Nilah, the Joy Unbound: Champion Insights, Ability Rundown & More

Posted on at 9:18 AM by Aznbeat
May our battles ink the pages of history.” - Check out the full reveal of our next champion, Nilah, the Joy Unbound, including a look at her release skin, Star Guardian Nilah, her bio, ability rundown, Champion insights and more!
Continue reading for a closer look!

Table of Contents

Nilah, the Joy Unbound Bio & Universe Page

Here's a look at Nilah's Universe page and biography!
"A confident and joyful woman who always wears an eerie smile, Nilah’s sudden arrival in Bilgewater has sent the city into an uproar. Her duels with rampaging sea serpents defy the limits of human ability: Racing across the surface of the open ocean with a whip-blade formed from glittering, prismatic water, she scales the great beasts before dramatically slaying them, pausing only to thank her “worthy enemies” for their efforts. Any threat taller than a house is guaranteed to draw her into combat, and the deadlier and physically larger that threat is, the more determined she becomes to challenge and destroy it. 
Her strength and origins are shrouded in mystery. Yet the truth, known only to Nilah, is that she once had a different name and lived a very different life. 
The precocious child of a large Kathkani family, the girl who would become Nilah was not a warrior at all—rather, she was a lanky bookworm with an interest in myths and legends. Kathkan had known relative peace since its neighbor Camavor’s collapse almost a thousand years prior, and had no further need for great warriors or storied heroes. Or, at least, that’s what Nilah believed. 
Wishing the age of heroes had never ended, she collected and obsessed over colorful tales of old—epics of great beasts and shining warriors who clashed beneath the eyes of the gods, back when the world was young and humanity’s enemies were a thousandfold. She read of the mad king Viego and his tragic fall, the genesis of the first dragons, and the foundation of the universe in the Kathkan tradition. Nilah memorized each in turn, knowing in her heart that their color and magic were more than simple fiction. 
One story, in particular, was her favorite: The Cycle of Ashlesh. 
It spoke of the fantastical Lord of Joy, Ashlesh: A many-limbed beast who menaced the world along with its nine ferocious siblings. Hungering for primal joy, Ashlesh attempted to consume the realm of the gods—but the gods struck the monster down, trapping it deep below the earth in an endless, shimmering lake within the seventh layer of the underworld. There it would be guarded by a mythical order of heroes. 
An order of heroes that, after unraveling the story’s many riddles, Nilah realized was beneath her very feet in the heart of the Kathkani capital. Overcome with excitement, she struck out to find this hidden order—to learn its secrets and perhaps even stand among the heroes as an equal... 
And then she was gone. All knowledge of the girl she was—her face, her voice, her true name—was erased from living memory. Records curled and evaporated, writing vanished from walls and texts, and words failed on the tongues of her friends and family. It was as though Nilah had never been born at all. 
The woman who resurfaced ten years later was a stranger to her homeland, unbound from the world she knew, yet possessed of a strange smile and an unending, ceaseless joy. Whatever happened to her during her long absence, she would not say. Perhaps she met the mythical order after all, and they trained her in the arts of magic and war. Perhaps she stood face to face with the primordial demon Ashlesh, battling it in the apocryphal darkness for a decade before finally emerging triumphant. Perhaps this wasn’t the girl at all, but a pretender wearing her flesh... Or maybe the truth was somewhere in between. Whoever or whatever she was, she began calling herself “Nilah,” the name of the legendary river of fate. 
And then her work began. 
Possessed of wiry, acrobatic strength, and wielding a liquid blade of incalculable might, she embarked on a conquest of the greatest threats of ancient myth: Grandmother Viper, the invincible progenitor of all Camavoran dragons; Imago, demon of change and scourge of the Carnelian Valley; the mad demigod Nabavelicus, perpetrator of countless atrocities. 
Each new foe rises against Nilah in challenge, and each is snuffed out in a ferocious battle of color and fury, dazzling all witnesses. 
Nilah's own legend grows with every victory. And with it, an epic tale has begun to take shape, following her journey through strange lands near and far. At her side is the power of Ashlesh itself, which Nilah wields against other evils that might one day threaten the safety of Kathkan. In her heart is the memory of what she has lost, and the knowledge of what is to come, driving her to face greater and greater opponents wherever they might be found. 
Whatever happened to that lanky girl who was buried in books, Nilah now faces her future with unbridled bliss. Her mere presence inspires others to fight alongside her, while her deeds ensure that people remember the hero she has become, even if they cannot remember the woman she once was. 
Facing the mythological villains of Runeterra with unerring glee, she will challenge the end itself if it means she can protect those who cannot protect themselves."

