[ Updated ] Red Post Grab Bag: Xelnath on Xerath, Statikk discusses Akali, and more from Morello

Posted on at 2:40 AM by Moobeat
Update: I added in a few more posts to the Xerath and Akali discussions.

Thursdays can be boring. Good thing I got a big bundle of red posts to kick start your day!
Continue reading for a slew of red posts, including Statikk discussing Akali, Xelnath discussing Xerath, and a ton of posts, covering various topics, from Morello!


Statikk on Akali
A thread has been brewing about Akali's performance at higher levels of play and if her risk vs reward style of gameplay is still intact.

Brace yourself because Statikk has come quite prepared.

Here is his initial reply:
"Firstly, I'd like to thank you guys for putting such effort into this discussion.
I'll start with the definition of "risk" that our team operates on: 
Risk Risk is the opposite of safety and reliability. A risky champion is one whose success and contribution to a game is volatile, uncertain, and by no means guaranteed. 
Risk can manifest itself in several ways. One common way is a champion with extremely low survivability (lack of defensive capabilities), but that's not the only way a champion can be risky. For example, a champion can be risky because they have poor end-game scaling and thus must execute their early game flawlessly in order to end the game before they fall off. Lee Sin is a champion with great survivability (via decent defensive capabilities and amazing mobility), yet is still overall a risky pick because his power curve drives him to snowball games before the late game arrives. Lee Sin may not die a whole ton, but he still has to subject himself to risk in order to suceed. 
For champions like Akali and Kassadin, their intended risk is to have weak laning phases where they can be shut down by their opponents and thus unable to snowball into the later parts of the game. 
To an extent, every healthy champion in the game has some form of risk built into them since they all should have weaknesses that enemies can exploit. It's more of a question of how risky any given champion, which is dictated by several different factors (namely the reward a champion receives for incurring the risk). 
How does this affect Akali? Defining risk as strictly low defensive capability (tankiness) and reward as strictly high offensive capability (damage output) is dangerous because it constricts the potential design space we have for giving power to our champions. 
What about other avenues of power such as mobility or utility (crowd control / disables)? Sure we could design a high risk / high reward champion who had 1 base Health but had 10,000 base Attack Damage, but would that actually provide a satisfying / fun experience for that champion and/or their opponent? Probably not. 
There are a lot of inherent reasons why Akali was not a risky champion: having access to free Spell Vamp, having Energy as her primary resource, having access to a ranged nuke, etc. These all contribute to why pre-nerf it was extremely difficult to shut her down. You guys are definitely right that removing the requirements on her passive definitely made her less risky, but unfortunately some decisions help us in one area and hurt us in another. 
At the end of the day, yes I agree we overnerfed her (I think we'll disagree by how much though). That should be apparent in that we are giving her some buffs in the upcoming patch. At this point, it is more about re-increasing the reward for playing Akali by giving her fun and interesting gameplay tools that she can use to outplay and outwit her opponents rather than reverting her to a point where she simply has more raw stats and damage numbers to brute-force her way through games.

Are we fully getting there with the changes in the upcoming patch? Maybe not, but it's at the very least a good start."

He continued, discussing ideas to add more interesting game play to Akali:
"Yeah I'm not sure on exactly where we can add more interesting gameplay hooks into Akali. The Twilight Shroud giving her vision of the area is definitely a cool start which gives her vision utility and the ability to jump to stuff that was previously in fog of war. 
I thought about different ideas for the majority of last weekend. Some ideas (these are mostly random ideas by the way that most likely will never be implemented) were allowing her to Shadow Dance to allies or the center of her Twilight Shroud, allowing her to have multiple Twilight Shrouds on an ammo system, etc. 
I'm actually pretty happy with what is going into the next patch. Our team is currently spending a lot of time figuring out where and how we'd like to see squishy melee champions like Yi, Fiora, and Akali succeed in League of Legends. 
By the way, sorry I can't respond a whole lot. Things are busy around here."

