Controversy over how “OP” some League of Legends champions are is a tale as old as the game itself. One Riot Games dev has explained the challenges of balancing new champions, and how they try to avoid making champs who are completely broken.
League’s seen some ludicrously OP new champs over the years. There was midlane mage-assassin Zoe, who players quickly came to loathe with her low-risk, high-reward playstyle. On the flip side, champions like Bard were initially far too weak, and required buffs in following patches.
However, every now and then, a champion comes along who is (almost) perfectly balanced. Lee Sin and Orianna, for example, have kits with clear strengths and weaknesses and are very rarely tweaked when the patch notes come out.
The latest success story is Lillia. The mage jungler, who was released back in July, has not been mentioned in the patch notes at all since, apart from a couple of standard bug fixes. One Riot dev has explained the success behind Lillia, and the formula their devs use when balancing new champs.
Riot gameplay analyst Ray Williams, who was on the team that developed Lillia, explained how luck plays a big part in a champion being a success when released.
He told one Redditor: “We have only around a dozen games playtested on champions on their final couple iterations, and it really doesn’t compare to the millions we get quickly after release. Nailing a % winrate balance number with that small sample size is a lot of luck.”
However, it’s not quite as simple as building a champ and hoping it will be balanced. When designing Lillia, Williams explained how making her strengths and weaknesses as explicit as possible helped the balancing act.
He said: “[We made] sure her super fun and high-agency strengths (ramping movespeed, true damage, triple damage W, infinite range E/R) come with big drawbacks (squishiness, low base MS, slow moving abilities so that the player feels like a god but the opponents know the counterplay).”
Some of the balancing act relies on pure numbers, too. With junglers specifically, Williams explained how devs rely on “comparing stats/ability DPS/clear speeds to other champions” to ensure they don’t blow the competition out the water.
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It’s rare for a champion to be immediately balanced on release, and Williams hopes balanced releases like Lillia will continue in the future. “We are hoping to make this the standard of precision,” he said.
It’s hard to see future new League champions being as immediately well-balanced as Lillia, but if following this formula means fewer cases like Zoe, then we’re all for it.