On Thematic Unity and Galio’s Rework

Understandably, a lot of people are upset about Galio's change in terms of (if nothing else) color design and model design. What we have to make note of, however, is that thematic unity is something Riot has been trying to achieve for a while now with reworks and model updates. So, real quick, let's go over some examples:

Noxus

Noxus, from an aesthetic point of view, has very dark and often muted colors. Swain’s cloak might be green but it’s not a bright, neon green or a brilliant jade. Rather. it’s muted and reflects Noxus. Noxian champions have dark, permeating colors.

Ionia

While Ionia has more color variation, colors that stick out are often soft pastel colors that mix with the darker or lighter shades. It reflects Ionia’s nature as a peaceful place that prides itself on balance and duality. (Bright pastels vs. basic colors.)

Rather than tug out more pictures and bloat the page, some quick additions:

  • Shadow Isles: Ghostly teals and blacks. Made to look horrific and spooky.
  • Piltover: Muted colors and lots of industrial greys/browns.
  • Zaun: Whatever you find in the gutter.
  • Freljord: “Cool” colors that are darker and reflect the icy climate.
  • Shurima: Brilliant and bright golds/silvers.

So now we get to Demacia. Demacia, as a country, is a “holy” place. Bright whites and complimenting colors like blue, gold, etc. It’s where you think a paladin would be born. Current Galio looks like this:

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Now, does that really fit Demacia?

Before people go “well duh” hear me out: His colors are a teal blue and muted gold. He doesn’t look like a statue carved to fit with Demacia’s architecture nor the general style of how Demacia makes things. When you put him in a line-up with Garen’s bright blue/silver, Lux’s sparkling white and Jarvan’s gleaming gold? He stands out as the outcast. Even Poppy, who is more a visitor, represents Demacia better even if she’s trying to emulate Demacia rather than actually emulating it. (Hence why she has some gold/white but it is muted comparative to Garen/Lux/Xin/etc.)

In addition to this, people are focusing too much on Galio from the perspective of our world. In a fantasy setting, the idea of a gargoyle/stone colossus would look a bit different form our definition. While Galio does have aspects of a gargoyle, he does have more Demacian-centric things about him; Gold highlights, angelic wings, white marble instead of stone, so on and so forth.

All that said, I do think Galio should have a chroma or something to better mesh with his original color design. But if you really compare to those who are meant to be his city-state peers and allies, this Galio makes far more sense as a Demacian golem than the current Galio.

The Path of Riot’s Reworks

In League of Legends, when it comes to reworks, more often than not Riot is busy reworking and fixing the problems of old. However, they have an unprecedented amount of work to do. Imagine having a massive chunk of the cast who you have to rework and fix because of outdated designs but keeping the same character. In this regard, reworks have the difficult job of preserving a character’s identity and modernizing them for the new League of Legends. For this short retrospective, I’m going to be going over Riot’s reworks and how they’ve evolved in size, scope and more.

The Early Days: Karma, Tryndamere and more

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Riot is no stranger to reworks and often it is a case where the character isn’t entirely meshing. The early days of League had small scale changes made to characters that didn’t truly “change” much about the character but tried to shift power. Tryndamere, Kayle and Ryze were all characters that often got a small, fresh coat of paint to the model and perhaps a changed ability or two. For the most part, these were extremely tiny. They didn’t truly change much about the character or how they played. They just tried to make them fresh and new for the game.

Karma would be the first character to become a fully reworked character and it shows. As Riot was fresh in the game of reworking characters to a large scale, Karma was their test run. She retains very little of her original kit save for certain parts: Mantra, the shield and a tether. Yet these skills played nothing like the original Karma and to this day many people consider her a weaker character because of it.

This doesn’t even talk about how Karma got an entirely new voice-over and how her visual look changed to a more conventionally attractive look with revealed legs, short cropped hair and an overall more “beautiful” look as opposed to regal, refined, tight-dressed Karma. That said, Karma taught the rework team a valuable lesson about preserving a character’s thematic as well as their core gameplay.

The Freljord Patch: Sejuani, Trundle and “Lore Reworks”

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The next major rework that the team would tackle would come in the form of the Freljord. Sejuani and Trundle were given fresh, new models and given new life in their kits. Not much changed about either, they just retained a lot of their core power while making them a little more clean in the gameplay department. In terms of raw rework and kit, there wasn’t much controversy and both were well received. What wasn’t so well received was the change to the lore.

