“Simple Champions Needed”: Debunking the Argument

One of the most common complaints on the boards is that every single champion Riot makes is now hard-to-understand, super complex and overall just too difficult to grasp for casual players. Rather, I’d like to propose this:

Riot still makes simple champions, the problem players face is that the disparity between skilled and unskilled has gone up.

I’m going to go over this but I’ll be using both recent and non-recent examples of how complexity isn’t primarily about the kit itself but the aspects of the champion. With that said, let’s begin.

The Shaco Effect

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“The Shaco effect” refers to something that really took off in seasons one and two. Essentially, this effect refers to the disparity of a Shaco on your team (an actual clown) versus a Shaco on the enemy’s team (The Joker with the powers of Pennywise and the Violator). Overall, I think we can all agree Shaco has a pretty simple kit: A very short stealth and crit, backstab damage, a clone that doubles his attacks and a point-and-click nuke and slow. The thing is that despite Shaco’s simplicity, he’s incredibly hard to play.

Despite how one might feel about Shaco himself, Shaco is the prime example of a simple kit done well: He has a very basic kit that doesn’t have much in the way of difficulty understanding but the requirements to be a good shaco versus a great shaco are immensely steep. He requires planning, finesse and sometimes a little stroke of luck. That is not to say Shaco is a difficult champion¬†TO PLAY. He is just a difficult champion TO PLAY WELL.

Camille’s Release and Difficulty

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Again, using a controversial topic but let me stress my point: Camille is not a difficult champion nor complex champion to understand. She has a very straight-forward, simple kit: A passive shield. Auto-attack bonus that you have to time. Arc sweep where you want to hit the edge. Gap-closer against champs and a lockdown ult. Despite what people complain about, Camille is straight-forward and simple to play. It’s also why she was strong and overtuned: With such a simple kit, it was easy for people to simply overpower others through sheer power output rather than mechanics.

That said, let me show you what a godlike Camille looks like.

Watching that video, you can obviously see some disparity. Yes, on paper she is simple, but a skilled player is taking her to the edge and turning Camille into a venerable titan of mechanics. A great player has taken the simple parts of this champion and weaved them into combos and maneuvers that look like the hand of god coming down to play a champion. Perhaps most importantly, these moves require practice and aren’t something any old player can pick up without some time put into mastering the champion.

Difficulty, Simplicity and the Floor/Ceiling

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The most common, simple misunderstanding I’m seeing is that people are mixing skill floor up with skill ceiling. For the (likely few) who are unaware, skill floor is known as the minimum amount of skill required to play a champion. We’re talking “How much time does it take to play a champion and not go 0/12/0”. Ceiling, on the other hand, is just how complex a champion can get and how amazing a champion can be when you put time and talent into them. Garen has a low skill floor and skill ceiling. Azir, comparatively, has a high skill floor and skill ceiling. Some champions could be argued as having a low skill ceiling but a high skill floor, although most commonly it’s a low skill floor but a high ceiling.

We have to separate these two better when we’re discussing difficulty because it has become muddy. Yes, a great Camille will awe you and make you feel inadequate…but that doesn’t mean she’s insanely difficult to play when you first pick her up. Conversely, Shaco is hard to play well and you’re likely going to do poorly, despite his kit appearing “simple” on paper.

In the future, people must try to phrase arguments from all perspectives. Do not simply assume “THIS CHAMP IS SUPER HARD TO PLAY UGH RIOT MAKING ANOTHER COMPLEX CHAMPION” because their skill ability has more than a single line of text describing what it does.

Review Culture and How It Hampers Video Games

This is a seven out of ten game.

What image does that conjure in your mind?

Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t give you a great view. An OK game, likely plagued with bland segments and problems, that never really goes anywhere and isn’t worth your time. Movies and television suffer from similar problems but I feel that it is much worse in the game sphere…why is this?

