Who is League of Legends balanced for?

A few months ago I interviewed at Riot Games to become part of their in house balance team. Over the course of two separate interviews, lasting thirty and forty-five minutes, I was thrown through what I can only describe as the gauntlet of game health adjudication. In this interview, I trash talked Nasus, roasted Janna mains like myself and complained avidly about Azir, all to my interviewer’s delight. The aforementioned interviewer was none other than Gleebglarbu.

Rolling through question after question about various “toxic” champions, champions whose design create frustrating experiences for players, we finally got to the big one. I’m not talking about Corki’s package here, but instead a question that left me more perplexed than a drunkard watching Inception for the first time. Here, Gleebglarbu, and later another interviewer by the name of Trevor asked me what demographic of skill would I balance League of Legends for. More specifically, they asked me if I would balance champions for professional play or the average Silver player. The dialogue went something like this:

 

Gleeb: In situations where you can either balance for LCS levels of play or Silver levels of play, which one do you choose and why?

Me: Do the two situations have to be mutually exclusive?

Gleeb: For champions like Azir (a champion I had complained about laning against earlier in the interview) the perfect player will make him seem frustratingly overpowered. But then you see a Bronze II player pick the champion up and all the sudden his team is missing a mid laner.

 

I continued to fumble around with this question, attempting to find some middle ground balance between pro and casual play, but alas with Azir and champions like him, there was no middle ground. I had to pick a side within this dualistic paradigm, and if you know me, you know that I hate dualistic systems more than anything.

Ultimately I suggested that Riot had to first and foremost balance for the competitive scene, a decision I still do not entirely believe in, but I had to choose one or the other. I chose to balance around the professional level of play, pulling data from Masters through LCS to make balancing decisions due to the fact that League of Legends as a Spectator Sport, is for everyone. While it is impossible to balance a game for everyone with the sheer amount of player skill diversity and champion kit variety, it is possible to balance it for just the professional scene.

Ryze is one of the champions whispered about through the halls of Riot games. They speak of him not by name, but as the Rework King. Courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

Balancing for the LCS

Whether you are in promos to Diamond I or someone who has never played ranked, you can watch your favorite players fail flash into the thick part of the wall on side lanes. And most importantly, you can do so on the big screen of the LCS stage. League of Legends has established itself as the pinnacle of Esports and will continue to do so through their constant reinvestment into the competitive scene. It’s paid off too. The production value of Worlds, Rift Rivals and even weekly LCS keep viewers returning week after week, season after season.

Professional League of Legends as a spectator sport is for everyone and not balancing around this level of play cheats both the pros and the viewers out of a dynamic viewing experience. Riot tries their best to make the viewing experience as close to perfect as possible, but there have been long periods of pro play imbalance that have made League of Legends a stale viewing experience.

If you remember the times of lane swaps, where top laners had less farm to their name than the average Cannon minion, you remember a time of darkness and boredom. While this lasted for far too long, changes were made to towers in order to make the viewing experience one worthy of the viewers’ time.

This change had little impact on the solo queue experience for the majority of players and was an all around success, but there have been other dark times on the competitive stage that have bled into casual play. I know I have seen one Shurima Shuffle and several machine gun Ryze plays too many and the repetitive nature of these picks were answered in a timely fashion by Riot’s balancing team. However, the costs of these changes left League of Legends with two champions that when picked in ranked would ensue dodges from those trying to safeguard their LP.

Who can forget this play? TL Fenix takes down almost all of CLG all by himself. Courtesy of lolesports

This is a real drag for players who enjoy playing those champions that are gutted in such an extreme fashion simply because they cannot be balanced in professional play. I am sure Riot has learned a lot from their trouble making Azir and each failed variation of Ryze. The problem with those champions doesn’t entirely run in the power of the numbers in their kit, a problem that champions with more simplistic kits run into a lot of the time. The problem instead lies in the nature of a kit that relies on low ping and insane amounts of team coordination. The fact that getting my team to leave the base before thirty seconds in the game is a problem makes using a champion that requires everyone to hop in a designated zone that’s only available for two seconds even more problematic.