While Sejuani retained a lot of the aspects of old, the more problematic reworks came in the form of written backstories. Gragas, Udyr, Trundle and more were all changed to be part of the evolving Freljord conflict, much to the dismay of others. Why was Udyr or Gragas suddenly relocated to the Freljord? Why did Trundle become a completely new character? What was the purpose of fracturing stories that worked into fresh, “new” character?

Again, this was an important lesson about preserving thematics and story. While the kit was preserved and the overall gameplay was turned to a more fresh, clean ideal? The core character was changed and it caused great strife among players. It seemed after this, Riot was always doomed to falter on one or two fronts. How could they succeed when every rework brought about another problem in some form?

The Golden Age: Sion, Poppy, Taric and the Forgotten

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Skepticism was abound when Sion was announced for reworking. One of League’s oldest, most polarizing champions and Riot is revitalizing him? This had danger written all over it. How could Riot perverse an AP mage or the AD carry aspect of the character? How can you keep a character alive when all you have is a handful of references and a weak VO? As it turns out, by being Riot Games.

Sion was by-and-large Riot’s most well received update to this day. They turned an unassuming green zombie into a titanic juggernaut of death. Everything in the character meshed together to create a compelling and fantastic character. Sion retained aspects of his old kit while learning new tricks. His story became that of a grim monster with serious, terrifying aspects. I remember reading articles where people said they were actually scared of Sion and how the loud clang of metal signaled his arrival. Sion was the start of the golden age of reworks that would come in the future:

Gangplank, a modernization to a rather binary character that doubled as a compelling evolution from silly pirate to scourge of the sea.

Poppy, a confusing assassin with no sensible path turning into a heroic tank with mechanics not seen in League up to that time.

Taric, the soft-spoken gem knight turning into a celestial protector with aspects of his old kit in new light.

Yorick, the disheveled gravedigger who turned into the sole-remaining monk of a long forgotten order.

Finally was Warwick, the newest rework, that kept aspects of the werewolf and turned him into a horrifying, blood-crazed chimera from the streets of Zaun.

Even if not every rework was viable, balanced or meta? Every rework seemed well received and giving fresh life to old characters. Riot seems to have gotten the perfect formula going.

Moving Forward

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With Galio up next along with Evelynn and Urgot waiting in the wings, large-scale reworks seem like a process Riot has turned into an exciting tool. People are more thrilled about the revitalizing of new champions even more than they are about new releases. People love to see their old mains brought up to fresh standards. Nobody knows how long this cycle can go on though; Eventually Riot will just be reworking releases that are newer and newer to the point where even recent releases are subject to new standards.

No matter what, Riot has turned their reworks into an art form. Despite a rough early start, Riot seems to have found the perfect way to give old faces a new chance in the limelight.

Piltover Parley Ep. 2 ft. PiraTechnics

Welcome to Piltover Parley!

This is a series (Sometimes audio and sometimes written) where I interview significant figures in the League community and get their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas about the game!

The LCS and League Pro Play has begun across the globe. What better way to celebrate than to interview one of League’s casters? I pulled Devin “PiraTechnics” Younge over to Piltover for some words on pro play, being a caster, working with Riot and more.

Bear in mind: This is a SHORTENED TRANSCRIPT of the full interview which you can find here for full viewing or here for listening. This written portion will merely cover some questions for those who are looking for the specific questions/answers.

Becoming a Caster

David aka “CaptainMarvelous”: Starting off, tell us a little bit about how you got to be a caster and what made you decide to be a caster.

Devin “PiraTechnics” Younge: So I played League some years back and I was working long hours at a medical company doing software. I saw people doing community events as well as things like the LCS and Starcraft. I started making little video series that I just threw up on youtube and it was a fun hobby for a while.

CM: And then you got approached by Riot?

PT: Well there’s more to it than that. When I got into League it started getting more serious. It was a long time before I got anywhere near at Riot level.

CM: So you created a better portfolio to show to Riot?

PT: I’m not sure if they ever saw all my applications. I submitted at least three-to-four over the year. I quit my job and was trying to pursue doing casting full time. It wasn’t the only path, I thought about “hey, do I wanna write about esports?” I don’t know how viable my skills are to that, I wasn’t particularly good at it. Casting was something a little more natural to me. All the same, I just immersed myself in esports, particularly League watching everything I could. The key was to get online and to start casting events. It wasn’t until I started meeting some people who were doing bigger and better things that I started getting more recognized.