To understand this, we have to go back to the advent of video game journalism. We have to look at reviews and how people consumed media. Video games appeared right when written media began to become a little less important. People wanted to know about how good or bad a game was but they didn’t want to really sit down and read an entire article about whatever the game was. People wanted a quick, concise measure about what to expect from a game. Writers saw this and knew the best way to capture an audience was to cut down the entire review into something that could fit into a single sentence. Thus, we moved to a system of numerical basis. We would rate out of five stars or ten points. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

Yet most video games cost more money (at least the console or PC versions) than your standard book or movie ticket. They’re pricey purchases by comparison. The counterpoint might be that video games offer longer experiences by default than a movie or book but a game is still a hard purchase for someone whose entertainment budget might just be a hundred dollars a month, for example. We’ve slightly moved away from this with things like Steam, the indie market and free-to-play games but your standard AAA title will still set you back a pretty penny.

This had the unintended side-effect of skewing the game’s review weight. When we think about games, our views on what a ten-out-of-ten game is versus a seven-out-of-ten game are further apart than the T-rex and the stegosaurus. A perfect game that cannot be missed versus a meh experience that might be worth a rental at best. In truth, this is a growing problem with metacritic sites as well.

Take, for example, Rotten Tomatoes. An aggregation of all reviews might sound good on paper but the line gets blurred when you consider not all movies fall under “flawless masterpiece” or “garbage we filmed for two hours”. Media that lands in the middle suffers the most because of this; a five-out-of-ten film or game can have redeeming qualities about it but we are too quick to dismiss it as not worth the time. Likewise, we praise things that hit the higher echelon of gaming too highly. That eight-star game might be decent but those glaring flaws ARE glaring flaws.

But how we respond to reviews also dictates an immense amount of what we consider a good or bad score. Jim Sterling recently gave the new Legend of Zelda the score you see at the top. By all means, not a terrible score, but the fact that it was not a perfect was seen as a besmirching of the series. People thought he was viciously attacking the franchise and spitting on what they thought a perfect game was…for an “It’s pretty good” review. It goes back to the point that we’ve skewed the review system too much.

So what can be done about this review system? Using my own experiences, Fortis Core uses a different brand of scoring; rather than stars or numbers, its recommended in the form of a “yes/no/maybe” system. It’s not perfect but it does encourage reading deeper when you get to the “recommend with exception” rule. The flaw there is that you might be pigeonholing games even deeper. I’d rather recommend/not recommend a game though. Giving it an arbitrary score might actually hurt a game I genuinely enjoyed.

Review culture has become too caught up in TL;DRs. We focus too much on the end result and not on the nuances. While it is understandable due to how reviewers often have to try a lot of games over a year with only a few hours for each, this style of reviewing has polluted the idea of the review. Good games are slipping through the cracks into the trash because the crack has widened. While I wish that we could take a step back and earnestly give each game the time and review it deserved, we live in a world that is increasingly concerned about the “now”, not the “later”. If you take one thing away from this; Don’t let flaws dissuade you. That seven-out-of-ten game might be perfect for you.

A Word Moving Forward

When I started writing this website, I wanted to make a ton of good articles and write a bunch of really great, thought-provoking/discussion-producing stuff. I also wanted a fairly often standard of writing articles. Something like one-to-two articles a week. As it turns out, I was waaaaaay too boastful of my own skills.

While I like writing articles, I’m not producing the quality I’d like on a two-a-week basis. With that in mind, I’m going to be reducing my article output by around one every two weeks. However, I hope to make these articles overall better written with a more concise point.

For anyone who really enjoyed my writing, sorry I couldn’t keep up the pace. Please be patient with me and I hope to write better, longer and overall more interesting pieces of work in the future.

Thank you.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Vi stands for…Bi?” (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my last musing article so if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. Don’t worry, it’ll open in a new tab.

Following up from last week, I wanted to talk about sexuality in another game I play (being League of Legends) and how sexuality gets assigned when it comes to a void. I actually wrote a paper on this back in college when it came to a class so some of this might be recycled.

In the Void

When it comes to a game like League with hundreds of characters and not enough time to write a novel for all of them, you cut corners. For most characters, a single short story and background page is all we have outside of the core game’s VO and how they play. As such, sexuality gets left on the cutting room floor. It is, after all, one of the lesser aspects of a character.

