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

Top 5 Big Plays of League of Legends’ All-Star Event

The League of Legends’ All-Star Event is an opportunity to highlight popular players from around the world. Esports fans nominate their favorite players in each position from each region, and the players with the most votes get to come together on a Fire or Ice themed all-star team. Playing a variety of game modes, including normal 5v5’s, 1v1’s, Tandem mode, and One-for-All, the competition focuses on showcasing the best international talents, as well as allowing players and viewers alike to have some light-hearted, no-pressure fun. However, the inconsequential nature of this tournament may turn off some fans from watching, so I have taken the liberty of compiling 5 top plays from the 2016 All-Star Event for anyone who may have missed out.

5. QTV’s Flash-Jukes

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

Day 3 of the tournament included an All-Assassin game. Players formed inter-regional Fire and Ice teams and selected their Assassin of choice for a 5v5. This mode made for a bloody series of teamfights full of mechanics and micro-play, but my favorite moments came from Team Fire’s Nguyễn “QTV” Trần Tường Vũ. He got to display just how slippery Akali can be.

At 1:56, Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan’s Rengar jumps from the bottom brush onto QTV for a chunk of damage. Văn “Optimus” Cường Trần retaliates with a couple of Orbs of Deception, bringing Karsa’s health pretty low. QTV get aggressive, dropping Akali’s Twilight Shroud. They trade Ignites, which takes down Karsa, but QTV stays alive. As Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang chases QTV he lands a Razor Shuriken from Zed. Fleeing towards the enemy jungle with dangerously low health, QTV uses Flash through the wall to dodge Maple’s shuriken and return to safety by Optimus.

Later in the same game, at 9:37, QTV finds himself stranded alone under tower with 3 members of Team Ice collapsing onto him: Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, Karsa, and Maple. Reacting to the projection of Zed’s Living Shadow, QTV drops his shroud to buy time. Jankos drops a Control Ward out of old habit (since the pre-season updates, they do not detect invisible champions). And as the three of them move in, QTV Shadow Dances to Rengar and immediately Flashes to safety under the inner turret. Anyone looking for tips on how to evade a turret dive: look no further.

4. NA All-Stars Wombo-Combo on LPL All-Stars

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

In the last game of Day 3, the NA LCS All-Stars represented Team Fire against Team Ice’s LPL All-Stars. This was a standard Summoner’s Rift 5v5 match. At 25:40, with a solid lead of 5 kills, 3,000 gold, and 2 Cloud Drakes over their opponents, Team Fire moves into the bot-side river to realize Team Ice have started taking the Ocean Drake. Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong on Nautilus immediately channels his Teleport onto a ward in the enemy jungle to block their escape. As Team Ice clump up and retreat directly towards him, Impact activates Depth Charge onto Wei “We1less” Zhen’s Orianna, knocking up two other members in the process. Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin unburrows Rek’Sai for a knock-up and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black catches all three in a Flash-Crescendo from Sona. If “wombo-combo” were in the dictionary, then this would be the definition.

3. Maple’s Ryze Ult Mind Games

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

One of the most novel pieces of Ryze’s reworked kit is the ultimate ability, Realm Warp, which teleports all allies within the circle (including minions) to a nearby location after a brief channel. Some pros have been able to leverage this ability in creative ways, and Maple of the LMS is is one of them.

Midway through Day 3, the LMS All-Stars of Ice took on the GPL All-Stars of Fire in a standard Summoner’s Rift 5v5. Karsa got pretty fed on Graves, but the true stand-out for me was Maple. There are several times where Maple utilizes Realm Warp to catch the GPL squad off-guard and make plays.

At 7:55, Maple activates his ultimate to zone Optimus’s Twisted Fate in towards his turret. He then walks forward to connect Rune Prison while Karsa’s Graves rounds the wall and Kang “Albis” Chia-Wei’ Maokai takes the Realm Warp. A Twisted Advance, Overload, and End of the Line later, and Optimus is deleted.

Around 10 minutes, Maple pushes Optimus into turret. He roots with a Rune Prison and follows up with an Overload, but this time Optimus lands a Yellow Card stun while Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh flanks with Lee Sin. Maple quickly Cleanses the crowd control and runs away, but Levi Safeguards to a ward, Flashes behind the Ryze, and proceeds to use Dragon’s Rage to kick Maple towards Optimus. Levi chains Sonic Wave and Resonating Strike while the Realm Warp channels. Maple escapes with 1/4 health, but Optimus activates Destiny to cover the distance. Maple immediately procs Overload’s passive shield to absorb the incoming damage. Meanwhile, Karsa makes his way down to clean up and get a Double Kill.