He soldiered on, this time going into more details on the more recent changes that have shifted Akali's power around and more.
"I think adding little tricks is a great way to start to see if we can edge Akali back into a place we feel is appropriate and where she still feels powerful. 
I'd really like to see where she sits after this upcoming patch before moving forward.

As far as the nerfs we chose, we reduced her base damage but increased her ratio simply to hit her laning power but not reduce her late game scaling. Perhaps the ratio increase wasn't enough to actually make it more of a tradeoff since it crosses old values at 300 AP. Maybe 200 was a more reasonable crossover point, but this is always a scary proposition considering Akali's late game damage potential to squishy targets is still deadly when she snowballs. 
To be honest, the ult cooldown change may just have been flat out the wrong direction. It was essentially an attempt to reduce her ability to use her R's simply for free damage harass at level 6 and force her to be much more thoughtful about its use, but it seems to have had a larger snowballing effect on her power level than we originally intended. This is why we're currently going to try reverting back half way to the original ult cooldown along with the addition to her W. 
Interestingly enough, our data shows that the 5 Health Potion limit has really had no significant effects on champion performances across the board. It might be that some other changes in the patch offset its effects such as nerfing Red Elixir, but our internal data shows very little fluctuation of power levels due to last patch. If you think about it, many of the opponents she was going up against were also abusing the mass Health Potion strategy so it may have off set this advantage as well as other factors to consider such as the relative value increase of innate Health sustain on champions (ex: her passive Spell Vamp). This doesn't mean the Health Potion cap hasn't reduced her power level, but it does seem to point towards the fact that it might be perceived as a bigger hit to her than it really is. 
As far as your ideas to completely change her E, that's certainly a possibility if we feel that she can't be both balanced and fun with her current setup. I'd be fairly hesitant to add another semi-ranged ability on her kit though, since she is after all supposed to be melee. I understand how it would be useful when she's behind, but I would worry how it would function when she gets ahead in the lane as an addition to any Q harass. 
Part of the problem with Akali (and several other squishy melee DPS / Assassins) is that she provides very little individual counterplay for her opponents once she begins to snowball. With the ability to long range dash up to 3 times on the same target, she just presses all of her buttons on the squishy person on the enemy team and the victim just has to hope that teammates are around to do something about it. That's kind of the issue with squishy melee characters in general: the current counterplay is taken out of the hands of the individual getting killed and rather put upon the teammates to do something about it. That can feel really awful when Akali's lane opponent loses and then you're the squishy bot lane AD carry getting jumped repeatedly with no valid course of action to take. 
Either way, I'm not led to believe that drastic measures are needed just yet. It feels like we messed up some numbers and we can get back to a good place if we just address that. I'm sorry if the current upcoming changes disappoint any of you guys, but I'm genuinely interested in seeing how she performs in the next patch."

Update:  Here are a few more replies and discussion on the matter of Akali.


When asked if Riot is aiming to balance Akali around low elo or high elo, Statikk replied:
"We were and are still fully aware that Akali is not a strong competitive pick (she was a surprise pick before the nerfs in tournaments but was extremely rare). The nerfs were not aimed for competitive play whatsoever. 
Going back to the melee counterplay discussion, you guys are right. As players become more skilled and more coordinated, they naturally execute the counterplay to squishy melee champions by grouping together, focus firing effectively, and peeling for their allies. When the only counterplay to a champion exists is solely team-based, then there are huge disparities between high Elo and low Elo play. This is not an ideal situation. 
Akali is currently in the same boat as many other squishy melee champions such as Master Yi: if/when they are balanced in competitive play they become unhealthy for lower levels of play due to the fact that the majority of their counterplay is dependent upon allies not screwing up. The solution here is what Sayath has been saying: increasing the skill ceiling on these champions and in turn increasing the depth of their counterplay.

Like I said before, this is something Xypherous and I have been putting a lot of effort into lately and our 2 first focuses are Akali and Master Yi."

