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/dev: State of the Game, January 2017

How do we feel about Season 7 so far? And what's coming next?

By Meddler

We’re a few weeks into the new League season, so we figured it was a good time to share some thoughts about the game right now, including a look at some of the things we’re working on for the future. As with previous State of the Game posts, this will be focused on gameplay specifically — champions, the jungle, masteries, etc. — rather than features like the new client, skins, matchmaking and so forth. 

Positions and Impact

We believe jungler influence over game outcome is too high.

In the pre-season we made changes to jungle camp rewards and respawn times. Those changes were intended to cap total jungle farm potential, pushing some junglers with farm-heavy playstyles to interact more with other players (primarily ganking and counter-jungling). Looking at the game right now, however, we believe we’ve increased gank frequency too much and need to pull it back.

We’re also seeing junglers at higher levels at the same time in the game (compared to last season), which wasn’t intended. Vi, for example, is one of the bigger beneficiaries — on average she’s half a level higher by five minutes than she was last season. That effect is multiplicative with the decreased time farming (as above) in terms of the impact on other positions, with the two effects even stronger together than just the sum of their parts. Further exacerbating the situation is that jungle sustain is also too high, resulting in junglers needing to recall less and being able to gank with less risk (coming out of the jungle at full HP).

Additionally, we made changes in the pre-season to make some camps more single target or AOE focused. Our goal there was to get tuning levers to support a wider variety of junglers than we’ve been able to in the past. We’re still assessing those changes, so far though it looks like the current camps favor a particular profile of jungler too much (good single target damage, with just enough AOE to do most of the other camps fairly quickly). The XP and camp changes are also aimed at helping out junglers who are very AOE or very single target focused as a result.

Here’s how we plan to address the above over the short-term:

  • We’ll be reducing jungler XP back to similar rates as last season.
  • We’ll also be cutting sustain slightly (later Honeyfruit spawns, at least).
  • Finally we’re also investigating whether some jungle camps should do more damage, adding risk to ganking after doing them (Krugs and Gromp).

Junglers and Game Agency

We’re still talking about how much agency over the game junglers should have in general. Even last season, there were some circumstances where jungler ability to decide the game felt out of line with the other roles, so it’ll be something we continue to discuss and evaluate even after bringing the current spike in influence under control. The core issue under debate is how much raw power junglers should have to trade off against other positions given the control they have over when/where conflicts happen and ability to force uneven fights.

On top of all this, we’re working to assess the agency of other positions. We believe the main issues to solve right now are the imbalance created by the jungle being overly influential and Courage of the Colossus heavily favoring some champs (Divers in particular, who then crush squishy champs). There are some things we definitely want to look into for bot lane, in particular support XP and bot lane Marksman power curves, though whether those should be buffs or power shifts isn’t clear yet though. We’ve talked a bit more in-depth on bot-lane Marksmen — it’s something we’re definitely watching as the season moves forward and these changes settle into place.

Looking at Support

We have some ideas about the support role and are actively experimenting. For example, we recently ran a test where we made 10 champions who are good choices for the support position free for four weeks, in addition to the normal free rotation. This resulted in a brief increase in interest in playing support (yay), but it fell off pretty quickly (boo). Looking at the data it doesn’t look like lack of access to the right champions is a significant factor in most people’s interest in playing support — the interest is tied more to the role than the champ. Not surprising, but still good to confirm, given it was a easy and low-pain test to run.

That said, feedback on the test was quite positive from players making use of the extra champions. Between that and the initial spike in support play, our conclusion is that temporary increases in free support champions could be a useful tool in the future to let people test out other changes that impact the position (e.g. major xp, gold or item adjustments). In other words, “we changed some support stuff, here are some champs, take them for a spin.”

Next up, we’ll be looking at a couple of other things as part of our work to make support a position that appeals to a wider audience (here’s an explainer on why we think this is important). Short version is that we’d like to make support appealing to more players to give people a more enjoyable experience, reduce autofill, and reduce queue times. At the same time, we don’t want to compromise what makes it an attractive position to existing support players.