Abilities Rundown

"Spread joy on the Rift with Nilah in patch 12.13!

Passive - Joy Unending 
Nilah amplifies the healing and shielding abilities of nearby allies. Allies that heal or shield Nilah gain a bonus heal or shield for themselves. And when an allied champion heals or shields themselves near Nilah, she gives herself a bonus heal or shield. 
If Nilah last hits an enemy minion, she and her nearest allied champion will gain the normal amount of shared experience, plus half of the experience that would have been lost due to sharing.

Q - Formless Blade 
Active: Nilah’s Formless Blade strikes in a line, damaging all enemies hit. Hitting an enemy will briefly increase Nilah’s attack range and attack speed and empower her basic attacks, causing them to splash in a cone and deal additional damage. 
Passive: Attacks and ability damage against champions ignore some of their armor and heal Nilah for part of the damage dealt. This effect scales with crit chance and converts any excess healing into a shield. 
W - Jubilant Veil 
Nilah shrouds herself in a Jubilant Veil and briefly gains bonus move speed, takes reduced magic damage, and dodges all incoming basic attacks. 
Touching an ally champion hides them in the veil as well, but they’ll be protected for a shorter period. 
E - Slipstream 
Slipstream lets Nilah dash through a target unit, traveling a fixed distance every time and damaging all enemies she passes through. She can store up to 2 charges at once. 
Cast Formless Blade during Slipstream to pull a wave in your path, dealing damage after a quick delay and granting Formless Blade's enhanced basic attack effect. 
R - Apotheosis 
Nilah unleashes a surge of power, lashes her whip in an area around her and, with a final burst, pulls enemies in toward the center. 
Apotheosis heals Nilah for part of the damage dealt, converting any excess healing into a shield. This effect scales with crit chance and is granted to nearby allies.


Unleash Nilah and her demon of joy, Ashlesh, in patch 12.13!

Here's a look first look at Nilah's release skin, Star Guardian Nilah:

Champion Insights: Nilah

Here's Small Baby Panda with a champion insights post for Nilah - "The feminine urge to slay 40-story sea serpents."
"The most recent additions to the League roster have been, how do you say… big meanies. 
Earlier this year, we released Renata Glasc, the manipulative and powerful Chem-Baroness, and Bel’Veth, the monstrous manta mommy Void Empress. 
But we’re breaking the cycle with a surge of joy named Nilah ("Nee-lah"). 
Her Waters Cut Deep 
Nilah’s development started with a core gameplay idea: a melee skirmisher ADC. The goal was to create a new experience not only for bot laners, but also for Yasuo or Yone mains who might want to try their hand (sword?) at another position. We know, we know... before you bot and support mains turn caps lock on, keep reading. 
The team really didn’t want to create another sad Ionian sword boi. With this in mind, concept artist Nancy “Riot Sojyoo” Kim began looking into weapons that might fit the bill and stumbled upon the urumi, a flexible whip-like sword with South Asian origins. This worked out beautifully, as the team wanted to increase South Asian representation in League. Similar to how we've approached champions like Samira, Akshan, or Zeri, we want players from everywhere to see reflections of themselves in League, and we were lacking South Asian representation, especially for women.
The urumi fit Nilah’s intended background, her melee gameplay, and is just really, really cool. Plus, whips were essentially missing in League. The idea had been floated before, but never quite made it onto the Rift. 
“When Nancy’s first group of concepts came back, there was one with, like, six arms and one with a more traditional talwar (curved sword),” says principal narrative writer Jared “Carnival Knights” Rosen. “But when we saw the concept with the urumi we were like ‘Oh my god, do we not have a whip champion? There has to be one. Maybe Zyra? No, she’s a plant lady. Anybody else?’ And there just wasn’t anyone.” 
“It felt like the perfect time to finally create a whip-wielding champion because the urumi is a good nod to her South Asian inspiration and it fits her gameplay,” Riot Sojyoo adds.
But making a whip-sword look realistic and feel good in game was a challenge. Have you ever seen an urumi in action? Recreating the snappy yet flowing movements was a challenge for the animation team. 
“We spent extra time early on to determine if a fluid, satisfying whip was a weapon we could achieve with the tools we usually use,” says lead animator Drew “sandwichtown” Morgan. “We tried a few different approaches to help sell the physics, but ended up landing on a mostly hand-animated style, with some different technical tricks layered in there.” 
Before continuing, we should talk about the difference between tool-based animation and hand animation. A lot of modern games utilize physics and simulation with engine tools, but Nilah’s whip needed to be custom animated just for her. This meant sandwichtown set all the keys and animated every frame of motion.  
“I think the most challenging part was just how many attack animations that were required to make all the motions feel directionally appropriate, at different distances with different conditions,” sandwichtown explains.