As a follow up, one summoner made a list of suggested item changes that could gear a few underused items towards battling Akali and, in his opinion, enable Riot to buff her even more. Statikk responded:
"Strategic counterplay via items is typically something only higher skilled players tend to latch onto. This is why Evelynn's old stealth was extremely problematic. Sure it was counter-able with Vision Wards and Oracle's but accessing these counters were neither naturally obvious nor fun or satisfying to accomplish.

Although strategic item and team coordination counterplay will always exist and play a role in League of Legends, healthy champions will always have some kind of natural, individual-based counterplay to their gameplay such as having to land/dodge skillshots."

When asked why, after having an entire season of no changes, did Riot suddenly take an interest in Akali being so problematic at lower skill levels. Statikk replied:
"Inaction from us does not necessarily mean that something is "fine." The unfortunate truth is that 1) we can never be aware of every problem in our game and 2) we have to prioritize which problems we are currently tackling. 
For example, AP Tryndamere's out of combat sustain presented extremely unhealthy gameplay even though he was undiscovered for over a year.

I can't exactly pinpoint 1 reason why Akali became such an issue because honestly as you guys have pointed out there are always a multitude of factors that come into play that add up. One of the bigger shifts from S2 to S3 is that in S2, ADCs had stronger and more effective itemization, especially in terms of gold efficiency. I really do think that the extreme power of ranged ADCs kept many potentially strong squishy melee champions down. I would say though that Akali's kit has never had enough depth and counterplay that would allow her to be balanced in a healthy way. I would say the same about Talon as well."

Xelnath on Xerath
Xelnath has been lurking the forums in search of feedback about Xerath.

He started with gathering and analyzing what the community enjoyed or thought was valuable about Xerath.
"Alright, I feel pretty convinced after reading this thread that we can dramatically improve the quality of life on Xerath without losing what makes Xerath awesome.

Here's what I perceive to be the great values of Xerath:
  • Long-range Caster
  • Transformational spell that improves his other abilities
  • A combination of multiple types of skillshots that work together.
  • Vulnerable at close range
  • Cool theme and character
Remember, on a champion, your weaknesses are also your strengths. AD carries get to dish out the deeps because they need to be protected by your team. I perceive Xerath as fitting into that category of character. Vulnerable, yet powerful if unharassed.

Similarly, I believe that it is OK for Xerath to be a niche pick. However, right now he's perceived as outclassed by similar champions. So what I propose is we take a direction that dramatically increases the unique aspects of Xerath.

What pieces do you feel can be left behind most easily without eroding the core identity of Xerath?"

He followed that up with some proposed changes for Xerath.
"Alright, I think at this point, it's pretty clear we need to put some effort into Xerath. I'll be joining the live design team for a little while and putting my time into figuring out the best path to take Xerath down. 
The initial kit I'm going to try will be something like this:
Q) Still the line nuke
W) Now a 2-charge ammo version of his ultimate [damage adjusted to compensate]
E) Something that results in CC
R) Siege Mode, but with a longer cooldown and better range.

I'm still concerned that there isn't quite enough to do while planted down in the ground. What do you think? What is enough to keep you busy but not just pop into siege mode to land a Q or W and abort?"

* Note: This entire set of posts should be read as tentative and definitely not promises. Xelnath is brainstorming with the community.

Update: Xelnath further elaborated on the situation by stressing a about why he is looking into Xerath.
"A very important distinction I want to make is this:
  • Win rates are a direct indicator of power
  • Power is a side-effect of numeric balance and experience
  • Play rates are a direct indicator of perception
  • Perception is driven by a combination of experience, self-identification and social influence
Xerath's numbers indicate that his raw power is good, but the play rates and this feedback indicate that the experience, self-identification and social view of Xerath is poor.

This is a perfect example of a design problem that genuinely exists, but cannot be inferred from % win rates. You guys have had some great ideas I want to call out specifically, but it's important that we recognize that this underlying issue is real."

More from Morello
Finally some good news for those awaiting a kit rework for Heimerdinger! Morello mentioned he is next on the non-visual update list:
"Next on the non-art list, yes."
He followed this up by saying
" I can't give an accurate ETA (and with all the risk inherent in development, won't) :x"

Next up we have a boat load of responses from the @Morello thread!