CM: So it’s all about beating your head against a wall until you hit that one big moment that gets you noticed, right?

PT: Well you make yourself available. First off; Constantly be doing casting. Be it a three person stream or a tournament at someone’s house. You just start to make those connections because you’ll always meet people. Eventually you start growing a list of contacts and eventually somebody knows somebody doing something a little bigger than what you’ve been doing. That’s when you show them your portfolio and you start to move forward and that’s what happened to me. I got the chance to cast the LPL because the people who were looking to start an English stream knew me for a while and invited me to come along board. That kinda launched things into space.

Casting For Riot and the “Caster Cage”

CM: Casting for Riot, how has your experience been specifically casting for them?

PT: First thing is the level of production is completely out of this world. There’s really nothing like it and there are so many little things that Riot just gets right time and time again. I don’t want to shit on anyone else, it just is a high standard of quality. It’s something I can show to people who don’t even watch esports. I can show it to my parents and the first thing they’ll say is “I have no idea what’s happening but this looks really professional”. That’s a point of pride for me and it’s a really important thing that Riot sets the standard for what esports production quality should be.

CM: How is Riot in developing your casting from what it was to today? What is your experience with that and how have they (Riot) supported you in your rise from Devin to PiraTechnics?

PT: It’s really about who you work with. They definitely do take care of me in terms of getting vocal coaching and taking care of my throat because I lost my voice last year. It’s definitely played a really big part in my development. We have this really big emphasis on giving and receiving feedback. It’s definitely a “Riot” thing in general but in our office it means we VOD review each other and we really just want to push each other to be better. If I do something in the office that people are like “Hey, that wasn’t OK. That wasn’t cool” etc. etc. , someone’s going to let me know. It’s a really good environment to foster growth both personally and professionally.

CM: As a comparison to casting for Riot; Late last year there was what I’ll call the “caster cage controversy” when MonteCristo came out about working with Riot and Riot’s esport department comparative to the rest of the industry. Some of the biggest criticisms he had working with Riot were that, for one thing, you can’t really grow a brand of your own. The other thing was that there was a lot of work without a lot of pay compensation associated with it. A lot of people were saying that Riot isn’t good for a tier one caster to work at. What’s been your take on that?

PT: To be honest, there’s not a lot I can really add to this. What I can say is that if I want to, I can always go to my boss and negotiate for more money, etc. It’s not like there’s a moratorium on discussing salary. From the content side, there’s a lot of stuff I’m empowered to build with Riot that I couldn’t do on my own. For me, it’s kind of cool to have the environment of “Hey if you want to make something related to League let’s do it in the Riot ecosystem”.  It kind of makes sense too because if I was making something, people are going to associate it with me no matter what and with Riot. If it was crappy quality, it’d be like “WTF is this”. That whole policy on content and creating things in certain ways makes sense to me. It’s not like I can’t just go and stream something and say “Hey I think this champion is really good”. It’s not a total lockdown of what we do.

CM: Building on that; There’s a sort of Reddit mentality that you can’t really “talk bad” about Riot or about League of Legends. There are a lot of people that because you’re Riot employees you can’t talk ill about things they make.

PT: I’d say that in a standard employment contract that’s par for the course for a public statement.  You’d find that a lot of that stuff is totally fine for us to say. The balance team probably wouldn’t be happy if we went on a tirade about how bad things are but I don’t think anyone actually feels that way. We can totally call a bug or the idea that we can’t say “this champion is OP” or whatever. Some of us do that more than others. One of the reasons I don’t particularly do that is because my game knowledge usually isn’t up to the same level as color casters. I’ll know basic stuff like I know Camille is overpowered and a little bit about why but I don’t know the exact details about how she could be fixed perfectly. There’s really nothing to the idea that we can’t talk about things that aren’t totally balanced or working-as-intended.

The LCS and Favorite Things to Cast

CM: The LCS began all across the world. What do you think about it right now and all the changes, such as the ten ban system and some interesting pocket picks?

PT: There’s a lot of cool stuff going on! There’s a lot of pick diversity thanks to the ten ban system. We saw Camille playing against Jax, that was interesting. Speaking of ADCs, we’ve seen Ziggs a couple of times. Bang played it on SKT the other day. I think they experimented a bit more in the east. NA and EU haven’t really not quite gone outside of their comfort zone as much. There have been a few really interesting things out of there but they’re definitely missing a few of the newer champions.