Animation testing of Nilah’s basic attack.

But Nilah’s whip isn’t just any old whip. It’s a two-pronged, flexible water-sword that she unsheathes from a magical jar that sits on her hip. Honestly, it’s pretty cracked. So obviously it needed some extra visual attention. 
“To convey a joyfulness to her visual effects and not have it look like ‘just water,’ I added a sense of iridescence and rainbow to her abilities,” explains VFX artist Megan “Fairy Flan” Bayona. “In a way it's as if the influence of the demon of joy refracts outwards and Nilah uses it as her strength.”

Nilah’s water whip hits with the force of a rogue wave, only sharp. 
Joy Unbound 
Yep, you heard Fairy Flan right. Nilah channels the power of a demon of joy to slay mythical beasts and defeat her enemies. She’s an epic, monster-slaying hero who’s building out her own legend day by day. (Editor’s note: Let’s be real, would this be a Carnival Knights champ without demons?) 
An ascetic warrior, Nilah practices a strict code of rite and ritual that gives her power over Ashlesh, an ancient demon of joy who was sealed away eons ago. 
Ashlesh is a member of The Ten, the oldest and most powerful demons in existence. It pushes joy to its hideous extremes, feeding on the dark, inverted aspects of the emotion, like delirium and obsession. But Nilah has harnessed Ashlesh’s power to do good. 
Nilah didn’t always have these otherworldly powers. Once upon a time, she was a normal girl with a normal life—until she wasn’t. 
“She goes beneath her home city and disappears for a decade. When she emerges, she immediately starts putting down demi-gods and giant dragons that are bigger than mountains. She’s fighting creatures that should not be able to be defeated,” explains Carnival Knights. 
But wielding Ashlesh’s immense power comes with a heavy burden: Nilah is erased from living memory. There is no record of her ever being born. She is a stranger to all she ever knew, even her own family.

“She returns not as this bookworm, but as a wiry stranger with heroic strength. She has no past and her future is unwritten. She’s literally lost herself to joy,” says Carnival Knights, noting that Nilah’s unflinching positivity is completely involuntary. “Ashlesh annihilates her entire emotional spectrum besides joy. She can observe that she is feeling other things, or that she wants to feel other things. There’s a lot of sadness and loss in her life, but she can’t feel anything but positive towards it, which is conflicting.” 
She’s truly living her best life… whether she likes it or not. 
“Very much like a hero from the Ramayana, she has given up everything for this incredible power and uses it to protect the world from ancient threats that have been long thought invincible,” Carnival Knights explains.
Nilah originates from Kathkan, a country southeast of (and once rival of) ancient Camavor. Based on South and Southeast Asia, it is a place of dazzling colors, rich history, and ancient myths—legends of heroes, gods, demons and monsters abound in Kathkan. 
There, Nilah is pledged to a powerful organization called “The Seventh Layer.” This group of heroes guards Ashlesh’s spiritual prison and protects the Kathkani people, who have long lived in peace. These heroes, who all have a connection to Ashlesh, help to keep the joy demon weak so it can’t escape its prison. 
In honor of the Seventh Layer, seven is a motif you’ll see a lot with Nilah, both in her look and in her abilities. 
“Some of the design elements that we tried to put in her outfit were the seven hands that represent the Seventh Layer. You can see it in the jewelry that she has…One of them is engraved in her kneepad,” says Riot Sojyoo, noting that the art team wanted to convey Nilah’s ascetic warrior identity, while keeping her clothing practical for slaying mythical beasts. “Because she’s a very nimble character, we wanted to make sure her outfit wasn’t restricting and it was light and it allowed her to do a lot of jumps and tricks.”

