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Malzahar kills the lady

Balancing League, Malzahar’s dagger, and writing at Riot.

By Ghostcrawler, Riot Tiger Lily & Rumtumtummers

Welcome to Ask Riot! Have a question?

Q

Do you think it’s a bad thing that there are champions who will never see pro play?

A

Holistically, it’s a bad thing. By which I mean, if it were possible to achieve total champion parity from Bronze to pro, with very few trade-offs, then I’d choose it in a heartbeat.

The problem we have is to achieve that today would take a lot of trade-offs.

We use one set of tuning numbers for every League player, regardless of skill level. A game like basketball has different point lines, and a game like golf has different tee boxes, but League is virtually the same for everyone. A lot of the feedback we receive from players is about how a particular change won’t solve a balance issue at Challenger or Pro. But that’s not the focus.

So if you take a popular lower ELO champion like Garen and vow that he needs to be picked at pro, you could end up with a monster with a 65%+ winrate in Silver. You could do a big rework on him so that his winrate in Silver was around 50% and close to that for pro, but he might end up so mechanically complex that he isn’t as popular as he is today (or more likely, probably wouldn’t stay at 50% in Silver for long).

There are a bunch of other factors that affect pro play. For example, as I mentioned recently, it’s challenging to tune any champion who has part of their power tied up in AI minions so that they are viable for pro without stomping non-pro. Channeled ults are something pros tend to always interrupt. Weaknesses aren’t necessarily weaknesses when you have teammates who can cover them up, versus a solo queue experience where you may be on your own. Skill shots, combos, and anything timing-related tends to be far more reliable in higher skill brackets.

TLDR we do value pro champion diversity, but not at the expense of everything else.

(We’re also thrilled that the 10 ban change seems to have led to higher champion diversity in pro so far.)

Design Director, League of Legends
Q

Why does Malzahar carry a dagger if he doesn’t ever use it?

A

Little known completely non-canonical fact: Before staring into the Void, Malzahar used his seer abilities to wow Shuriman crowds as he toured with a traveling fair from town to town. In each new city, he’d ask for a brave volunteer from the audience to stand against a circular wooden target, affixing their wrists and ankles against it with snug straps. Hoisting the target into a spin, he’d turn and walk eighteen paces away from it, tying a blindfold around his eyes. Like lightning striking without warning on a cloudless day, he’d spin on his heels on his eighteenth step and fling five daggers at the target, each landing within a hair’s split from his volunteer’s body. Though he was a born seer and his ability to look into the future made it easy to know where the target was at any given moment, he breathed a sigh of relief as he counted the thwip, thwip, thwip, thwip, thwip of the daggers digging into the wood.

On a particularly lovely spring evening in Urzeris, Malzahar looked over the fluttering hands of the crowd, waving like kelp in the sea trying to get his attention, and chose a beautiful raven-haired woman with eyes like emeralds. He slid the straps around her delicate wrists, spun the target, and began to count… fifteen…sixteen…seventeen…eighteen…

…thwip, thwip, thwip, thwip thunk.

Malzahar keeps the dagger that ended her life with him always, to remind himself that even a seer can’t predict the uncertainty of the future. There is always a chance things can change for better, and surely for worse.

Riot Tiger Lily
Editor, Worldbuilding Team
Q

Last week you talked about what Riot looks for in artists. What about in writers? How can I become a writer at Riot?

A

This one is a bit tricky to answer, because there are lots of different kinds of writers at Riot. I’ll try (off the top of my head) to list a few, with an apology in advance for how long this will be and for probably over-simplifying and explaining someone’s job wrong:

Narrative — these are the folks who write lore, etc., around Runeterra and its champions. A narrative writer might help build an alternate fantasy world for a skin line, or help the champion team as it figures out the story of a new champ.

Example: Ivern Bio

Worldbuilding — these writers work on stuff that’s similar to what narrative writers do, but are focused more on the “big picture” of the world of Runeterra. They focus on things like the backstory of the world itself and how people act and interact in Demacia, Zaun, Piltover, etc.

Example: Zaun Update

Comms — these writers are centered on how we talk to and with players, authoring messaging about new features, stuff that broke, patch notes, etc.

Example: Patch Notes

Copywriting — this is the specialty for writers who focus on campaign-like writing around major releases. Think taglines, skin names, and promotional sites.

Example: Star Guardian Microsite

Editorial — these writers create longer stories about the whys/hows of League, through semi-journalistic interviewing/reporting or by helping devs write dev blogs.

Example: Developing Dark Star Thresh

Esports — esports writers focus on (duh) esports. They write summaries, match-up stuff, player bios, and some work on the actual broadcasts.

Example: The Hai Road

What’s more interesting is that there’s a lot of overlap between these areas. A copywriter might write the script for a CG teaser, an editorial writer might pitch in on edits for a new narrative piece, a comms writer might sub in to help with a champion reveal, and so on. Writers at Riot need specializations, but also a bit of flexibility.

So, getting to the point. What do we look for in writers? Most important is a strong portfolio. Experience and education are nice, but both take a backseat to excellent writing samples. Ideally you’ll have several examples of the kind of writing you’re interested in. Your cover letter, by the way, is a pretty good indicator of your writing chops. It doesn’t have to be the next great novel (though creativity can be a plus if executed well), just clean, clear, and easy to follow.

Specific requirements vary by role. You’re likely not going to be a good fit for the gameplay comms team, for example, if you’re not level 30 yet and you don’t play ranked (we see hundreds of applications that say “I don’t play League yet, but I will learn!”), just like you won’t land a gig working as an esports broadcast writer if you don’t know what LCS stands for. The best way to suss these out is to read the job descriptions carefully.

Additionally, you need to be honest about what interests you. A writer with a deep portfolio of narrative writing applying for a comms or esports role sends up red flags — is this person truly interested in this type of writing, or are they hoping to use one open role to slide into something else? Plus, what if you get the job? Will you be happy doing this work, every day? I’d probably be miserable writing narrative, but I’m sure someone else out there would rather die than edit dev blogs. Find the thing you like!

Overall there’s no big secret to it. Writers at Riot have a wide range of backgrounds. Some are published novelists. Some worked in television and film. Some started in an entry-level games job (I started in customer support, for example) and built a writing portfolio over time by pitching in whenever possible. Some just had kick-ass cover letters and writing samples and were hired with no professional experience at all. Every person took a unique path to get here.

Basically the way you become a writer at Riot is the same way you achieve anything: Do the thing you love and work your ass off at it. Fight for opportunities. The people who show up, the people who do the work, these are the people who succeed.

Managing Editor

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