The third play comes at 12:00. Karsa is waiting in the wings while Maple pushes Optimus under turret and continues to harass. Levi decides to try a similar flank as before, but does not realize Karsa is present for the counter-gank. The Lee Sin drops rather quickly. Karsa last-hits the turret and continues to pursue Optimus with Maple. QTV channels Teleport into the mid lane hoping to finish Karsa, but is too late. He instead begins attacking Maple with Fiora’s Grand Challenge. After the final Vital times out, QTV realizes he will not be able to finish the Ryze and Lunges into the jungle. Maple activates Realm Warp, zoning QTV to run towards his base, and Flashes the wall to land the finishing blows.

2. xPeke’s Double Kill on Faker and Bengi

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

Anyone who watches professional League of Legends knows that it is extremely rare to ever see a Garen picked in the top lane. But what about the mid lane? Strange things happen when the players have no pressure of losing, which must explain why Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez decided to answer the LCK All-Stars and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s Galio pick with a mid lane Garen. Sure, the silence on Decisive Strike is able to interrupt Idol of Durand, but the overwhelming reaction of shoutcasters and viewers was a combination of “What?” and “That is awesome!”

But xPeke came out with a bang. In the fourth minute of the game, Faker and Bae “bengi” Seong-ung ventured through the bot-side river after turning around a gank on bot lane. In typical Garen fashion, xPeke waited in the brush to surprise Faker with a Decisive Strike-Judgment-Ignite combo. This prompted bengi to be the aggressor with Olaf, but with the help of his Flash and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez’s Zyra, xPeke was truly able to “spin to win” with a Double Kill.

1. Smebber Gets a Quadra Kill 

courtesy of Riot esports

Courtesy of Riot esports

One of the most entertaining game modes of the All-Star Event is Tandem, which is where players pair up to split the duties of the game: one operates the mouse and the other operates the keyboard. This mode in particular devolves into quite the fiesta, but it can be impressive how coordinated the duos can be.

One fun fusion was Smebber–Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho and Reignover. While they play in different regions, both speak Korean, which becomes important for communicating each player’s intentions when sharing a champion. Smebber decided to go top lane with Darius. Dunkmaster Darius to be exact. I can think of no better champion for such a chaotic game mode, and no better skin to do it with.

10:15 into the match, Smebber engages onto Bebelove (Cheng “bebe” Bo-Wei and Ming “Clearlove” Kai) while they take Blue Buff. They easily get 5 stacks of Hemorrhage and execute with Decimate for the first kill. Meanwhile, QT Prime (QTV and Optimus), Celeb Life (Nguyễn “Celebrity” Phước Long Hiệp and Hong “MadLife” Min-gi), and Baker (Faker and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg) take out Kappa (Karsa and Maple) and are continuing the fight against Ruzi (Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao) and xMithie (Mithy and xPeke). Smebber ends Ruzi with 2 auto-attacks and Noxian Guillotine before unleashing a combo onto xMithie’s Nautilus before they are able to escape with a Blasting Cone. That’s the Triple Kill. Finally, he turns to The Miz (Chen “Mouse” Yu-Hao and Chen “Ziv” Yi) and procs the full Hemorrhage. Just as The Miz seems to b escaping, Smebber Flash-Apprehends and Celeb Life lands a Thresh Death Sentence to set up one last Noxian Guillotine for the Quadra Kill.

Amateur Coach Diaries: Practice Habits Part 3

Courtesy of, Seth Varner and Pintrest

Courtesy of, Seth Varner and Pintrest

When I was about 12 years old, I wanted to be a pitcher for my little league team. My dad was one of the coaches of this team. We had one of those pitch-back net devices in the backyard, so he made a 18in by 18in square in the netting with a rope and then put a stick 50 feet away from the net. He told me I had to hit the square 25 times in a row before he would let me pitch. He told me how my grandfather did the same thing with my uncle and I would have to do the same. I can’t remember if I got it or not, to be honest I only remember that I took a pitch to the head while at bat during fall ball that year. Anyways, the morale of the story is that Baseball takes 10 players on the field to play the game. 9 people in the field, and 1 at bat. But when I was practicing that one aspect of the game, just myself and the net, it only took 1 person and a practice device. This is exactly the same as having players practice in a custom game. Custom games can be useful in many different ways: jungle clears, lvl 1’s, CSing, warming up, and lane swaps.