Legend has it Ashlesh has seven arms and is trapped in the seventh layer of an underworld. 
Now, the wider world of Runeterra will bear witness to Nilah's legendary powers. 
After the Ruination, Nilah leaves Kathkan and decides to cross the ocean to Bilgewater to seek information on Viego—who is now imprisoned on her home continent—and The Ten. And she might as well hang around Oyster Bill’s Oyster Bar and slay some sea serpents who are rampaging around the docks while she’s at it.
Nilah’s goal is to do good wherever she goes, expanding the epic tale of her life—and to keep up with her ritual prayers so she stays in full control of Ashlesh. 
“This is one of the most powerful women on the planet, and she spends almost all of every day sitting around in the dark, reading books or reciting prayers to make sure that she’s not possessed by a demon. And then occasionally she gets up, kills like a 40-story tall sea serpent and then goes back to doing the thing she was doing before,” says Carnival Knights. “In the parlance of our time, she gives no f*&^s.” 
The Star of the Show 
Outside of being an absolute monster-slaying badass possessed by an ancient joy demon, Nilah is designed to be a hypercarry—but she can’t go it alone. Just like her pledge to the Seventh Layer, Nilah’s allegiance to your team will help it reach its full potential. 
While she has the weaknesses you’d expect to find in a melee bot laner (like being susceptible to every single spell from the enemy “support” mage), she makes up for them when her allies rally around her. When there’s an ally nearby, she has tools that relieve some of the burden of CS’ing well and managing laning phase without any CC. 
Her passive, for example, allows her to amplify and share healing and shielding that’s done to her or that her nearby allies do to themselves.

Yasuo mains, now you can stop begging your team to pick knock-up champs and start begging them to pick enchanters. 
“If she is with a character who has some sort of shield or heal, then she’s making them better. And at the same time, she’s sort of selfishly taking more for herself too,” explains senior game designer Blake “Squad5” Smith. 
Nilah’s passive also includes an XP bonus that she shares with a nearby ally—but she has to last-hit minions to get it. So stay off her wave, Zyra mains. 
“Her passive basically says, if you support me, I will make us win,” Squad5 laughs. But even though sharing is caring, she’s perfect for the player who wants to show off a little. “More so than almost every other character in the game, Nilah says put the spotlight on me. There’s a lot of pressure that goes along with playing her. But if you want to be the star, and you want to kill everybody, this is a great character to pick.”

The killing everybody part doesn’t come easily though. Nilah isn’t the type of champ that will simply snowball and dominate lane. 
“We wanted to make sure she was not like a Jarvan or Pantheon lane where they’re just repeatedly killing you over and over and over again ‘cause that’s all they can do,” Squad5 says. “She actually needs to function in a way that feels familiar to bot lane players in that she wants to farm and is more oriented around trading. She’s not constantly going for those all-ins like other melee bot laners.”

The rest of Nilah’s kit shows off the true splendor of her magical water weapon. She can strike out in a line with her urumi, veil herself in mist, dash as though sliding over iridescent water, and pull enemies into her wake with her ultimate, an effervescent whirlpool. 
“The idea is that she can lash out with the whip, dash into enemy targets, do her whirlpool ultimate, pull everybody in, hit them with the Q, and then just be sweeping auto attacks on all of them at the same time,” Squad5 laughs. “Her sustained area of effect damage is extremely good and should hopefully mean that she’s a top tier team fighter.” 
Basically, get Nilah in a teamfight in late game and all bets are off. She’ll be demoralizing the enemy team in no time—with a smile and a laugh."

