Riot admits League of Legends will cap out on champions, but it’s not near yet

Renata Glasc with chalice in LoLRiot Games

League of Legends already has 161 champions, with players long calling for Riot to drastically slow down or stop new releases. The developers have admitted they will eventually cap the number of champions, but they’re far from the ceiling.

League of Legends has one of the biggest character rosters in all of gaming with 161 different playable champions at the time of publishing ⁠— and that number’s only increasing. 

Every new champion introduces some new mechanic that keeps players on their toes, and adds to the complexity of picking up the game. For a new player, or even a veteran player returning after a hiatus, all the additions ⁠— plus items and map reworks ⁠— are a daunting learning curve.

There’s long been calls for Riot to cap the number of champions in League of Legends, or at least slow releases. Ever since the game trickled over 100 champions more than five years ago players have wondered when the developers will actually stop.

Behind closed doors there’s been discussions about this topic, developer Matt ‘Phroxzon’ Leung-Harrison admitted on a podcast. However, there’s no solid number just yet, and there’s still plenty of experimentation Riot wants to push forward with in League of Legends.

“We’ve still got a lot of flex to go because there are a few things that make a lot of champions unsustainable,” Phroxzon explained. “One is if champions are unintuitive ⁠— let’s say I run into Thresh and he throws a hook, and it looks like a hook, but it just goes over somebody. You’d be like ‘what the hell is that?’ 

“If we make unintuitive champions, then making more of them is an issue because it massively multiplies the number of things you need to understand to play the game.”

Victorious Blitzcrank League of Legends skinRiot Games
Hook champions all work intuitively to try and reduce League’s learning curve and enable Riot to continue creating new champions.

It’s a relatively simple marker ⁠— the champions aren’t so insanely complex yet that Riot has run out of ideas. No matter what you think of Viego, Akshan, Zeri, or even Bel’Veth and Nilah, they’re still relatively clear in concept if a bit overloaded with power.

However, it’s getting harder to make things as unique to each champion as it once was. To solve that issue, Riot has to try and keep like things alike, and streamline mechanics.

“Every champion that is released is unique in some aspect. We try to make sure the thing that is unique is as intuitive as possible so as to not consume that mindshare budget. We’re at 160 right now, so every player needs to consume and understand 160 champions to play the game effectively,” Phroxzon continued.

“That becomes a lot more difficult when every hook champion has their hook function in a slightly different way. If Blitzcrank’s Q can do a 90-degree turn? That becomes way more difficult to understand. But most hooks function the same way. Most Mystic Shot-looking things function the same way. 

“It’s only when we do something that completely subverts the expectation of what that spell or what missile or what that VFX means ⁠— then we get into problems.”

That’s not to say Riot has missed the mark in the past with champion clarity and uniqueness. Gwen is an example the developers often refer back to, especially with her Hallowed Mist

The issues surrounding her release did change how Riot sees the champion creation process. Uniqueness is slowly becoming less of a necessity and more of an “aspirational value”, and new champions might only slightly vary from previous releases compared to filling an entirely new niche ⁠— say like what Nilah did for the bot lane.

“In the case of Gwen W, she needed to have this mechanic because we wanted her to function in melee range ⁠— to hit the frontline ⁠— without getting blasted by ranged champions,” Phroxzon said. 

“So it’s like this is a mechanic that makes sense. Gwen was built around that mechanic. That’s a very difficult mechanic to visualize. Xin Zhao does it well because he can put an invulnerable tag on himself, but Gwen’s is a little different because she’s not invulnerable. It presents a different visualization challenge. Sometimes a mechanic is just unique enough it’s too hard to visualize.

Gwen Space GrooveRiot Games
Riot admits they missed the mark slightly on Gwen, but her uniqueness still shines through.

“The champion designer, the animators, the VFX, and the sound [guys] will try to put their heads together and find the best way to represent it, but sometimes with unique mechanics, it’s just way too hard to get a ‘perfect solve’ for that. ‘Gwen is immune’ is the meme, but we had to resort to adding text because the state was unclear. We wouldn’t do that in an ideal world.”

Until Riot runs out of ideas though ⁠— or gets memed into oblivion for another obscure champion mechanic ⁠— League of Legends won’t be running out of new characters any time soon. Releases might ebb and flow in frequency, but there’s still a lot to explore in the MOBA 13 years on.