CM: Speaking of the meta, you see a very sort-of basic meta right now; Tanky toplaner, damage-oriented midlaner, tanky-bruiser jungler, a utility or long-range ADC and finally you have the AP “support” who gets more kills than the ADC. What do you think about the current meta?

PT: It makes for a lot of interesting teamfights. ADC gets a little more pinch that a lot of the roles but obviously at a competitive level there are some cool things going on. I think it’s really interesting to watch because you have so many picks-to-counterpicks-to-compositions-to-countercompositions.

CM: On champions, what’s your favorite champion to cast?

PT: I’d say I have a couple of them. I would think that my absolute favorite, which I haven’t seen in a while, would be Jinx. Watching outplays with that champion is actually incredible. Seeing a super mega death rocket connect from halfway across the map is really really cool. Another one I’d say is Kalista. There’s a moment going back to MSI of last year where I got to cast CLG. Stixxay had this really incredible Kalista game and it was just a pleasure watching him play. Kindred is another one. There’s something of a theme that I enjoy casting ADC champions because of my solo queue.

CM: I think we’ll have a clear answer for this one: Who is your favorite player to cast, be it in an EU LCS sense or a worldwide sense?

PT: Actually casted some players in China before I ever stepped on the EU stage. From those days, one of my favorite players to cast was Uzi. That guy just does highlights-after-highlights so it’s super sick to watch. Even if he facechecks into five people he gets a double kill out of it. On the EU stage, there are definitely a lot of fun and interesting players to cast. I would say Jankos comes to mind, “The First Blood King” as we call him. Another player I enjoy casting is Perkz, Zven, most of G2. Most of G2 have pretty cool highlights but those two in particular. I’d also say Steelback because he’s always been this sort of underdog player. When he was on Roccat he was kind of the shining light on that team. They might lose day-in and day-out but he would do so much work and you could see how tryhard he was going. Players like that are just enjoyable to watch because it’s not just mechanics but their passion.

Closing Thoughts and Changing League

CM: As a sort of closing idea: What are some gameplay changes you’d make to League to make it a better game in your eyes or make it better/more enjoyable to cast?

PT: Well, most of the things coming to my mind are really trolly. If I had to make a change off-the-bat, nothing super specific? I would say an in-built system to track movement around the map would be cool for spectating. Looking at heat signatures that wouldn’t be built from data but actually select and put in the corner of the screen to cycle between players. Having a little more clarity with items with stacks and numbers. In actual gameplay design? I don’t know what I’d really change. Maybe change some of the build paths for ADCs because that’s sort of a point of contention. The number one important change, though, would be that whenever someone scores a sick play it goes full Mortal Kombat and someone says “Toasty!”.

CM: You did say you had a few troll ideas. C’mon, let’s hear’em.

PT: Besides the toasty one? I would love when Baron dies for there to be an explosion of glitter and streamers and stuff. Not every time but maybe like one in fifty times. One of the great things about League is that even casting it like a sport, it’s still a game and I really love that aspect about it. It really lives on in how skins are designed and how game modes are added. I’d love a little silly RNG that doesn’t affect the state of the game but silly things like blue buff taunting you one in fifty times. More of them than we have anyways.

CM: Closing off; Do you have any final words for those who are fans of League of Legends or the LCS specifically?

PT: I guess I would just say that if you’re a fan, really appreciate you for tuning in to watch. We do the show for you guys. If you’re an aspiring caster, I can’t promise any of my advice would be good, I just know it worked for me. You just gotta hustle as much as you can and get your name out there. I feel like if I can do it anyone who has the drive to do it can do it.

The Expansion of the Loot Crate

Remember back when you could just buy what you wanted? Yeah, I do too.

It was a short while ago in around 2009 that Team Fortress 2 introduced the concept of the loot crate. A box you could unlock with real-world money to get some rare items. Since then, almost every game worth its salt has a loot system. Be it a free-to-play mobile game to a cosmetic churning machine like Overwatch. Earnest and honestly: This sort of thing has to stop.

A Disguised Purpose
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The concept of the loot crate inherently isn’t a bad one: A gatchapon of gear that you unlock for all sorts of random goodies. Perhaps you get that rare item you wanted. Perhaps you get wrecked and get a pretty meh item. It’s a roll of the dice every time. In idea, you’d think it’s a cool thing! Wow, free cosmetics for playing the game! Boy oh boy it’s just what I wanted…that said, in practice it’s never truly worth it.