And while I can go on and on about Ryze, that should really be saved for a different piece entirely (hire me Riot I got ideas for the next six Ryze reworks). What Ryze represents at Riot Games is something completely different. The failure of Ryze is Riot making a statement. A statement that Gleebglarbu would have never told me in the interview: League of Legends balances around professional play over all else.

And while this statement does not sound great for the player base, it is one that I ultimately agreed with in my interview. As I have explained earlier, balancing around professional play is not a bad strategy. But there is a better way. Yes, the viewing experience must come first and the sanctity of League of Legends as THE competitive Esport is Riot’s most prized possession. But there is a way to avoid the dualism of champion balance that I have struggled so much with, and that answer comes in the Champion design.

You wouldn’t hop in this van would you? Then why are you going in that Ryze ultimate as Caitlin? Courtesy of imgflip

 

So before you patch with small buffs and incremental nerfs, the design of each champion must come under the highest level of scrutiny. Remember that we are communicating with pings and we are also communicating with strangers, who have no more reason to trust us than we have to trust them. I’m not going to hop in my mid lane Ryze’s ultimate anymore than I’m going to hop in a stranger’s Van. So let’s continue with the Rakans and Kayns whose kits rely upon communication that can easily be done through our five ping options. Let’s stick with champion designs that do not rely upon the blind trust of strangers asking for you to get in the blacked out Van covered in Runes.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Rodger Caudill 

Feature image courtesy of lolesports flickr

Overwatch Apex Season 2 Week 3 Recap

Week 3 hit right after the latest 1.7 patch, so teams weren’t hesitant to try out new team compositions. We saw a two sniper composition out of Meta Athena. The standard three tank, one DPS, and two support made its return, but in limited showing. The 2-2-2 balance also made a return, as Genji is prominently back in the center of the meta-game.

This week also displayed the newest control point map in Oasis. Teams had interesting strategies, mostly trying to push teams into the smaller choke points. It should be featured in more Overwatch tournaments and events in the future. Now let’s talk about this week’s matchups.

photo via twitch.tv/ognglobal

Meta Athena vs. MVP Infinity

Meta Athena moves to 2-0 (+4) in the group of death (Group A), taking out MVP Infinity 3-2. MVP moves to 0-2 (-2) and is now in need of a miracle to make it out of the group one stages. The win for Meta sets up a group A finals between them and the current number one ranked team in the world, EnvyUs, in a couple weeks.

The match from last night provided plenty of highlight reel plays from both sides, but especially out of the main DPS players from Meta Athena in Sayaplayer (Ha Jeong Woo), Libero (Kim Hye Sung), and the aggressive Zarya play out of Hoon (Choi Jae Hoon). The aggressive style on maps like Illios and Hanamura gave Meta the edge, allowing for strong team pushes while Sayaplayer flanked primarily with his Tracer.

MVP prepared more set plays and specific setups and that ultimately backfired as they weren’t able to adjust to Meta’s constant character swapping. For example, the Torbjorn pick from Undine (Son Yeong Woo) on Hanamura was sound on first point, but once Meta was able to power through first and move on to second with better ultimate economy, the Torbjorn became useless.

The set plays on Numbani and the tough defense on Route 66 kept MVP in it until game five. The turning point was the double sniper composition from Meta. Libero on the Hanzo and Sayaplayer on Widowmaker. The unexpected picks and skill from both players showed through as they were able to get 11 combined final blows on first point Kings Row to eventually take the map and the game. The overall decision making on team compositions, ultimate strategies, and positioning favored Meta Athena.

Runaway vs FlashLux

In a week of back-and-forth sets, Runaway did exactly what their name sake implies: runaway with the victory. The amateur, pink jacket wearing Korean squad showed they are to be taken seriously regardless of the attire they wear. Runaway took out FlashLux 3-0 and is now tied with KongDoo Panthera at the top of group D.

photo via twitch.tv/ognglobal

The synergy and team skill clearly showed. The heavy use of Genji out of Haksal (Kim Hyo Jong) played a huge factor in the team’s win. He carried the team in damage and had plenty of instances where he’d pull out a four-kill team fight. The clever use of dragon blade and his unique ability to get great angles by Genji’s wall-climbing seemed to be the difference in this one. FlashLux had no answer.

