Red Post Collection: Quick Gameplay Thoughts: 10/3, Designing the Star Guardian Skins, General Philosophy on Balance Hotfixing, and more

Posted on at 4:30 PM by Aznbeat
Tonight's red post collection includes Meddler's quick gameplay thoughts for 10/3, a new dev blog covering the creation of the newest set of Star Guardian skins, Maple Nectar with a look on balance hotfixing, and more!
Continue reading for more information!

Table of Contents

Quick Gameplay Thoughts: October 3 

Here's Meddler's quick gameplay thoughts for 10/3, including thoughts on scoreboard pings, DFT users and Runes, and more:
"Hi all, 
Usual Disclaimers 
These posts will often contain talk about future work we're doing, or planning to do, that isn't yet guaranteed to ship. The nature of the work could change or, depending on what we discover, projects mentioned may get put delayed or even stopped. 
If you'd like to see a Tweet whenever a new one of these posts goes up: 
Scoreboard Pings 
In the 7.19 patch notes we mentioned 'You can now ping everything on the scoreboard, so knock yourself out'. As a bunch of people have noticed, that's not the case though. It's also not what was originally intended, with miscommunication resulting in a misleading patch note, our bad there. What is in, and was intended, was that you can now ping any item on the scoreboard, regardless of player or team. That seemed like a useful communication tool to offer, being able to repeatedly ping someone's KDA by contrast for example, not so constructive. 
DFT uses and Runes 
We've talked about this in some threads already, seems to crop up a lot as a question though so figured was worth giving our thinking a bit more visibility. There's not a direct replacement for DFT in the new Runes system and that might mean some champs have a bit of a hard time as a result. We looked at various options for something that filled the same niche, but didn't find something we felt was both helpful when it comes to balancing champs and had at least some gameplay to it. What we'll be doing as a result is looking at current DFT users and seeing how they perform once the system goes out. A lot of them should have good options already in the new system, with Phase Rush being particularly appealing on some. If some champs don't find good fits though we'll then look at a combination of individual champ buffs (if only a couple meaningfully affected), at prioritizing a new keystone that meets the needs of the champs not having their needs met, or a combination of the two. 
Janna's changes in 7.19 added quite a lot of power to her and as a result we micro patched nerfs out twice. We're also testing further nerfs on the PBE, odds are high though that those don't ship. They're being tested in case we need them, current estimate at time of writing at least though is that they likely won't be necessary. 
Azir, Xin Zhao, Caitlyn 
Touching on the other larger changes from 7.19:
  • Azir - Is looking pretty strong, though for the first time his performance isn't extremely skewed between average and high skill players which is a good sign, since that suggests mastery as him and mastery playing against him may be scaling appropriately together. Suspicious we've made him too strong, still watching to see if that's actually the case or not though.
  • Caitlyn - Looks to be about the right spot power wise, too early to say much more.
  • Xin Zhao - Also around the right ballpark power wise. Seems to be performing quite well for an updated champ, normally there's a relearning period for a while and we're not seeing as much of that here. Might suggest he's on the strong side, could just mean he's still a fairly accessible champ as intended so that relearning period's not as rough as some."

When asked for thoughts on Urgot, Meddler commented:
Any thoughts on Urgot right now? 
His e is a movespeed loss since the beginning animation is so long and it makes him feel really clunky to use because of this.
We'll assess potential buffs in 7.21. Part of that will be based off how the change to Sterak's as melee only impacts him."

On how they chose champions for gameplay updates, Meddler replied:
Can you give some thoughts on how you choose champs?
As a xin player I just can't fathom how he got work before Volibear
We were confident we could improve Xin meaningfully enough with a small update and that's what we had space for in people's schedules. Volibear by contrast we tried a smaller update on a while back and concluded to make him both effective and healthy he'd need larger work."

On Zyra, Meddler commented:
In her MYMU thread, Riot committed to keeping her balanced for mid. Can you explain why that did not happen? I get that plans change, but shouldn't it mean something when a Rioter says "committed to keeping her viable in mid?" 
If you answer, I can stop asking. =)
I haven't talked to the people involved about that statement specifically, I believe it was a case of good intent that proved much harder than they expected to follow through on. Some of that was that Zyra proved to be more of a balance challenge as a support post update than expected. Some of it is also that even of release Zyra was better as a support. We did expect her to be a mid laner primarily, especially given common wisdom at the time was that that was just what mages did. Looking back though her kit's one that matches support play a lot better than mid so we unintentionally mislead people about what they should expect from her. 
To get her to both support and solo lane I believe we'd need to get a number of levers onto the kit that offer solo/CS based power to make her more effective there without creating support problems again."