When you think about it, only a handful of characters have actual sexuality when it comes to the game; Illaoi was dating Gangplank and flirts with Braum. Taliyah has small flirtations with Ekko. Garen and Katarina are in some sort of lovers feud. Lucian had a wife. Tryndamere and Ashe are married. In these cases, even the revealed facts are pretty bland. Which does make sense. After all, a majority of the populous is heterosexual.

When it comes to characters, we have two prevailing schools of thought: The “Everyone’s Bi” argument and the stereotype argument.

The “Everyone’s Bi” Argument

Most of this comes from the fact that giant IPs have so many artists, writers and more who all draw characters in different pairings and different ways. What’s the point of saying “Well canonically Miss Fortune is gay!” when you have a hundred aspiring artists and writers who are going to tell stories about her psuedo-boyfriend anyways?

In this argument, there’s no point in discussing sexuality because people will assign it on their own save for story hooks. Even in story hooks, such as last week’s “Tracer and Emily” information, will be disregarded to fit what fan writers and artists do. Everyone’s bi so who cares! I wouldn’t say this is a particularly diverse way of looking at things but it also gives players the most freedom to think however they wish.

This is also a feeling you generally have when it comes to make-your-own protagonists. Commander Shepard is Schrodinger’s sexuality: He’s simultaneously gay, straight and bi all at the same time. In this regard, League and games like it don’t need to talk about sexuality because everyone will make their own…and it cuts through the rough things that can happen in countries that don’t approve of such things like Russia.

The Stereotype Argument

Conversely, there are those who NEED the writers or story people telling them who is what. If you don’t, people instead default to what they know about a character. In a game like League, where most characters have very little writing to them, you end up playing heavily on stereotype and fan theory.

Take for example Taric. A soft-spoken, handsome man with a fondness for beauty and shiny things. All we know about him is his backstory (Demacian Soldier who is now Avatar of Protection) and a handful of voice lines. In trying to figure out who Taric would love to date, people asked Riot. They gave the non-committal “He loves everyone”. Thus, people default to stereotypes…which means Taric is about as gay as a triple rainbow over a pride parade.

In a vacuum with little/no writer input, people just default to stereotypes. It’s easier that way, after all. Of course the counter-argument means that Riot was implying Taric is bi or even something more like polyamorous. We don’t know their true intentions, however, and it’d be pretty bold to include such an underrepresented thing in fiction. (Sadly some people, myself included, need a cheat sheet for all the sexuality there are today.)

The Part Where I Talk About Vi

And now we come to Vi. Part of why I devote an entire section to this is because this is where all of this writing comes into play. When Vi came out I was smitten. She encapsulated everything I love in a female character and looked damn good doing it. Of course when I talked to everyone about it, I got the same feelings: “Oh yeah the lesbian.”

My personal belief was that I always saw Vi as bi. Which is also why I defend the idea so heavily. On one hand, I don’t feel like her story or upbringing makes her out to be someone who sticks with one person or someone who doesn’t flirt with others every chance she gets. On the other hand, I also hate the idea of putting her entire character in a lesbian box because she’s a stereotype many people see: Short, pink hair. Rough tomboy. Snarky and rude.

In this case, Riot eventually came out and somewhat “subtly” said Vi likes guys and girls. About as subtle as a taco and hotdog metaphor can be anyways. Yet this is again a non-committal answer. They can easily twist or change this however they want. Personally, I like the idea of Vi being bi. It gives us an underrepresented sexuality, keeping true to the character (at least in my mind) and adding one more layer to a character without going too deep into it.

Conclusions

Much of this probably reads like rambling. Like someone who has too much time on their hands to worry about what fictional people do in their love lives. To me, it’s an important issue. It’s not a damning one, sure, but I think it’s necessary to talk about this sort of thing. In games, we often have the saying of “Show, don’t tell”. People don’t respond well to just saying “Oh yeah whatever he’s gay”. We need to see it with our own eyes.

It’s also why the Tracer comic was such a big deal. We got pretty damning visual evidence and it was quite a bold move. That is unless you’re a denier, in which case Tracer is kissing a very good friend on her open mouth. Either way, League could take some steps in my mind to further push these boundaries. We can have more beyond stereotypes or just wondering if everyone is bi until we get a clear answer.