When you consider loot boxes in games, they very rarely are for giving you exclusive, free loot. They’re a revenue generation device. People LOVE to gamble and video games are no exception. It’s why CS:GO gambling became such a big deal. The worst part about this is people hold up the excuse that this is a free system for a (usually) free game that gives you free loot…but you rarely get exactly what you want.

A perhaps sinister way to look at things, the “loot box” system is a way out for companies. It’s a tool they can point to and go “See, we give you free stuff all the time!” when it actually doesn’t change your income of loot items all that much.

Competitive Games and Loot
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Perhaps worse yet is “competitive” games reliant on loot. I decided to give Clash Royal a try and see what the fuss was about…and frankly, it often feels awful. Having card-based unlocks and “items” makes the game either painfully one-sided or a slugfest between people with wet noodles. This feels like a TCG except you can upgrade cards and make them more powerful. Imagine if you could get between a two damage, four health Brann Bronzebeard or a ten damage, thirty health Brann Bronzebeard.

While I don’t like the loot systems in other games, THIS deserves a special note because of how it’s made. It’s made to force money out of you to win, as are many mobile games, and it feels truly awful.

Can the System be Fixed?
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No idea.

Alright alright, let me go further: This system is honestly far deeper and far more complex than I can earnestly say. There’s a fine balance to be had between “giving free items” and “giving so much free stuff nobody pays for your game”. Too much in one direction, you lose money. Too much in the other direction and…you lose money because people feel like you’re greedy and money-hungry.

Overwatch is likely the closest the system has come to work in a paid game while League/DOTA continue to work the best with other games. That doesn’t mean these systems are perfect: DOTA and League still have a tendency to lock time-based loot behind holidays and have confusing metrics for what a holiday box offers. Overwatch jacks up the prices for their timed loot to be three times as pricey as a normal item while only giving the base amount of coins.

Companies would need to take a fine line stance on these things. But perhaps the customer’s greatest hope is that competition breeds better environment for customers. League and DOTA have improved their boxes because of competition. Hopefully when someone steps up to Overwatch’s throne and provides better content for a fairer experience, Blizzard will have to change the way they look at things.

As it is now? This is a system with a lot of problems I’m not entirely sure can be fixed.

 

A Post-Mortem on Grand Heist of Zaun

Grand Heist of Zaun (or GHoZ as I’ll be referring to it) was my personal labor of love and the longest thing I’ve written to date. With the massive lore changes coming to Piltover/Zaun in official League lore, I wanted to look back on this fan fiction and look through both props and criticism given to me, as well as to look back on what I could do better in the future. (One word of warning: Spoilers! If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do!)

What Worked

The Piltover Side

From what I’ve been told, people seem to think that I had done a good job with the Piltover characters. Vi and Caitlyn felt realistic and were characters with real motivations. They didn’t act drastically out of character and felt like they were coming right out of the game. In addition, I’ve been told that Piltover felt like a real place. Snobby, uptight but a real, wonderful place. If I was to go back, I’d probably keep the Piltover side fairly the same.

Mach

I was surprised by this myself but apparently people very much warmed up to him. According to the feedback I got, Mach felt like a realistic addition to the League universe. He had great motivation, he wasn’t quite like other male characters in the League universe and he had a strength that was appropriate to the story. Most of all, he didn’t warp the story and make it all about him. I can’t say how truthful this is but, from the words of others, he was pretty great.

Viktor

Perhaps my greatest success according to those that read it was my portrayal of Viktor. He apparently came off as real. A man tortured by past failures and lies. Someone who does despicable things but a man who grapples with his oncoming humanity. His creation of Mach is less to add a character to the universe but to try to learn more about himself. Honestly, I could probably cut out every other part of the fan fic and still get a great story out of it simply because of Viktor.

Numerous Side Characters

GHoZ was loaded with side characters and, to be truthful, I can’t put them all in their own category. Despite this, feedback told me that people had all sorts of favorites from the short storylines. Whether it was Zac’s starry-eyed and humble nature, Orianna and Blitzcrank’s blossoming romance or the short dialogue between Swain, Singed and Mundo. It may not be perfect but these moments were good enough to warrant feedback apparently!

