of Legends Season 1 more competitive and fair, a new game mode has been added specifically for ranked matches, called draft mode. Draft mode gives players the ability to ban champions from play, adding a whole new level of strategy to the game, and prohibits heroes from being played that have already been picked. This places emphasis on careful team composition and intelligent use of bans to play to your strengths. The additions of bans has led to the near elimination of some heroes from competitive play, for better or worse, so it is important to plan ahead with several heroes in mind, especially if you a play a powerful team hero like Shen, Heimerdinger or Soraka (who are all frequently banned).
The team that receives the second ban begins the drafting process by picking one hero. After that, the game follows a 1:2:2:2:2:1 format for 5v5's and a 1:2:2:1 format for 3v3's. Players can see which heroes are being chosen by their opponents (since choosing one eliminates it from further use) which makes the drafting process itself a competitive and challenging endeavor.
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Season 1 and Competitive Gaming
With the approach of the World Cyber Games qualifiers, it is not hard to see why the Riot team pushed out this change when they did. In addition to the Season 1 changes and the addition of Xin Zhao, a powerful ganker and carry, the League of Legends launcher, website and client have all undergone massive cosmetic and functional changes that make the game easier to use and better to look it. Whether or not these changes will propel League of Legends Season 1 into the world of competitive gaming or even bring in more players remains to be seen, but initial results are positive. Queue times are down, and the word is out about the fiercely competitive and dangerously addictive nature of LoL.