Meddler gave his thoughts on Sterak's Gage:
"The primary goal of Sterak's is to offer a temporary period of survivability for champions who have no choice but to get right into the midst of everything, thereby taking a lot of damage, even if they're not priority targets (mainly AOE, some opportunistic auto attacks though, especially from marksmen who are target takers rather than choosers). To survive a meaningful period there you need a lot of extra defense if you're not building primarily defense already or relying on other tools (e.g. untargetability to dodge stuff). That amount of defense however gets pretty overbearing if available to ranged champs who don't have to put themselves in those dangerous places in the first place."

When asked when the next champion roadmap post would be available, Meddler replied:
Now that Eve is coming out, are we going to see another Champion Roadmap this month?
Should be fairly soon after Evelynn comes out."

When asked about mentioned base AP changes on mages with the removal of runes, Meddler replied:
Hey Meddler as part of the runes rebalancing you guys mentioned base AP for some mages would become a thing, could elaborate on that and which champs we may see get that
We've been seeing mages perform quite well with Runes given the loss of MR from runes on their opposition and the strength of many of the runes they like to use. Not sure if we'll end up offering base AP or not at this point, or potentially just tune some spells."

On the ability to ping keystones, Meddler replied:
I understand not being able to ping literally everything on the scoreboard but surely being able to ping keystones would be helpful in some cases?
Definitely. That we'll get, probably in 7.22 with the launch of new runes."

When asked about the possibility of runes becoming 'mandatory' for certain champions, Meddler gave his thoughts:
When Runes Reforged was first announced one of the stated goals was not making specific things "mandatory" on particular champs or roles. Do you feel like that's been achieved? Particularly, do you feel like there are viable ways to play an ADC without Precision, or a tank without Resolve, or a mage without Sorcery?
We expect there'll be some things on some champions that do end up mandatory, given just how much certain effects bind to certain kits. What we do want, and I think should be able to achieve, is for every champion to have meaningful choices in their runes selection (e.g. even if there are a couple they should always take they've got choices in their other slots in that tree and choice of secondary tree). 
I expect we'll need to do a fair bit of post release balancing of course to get to that point, even if the structure of choice if correct numbers being over or undertuned can drown that out and I'd be absolutely amazed if we got all the numbers just perfect day one."

When asked if there will be new runes in the future, Meddler commented:
Would you ever consider adding new runes or branches if you felt it was needed for some champions. I've asked this some where before but don't remember the response. And what direction will you go with future missions. I have not been liking the newer missions as much.
New runes - definitely. Expect we'll have at least some slots next year with more than 3 runes in them. 
New trees - Maybe. Open to it, but want to get the current system into great shape before considering adding that much more to it."

Meddler also gave his thoughts on Dr. Mundo:
"We'd like to VGU Mundo someday, he shows his age across the board and yeah, things like the MR buff are more short term help than long term solution. 
In terms of when he'd get a VGU that's really hard to say though, there are still quite a lot of champions also strongly in need of one. We've got through a number of the most in need over the last couple of years with champs like Poppy, Yorick, Warwick etc, still got a fairly large backlog of other champs like Mundo who also need one though."