Hopefully one day I can see a comic of Vi hanging out with her lovers in an open relationship.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Cheers Love, The Cavalrey’s Queer!” (Part 1)

I’ve always been fascinated about the topic of sexuality. Ever since my father told me he was gay, I’ve really made an effort to understand the intricacies, deeper meanings of sexuality. Doubly so in the emerging medium of video games. Games, as they are, have had a history of sort of shooing LGBTQ stuff to the side. It’s not something for everyone, after all. Not that being gay is bad but some people would rather not engage in that content. And that’s ok!

Specifically I want to talk about Tracer coming out as a lesbian, because I’m quite fascinated in this turn.

“The Typical Lesbian” vs. Lena “Tracer” Oxton

Often in media, especially video games, the lesbian character is always the one you most expect. The tough girl, the tomboy, the sexually promiscuous woman, all stereotypes people associate with gay/bi women. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to defend my point-of-view on why I think Vi (League of Legends) is more bi than lesbian, but that’s for another day.

Blizzard had many outs and many choices when it comes to making a lesbian character. The one that would have made me roll my eyes in disappointment would have been Zarya. A tough girl with short, pink hair that is a weight lifter. It screams stereotype. Instead, it turns out Tracer is the one chrono-shifting out of the closet.

Now, roll with me here; to the general public, Tracer isn’t a typical lesbian character. She’s not overtly sexy, she’s not a tough girl,¬† she’s a peppy, cheery lady. Sure the community likes to ship her with Widowmaker but if we’re bringing that into play, almost everyone is bisexual. Yes, even the omnics.

More importantly, your stereotypical character will be a brazen, unabashed flirt. Not so with Lena. She’s all business and quite sweet as well. Never once does she flirt or tease other characters in a sexual manner. Tracer isn’t a lesbian character. She’s a character who happens to be a lesbian. Weird distinction, I know, but so many characters are just lesbian or gay and THAT is their character.

“Hidden in a Sidequest” vs. On-the-box

As I said earlier in this writing, often times the LGBTQ stuff is hidden in a metaphorical dark corner of the game. Even player made characters like Commander Shepard have to go looking for that specific content. I believe the most egregious example of this was Star Wars: The Old Republic which locked a same-sex romance behind paid content. “Pay 2 Gay” if you will.

With Tracer…you can’t really ignore it. She’s front and center. She’s the titular character and the poster girl of Overwatch. You could argue that nobody would know unless they go lore-delving. To counter this, who would likely be the first character for people to look for and learn about? Yep. Lena Oxton herself.

Most protagonists and cover-feature characters in video games tend to be men. Especially in the FPS genre. Gruff, military badasses in power armor. Instead, for Overwatch, we have a bubbly lesbian with time powers. It’s a far-cry from the norm and not something we’d expect to see at all. Tracer is breaking the mold and normality by checking the opposite of every other main. She’s not a man. She’s not straight. She’s not a (conventional) badass. She’s just who she is.

Thus, Lena becomes front-and-center when it comes to Overwatch. Not in-your-face about it but she does have this aspect while also being a main, lead character in one of the hottest games of 2016.

Loud and Proud vs. Character Trait

Remember earlier how I said Lena is a character who happens to be a lesbian and not a lesbian character?

Time and time again, even the most well-meaning person writes a character where their sexuality is the hook. Where the entire character is defined by being gay/lesbian or it’s the main motivation behind all the things they do. Now, there’s nothing wrong about being proud of yourself but often these things read as stilted. They read as someone jamming sexuality into every nook and cranny of a character to the point where you go “Is there ever a moment where the character ISN’T gushing about other men/women?”

Tracer, however, could very well not be a lesbian and I mean that in the best of ways. In my own life, being around gay and lesbian people, the tired motto of “they’re just like you and me” rings true. They don’t act weird or differently, they just like the same sex. Tracer, if you removed the panels of her with her girlfriend, would still be the same character. You wouldn’t lose much and she’d still be good ol’ Lena Oxton. Just like a straight person and all that.

