Stuck Inside With: Teamfight Tactics

Teamfight Tactics is an autobattler game that can be played on PC or mobile. Provided by Riot Games

Stuck Inside With is a new series where, since we're all stuck inside, we venture off the beaten path to explore different parts of the gaming world. This week we're looking at Teamfight Tactics.

As I packed up my New York apartment in April, devoid of my friends or my partner who initially planned to travel to the city via plane and help but couldn't because of the coronavirus pandemic, I was exhausted. I had broken down my PlayStation 4 and Switch, both now in boxes, and I didn't really feel like sitting in my desk chair and logging more hours on the PC that had been my round-the-clock work station for the past two months of quarantine.

So I looked at my phone.

I like the idea of mobile gaming, but not exactly the execution. Read: I'm a first-person shooter, elitist PC snob who values accuracy and precision when available. So, I haven't been into a mobile title in a while. I tried playing Marvel Contest of Champions for a while a few years ago to scratch my fighting game itch while traveling. Frankly, most people on that game weren't very good, and I don't think I've actively played a mobile game since.

That changed when Riot Games' Teamfight Tactics mobile released on Android and iOS in March.

I'm a Riot Games player to the core. I've played League of Legends fairly actively, with breaks here and there, since late 2012. I've covered League of Legends as my day job since early 2015 when I got hired by Dot Esports. But when TFT first went into beta last summer, it just wasn't my thing.

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I had dedicated some time to Dota 2's AutoChess and didn't like it. Then my interest was piqued when my colleague and frequent carpool buddy Arda Ocal raved about Hearthstone Battlegrounds and Dota Underlords on mobile earlier this year. I still wasn't convinced auto battlers were for me. I had played TFT before and I sucked (Iron placements, woo!). I wanted to reroll like a madman -- damn that button, I tell you! -- and I had zero idea of what synergies worked.

But that started to change in March when I had extra time on my hands, as I watched New York City outside my window go from the bustling city that won my heart to a ghost town. No more keto pizza runs at Marinara in the Upper East Side or cheese-shell taco outings at Los Tacos No. 1 in Tribeca with my friends. Arda and I even stopped traveling to our Central Connecticut office twice a week once it was clear the Northeast was going to be ravaged by COVID-19. So I looked for new hobbies.

My gaming taste is best described as odd. Ever since becoming an esports reporter full time, I've lost a lot of love for single-player titles. It's way more fulfilling to beat someone else than a computer. In the past five years, I think I've 100% completed just three titles: Spider-Man, Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Outer Worlds. I played Zelda: Breath of the Wild and beat Ganon, too, but my partner has always berated me for speed-running that game, rather than savoring it and all its glory.

In my search for quarantine titles, I tried Animal Crossing: New Horizons and DOOM Eternal, and then one day, in March, I figured I'd give TFT a go again. To my surprise, it wasn't bad!

It didn't take long for me to get immersed, beginning to use apps like Blitz and TFTactics to learn the meta, the best item builds and other tactics. I once again placed in the Iron tier this season, but I was a lot more determined to get a higher placement. I'm a Gold League of Legends player. Certainly I could get my way out of Iron Teamfight Tactics hell.

What made Teamfight Tactics so appealing to me is the adrenaline rush of being in that fifth or sixth position toward Round 4 or 5 but just 10-20 health points behind fourth, which earns you ranked points.

Picture this. You have 36 gold. Do you reroll it for a Gold Zed in your Mech-Infiltrator comp? Do you try to get as close to Level 8 or 9 as possible, brace for dear life, hope RNGesus blesses you and you draw a beatable opponent? Asking those questions is what makes TFT fun as you face better players.

It helps that I'm so familiar with League of Legends, too. I know what characters do, to some extent; I know the majority of the items, too. It's not like I'm learning totally from scratch or have low familiarity like I have with Dota.

When TFT mobile released I quickly found myself playing in bed at 2 a.m. before dozing off. It was the same "one more turn" mentality that the Civilization games have beat into my head. When I'd get fed up with packing, I'd turn to TFT. Binging "Better Call Saul" on the couch? Yeah, TFT's on the phone right there, too. TFT is, in many ways, the perfect second-screen game. It requires just enough focus to keep your mind awake but not enough to take your whole attention.

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The game continued to keep my attention after moving to Austin, Texas. For the past few months I've nursed a neonatal kitten, who I found at a nearby Starbucks, back to health. She wrecked my schedule for the first few weeks after my move. Being the night owl of the family, I took on the task of bottle feeding her at 4 a.m. Teamfight Tactics kept me awake.

In May, when we spent a weekend in South Texas visiting my partner's parents, Teamfight Tactics occupied my weekend and I managed to hit Silver. So close to Gold! And several months later, as Texans have failed to take the coronavirus as seriously as they should and the spread has gotten worse, I've found myself continually stuck inside ... with TFT.