Designing the Star Guardians

With the newest set of Star Guardian skins out, here's BananaBandit with more on how the skins were created:
"There was a whole universe to explore when designing the first team of Star Guardians, but coming back for round two meant bringing brand-new characters to an existing world. They needed to feel familiar, like they belonged there, while still standing apart as a unique team. Some of this is communicated through their somewhat darker story, and the rest relies on the visuals. 
Last year, the Star Guardian team was trying to overcome conflict amongst themselves so they could work together to fight off bad guys and save the day—a theme that probably feels familiar to most players. “We played it pretty safe,” says senior concept artist Paul “Riot Zeronis” Kwon, “and I think that was okay because we were trying to introduce a new genre to League. But this year, we really wanted to push it to the limit and take more risks.” 
Part of this meant choosing champs who’d diversify the Star Guardian roster. “We factored in things like what champions made sense, what players have requested the most, and how they’d work together as a team,” says product manager Carlos “I am Carlos” Giffoni. “But our overarching goal was to find champions who we could really differentiate from each other.” This made someone like Ezreal an obvious choice since he’s the first male Star Guardian. Syndra filled the role of the darker, more mysterious character. Add in a healer, a hot-headed gunslinger, and a charismatic leader, and the second team of Star Guardians was ready for concepting. 
Early Exploration: Ahri, Miss Fortune, Soraka, and Syndra
Designing five skins at once is a lot to ask of any artist, so the skins were split up between multiple designers. Riot Zeronis acted as the visual lead, meaning he helped establish the general artistic direction and shape language before the other artists started working. For example, a five-pointed star was the main symbol used for the original Star Guardians, but devs wanted to put a twist on this star to further differentiate the squads. “There were a lot of napkin doodles before we decided to go with the four-pointed star,” says Riot Zeronis. 
The Star Guardians' Stars
Once the overall design direction was locked, the artists worked individually (for the most part) on each champion’s concept art. Riot Zeronis would periodically line-up all of the work-in-progress concepts and do a “cohesion pass” to ensure the skins looked like they belonged in the same universe. He’d look for things like: Do the colors compliment each other? Are they using the established shape language? Do the shades of gold match? Are any of the outfits too similar or too different? And, perhaps most importantly, do the skins look badass separately—but also make sense together? 
He’d do a paintover on each model, which basically meant he drew over the existing concepts to help resolve any cohesion issues. Then the artists continued working. This process happened more than fifteen times during development. “I might’ve overthought the whole process—I think maybe I was going a little crazy,” says Riot Zeronis. 
First Cohesion Pass: Ahri, Miss Fortune, and Soraka
“But really, we never draw the first thing we think of and say, ‘Alright, let’s go! This is it.’ We make an effort to get it right,” says I am Carlos. 
Here are some of the thoughts and concepts behind each of this year’s Star Guardians. 
Syndra is the cunning, mischievous one, so she was intentionally designed to stand out from the rest of the pack. Her colors are unusually dark for a Star Guardian, with deep purples offset by magenta accents. The star used in her design is also inverted—the rest of the Guardian’s stars curve outward, but hers curves inward. “It’s still a four-pointed star, but it defies the shape language,” says Riot Zeronis. 
The eyepatch amplifies her sort of shady vibes, and the upward turn of her hair is dramatic, much like Syndra herself. 
Star Guardian Syndra Concept Art
This particular piece of concept art was one of the defining moments during the Star Guardians’ development. Riot Zeronis drew it during an early exploration, and it brought a lot of hype to the team. 