However, in adding those panels, you add a bit of depth to her. You add a little tweak to her character that changes things up. Lena is still Lena, she just has something important to note about her character. Perhaps it makes her friendship with Overwatch different. Perhaps there’s a story about her realizing herself. There’s so much more that you CAN add but nothing that takes away or messes with the core character.

Criticism and Conclusion (For now)

Not really excited for the incoming hate from both sides, gotta be honest. LGBTQ community saying I don’t get those relationships because I’m not them and the gamer community accusing me of being a pandering bastard. Well, that’s gonna be fun.Still, to me, the overall change to Tracer is…well, good.

While I do approve and think this was a good change, I will say one thing: It’s one of the safest paths you can take. Tracer’s conventionally attractive. She’s had some of the most developed Overwatch lore there is and she’s easily the person who will represent the franchise. Her girlfriend, Emily, is also quite attractive. Now, before you think I’m just gushing and that I’m crushed Tracer x Me isn’t going to happen, hear me out.

You can easily fetishize people in such a way and Tracer is no exception. She’s a character who people know, love and (barring some crushed people who take sexuality too seriously) is a character people could love regardless of what she did. She was the “safe” pick to make an LGBTQ woman. Perhaps if Tracer’s girlfriend wasn’t exactly hot. Perhaps if Tracer herself had this fact stated or revealed from the get-go…but, I’ll be honest, I’m nitpicking.

Tracer’s coming-out marks something semi-important and major. It makes one of the first non-player-created characters of LGBTQ origin who is the titular character of the game. I’d also say this is likely the biggest game in a LONG time when it comes to IP and sheer cultural permeation, making it something of a sign of the times when the star of 2016’s game-of-the-year (in many circles) likes the same sex. Still, all this has got me thinking…what about games that play coy with other character’s sexuality?

Next week, I’ll take a look at another game (League of Legends) and talk about the vacuum of sexuality in it.

Overwatch and the Power of IPs

I don’t think Overwatch is going to last forever.

Perhaps it’s a controversial opinion, especially considering the popularity right now, but my personal thought is that Overwatch is going to slowly die out over the course of around five years. Sure, it’ll still be played but it won’t remain the mega-blockbuster-hit it is right now. Instead, I want to draw attention to the real success of Overwatch: The IP.

Blizzard and Franchises

Perhaps Blizzard’s greatest strength is their ability to make franchises that transcend single games and become long-lasting phenomenons whose effects are still felt today. Hell, Blizzard is responsible for three of the last genre bubbles (The MMO, the MOBA and the Hero-Shooter) that have transpired. They’re making great games to go along with it…but really, I find their power is in making IPs that last.

For any who don’t know: IP stands for “Intellectual Property” also known as the story, characters and general name-brand nature of a game. Blizzard’s stable include Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo and now Overwatch. All four are what I would consider signature franchises for PC gamers and great examples of how Blizzard can take lightning in a bottle and create long-lasting legacies of video games.

Overwatch’s IP: Dipped in Gold

The first moment I knew that Blizzard had the long-game planned for Overwatch was in the opening of the Warcraft movie. When Blizzard’s logo appeared, iconic characters flashed in the letters. There was Arthas, Diablo…and then Tracer. A game they’d just made was already standing side-by-side to some of their most iconic IPs. “No duh”, you might argue, but to me it was a telling sign of what was to come.

Compare League of Legends for a moment: In talking with others, I’ve found that people who don’t even play the game recognize the characters from conventions, other media (comics, music, fan art, whatever) and influences outside of the core game. So too is Overwatch hitting a point where people can point and say “Oh, that’s Tracer!” even if you don’t play Overwatch.

If Overwatch were to die tomorrow and just get thrown into the dumpster, Blizzard still have a vibrant world with colorful characters to use. Movies, television, animation, comics, everything beyond the core game has immense power simply because of the “Overwatch” logo and title sitting at the top.