On top of Haksal, Kaiser’s (Ryu Sang Hoon) damage output and shield pressure on Reinhardt was impressive. He kept the front line secure and safe. This allowed for players like Haksal and BUMPER (Park Sang Beom) to be more aggressive against the FlashLux supports players.

The positioning was key in RunAway’s win, as they kept pinning Flash Lux in small corridors and finishing them with either graviton surges or earth shatters; this allowed Stitch (Lee Choong Hui) and Haksal to do plenty of damage on Tracer and Genji. With a strong focus on the DPS players, RunAway has a chance to take group D.

KongDoo Uncia vs. Afreeca Freecs Blue

KD Uncia showed up in their win over Afreeca Freecs Blue and moved themselves closer to taking group C. The steady play from one of the top Korean teams on some of the more underplayed maps was impressive. Winning on Oasis, Kings Row, and Watchpoint: Gibralter while sticking primarily with the current meta in terms of team composition.

Lunatic Hai vs. LW Blue

Lunatic Hai essentially sealed up their group B victory with a 3-1 win over LW Blue. The excellent play of their top DPS player Whoru (Lee Seung Joon), who’s arguably been the APEX MVP through the first three weeks, and Miro (Gong Jin-Hyuk) on the Reinhardt has been a major part of this teams’ 2-0 record. Top that with some of the most consistent support plays from Tobi (Yang Jin-mo) and Ryujehong (Ryu Je-Hong) and it’s one of the strongest teams in the entire league.

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Starladder i-League Finals: Na’Vi vs Vici Gaming R.

While only Vici bears the name “Reborn”, these are both two teams making their reappearance in the grand scene, and they offered quite a thrilling grand final series. Despite the 3-1 in favour of Vici, all games were played on almost equal footing, with no clear winner until the very end.

Game 1

Na’Vi VG.R
Enchantress Gyrocopter
Faceless Void Lion
Death Prophet Queen of Pain
Earth Spirit Earthshaker
Nature's Prophet Beastmaster

Na’vi had a better early game, shutting down the Gyrocopter pretty effectively, winning most skirmishes and gaining map control. However, during an unsuccessful Roshan attempt, they lost both the fight and the Aegis to the enemy, which evened the difference in net worth. After that, and despite the large number of team fights, no team could gain a clear advantage. Na’vi had a slight edge in winning fights, while VG had Roshan on their side of the river.

The Chinese decided they had enough, claimed the Aegis for their very farmed Gyro and went for the Throne. Na’vi threw bodies at them, and after a hardcore Spartan defense, VG were pushed back; not only that, Gyrocopter had made a questionable buyback and was unable to prevent Na’vi from getting two sides of rax. The ending of this epic game was marked by a 3-man Chronosphere, which resulted in Na’Vi’s final push and victory.

It won’t do this game much honour to discuss what decided the outcome; it was pure epicness all over the place, especially near the finale. Suffice to say though, perhaps that hasty buyback from Gyrocopter cost his team a lot.

Game 2

Na’vi VG.R
Puck Gyrocopter
Bounty Hunter Lion
Invoker Windranger
Enchantress Chen
Lycan Lone Druid

This one was a bit more straightforward. Gyrocopter had a great game from the start, participating in almost every kill early on and getting items fast. Lone Druid had his Midas+Radiance pretty early, and was ready to start eating towers. Na’Vi kept up with pickoffs, Track Gold and Dendi’s amazing Sun Strikes.

I believe Game 2 came down to the drafts. While both teams played equally well, Lycan is not a great Hero for direct clashes, he’s more of a pusher. From a point onward, it was plainly obvious he couldn’t face Gyro+Lone Druid head on. He didn’t have the space to split push, either, as even with him there, the fights weren’t easy for his team. Na’vi fought well, but when it came down to the mid-late game clashes, their carry just didn’t cut it. Slowly and steadily, VG pushed their way into the enemy base.

Game 3

Na’Vi VG.R
Nature's Prophet Gyrocopter
Oracle Witch Doctor
Windranger Queen of Pain
Chen Bounty Hunter
Faceless Void Batrider

Despite Queen of Pain having a really hard time in the mid lane and Na’vi getting a bit more pickoffs, VG Heroes topped the CS chart and quickly took advantage of it. Queen more than made up for her weak early game, getting kill after kill and reaching Beyond Godlike pretty quickly.