What I’m Not Sold On

Viktor’s Robots

As much as I like these characters, I think they were a bit…one-dimensional. Robot jokes beside, I don’t think I wrote these two to the best of my ability. Too much peaceful messiah-ness from Quantum and Omega was just “Cool robot doing cool things until he dies”. I think these two could still work but I really want to go back and take another crack at them to make them a little less flat and a little more human.

Jinx

While people told me Jinx was true to character and she was fun to read, I can’t shake the feeling that she was more plot lubricant than an earnest addition. She had foresight and capability perhaps a little too great for her character. More importantly, she served to move the plot and throw wrenches in everyone’s plans. While I definitely think Jinx is smarter than she lets on and that she is a formidable foe, giving her too much power for the sake of the story is just wrong. She can work, she just needs to be tuned.

C

Woah boy. If there was one character that had incredibly polarizing reception, it was C. Some told me he came off as a wounded soul with tons of backstory, just the right amount of fluff and backstory to make him a compelling anti-hero. Others told me he felt like a stupidly powerful get-out-of-jail free card with no danger associated with him. I can’t say I lean too far either way. All I can say is that if I’d ever revisit this story, I -really- want to try this again. There is a working character here, I just need to get it right.

What Didn’t Work

Janna

I royally ruined League’s mistress of wind. Looking back, I didn’t give her enough moments for her own. I defined her too much by her past connection and should have given her more power on her own. She felt more like Q from James Bond; the side character providing gadgets for Bond when she should be in the limelight in her own right. In revisiting this, I would give Janna her own spotlight and work more on making her story her own. Just with some interactions with others.

Jayce

Jayce wasn’t QUITE as ruined as Janna but I’d hardly say I did him justice. Frankly, my own bias shined through and Jayce came off as far more of an egotistical moron than he actually was. While I liked the idea of a fake hero, I neglected the actual real-hero aspects about him. I treated him as a joke when he was a far deeper, far more complex character than I gave him credit for. While he’d still serve a similar role in the story if I was to rewrite it, I’d give more honor and power to Jayce. I might still think he’s not as earnest as he appears but he still deserves more.

The Storytelling of the Climax

If I had to hit a single part in the story that most needs rewrites, it’d be the Zaun climax. What I HOPED would happen would be a rotating view with the events happening from the eyes of various characters. What ended up happening was the same events being rehashed over and over. The rest of the story was fine or workable in some way…but this writing was sloppy and prioritized what would be cool over what worked. Perhaps next time I’d focus more in putting it all in a single chapter than making each chapter separate.

Overall

To this day, I still love GHoZ. It’s even looped around to be noticed by others and I still occasionally get people telling me they love it. However, the story isn’t without its faults. Do I love it? Absolutely. Would I rewrite it? Again, absolutely. Not just because of new lore forcing me to alter major parts of it. No story is perfect in the first draft and GHoZ is no exception. I don’t really have time and have been working on an on-again-off-again story (That keeps getting pushed back with each lore rework!), but perhaps if there was enough desire I might rewrite it.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I wrote it and that it improved my writing…even if there are major parts I’d change.

 

 

The MOBA Scramble: Surviving Decline

If you saw Startale’s podcast which I frequent, you’ll have heard me talk about the “MOBA Decline” and how the genre has plateau’d. I feel this could use some background and why I feel this way, albeit some of this will be less raw and heavy facts and more so looking about to infer meaning.

King of the Ring

For just under a decade, MOBAs have been the most enormous and possibly profitable genre bubble to hit video games. League’s explosive success in 2009 followed by the arrival of DOTA2 and more caused a scramble to get into the MOBA industry. It harkens back to the days of World of Warcraft where the MMO caused the entire genre to explode, albeit nobody expected it to last forever. Just as the MMO slowly phased away, so too would MOBAs eventually die out.

Now, to their credit, MOBAs are a part of the free-to-play explosion that has rocked gaming harder than any scandal could. League of Legends still makes money hand-over-first despite being almost a decade old. In fact, the only game that comes close to it is…WoW. A game released in 2004. Granted, WoW has a subscription fee but the sheer money coming in still speaks volumes. Along with that, DOTA2 is still the most played Steam game of the year and regularly smashes the prize pool record from each previous international.

You’d assume that there is nowhere but up, right?

The Scramble

Well, not quite.

If I had to put it to a single thing, I’d say the advent of the “hero shooter” (A FPS game with MOBA-esque mechanics like abilities and ultimates) has caused the biggest alarm for this genre. A genre that erases some of the biggest complaints people have about MOBAs such as long match times, steep learning curves and painfully annoying “It’s everyones fault but my own” mentalities. Sure, some of these still exist in hero shooters, but not to any degree they do in MOBA-style games.

