League of Legends: We interviewed Josh Menke, Principal Game Designer at Riot and in charge of MMR and matchmaking on the mobile version of League of Legends: Wild Rift.On its 10th anniversary, Riot Games announced that it was expanding beyond Summoner’s Rift with new titles of all kinds. This was about a year ago and, looking back, we can see how they have kept their promise. They have stepped on the shooter terrain with Valorant, card duels with Legends of Runeterra and mobile games with Wild Rift. We were able to speak with Josh Menke, Principal Game Designer at Riot and in charge of MMR and matchmaking on the mobile version of the MOBA. If you want to discover his journey through various companies and the role he plays in Wild Rift, read on!
A very varied trajectory
Menke has been working at Riot for about four months. But how did he get to be the Principal Game Designer in a company of this caliber? “It’s a long story that he started when he was a graduate student working on a PhD in neural networks!” he tells us when we ask him about his trajectory. “I set up a Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory server for some neighbors. We had an excellent internet connection, so we soon had a very popular server with players from all over the world playing 24 hours a day. I wanted to build a ranking system for everyone, as well as improve the balance of the team. That is why I researched, learned and wrote a lot on the subject. I ended up doing my thesis on neural networks and on classification systems in equal measure ”.
It was this research work that brought him into contact with people on the Microsoft Research Cambridge team who had been working on TrueSkill. On their recommendation, he was able to go from his eBay fraud detection job to signing with Blizzard Entertainment: “At Blizzard I had the opportunity to help out on various games. I designed a revamp of WoW Arena’s skills and ranking system, where we coined the term MMR to talk about matchmaking ranking. I also designed the rating and skill systems for Starcraft 2, which I believe was one of the first games to use the Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc. style ranks. that we now see in many other competitive games. I was also able to assist in skill, matchmaking, and early Hearthstone skins for Hearthstone arenas. It was a lot of fun working at Blizzard Entertainment. ”
After five years, Menke began working for 343 Industries designing the classification system for Halo 4 and Halo 5. However, a year before the latter’s launch, he embarked on an Activision branch dedicated to Research and Development. “It was a fun opportunity to work on many different games instead of just one, so I decided to give it a try for a couple of years.”
When Activision closed its Seattle office, Josh retraced his steps to continue working at 343 Industries. After four years, after polishing the original designs for Halo 5 and also designing what we have seen in Halo Infinite, Riot contacted Menke to offer him his current position. “I loved the idea of having the opportunity to work on a MOBA (I had only done a little bit on a super early prototype for Heroes of the Storm), and also on a mobile game, so I decided to join in!”
Getting into the matter: the work behind how Wild Rift works
“I think the biggest challenge in my role at the moment is balancing the waiting time of the matches with the quality of the match-ups,” Menke tells us about his current job. Josh has a long history, but Wild Rift is one of the first MOBA titles that have come across in his career: “Fortunately there is a lot of overlap between the different projects I’ve worked on and the MOBA when it comes to my area. I can take my RTS experiences with Starcraft 2 and combine it with my competitive teamwork with Wow, Call of Duty, and Halo. The other main difference is that the players of each game always have their own uniqueness that gives us opportunities to create experiences that are better adapted to each audience.
Matchmaking is essential for the enjoyment of this type of title, although on many occasions its presence can be overlooked, a phenomenon similar to what happens in the cinema with the so-called “invisible montage”: the less time the player has to wait in tail and the better matched they are according to their ability, the better. But behind this fluidity there is a continuous work of polishing and improvement: “We are developing a method that is much faster and more precise to find a player’s MMR, which allows us to offer new players fairer games from the beginning and make games in general feel more fair. We are also looking for improvements to significantly reduce wait times for players who currently have unusually long wait times. ”