While Faceless Void had some good Chronospheres, there just wasn’t enough damage on top of it for Na’Vi to fight back. In team fights, they could just kill the supports, at best; Track gold didn’t make it easier for them, either. Even later on, when Nature’s Prophet and Windranger got some damage items, it was too little too late, compared to yet another beast Gyrocopter. The weakness of Na’Vi’s lineup showed, and VG grabbed the arguably easiest win of the 4 matches.

Game 4

Na’Vi VG.R
Batrider Juggernaut
Earth Spirit Vengeful Spirit
Queen of Pain Puck
Witch Doctor Enchantress
Gyrocopter Night Stalker

The early game here was more or less even. Juggernaught topped the net worth by far, followed however by 3 Na’Vi Heroes. Puck was picked off a bit too many times at mid, but Night Stalker applied a lot of pressure around the map to make up for it. Juggernaught went for a greedy farming build, investing a few of his skills points in stats and getting Battle Fury first. Perhaps because of that, Na’Vi had the upper hand if only by a very small amount in team fights.

Kills, however, don’t mean that much in Dota and VG had the Dire Roshan advantage for the 4th game in a row, plus the vision advantage from Night Stalker. From a point onward, Na’Vi’s minimap was pitch black and they were very hesitant in striding too far from their base. But, things don’t always go so smooth, and after Na’Vi convincingly winning a team fight and claiming Aegis and Cheese, they decided to get a Divine Rapier on Gyrocopter and walk down mid.

Perhaps in theory, that was the correct choice; Na’Vi were never going to win the vision/pickoff game, and claiming another Roshan wouldn’t be easy. The execution was heartbreaking for their fans though, to say the least, as Gyrocopter died twice and lost the Rapier to Juggernaught. After that, there was nothing stopping the Chinese from getting Mega Creeps and claiming the cup.

LPL Quarterfinals Team WE vs. Vici Gaming.

Last night in the wee hours of the morning, the first round of the LPL Quarterfinals began with a clash between WE and VG.

Image result for Team WE vs Vici Gaming

WE came in as the favorite with a marginally better season than VG, though personally I was leaning in VG’s favor. Easyhoon and DanDy have both made me pay for betting against them, and WE hasn’t been playing massively better

.

Game 1’s draft was fairly balanced. WE picked up Ekko, Kindred, Karma, Lucian, and Trundle and VG ran Poppy, Nidalee, Lissandra, Sivir, and Braum. Both teams elected to play standard lanes and Farmville 2k16 began. The game was pretty quiet until about 3 minutes in when DanDy and Easyhoon took an easy kill from Xiye’s Karma. There wouldn’t be any more action until a little after 5 minutes when DanDy landed a max range spear on Condi and managed to get the kill with a little help from Easyhoon

DanDy roamed top next where Loong’s Poppy had 957’s Ekko fairy low. DanDy connected with a spear, but on the dive, 957 managed to pick up a kill on Loong before going down to Easyhoon.

 

At 7 minutes VG was more than 1000 gold ahead of their opponent with noticeable superiority of the map.

VG continued to have complete control of the game and at 30 minutes they found themselves with a 10-1 Kill Advantage, a 11,000 gold lead, and a Baron buff. VG continued to snowball to a win at 36 minutes in what was almost a perfect game from Vici.

 

In Game 2, I feel VG left the draft with a slight advantage. Ekko, Kindred, Lulu, Lucian, Braum for VG and Lissandra, Graves, Karma, Sivir, and Bard for WE. Neither team has a massive advantage, but I feel VG had a minor advantage.

 

This time, WE chose to send Sivir and Bard to the top lane, but VG managed to react fairly efficiently. They took the bot tower before WE could take the top. Managed to go about even on the opposite tier 1’s, and then managed to snag Rift Herald in time to stay even on towers by getting a tier 2. 8 minutes in with the lane swap WE’s only advantage was forcing Loong’s TP. The gold and objectives were almost completely even.

 

At 12 minutes, WE started the second Rift Herald of the game, but VG easily contested 4v5 and pushed WE out of the pit, managing to snag the herald with no casualties.