Industry Movings

I think this speaks greatly to the video game industry moving more-and-more to trying to establish long-lasting franchises rather than the old “one and done” system. Ages ago, during the NES and Genesis days, games were just single-releases. You made a good game, made some money, that was that. If you were a franchise, that was earned through being damn good at what you did and making a brand through sheer game power.

Now look at us today: Mighty No. 9, for all its faults, tried desperately to be a massive franchise before a single game was even out. Comics, movies, sequels, the rumors swirled that this would be a game franchise for the AGES. Sure, it flopped, but you can see it in other games as well. Name brands are power and long-running franchises are the goal, not a dream in the eyes of a dev.

Even if Overwatch were to die tomorrow, as I said, I’m confident in its longevity as an IP. For me, I don’t care about the game so much as reading the stories, watching the movies and hearing the tales of a world worth fighting for. Kudos to Blizzard for making yet another powerhouse that can stand alongside Arthas, Diablo and Kerrigan.

 

Creating Champions in League of Legends: Breaking Rules

It was around 2012 that I took my first stab at creating a champion concept for League of Legends. Suffice to say, I’ve been working on it and others ever since. Almost five years old I think? Either way, I learned very quickly on that making champion concepts for League of Legends forces players and creators to break unspoken rules related to OCs (Original Characters) in canonical universes.

The “Rules”

Generally, many of these rules are not explicitly enforced or stated.. However, play any MMO in an RP community (as I did for around ten or more years with World of Warcraft) and you’ll quickly see things that are OK or not-ok to common players. Some of these rules include:

  • Not being related or involved with canonical characters.
  • Your work or job being toned down. (You’re not the best warrior in Azeroth.)
  • Separating your character from the canonical events of the game, such as major raids.
  • Not directly affecting major events that occurred in the game.

There are always people who break these rules, sure, but I’ve often found them to be pushed to the side or ignored. Roleplay communities seem to thrive on original characters who are downplayed or are one of many, as any world would allow. Not everyone can be the heroic titan who stands head-and-shoulders above others.

Do be aware that these rules are quite often enforced in RP communities when they’re related to League but not directly related to champion creation or design. That said, when you put champion creation into the mix, things become increasingly messy and break further and further rules.

Breaking Conventional Rules

In every champion release or new character, regardless of if it’s League, DOTA, or otherwise, you have a character who has to compete with or excel against the best warriors, mages and assassins in their respective worlds. You can have normal soldiers but even then, they are above and beyond those who serve alongside them. We’ve already had to break one rule in giving that character the power to face a cavalcade of others.

A staple of these characters are being related or connected to others in some way. Be it rivalry, implied love interest or otherwise. Even if your character is completely unconnected, he/she/it will need lines in relation to encountering other characters in the game. This includes events in the story. After all, if your champion is important enough to be a champion, they likely did something of note.

These facts alone force you, if you want to create a champion, to create someone of major significance in the League universe and beyond. Which also might be why so many creators are looked down upon when it comes to these rules. Yes, you can be the greatest warrior the Freljord has ever known but many will shake their heads and be disappointed in how much importance you’re putting into your character. Same goes for any other major point of note be it romance, relationship or legendary weaponry.

Of course, you can make original characters separate from champion concepts but those characters cannot be heroes in the game itself. You have a clear divide between someone strong enough to be a hero/champion and someone who is merely strong enough to get by in the world they live in.

A Standout Crowd

The purpose of this wasn’t to make people go “Ugh yeah I hate those dumb people who do that” or to somehow get sympathy for character creators who want to be the greatest samurai Ionia has ever known. What I merely wish to point out is that League is a game where creating playable characters requires you to bend the rules of original character creation, even if they are unspoken.

It’s certainly not for everyone either. You will get people criticizing your character because they are far too important or far too powerful. There will be critiques made at how your character is related to or interacts with a character who is canonical. At the end of the day, everyone is vying for the same goal: Get their creation noticed and perhaps one day work at these studios to put their pride-and-joy in the game.

No matter what, these jobs are rife with critique and will always have someone questioning the character’s inclusion in the game unless they’re the first there ever was. All one can do is maintain an open mind when looking at champion concepts and to understand that players aren’t the cause of these characters: it’s the environment.