It’s difficult to gain actual data but compare Google Trends for how often League and DOTA have been searched for. Since their peak around 2013, the games have slowly been looked for less and less. Sure, there are major tournament spikes, but people have either found their game or avoided the genre. New blood isn’t really coming into these games and they hold a static playerbase save for the occasional investigative “taste test” of the genre. Interesting enough, when I looked at DOTA2’s Playercount, the number spiked to nearly 14 million unique players. Yet according to Steam Charts (While they don’t tell the whole story), the average player count has dropped since December’s big announcement. What was December’s big announcement?

A Triage Situation

I’ll be blunt: Both games are attempting to triage the situation in their own unique way. While you could argue they’re just trying to keep both games “fresh”, reading between the lines shows more factual information that neither company would truly care to admit.

On League’s side, they’ve basically been making good on promises they made years ago: Replays and Practice Tools have come out alongside a new client, as well as increased bans for pro play.

For DOTA2, the 7.0 update includes a far-cleaner HUD, visual updates for heroes who have desperately needed it, and new gameplay updates that speak more of more casual games than of DOTA2.

When you step back, the intentions are quite clear. League is pushing updates to entice their more hardcore fanbase while DOTA is making a push for the more casual fanbase. Both games are attempting to draw in fresh faces as well as re-incentivize those who may not have wanted to play the game.

But most of all, these updates come off the back of one major thing: Overwatch. Blizzard’s hero shooter has blasted all expectations and has become a worldwide phenomenon. For how long, nobody can say, but it’s more than a coincidence that this game explodes onto the scene and suddenly two industry titans suddenly make sweeping changes to appease the other side of the fence.

Death Knell?

For those who fear for the game you love: Relax. These aren’t going anywhere. MOBAs are far too large to up and die. It’s arguable that they won’t even truly die, just not be number one anymore. Building on this, it’s possible League/DOTA will forever exist as esports. Games we watch rather than play. They still pull in enormous numbers and both games are still considered the pinnacle of esport play along with Counter Strike.

But Overwatch was a wake-up call. They won’t be number one forever. You can’t get by with just what you have as your game gets older. There will be challengers to your playerbase and throne…and that has sparked a massive change-of-pace in both games. MOBAs still have plenty of life in them and we’re not going to see them rot away too fast…but the question is how long they’ll be at the top as time goes on.

And that? I have no idea of.

Viability vs. Optimal

A common error I see when people talk about video games is mixing up viability and optimal picks. This extends to both League and Overwatch but it’s an important distinction that needs to be made, especially when one is arguing about the state of the game.

“Viability” Being Misused

Often, when people talk about viability, they look at it from the perspective of “Is this character in the best spot they could be right now?” which isn’t the case at all. When it comes to viability, it simply means “Can I play this character to an effective level?”. In nine-out-of-ten circumstances? Yes! You can use almost any character in these games. League’s massive one hundred and thirty-plus roster is filled with playable, workable champions. I’d argue about ninety percent.

“Optimal” Being Understood

Optimal, however, speaks strictly about the power behind a single character. There are only a handful of optimal picks in Overwatch right now, the common combination (If I am remembering correctly) being Lucio, Ana, Reinhardt, D.Va, Roadhog and Zarya. This DOES NOT MEAN that all the other heroes are bad, per say. This simply means that in your best state, you’d want to play these heroes.

Blurred Line

The best question to ask is how did this get so mixed up. The answer? Esports. Simply put, since the advent of esports, people look to the pro leagues and the highest echelon of play to determine the state of balance. But balance for the common masses and balance for the top tier is a vastly different ball game. As an example, DOTA 2 balances strictly around the pro scene and results in an incredibly diverse game for them. However, for the common players, some heroes shine far brighter than others. During The International 6 (The biggest DOTA tournament), Omniknight was picked once and lost in all games. However, in normal queues, he was boasting an incredibly high win rate.

In this regard, people will look at the LCS or the upcoming Overwatch Pro League as a metric of what is “viable”. The truth is that in your silver games, anything can be played effectively. Offensive Torbjorn? Sure. Bot lane Yasuo? Go for it. You’re playing at a level where comfort picks are far more useful than any sort of meta strategy.

Balance is a different story but just remember: Just because something isn’t optimal doesn’t mean it isn’t viable.