When asked if champions who currently only have one skin, such as Zyra or Diana, would be getting new skins soon, Morello responded:
"We're prioritizing filling out the one-skin champs, though all sorts of challenges and complexities make that much tougher! We agree on this though."

When asked when we will see a new yordle champion, he simply replied:
"Soon(tm)"

Morello also lead up some discussion about Trundle, his update, and the "traditionalness" of his Traditional Trundle skin.
"This is the last thing I will say on Trundle (as my concern primarily lies with the approach as opposed to being directly involved with Trundle) overall. I think what's been said has been presented by everyone, and we're continuing to repeat points. 
My approach in the future will be as stated - and when we do need to creatively change a character, my goal is to give warning so there can be a discussion and we don't miss some important details that are important to players. 
First, let me make sure I understand the standpoint on "fix Traditional Trundle" requests. It's that the animations on the new one look pretty different than old Trundle, correct? If that's the case, then allow me to explain (I mentioned this in the other thread, but I'll put it here too) the stance on that. 
The desire, in this case, would be to be extremely true-to-life to the original Trundle. To preserve legacy and attachment to the removed character. And you're correct in thinking the Traditional skin is meant to capture as much of the original flavor as possible. The issue with this is, though, that requires a new character's worth of work to support, or would require us to basically put original Trundle back in the game. 
Neither of those options will happen or are on the table. To elaborate; 
* Preserving the legacy to this degree of detail is not worth the opportunity cost (ie, what else those animators/3D modellers/etc could be doing). Legacy is not the only thing that can be important in League, and in this case, it's simply not important enough for me to allocate this stuff to this project. How many champions need reworks, a second skin, haven't had a skin in a year? How much more does it add to the game to create a new champion? In both cases, these are more important by a substantial amount. Not popular, but true. 
* Removing the previous version of Trundle, artistically, is a major goal behind why we reworked him in the first place. He looks terrible and makes the entire game look worse as a result. This, to our game, is like returning triangle feet on Nidalee's legacy skins after the rework out of people who would be attached (different example, but artistically similar).

This is why we won't just change it, and why I think the right approach is to avoid this situation in the future when reworking champions - a very important and clear lesson. Those costs can be avoided altogether when done this way."

When asked if there were any current plans to look at Alistar from a balance persepctive, Morello responded:
"We have to basically do some bigger work here - likely getting the E to be different. We're talking about this now"

Another summoner questioned him about Dark Crusader Mordekaiser, a skin cancelled long ago. His response:
"I don't have an update on this right now - sorry!"

Finally, Morello devoted some more time to talking about the future Sion relaunch.
"There's more thread, but a lot of this is about Trundle. I will talk about Sion!
I think the Shield mechanic is cool, yes, but that's not a character, that's a skill. Does it actually matter it scales on AP, AD, HP, or etc? I think it's a great tank skill (as the shield draws fire to reduce damage), so yes, but I don't think everything about it is great. It doesn't need to be AP, it doesn't need to be 1.0 on the ratio, it shouldn't be on a kit with a reliable hard CC, etc. So, when reworking Sion, unless we can't make it work, or the problems outweigh the benefits, we'll try to keep a version of the something like that.

I think, though, Sion is a very different problem; his gameplay has to be fixed (and this is not the first nor last time I've had to do this) and his theme isn't bad or unpopular, he just doesn't really have one. It needs to be developed. Zombie brute is a cool guy, but Sion does nothing to really accomplish that outside of some of the passive things on his kit - but that can be developed too.

So, the discussion is for me to find out if there are big creative attachments. Everyone is attached to something, and change should occur, so that conflict will always exist - I just want to minimize it. "Player-focused" doesn't mean "do whatever someone says," but it means a player-first attitude. I think we can do better on creative overhauls - gameplay ones, though, are sometimes tough medicine. For me, the health of gameplay will always, and always has, trumped attachment, but when possible we'll be respectful too. Sion's one of the most extreme examples on where more will change than stay the same, though."

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