Ezreal was the first male Star Guardian, which may seem like it’d make his design process challenging. But in reality, it was pretty straightforward. “We wanted him to look like a badass modern hero,” says Riot Zeronis. “We drew a lot of inspiration from various animes.” For example, Ezreal’s suit is supposed to look very formal and suave, but with a modern, high-fantasy twist. 
For a while, Ezreal had a five-pointed star (rather than the four-pointed one) because of his backstory. He was once a normal guy living a normal life on Lux’s planet, but when the second team of Star Guardians arrived, he was awakened… and soon fell in love with the bubbly, pink-haired Guardian. The five-pointed star grounded him in his home planet and gave him a connection to Lux. “Ultimately, we went back to the four-pointed star to keep his visuals consistent with the rest of his team,” says Riot Zeronis. 
Star Guardian Ezreal Final Concept
Miss Fortune is the fiery, hot-headed member of the group. Ever since she lost some former teammates in battle, she’s made a habit of throwing herself recklessly at fights in an attempt to avenge her fallen comrades. With this personality, there was almost no doubt that MF should have a warm color palette of reds and oranges. 
Early designs focused on finding a way to incorporate her signature hat, which included an assortment of berets, headbands, and even a witch-like hat. Ultimately, these bold caps felt like they were detracting from the elegance of the skin a bit too much, and a simpler hairclip took its place. 
Star Guardian Miss Fortune, Early Exploration
The main inspiration for Soraka’s character comes from innocent anime girl tropes. “These characters are very pure, almost naive, and tend to be sad and quiet.” says Riot Zeronis. Most of them have a downward slope to their design (such as Shiro from No Game No Life), and Soraka’s downturned ears and drooping wings were styled after these tropes. 
Her curly, poofy hair was modeled after clouds to show her innocence and purity. Early iterations were softer and fluffier, but they were toned down a bit because it was too distracting in-game. 
Star Guardian Soraka Final Concept
Soraka’s color scheme was almost always some combination of whites, blues, and greens. “Deciding on a color scheme is mostly organic. It’s about the emotion,” says Riot Zeronis. Calm, peaceful hues seemed like the best fit for the healer. 
And if you were wondering—yes, she intentionally was designed with an eight-pointed star. No other details available now though. 
Star Guardian Ahri is the leader of this year’s team and the recipient of a Legendary skin, so she was designed to shine amongst the stars. For example, all of the other Guardians’ outfits are dominated by a single color, but Ahri’s is the first to introduce a secondary color. “This helps her stand out but is also a nod to the advanced form of magical girls,” says Riot Zeronis. 
Star Guardian Ahri Exploration
There was some concern about Ahri having a similar color scheme to Star Guardian Lux, particularly because both of them are leaders of SG teams. “To avoid this overlap, we tried concepting Ahri with cool colors. We were thinking, ‘What if she’s like the opposite of Lux?’” But ultimately, the pinks, peaches, and purples just seemed like a much better fit for Ahri. 
Star Guardian Ahir’s lack of whiskers was a tough but intentional choice. Ahri’s whiskers seem very youthful, but Star Guardian Ahri is supposed to feel more mature. She’s not necessarily old, but she’s tired from the world. “Adding whiskers broke that feeling. We even tried doing different toned whiskers in different colors as well as stars and other graphic designs,” says Riot Zeronis. “They always felt like they detracted from the elegance and maturity of the skin.
Star Guardian Ahri Concept Art
And finally, since Legendary skins typically include an all-new animation set, there was a chance to make Ahri’s tails fluffier and more expressive than ever. There were so many possibilities: What if the tails were different lengths, kind of like fingers on a hand? How should they move in-game? What if she had a different type of animal tails completely? “In the end, we stuck with what would be most familiar to players,” says Riot Zeronis. 
Only now they’re infused with starlight, sparkles, and sass."
Ahri’s Tails, Animation Study

