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Balancing Champions

Balancing new champs, how players’ perception affects gameplay, and an update on legacy skins.

By Riot Maple Nectar, Riot King Cobra & DontHassleDaHoff

Welcome to Ask Riot! Have a question?

Let’s talk balancing champions and legacy skins.

Q

Seeing the opinions about Zoe, I have to ask: do you take perception into account when changing champs?

A

Player perception is something we talk about frequently when we’re working on champions (particularly polarizing champs like Zoe, Yasuo, Zed, etc.), though very rarely does it influence whether we take action on a champ in a vacuum. A very common statement that we’ll hear is “X champion is frustrating to play against,” which is a pretty vague statement that could refer to any number of in-game experiences: Is it that counterplay doesn’t feel obvious despite having faced the champion many times? Is it that you die very quickly when the champion executes their combo well? Is it that they have high mobility and are very hard to hit with skillshots? Is it that you feel like you can’t walk into Fog of War to follow them if they’re roaming?

All of the above impact your perception of a champion, but not all of them are indicative of a problem. If Zed takes you from 100% hp to 0% by hitting all his shurikens + ult + duskblade + ignite, should we nerf that? As an assassin it means he did his job, and nerfing him so he couldn’t kill you would remove him from ever being considered a viable champion. What we should do is make sure you have tools at your disposal to help you handle these situations (in this case, building armor or getting a GA or Zhonya’s), but our response to the perception that “Zed is frustrating” should not just be to nerf him.

Another thing we consider is that the perception around specific champions or the meta varies drastically depending on MMR, region, position played, etc. While something may feel like an issue to a very specific set of players, oftentimes (but not always) that perception does not impact the rest of the playerbase. What might be a problem in NA at high MMR may not be an issue in KR, what’s an issue in Brazil in low MMR might not be an issue in Vietnam, and so on. We try our best to design with a global perspective.

To summarize—we utilize player perception as flags for potential problems that we need to dig into, but they aren’t necessarily an immediate call to action that something needs to be done.

Riot Maple Nectar
Product Lead, Live Gameplay
Q

What work is done to test balancing for a new champion?

A

Balancing new and updated champions is generally a group effort from the designer, playtester, and primary Live Gameplay point of contact. While we frequently discuss balance very early in development (often in the form of asking questions such as “Will this champion be fun to play with and against?” and “Is there sufficient skill expression within the kit?”), we start paying particular attention to numbers once a champion’s kit is locked. This can happen relatively early in development, but sometimes it happens quite late. For example, we were iterating on Swain’s final ultimate right up until his PBE release.

Numbers tuning usually starts by comparing the champion’s stats and abilities to similar ones that already exist in our game. When deciding what sort of base stats Swain should have, we looked at Vladimir, Lissandra, Karthus, and other moderate range mages that excel at teamfighting, and then adjusted his numbers to where we thought they would be appropriate. We do something similar with abilities as well. If we’re giving a champion a “boomerang” type ability, it’s generally safe to look at other ones that already exist in the game, such as Ahri’s Orb of Deception, and start from there.

We gain confidence for these values mostly from games played by the Playtest Team. A champion in development is assigned a lead playtester who is responsible for mastering them and understanding what they look like when played optimally. They’ll figure out ideal itemization and rune pages while learning what match ups they excel and struggle in.

As a champion nears release, the designer, lead playtester, and live gameplay designer will meet and discuss the different levers they’re willing to pull if a champion releases too strong or too weak. They’ll also put together a plan for long term balance that outlines how they’d adjust the champion depending on how they’re performing.

Riot King Cobra
Qa Analyst, Playtest Team
Q

Are legacy skins coming back soon?

A

We used to have “vault” sales where we’d bring back legacy skins for a short period of time, but we stopped these in 2016 because most players didn’t participate in them, and we thought there were better ways to unvault skins.

Now we bring back legacy skins during holidays and appropriate events. Non-holiday legacy skins won’t be coming back as often, but you can still get them through Your Shop and Hextech Crafting. One other thing we’ve been trying is bringing back vault skins alongside new champion content, like Karma’s splash update or the ANNIE: Origins video, to really celebrate the champion.

DontHassleDaHoff
Revenue Strategist

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