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/dev: State of Champion Update, January 2017

With Warwick live and the Assassin update in the rear-view, what’s next for League’s Champion Update team?

By Reav3

With Warwick’s update live, we thought it’d be a great time to take another deep-dive into the Champion Update team. For those that didn’t read my last blog, this is meant to go over our recent projects and reflect on where we think they succeeded or failed as well as talk about upcoming project goals. We currently have four teams on Champion Update: two VGU Teams, a Class Update Team, and a Splash Art Update Team. So let’s get right into it!

Comic by Dream Vessel (http://www.dream-vessel.com/post/155862176323/lolwarwick-rework)

Roster Team – Class Update Team

Recent Project: Assassin Class Update

Overall Thoughts

Assassins have been one of our most controversial class updates to date. One of the major goals with the Assassin update was to make the class as a whole healthier for the game. We wanted to reduce their burst time from an instant to seconds. We feel this has made them more fair to play against overall, and also allows us to make their success cases stronger. We also felt that Assassins are perceived to be a high-skill class, so for all our major reworks, with the exception of Rengar (more on that below), we increased the skill floor across the board. We also increased the skill ceiling in several cases. While none of our class updates come out the gates perfectly balanced (a hard target to hit given the wide skill bands that exist from Bronze to Pro), we feel like the class as a whole will be much easier to balance going forward.

I saw a good amount of feedback in my last post that you guys wanted more detailed thoughts on each individual Mage for the Mage Class Update, so this time I’m going to go into more detail on each individual Assassin.

Talon

Our goals for Talon were to slow down his burst pattern while giving him more flexibility to engage and escape his prey. Another goal we had was to enhance Talon’s strength as a roam-heavy Assassin—in fact, we wanted to see how far we could push this. Finally, we wanted give him a unique identity among the rest of the Assassins. Luckily for us, Talon already had a really cool visual theme that was ripe for design exploration. Looking into his lore and art, we felt like Talon worked well as a hawk-like Assassin that would chase his prey through the streets of Noxus, leaping off walls and buildings to catch them. This led us down the Parkour route; we wanted him to have near-limitless mobility as long as he was in a cramped environment similar to the streets of Noxus. We knew we were onto something when folks from playtests (and not just ChampUp folks) would send us emails about how fun Talon was to play.

So how do we feel now that Talon’s new kit has wall jumped onto the rift?

While we feel Talon’s kit is in a pretty good spot, we also think he was a tad bit weak at launch. We put some small buffs in for Talon himself, but also suspect his current power level is impacted by some of his must-buy items being a little on the weak side. We will be looking into buffs for core items that we think will help him out, and will continue to monitor him going forward. And the end of the day, we feel Talon is in a much more unique spot and has much clearer strengths and weakness. Also, Parkour!

Rengar

So let’s talk about everyone’s favorite knife cat. Rengar was already unique to play with his brush mechanic, long-duration stealth, and ferocity bar. We didn’t feel like we had to give him a new unique ability.

One goal with Rengar was to make him think more about how he wants to enter a fight. Another was to make his ultimate healthier by giving opponents more time to react and prepare when he triggers the hunt. We also wanted to make his ultimate more thematic so that he felt like he was prowling for his prey, waiting for the right moment to strike. Finally, we wanted to lower his skill floor so he was easier to pick up and play, but also raise his skill ceiling by making his choice of which empowered ability to use more meaningful.

We generally don’t mind when a champion has a high skill floor as long as the path to mastery is clear. Yasuo, for example, has a pretty high skill floor but after one game it’s pretty clear how to get better with Yasuo even if it takes many games. With pre-rework Rengar, a lot of his mastery was tied into non-intuitive mechanics that weren’t exactly clear after the first couple of games with him (things like how to properly use animation canceling to get burst out as quickly as possible, or knowing how and when to hold ferocity before a fight).

We wanted to transfer his more mechanical skill mastery into decision making instead.

So now that he’s on live, how do we think we did at hitting our goals?

While Rengar came out the gate a bit strong, we think that in a balanced state he has clearer trade-offs in deciding which ability to empower. So, we feel we hit that goal pretty well. We’re a bit more mixed about how his new ult landed. In one regard, we think we made it much clearer when Rengar is hunting someone and which direction he is coming from, and his ult also feels more useful to his team. On the other hand, Rengar can still feel very oppressive when you are isolated—we don’t think we went far enough in solving the gameplay issues his old ult had.

His big problem now is that he’s still doing far too much burst damage in a short window without having to sacrifice his CC immunity. Our intended goal was for Rengar to make huge trade-offs between his empowered abilities. We want to make sure which empowered ability Rengar uses is a real choice (assuming he’s not super fed). If need be, we may do some more work in the future to make sure that choice is meaningful.

