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More than a few folks have asked us about why we removed Smite rewards for Season 2017. Since it keeps coming up, I feel like now’s a good time to share some of the design philosophy behind the change.
First, let’s start with the goals we have for the jungle:
- All classes and positions should have interesting problems to solve in the early game.
- When the only choice for a jungler is “Where can I gank?” the result is a small pool of junglers and a very repetitive experience for the jungler and laners.
- The early game Jungle is healthiest when players must balance the strengths and weaknesses of their champion against the challenges of the jungle in order to exert pressure on lanes.
What does this mean for Smite rewards?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SMITE REWARDS
Smite rewards were initially built in the 2015 season to give junglers new ways to survive a vastly more difficult jungle without worrying about laners poaching those tools for themselves. We assumed Smite rewards would give us balance levers to manage the increased challenges junglers faced, but once they hit live, they quickly became problematic. The amount of power granted by these clear-based rewards was extremely disparate from champion to champion. This forced us to weaken both the camps and the rewards over the course of the season to prevent the junglers who used Smite bonuses most efficiently from fully crowding out everyone else. As we settled on versions of the Smite rewards that could be balanced, it became clear that these versions also got less and less exciting for all users.
We originally built Smite rewards with the intention that we’d change them, rotate the available options, and expand the system over time. The reality was that (1) the power budget they occupied was small, left little room for design expansion, (2) the usage rate of Smite rewards was much lower than intended at nearly every level below pro play, and (3) when buffed to solve problems, they overly influenced the champions picked for the jungle.
TLDR: We had a system that had little impact on the game and required knowledge of crazy arcane secrets to use well, with no clear way to make it better or expand it.
JUNGLE IN FLUX
While the problems with Smite rewards were ever-present, the jungle they were built into was stable for quite a while. We’ve historically struggled to define what we prioritize most with the jungle; the Season 2015 jungle attempted to improve champion diversity, but did so through a large increase to monster gold and experience rewards. This was very clear in competitive play, where multiple strategies were built around poaching that forced us to do more and more to cordon off the jungle. Each time we had to change the jungle, we attempted to use Smite rewards as a tool to solve the problem, and found them insufficient. Each time, we found that direct changes to the camps were much more effective and understandable.
Partway through the 2016 season, we made the internal decision to remove Smite rewards. From there, we looked for the correct window to make the change. Due to the fact that it would require a full jungle rebalance, we waited until pre-season, where we would also have time to build back in some of the positive effects that Smite Rewards have always targeted. We believe most of the value from Smite rewards was absorbed by other changes to the jungle this season. For example:
- Route differentiation: Individual Smite rewards were meant to provide tools that each jungler would value differently in order to create route diversity based on jungle champion. They fell flat here, with the only points of differentiation coming from very large categories, like reliance of spells vs. autos for clearing.
We believe that the camp changes in Season 2017 actually provide a greater array of questions that have more variety from champion to champion. We also believe that these camps have a few more levers for us to pull when it comes to balance, which should mean we can fix edge cases more easily without hitting average cases so hard.
- Jungle Uptime: Smiting the red buff had been a very powerful tool to get to enough health to gank for many junglers. We moved some health return onto Smite itself to maintain this option and ensure we still had Smite as a tool for junglers to pull some tricks in a duel. We’ll be watching junglers with less sustain to make sure they still have windows to impact the game.
- Vision tools: Raptor and Wolf Smites both provided vision tools that junglers had come to rely on, with some classes being more dependant than others. Assassins now have access to the sneaky clearing of Duskblade, while Control wards and Scryer’s Blooms allow for area and objective control.
As Smite rewards (re)proved, the jungle is a very finicky place to inject difference and sustainable checks and balances on champion power. We’ll be watching as players adapt to the new jungle and start figuring out new strategies and optimizations, ready to fix any exploits that hurt the game, but also embrace the new and exciting evolutions.
See you on the rift!