One of the first practices I had with my team was a lane swapping practice. We pulled up LCS vods of lane swaps and grinded out the timing. I’m not going to go into the logistics, but basically we spent that night,  practicing lane swaps. I could tell through vod reviews of even the best amateur teams, we had the best lane swap timing in all the amateur scene. We were getting 30-second tempo swings off the first turret and sometimes it would lead into a sub 15-minute inhib turret. The thing that confused me was that teams we played our lane swap against, still had a slow lane swap a week after we played them. logo v3

In a meta that relies on tempo and getting the turret down the fastest, you’d think teams would want to figure out how to replicate it. It comes down to players not wanting to go into custom game after custom game. So instead, the team just scrims with the same slow lane swap they ran the week before. Obviously there is more to do in customs then lane swaps, but that is a great way to use them. The other night, one of our junglers and I were working on a new jungle pick. We played maybe 20-30 custom games of the jungle pick with different runes/masteries/skill orders/ camp orders. You can also practice timing for a level 1 invade. Sometimes what you draw on rift kit won’t translate on to the game field when the pressure is on. Customs are also a great way to try out new match-ups or train a player in a certain match-up. Maybe they need to work on their Ahri into Zed or their Cass into Ryze.

There are so many uses for customs, and a lot of amateur teams just refuse to use them. Well, surprise, this is the closest we are getting to sandbox mode for now. “Why would we go into customs when we could have a scrim block?” Because if you want to make something game ready, you need to practice it before the scrim for it to be effective. I mean, I’m not saying make your team practice a lane swap to their point where they can get sub 3:30 times 25 times in a row. But hell, you do you, coach. You do you. The next article will be about spamming the restart button. See you then!

Faker the “Meta establisher”

Courtesy of, www.youtube.com

                           Courtesy of, www.youtube.com

A Meta Establisher is someone who plays a champion and other people for whatever reason, follow the lead of the Meta Establisher and play the champions that the meta Establisher is playing. Below are a few reasons why Faker has been an incredible Meta Establisher in the midlane throughout his career.
Faker has long been considered one the the best League of Legends player of all time. Although his statistics on every category are beyond impressive, one aspect of his game that should not be overlooked is the respect other players have for him. Faker has established the meta in the mid lane almost since he came into the scene, some of it has to do with his ability to quickly figure out what champions are overpowered after a patch is introduced, but the respect other players have for him, also contributes to his Meta Establisher history.

Xerath:

Faker introduced Xerath into the scene worsening the wave-clear meta where Xerath and Ziggs were prioritized. Throughout the next few months Xerath was the top pick/banned champion across all regions and was introduced by Faker.

Ryze:

Faker introduced Ryze into season 5 Worlds. It was not until the tournament was over that other teams realized that the champion was overpowered, yet Faker figured it out before the tournament started and continued to use it even in the finals against Koo Tigers.

Karma: 

Faker introduced Karma into the scene. The champion was used in the midland for a short time, yet other regions(notably NA) picked it up. Faker only played Karma once, funnily enough lost that game. However, Karma was a contested pick in NA, exacerbating the situation due to the fact that Bjergsen got a pentakill on her.
Faker played his first competitive game of season 6 with Corki. Although he has not played any other games with the champion, Corki has become a priority pick in NA, and has seen some play in other regions.

Viktor:

The champion that was more established by one player in my opinion was Viktor in season 5. Faker prioritized this champion picking it into anything last season. This is something very uncharacteristic of Faker since his incredibly big champion pool, means that he typically does not highly prioritize a single champion. However, his undefeated record on the champion, making it one of the champions that he is undefeated on having played the most games on(used to be LeBlanc, but he lost with her at MSI). The interesting part is that every region prioritized Viktor as well last season when the midlane meta was composed of :Cassiopia, Azir and Viktor. Yet, LMS region and NA had negative win rates on the champion despite prioritizing it. NA had more than ten games played on Viktor and continued to first pick/ban just because Faker had tremendous success on the champion.

LeBlanc:

Arguably Faker’s most successful champion is LeBlanc, one of the champions that requires mastery in order to play at the competitive level. Last season before MSI, around spring time, every team banned LeBlanc against SKT. Yet, anyone else who attempted to play the champion, was not nearly as impressive as Faker was. No other player was feared for his LeBlanc, yet teams had to ban it against SKT and it took the most anti-LeBlanc team composition to finally defeat Faker on that champion. Although very few players followed Faker’s lead around this time, and even fewer had success on her, LeBlanc deserves an honorable mention because Faker was the only one that figured out how to effectively use her. The champion was later nerfed and it can be said it was a target nerf towards Faker as he alone made the champion look overpowered.

Honorable mentions:

There are many more examples like mid Riven, Zed, Ahri and Ezreal that Faker has in some way or another influenced the meta with. They deserve an honorable mention, but they were either not introduced by Faker, or other players did not follow Faker and played the champion enough.