First steps:

  • We’ll be adjusting how XP is earned, with one goal being preventing champions who are doing useful things (warding, roaming, objectives help, etc.) from falling so far behind the average level in the game.
  • Next, we’re focusing on fixing some small, irritating situations that affect support play regularly (e.g. not getting full gold for wards killed that you reveal unless you get the final hit).
  • Long-term, we’ll most likely be looking at support recognition/ceremony and income next.

Notes on New Champs

Camille’s been out for a little bit now. We’re still assessing how she looks overall, but a few things are clear. Her launch balance was definitely too strong, hence the hotfix after 6.24 and the nerfs in 7.1. That power was also such that it made her hard to respond to (shield duration too long, R CCing people knocked away for longer than needed, etc). That’s resulted in a high ban rate for a champion of her power, suggesting (when combined with feedback from Camille players) that she’s a champion that on launch was both quite appealing and quite frustrating to other players.

Another important note is that it’s going to be important to keep her kit focused when possible on the things that make her distinct as a Diver. Camille’s got some noticeable overlap with Irelia, Jarvan, Vi etc. We want to focus power in things like her Hookshot as a result. So far Camille’s most effective builds seem appropriate for her intended strengths and weaknesses, with a mixture of offensive and defensive items, normally doing something like Tri-Force+Ravenous Hydra into defensive items.

As for future champs: There’ll be a longer-than-usual gap between Camille and the next new champion. We’ll be more focused on other stuff early this year, then will get back to our past cadence for new champion releases.

Champ Update Update

We’ve got a blog coming shortly (next week or two) that will talk about champion update projects in a lot of detail. Topics covered include things like our thoughts on the assassin update (some things went well, some need more work), why we’ll be doing fewer mini-updates as part of class updates, the next class update we’ll be tackling, and upcoming major champion updates (VGUs) after Warwick.

Pre-Season Follow-Up

Courage of the Colossus

Courage of the Colossus is still too strong, which has a lot of effect on the meta (who gets played, how fights go, itemization for some classes, durability outliers getting even farther from the norm, etc). As such, we’ll be nerfing it again, possibly paired with some changes to broaden its possible users. It’s also a good example of how really visible power creates more appreciation for the user and frustration for their enemies (compared to say a constant % reduction to damage taken that might be equally powerful in most circumstances).

CotC does have a pattern we like, in the way it offers tankiness tied to CCing enemies that’s more beneficial to tanky champions. Some of the details aren’t right, but the concept seems solid.

As for changes to stealth; changing Rengar and Twitch to camouflage has worked as we’d hoped so far, keeping their flanking effectiveness high while reducing their ‘just appear on top of someone from long range’ power. Invisibility not being revealed by anything but towers is a bit more mixed, given it has removed some counter options. We do believe, however, that it makes champions with invisibility much more balanceable long-term, since they can now be balanced around having it as a reliable tool.

Control Wards

We’ve found a few bugs with Control Wards where they’re not affecting as large an area as they should in some circumstances (should be the same radius as the old pink wards). Also, Control Wards are potentially serving as too strong a counter, in the item system at that, to at least Teemo. He’s on our radar for an assessment to see whether he needs some adjustments to keep up with the changed environment.

Redemption, Locket, and Other Items

Redemption and Locket are both looking too strong, in terms of the degree to which they’re close to mandatory on some champs and the amount they shift focus from a champion’s kit to their items. They’re pretty good expressions of skill and visible power though, so we’re happy with their design as supportive items even if their numbers need adjustment. First likely change is a nerf to the health on Redemption; we might also adjust the amount Locket shields by level at some point. Paired with that, we’re considering some small buffs to Ardent Censor, the Chalice line of items, and Eye of the Equinox.

Plants

In regard to plants, we’ll be tweaking Honeyfruit spawn times a little to reduce sustain available to junglers early game (as mentioned above). A secondary benefit is that early snowball from laners using Honeyfruit will also be reduced slightly. Beyond that we’ve got some small quality of life changes underway (polish on indicators, pings etc) but no major changes currently planned. We’re fairly happy with how plants have performed so far, in terms of adding dynamism to jungle pathing and PVP. It’ll be really important to see how that changes over time though. With repeated play do those interactions get more interesting as people explore them deeper? Or less interesting as they get solved?