General Philosophy on Balance Hotfixing 

After the two hotfixes we saw go out for Janna this week, Maple Nectar took to the boards to talk about why they had to hotfix and why they can do it more often now when a champ is in dire need:
"Hey folks! 
As you’ve likely seen, we pushed out a second balance hotfix for Janna at the end of last week, and saw that it caused some confusion with players (rightfully so) and I wanted to jump in and provide some context! Earlier this year we got some fancy dancy new tech (“micropatching”) which allows us to create a change (bug fix, balance change etc), bundle them up, and ship them within the very short time frame of an hour or two depending on the changes in question. This was a huge improvement over how that process used to work, but we never really talked about that, so I’ll take a second to run through that as well. 
In the past, changing the live environment for something like a balance hotfix was quite time intensive. We'd first make the change, which then required a sweep of testing from QA for several hours to a day, and then members of our release team would take up to a day to ship it out to all of our severs around the world. It was a super unwieldy process and hampered our ability to react to things as quickly as we would like. It also incurred more risk as shipping a change meant we needed to be 100% confident it wouldn’t break anything, since we couldn’t just “roll it back” without another run-through of the process mentioned above. This also meant that we couldn't do these on Friday, since breaking a champion/item on the weekend meant we'd have to leave them disabled until Monday, which was something we ALWAYS strive to avoid. Micropatching lets us bypass all that and get changes to you in a fraction of the time, with a fraction of the risk. 
One thing we have to remember though is: 
With great power comes great responsibility (man this meme is weaker when image embedding doesn't work) 
Balance hotfixing is incredibly powerful, but it’s also dangerous. Hotfix too much and it looks like we don’t have our shit together, hotfix too little (when it’s necessary), and players may have to deal with a shitty situation longer than they’re happy with. When it comes to newly released content, be it a new champion, new item, or an update, our stance is that we’re going to be more than happy to pull the hotfix trigger if we feel the situation necessitates it. When their power ends up being stronger/weaker than we’re happy with, we believe it’s overall better to quickly hotfix out some numbers changes before everyone settles into the update, versus waiting two weeks and then making everyone do more re-learning in the next full patch.
I’ll use the changes we made to Janna last week as an example since they're recent, though we’ve applied this thinking to smaller updates like what we did with Singed as well: 
(Screenshot from Wednesday morning after patch 7.19’s release) 
In the chart above, the green bar indicates that Janna’s WR had increased 2.7% from the patch before, up to a total of 58.8% as shown with the red bar. We’d had some inclination that she would release strong and would require follow up some suspicion on as alluded to in the patch notes, (and even talked about it a bit here, so we decided to react quickly and get our first change out in the wild before her power would continue to sway the results of the games she was in. We underestimated how quickly Janna players would adapt to the more aggro playstyle, and overestimated how quickly players would figure out how to play around Janna in the lane phase. This is borne out in her initial performance stats, which were on the high side, so we reacted. 
(Screenshot from Thursday morning after our first hotfix) 
The numbers above show that our hotfix from Wednesday brought Janna slightly back down to earth, with the red bar indicating that Janna’s win-rate at all MMR (56.4%), and High MMR (56.1%). The smaller numbers on the left—0.3%, and 0.0%—represent the change in her winrate from the patch before. Note that our the driver for these types of changes are almost NEVER based on WR alone, but in the early stages of a new release more nuanced things like frustration, counterplay and abuse cases are far harder to pinpoint with certainty, so WR is often the only concrete thing we have to go off of.
Getting back to Janna, we knew that Wednesday’s changes were getting back on the right track based on the data represented above. At this point, with her performance back in line with 7.18 levels (which was also certainly on the high side), we could have left followup until the 7.20 patch given that, in 7.18, that same WR wasn’t something we were considering hotfixing Janna for. That’s where the previously-mentioned efficiency of micropatching comes into play. 
We had just worked on Janna, players were clearly figuring her out but weren’t “used” to her new changes, and she was still stronger than we wanted long term. Rather than wait for next patch we chose to respond a second time since we could with relative ease and it felt like the correct thing to do. Fast forward to today and Janna is sitting at around 53.8% at both High and all MMR which is getitng much closer to what we would expect from her. We’ve been testing some additional changes to her on the PBE which could end up shipping in few patches, but current thinking is that we may just wait until after Runes Reforged ships to give us the time to see where everyone lands. It's going to be a hot mess for a little bit which is honestly really exciting, but it makes any attempt to fine tune a champion in the next few patches rather temporal. That doesn't mean we won't, just that there's likely to be fewer changes 
BUT ANYWAYS! I want to be clear that this isn’t a post about Janna, she was just a good current case study to illustrate our philosophy around hotfixes and why we are likely to pursue them with the same rigor in the future. We won't go out of our way to find candidates that need this attention, but if we miss the mark we'll respond quickly. We're also working on finding some better ways of communicating that they're happening/happened. Things like using the esports ticker that informs you of an ongoing match, or even a notification in champ select to name a few options. More on that to come. 
I'll try to kick around in the comments to answer a few questions, but let me know what you think of this approach!"

Your Shop is closing soon! 

Bilby is here with a quick reminder that Your Shop is leaving the client TONIGHT:
"Last call for Your Shop! 
Discountbot is all tuckered out. We’ll be closing up shop so it can rest a bit before diving into your next round of personalized discounts. 
If you’re not familiar with Your Shop:
  • That’s hurtful
  • The thoughtful and sensitive Discountbot selects six skins that it thinks you’ll like and offers them at varying discounts
  • These discounts may include Legacy skins not currently available in the store
  • If you receive a skin discount on a champion you don’t own, Discountbot will also apply the same discount to the champ
  • Ultimate, Legendary, Limited, Loot-exclusive, and relatively new skins (released in the last three months) will not be included in Your Shop 
Your Shop is open for business until 10/3/17 at 11:59 PM PT (the bot’s bedtime)."

Quick Hits

"Ever wanted to see top players from leagues around the world battle it out in the ultimate dream team tournament? This December, the All-Star Event is back - and more competitive than ever. 
Mark your calendars now! The 2017 All-Star Event will be held in the NA LCS Studio in Los Angeles on December 7-10."
  • SapMagic commented on Reddit, explaining the prevalency of more lower level players in matchmaking queues:
"Hey guys! 
We're looking into this. We're testing some changes to improve queue times for newer players and we made matchmaking less restrictive when it comes to player level.
As a result, we can end up making more matches between level 30 and sub-level 30 players. We probably made matchmaking too permissive and we're going to get together today to talk about how to tune it so it feels better for everyone. 
You might still notice the less restrictive settings after our change, but it shouldn't be as pronounced. We'll also need to keep thinking about this once we remove the level cap, so there might be some additional pain there but we'll be monitoring it"
"Check out the top 5 plays from the Play-In Stage of the 2017 World Championship in this week's episode of The Penta."


Last up, a few reminders on upcoming and ending soon promotions and sales!

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