Nilah: Designing League's First Melee Bot Laner

Here's a look at Nilah's design from Riot Riru, Squad5, Zenith, and Captain Gameplay - "A peek into how Nilah was designed and her post-release balance plan."
"Leading up to Nilah’s release we wanted to give you a bit of insight into how her gameplay was designed and a peek at her post-release balance plan. Want to learn more about Nilah? Check out her Abilities Rundown and Champion Insights
Creating a Melee Skirmisher for Bot Lane 
We knew from the very beginning of development that Nilah was going to be a melee bot laner. This gave us a great opportunity to leverage a lot of learnings that previous melee bot carries taught us over the years. 
One example is Yasuo, the closest thing League has to a melee bot laner today. Yasuo hits on a lot of the great bot lane carry qualities (great scaling, squishy, strong synergies) however his primary, and most popular, role has always been mid which has meant his balance adjustments always prioritize his health in that role. This insight helped us identify an opportunity to create a melee champ in League that would be balanced around the bot lane as their primary role and fulfill the skirmisher fantasy players have been asking for. 
Another great example is Mordekaiser’s ghost dragon rework (Riot Games remembers). While we built shared experience and a ghost dragon into his kit to help him succeed in bot, we learned that most players don’t like when champion picks completely change the dynamics of how the lane/game is played (like always having to over prioritize dragons or playing around a slow juggernaut). We knew we needed to give Nilah a unique playstyle and kit without deviating too far from what marksmen and support players expect from bot lane carries. 
With these past learnings, we were able to set some pretty concrete goals for Nilah:
  1. Find success in the bot lane as her primary role and balance her with this key objective in mind.
  2. She should not dramatically alter the way bot lane is played and should still deliver, to some degree, on what players expect from the traditional marksman role.
  3. Nilah should be able to work with a wide variety of supports and have abilities that increase these synergies.
We’ll continually keep these goals in mind as we inevitably make balance adjustments and fine tune Nilah’s kit upon her release. 
Finding Balance Post-Launch 
In our never-ending quest to bring balance to the Rift, we build “levers” into champions’ kits which help us balance them in different ways. Let’s look at Nilah’s passive, Joy Unending, which increases the amount of healing and shielding she receives from allies to further explain “levers.” 
For argument's sake, let’s say on release Nilah is dominating top lane. This could be an indicator that her solo abilities are overpowered. In this case, we could pull one of the “levers” we created and nerf her solo abilities and buff her Joy Unending passive to increase healing and shielding received, making her more appealing in bot lane, her intended position. Alternatively, if her healing and shielding turn out to be too strong, we could tune them down so that she isn’t dominating the bot lane. 
As we get ready to release Nilah onto the Rift, here are a few of the things we’ll be keeping in mind, as well as examples of “levers” we can pull to correct course: 
“Nilah doesn’t have enough counterplay opportunities in losing lanes.” 
Sometimes a reason new champs come out strong is because their counterplay strategies aren’t common knowledge yet. Like Vayne or other hyper-scaling bot laners, bullying Nilah in the early laning phase is critical to hindering her scaling. Her shared experience passive only procs on last hits, so make sure to deny her CS as much as possible. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on whether winning lanes are able to punish Nilah early as we intended, and we’ll be ready to adjust her if that’s not the case. 
“I want to play a tank support, but Nilah is only good with enchanters.” 
As mentioned above, we'll be watching to make sure Nilah doesn't completely alter everyone's approach to playing in the bot lane—which includes her supports. We will try to tune Nilah in a way that most supports can work well with her so that players don't feel like they need to play far outside of their comfort zones. To do this, we've made sure to build in synergies with different types of supports: her passive's increased shield/healing pairs well with enchanters, while her W dodge sharing empowers tankier engage supports. By nerfing or buffing these, we feel confident in the options we have to balance Nilah around various types of supports. 
“Nilah is just building fighter and tank items. Wasn’t she intended to feel like an ADC?” 
We plan ahead before a champion release by thinking about what builds players will try out. Nilah was designed to build like a traditional marksman, and we even incentivized this by giving her crit scaling on her abilities as a lever. However, players have a history of creating some pretty out-there builds which is all good and fun until it makes the game not good, or not fun, for their opponents and teammates. We’re intent on optimizing Nilah as a bot lane skirmisher, so we want her to be the high-dps squishy that players expect of that role (and not a tank). We’ll be keeping a particularly close eye on her itemization to make sure players feel rewarded for itemizing crit on Nilah.
We’re bursting with joy about Nilah’s release, and we hope all of you are too. Conquer your foes and bring joy to your allies with Nilah in Patch 12.13 on July 14, 2022."
Look for more on Nilah, the Joy Unbound, in the 12.13 PBE cycle!

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