Katarina

Katarina was a champion that we felt already had a unique identity — it just needed to be updated and brought up to our modern design standards. Katarina has always been the “teamfight” assassin due to her AOE abilities and kill resets. Her weakness is that she can be shut down harder than most champions by hard CC. Old Kat used to live and die by this, and being a good Katarina player was heavily tied into knowing when you should or shouldn’t go in and kill everybody in a whirling streak of daggers.

Katarina fan art by Benlo (https://fanart.na.leagueoflegends.com/#/en/codex=572)

We wanted to keep this identity but we also wanted to give her more options than just “go in” or “don’t go in.” We actually struggled a lot finding something that felt like it was true to Katarina’s theme but also felt like a modern version of the Sinister Blade. Part of the reason it was so difficult is that Katarina doesn’t really have a clear, unique theme other than “Noxian Dagger Assassin.” It wasn’t as clear as “Deceiver,” or “Jungle Predator,” or even “Acrobatic City Assassin.” After many failed internal iterations and much discussion we settled on Katarina’s thematic fantasy being that of a hot-blooded, agile assassin, blinking around the battlefield killing people faster than you can keep track of—the classic agile assassin trope you see in anime/movies where the Assassin appears everywhere at once and then everyone’s body drops to the floor simultaneously. We also wanted to play up the fact that she had two magical blades which led to the blade-throwing, blinking, agile Assassin we ended up with (I could probably write a whole blog just on Katarina development process, and maybe I will in the future).

So how do we think Katarina did now?

We’re feeling much better about Katarina’s place in the roster and it seems that she was well-received by both old and new Kat players. We feel she currently delivers on the skill fantasy that her theme infers, as well. Old Kat had a deceptively high mastery curve, but it wasn’t very apparent to the players in the game, leading to the inaccurate assumption that she was super easy to play. It should now be much clearer to both the Kat player and the other players in the game when she is being successful (or not). We do want to keep an eye on her as players continue to master her kit. We knew Kat would be a high mastery curve champion, but that mastery curve hasn’t stopped climbing since release.

LeBlanc

So I saved the best for last right?

Leblanc has definitely been the most controversial update of all the Assassins. I have seen many players ask why we even worked on Leblanc. There were three reasons we felt Leblanc was the right choice for the Assassin update. The first reason being that if we didn’t rework her, she would crowd out all the other Assassins. Leblanc would be such a strong generalist Assassin (Safe range, mobility, burst and CC) that there wouldn’t be much reason not to choose her unless she was weak and unviable.

Second, Leblanc was also one of the highest perpetrators of appearing out of nowhere, deleting someone instantly, and then disappearing in the blink of an eye. The third reason was that we felt she had untapped thematic potential as a Deceiver, so we wanted to really push the deceiver/clone thematic further on her kit.

So that’s why we chose LeBlanc, but how do we feel now that she is out?

There’s no denying that Leblanc was way too strong when we first released her, but we feel that when her power is in line, her kit will be in a much healthier and unique space. LeBlanc has always been a bit of an Assassin/Mage hybrid, though pre-update she swung harder towards being an Assassin than a Mage. We wanted to push the Assassin/Mage hybrid thing further though and also make her feel more like a deceiver.

She still has all the strengths/weakness of Assassins (great mobility, burst damage, target selection, poor teamfight, etc.), but she also has some mage strengths like wave clear and a ranged auto-attack. She takes a bit more time to kill her opponents than some Assassins with her new passive, but the mage traits she gets in return more than make up for that. We think that her being a hybrid Assassin/Mage as well as her new deceiving ultimate make her much more unique than before and less of an all-powerful generalist ranged assassin. It is possible that she has too many combined strengths from being an Assassin/Mage hybrid—this is something we may have to address in the future.

Small Reworks

Let’s talk about our small reworks. For the last two class updates (Mages & Assassins) we tried to raise the scope a bit on our smaller class reworks. We wanted to make sure all players of the class felt like they got an update, even if it was small. While this worked out in some cases, it was sort of a 50/50 split in terms of what worked and what didn’t. Going forward, we are only going to do small reworks if we have something we feel really confident in instead of trying to hit every champion in the class. There will be times when we have to make changes to champions based on bigger systematic changes, though (like Twitch’s stealth changes) so expect to still see those kinds of changes going forward.

Current Project: Tank Class Update

I’m happy to announce that the next class update we are going to tackle will be beefiest class to date, Tanks! While we will systematically be looking into the Tank class as a whole, we will be primarily focusing our kit work on initiating tanks, which we call Vanguards. We want to give tanks more mastery and skill expression, as well as unique identities. This doesn’t mean we want every tank to require high mechanical skill, but we do want players to feel like the more they play a champion the better they get at that particular champion. Right now many of our tank champions have the flattest mastery curves in the game (basically this means players don’t improve much as they continue to play the champion).