Lethality

We’ll take an in depth look at how Lethality’s doing in the next patch or two. So far it looks like Ghostblade’s in a good spot, but Edge of Night and Duskblade are potentially too weak. We want to assess whether we should buff those, or whether Lethality in general needs a bit more impact at certain points in the game.

Preview of the Long-Term

We wanted to offer some insight again into some of the things we’re working on, or planning to work on later in the year, given that seemed to be well received in the last blog. These are predicted projects, not things that will definitely happen, or definitely happen this year, so they could well end up changing or not happening. There’s also a lot of work underway or planned, that isn’t mentioned here because we don’t yet have enough confidence in its details to talk about it yet.

Pre-Game Changes

Ten bans for organized play (tournament draft) is here. More bans for regular play will be coming when the new client’s completely replaced the old. The ban system in regular play is likely to be at least somewhat different to that used in organized play, given the context’s different (you don’t know your opponents nor are you consistently playing with the same teammates). Starting point is a desire to offer one ban to each player as a core goal without increasing time in champion select in the process.

Pro Play Pick/Ban

Runes and Masteries

We’re planning work on runes this year, with the goals of addressing some frustration points with current runes, offering more interesting choices and making pre-game power more recognizable in game (less plain stats, better feedback on what stats are delivering). At the same time we’ll also be doing further work on Masteries, looking to improve pre-game as a whole. For a while now we’ve been working within the constraints of the existing mastery system (three trees, 30 points total to spend, points linked to account level) to test some theories around concentrating power, making power more visible, offering clearer choices, etc. Lessons learned from that that we plan to make use of include things like the importance of finding effects beyond damage and sustain when making appreciable masteries (e.g. vision or other utility) and that we’ll need more than three trees to offer interesting, useful choices to all the different classes (five is our current estimate).

Timing on this work being finished is uncertain, best guess is “late in the year.” As with changes to pick/ban, major changes to pre-game require that the new client is being used by everyone.

Given how big an impact those changes could have, we’ll be talking about them well in advance.

In-Game Systems and Champion changes

We’ll be doing some work on defensive items Mid-Season, in part looking to improve long running problems with defensive items being too effective on some champs who aren’t healthy when really tanky (e.g. tank Fizz and tank Ekko). We’ll also be looking at how itemization makes tanks tanky, with the feeling being at present that they may end up being too resistant to sustained physical damage and too vulnerable to sustained magic damage.

Additionally, Rift Herald just isn’t generating enough sufficiently interesting or appreciated play to justify its presence. We do like the value a one-time spawn puts on it; the reward at least isn’t making it a priority in the majority of games. Sometime this year (mid-season or pre-season, not sure which yet) we’ll be looking to either fix it, replace it or remove it as a result.

Opportunistic and Game Health Champion Updates

We’ll be doing more updates like the recent Shyvana and Alistar ones in 2017. Unlike most of our other recent champion updates, these small to medium-sized updates are one-offs, aimed at developing an underutilized part of a champion further and/or addressing game health problems that don’t require the scope of a full VGU to be fixed. While we’ve always done some of these, they’ll be more of a focus during 2017 than previously, with more resources devoted to them.

Feel and Usability Improvements

We’re planning on testing a 15-minute unanimous surrender option this year. That’ll take place in a single region, initially. We previously hoped to have done that by now; the people involved have been occupied with other higher-priority stuff (new client, matchmaking, etc).

Sometime in the second half of this year we’re looking to make some changes to how the LoL client sends commands to the server, making it easier to buffer multiple abilities on higher pings. That’ll likely be pretty subtle, but should result in a slightly smoother feeling game, especially on laggier connections.

Finally, we’ll be continuing to work on a range of small to medium-sized clarity focused projects this year, like the invulnerability bar and “ping a whole bunch of things to chat” changes we made last year. Likely candidates include doing more stuff with the healthbar to communicate gameplay states better (e.g. Armor/MR shreds), removing unnecessary things from spectator (e.g. Bandit gold gain) and tweaking who hears which champion voice lines (not everyone needs to hear Super Galaxy Rumble all the time, for example).

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Melting Barriers: Bringing Snow Back to the Rift