First blood didn’t come until around 16 minutes in when WE contested at Dragon. VG took the Dragon in no time at all, but a well placed Bard ultimate put WE in position to take an easy 4 for 0. (and its worth knowing that Zero’s Bard went off in this fight and took 2 of these 4 kills)

at 18:30, Loong gets caught in WE’s blue side jungle and slaughtered.

 

WE continued to snowball, and at 30 minutes started a Baron. In VG managed to kill 2 of WE, but WE managed to take the Baron and get Condi a penta-kill for a 5 for 2 and a 10,000 gold lead. With Baron empowerment, WE managed to push through VG’s base and take game 2.

Game 3 showed nearly the same team compositions, only DanDy and Condi swapped Graves and Kindred. I definitely felt this was more of a boost to VG seeing as DanDy’s Graves is one of the best in the world.

The game started almost identital to game two with the WE lane swap and VG’s Rift Herald response. The difference came at only 8 minutes when VG managed to catch Zero’s Bard out and snag the first blood. Things turned around at 10 minutes when WE managed to grab a 3 for 1 in a fight that VG had no reason being in in the first place.

The “1” in that fight would be the last real kill VG got in the game (I don’t count last second fountain dives). With a little less than 30 minutes on the clock and 13 kills on the board, WE took game 3, and a 1 game lead in the series. WE showed complete ownership of the game, turning every fight around on VG for a resounding victory.

 

Game 4’s draft finally showed some different champions. Vici elected to play Maokai, Kindred, Lissandra, Sivir and Bard and WE took Poppy, Graves, Corki, Ezreal, and Thresh. I definitely think the draft favored WE. They built a powerful triple ADC comp with 2 very powerful peeling champions to back up the damage. As much as I’d like to think that Meowkai has the power to change games, I just don’t think he’s a solid enough answer to WE’s insane damage.

 

Game 4 finally gave us some real action with legitimate fighting happening within the first 5 minutes. VG started off looking a bit stronger with an early two kills and managing to take a 4-2 lead in the first 6 minutes.

VG lost their lead on a bad play where Loong was caught out and DanDy died trying to save him. The game remained almost entirely even until 25 when a kill on DanDy allowed to WE to start a Baron, which helped WE to another 3 kills in the contest. This was the beginning of the end for VG. With the Baron, WE’s ability to push was nearly impossible for VG to stop. In an attempt to stop the push, VG went all in, and went 1 for 5. With the ace WE easily managed to push in and take the win, and the series.

You can check out the whole series here courtesy of LoL Esports TV – Tournaments

All photos courtesy of lol.gamepedia.com

Starladder i-League: Virtus Pro vs Alliance

The Sweds have had their ups and downs perhaps more than any other lineup we’ve seen. In this series, they showed their good selves and they emerged victorious pretty convincingly with 2-0.

Game 1

    VP Alliance
Sven Juggernaut
Zeus Queen of Pain
Nature's Prophet Beastmaster
Winter Wyvern Shadow Demon
Oracle Chen

VP had the superior mid-late game lineup here. Sven can destroy your whole team with a few items, Zeus is a nuker that progresses really well throughout the game, and Nature’s Prophe’s split pushing can prove to be too much. Alliance, on the other hand, had an edge in lane control and taking towers early. Queen of Pain can give Zeus a really hard time during the lane, and so it happened; paired with a courier snipe, Zeus didn’t have his bottle for some time and fell behind.

Alliance needed to act fast. 10 more minutes to VP’s Heroes would mean they could easily clear creep waves, to stop the enemy push and keep farming. Juggernaught isn’t the best option to deal with Sven, and Queen of Pain falls off pretty quickly if she doesn’t snowball. Execution-wise, snowball was the correct word for this game, as Alliance won every fight, took every tower they needed, secured Roshan and went high ground.

VP needed some more time and it perhaps would’ve been a totally different game, but they just didn’t have the space for it.

Game 2

   VP Alliance
Sven Gyrocopter
Zeus Juggernaut
Dark Seer Beastmaster
Oracle Shadow Shaman
Earth Spirit Chen

While the picks were a bit similar, this game was quite different. Alliance went for an irregular Juggernaught solo mid. With Dark Seer and Earth Spirit on their side, Virtus Pro had more powerful team fighting potential than the first game. While Alliance were ahead most of the time, they didn’t have the clear dominance of Game 1. VP realized that and stuck together to force a team fight; and perhaps that was their big mistake.