Maokai fan art by Oakks (https://fanart.na.leagueoflegends.com/#/en/codex=631)

As for unique identities, our Vanguards in particular are currently very similar to each other. They all are basically different versions of Amumu—they go in, do some AOE CC, then stand around doing ambient damage to the enemy team. One of our major goals will be to make the Vanguards we rework break this mold in new and exciting ways. We also want to take a real hard look at defensive items and how the entire roster (both tanks and non-tanks) engages with them. We want tanks to get a much greater benefit from tank items than other classes, so they can correctly play the role of being the tankiest champions in the game. We’re still experimenting with different champions, but once we start to lock down which champions will get larger scale reworks we will let you all know, so keep your eyes peeled for design direction posts in the future!

Splash Art Team

Last we talked about the splash art team they had just finished the Sion splashes and were starting on Fiora and Twitch splashes. Since then, we have shipped the Fiora and Twitch splash updates. Player response was very positive on these, so not much to talk about here. After Twitch, the team had to hyper focus on Warwick splash art since he has so many skins. The team is currently working on Galio splash art for his upcoming VGU as well as a skin splash update for Karma! After that we plan on updating Maokai and Sejuani’s old skin splash art in anticipation for the Tank class update.

Team Alpha – Large Rework Team

Current Project: Galio

Not much to talk about for the Galio project that I didn’t already talk about in my last blog. Galio is still humming along nicely. As we put the finishing touches on Base Galio, we are starting to ramp up on his Legendary skin, Gatekeeper Galio! Expect big things.

Next Project: Evelynn

Let’s talk about Team Alpha’s next project, the mysterious mystery wrapped in mystery, Evelynn! While Evelynn’s archetype as a sexy shadow assassin has aged well, we feel she can be greatly improved if we rebuild her from the ground up. The first thing we want to address is Evelynn’s kit. Our three big design goals with Evelynn’s kit are to solidify her as the Assassin she was meant to be (not the diver she has become), add a bit more more satisfaction on ability use, and increase her game health. Specifically, we want to make her map presence less oppressive in the early game. We think PermaStealth is a cool and unique trait, so we don’t plan on removing it but we do think there is a healthier version of it that will allow us to shift power elsewhere in Evelynn’s kit.

We also want to answer the question “Who the hell is Evelynn and where does she come from?” Our Worldbuilding team gave Evelynn a small story when Yorick was released, but that was just to hold her over until we had a chance to flesh her out more and make sure her narrative is more than just skin-deep. Lastly, we want to do a large overhaul to her visuals. Evelynn’s theme of a sexy shadow stalker has been very resonant with players, but the execution is well below our current standards. Look forward to seeing (or not seeing) a Evelynn VGU in the future!

Team Bravo – Large Rework Team

Recent Project: Warwick

ARR-WHOOOOOOOOOOOO! Our goals with Warwick were to increase his skill ceiling a good amount while making sure he’s still a great first pick for inexperienced junglers. We also really wanted to deliver on the fantasy of a blood hunter. We wanted to give Warwick players a chance to give in to their primal desire to hunt and kill their prey. If you don’t see Warwick players making insane plays driven by their lust for blood, then we probably failed on Warwick. We also wanted to make him more unique to our world, and make him feel like a Zaun Chimera rather than the typical cliche werewolf. So log in and play some Warwick games and let us know in the comments below if you think we hit our goals or not (if you can suppress your urge to keep chasing kills, that is).

Current Project: Urgot

Urgot…where do I even start with Urgot. Many Rioters have had their spirits broken trying to make sense of Urgot’s kit. Urgot is like the poster child of champions with confused thematics, kit, visuals, and narrative. He’s a ranged character with a knife-hand, he’s a Marksman that’s also kind of a tank, that swaps himself INTO the enemy team. He’s Noxian but he looks like he’s from Zaun. There’s A LOT of stuff going on with Urgot that have made him a very difficult champion to rework, but we are happy to announce that we finally have a solid direction for Urgot that we want to go into production with.

Getting there will require breaking down all of Urgot’s competing directions, throwing some out and keeping others, then building him up again as a more cohesive and understandable package. From a design/kit perspective Urgot needs a lot of work to create a cohesive package. From an art perspective, we think that Urgot has something cool going on already, a terrifying mixture of flesh and machine that has traded his humanity for power. The current execution leaves a lot to be desired, though, so he will be getting a visual overhaul to go along with his shiny new kit. We also want to improve his narrative to match the new world our Worldbuilding team has been building up over the last couple years. At last, the Urgod’s time has come. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Final Thoughts

So that’s what Champion Update has been up to and where we are headed in the future. Would love to hear where you think we landed on our goals, as well as what you think about our goals on future projects.

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/dev: On League’s Business Model