VP roamed around as 5 for way too long, and allowed Alliance to do what they do best: split their team, farm and push around the map. After establishing map control, the Sweds took a few Roshans and pushed their way in slowly and steadily. After taking mid racks and overextending a bit, VP took advantage of their team fight strength and pushed back, making Alliance feel threatened for the first time in the series. With a few buybacks however, and Sven getting kited way too much by Beastmaster and his Refresher Orb pickup, Alliance pushed VP back.

With a smoke gank, Alliance took advantage of their enemy’s bad positioning despite getting scouted by Zeus’ ult, which resulted in an easy team fight and the rest of VP’s high ground.

I believe VP felt too pressured to use their superior team fight. It’s a very common mistake for teams to stay as 5 for too long and fall behind in gold and EXP. Stacking like that is most effective when they’re able to get towers quickly. If they’d chilled out a bit and farmed a bit more, they could’ve probably forced a Game 3.

League of Dynamic Queue:

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In traditional sports, making the transition from amateur to professional usually means the individual has acquired the skills the professionals have. It typically means the amateur has mastered the game the same way the pros have. Most importantly, the amateur has trained and been accustomed to the situations he will experience in the professional scene.

In soccer, depending on what country one plays for, kids practice in smaller environments than professional-size football fields. The idea is that by having smaller teams, typically 8 players instead of the normal 11, kids will get accustomed to the basics of the game more quickly. In a smaller setting, one is constantly in the “game”. What that means is that in a professional game, if your team is attacking, a defender can feel as though he is not participating, whereas in smaller teams, children as well as professionals, have more opportunities to practice positioning and getting the ball.

I assume flag football is a variation of the kind. Flag football has added benefits in training that are particular useful without any of the dangers that regular football has. When kids are starting to play the game, practicing the subset of skills that flag football provides without the drawbacks that regular football has could be advantageous for the future of the kids.

How does all that relate to League?

One of the current problems in League of Legends is that solo queue players do not practice the skills necessary to play competitive League of Legends. In any other traditional sport, amateur Leagues have almost identical settings of the professional leagues. It would be hard to think that a basketball player could make the transition to the NBA without knowing basic strategies of the game, unfortunately that is the reality League of Legends is played in. It seems unthinkable that a soccer defender played professionally without knowing how to position himself relative to his teammates, this is a crucial skill in soccer because of the offside rule. It is the first thing any kid learns when he is introduced to the game, and most certainly if he is part of a team. Unfortunately, the reality is that in League of Legends an ADC can get picked up by a team and make the transition to professional, without ever having to participate in a lane swap.

League of Legends has, as a game, the drawback that solo queue is not a great measure of whether a player understands the game or not. Solo queue is a better measure of someone’s skills and we repeatedly hear analysts say that the great risk of teams picking up an amateur is that you never know how they are going to perform in the scene with the added strategic challenges that come with playing as a pro. The only example where someone performed at an elite level his rookie season was Faker, famously solo killing Ambition in his first game, back when Ambition was considered the best midlaner.

 

omplex football

Dynamic Queue will be a first step towards solving a big problem in League of Legends, but it has its drawbacks. If solo queue was eliminated and everyone was forced to play in Dynamic Queue, then everyone would have to learn the skills of Dynamic Queue, which are the same as those in the professional scene. Dynamic Queue will be an opportunity for players who understand the macro-level strategy to shine this season. Dynamic queue seems like a step in the right direction towards making a smoother transition from amateur gaming to the professional scene.

It is not clear as to how Dynamic queues will be shorter without compromising on the competitiveness of the games. It is also unfair that players that do not have many friends or choose to not play with friends, have a disadvantage because they do not communicate with their teammates. In this scenario it seems that Dynamic Queue must have voice communication between players in order to eliminate any kind of unfair advantage.

Dynamic Queue seems a step in the right direction and I am excited to find out if it improves the game.

Courtesy of kotaku.com and na.leagueoflegends.com