LoL Design Values: In-depth with Mastery

By Zileas
It's the second entry in our ongoing League of Legends design values! Last time we had environment and clarity designer Richard "Nome" Liu go in-depth on why Clarity is important in League of Legends. Up this week is Riot Games' Vice President of Game Design, Tom "Zileas" Cadwell, here to talk to one of League's most central themes: the pursuit of mastery.

Zileas has been a part of Riot Games for a long time and he's actually the one who first introduced several of the terms used in our design values series – like Counterplay. Today, however, Zileas will be focusing more on mastery as it relates to every design decision we make in League and why it's so important to the game as a whole. Onward!
Chris ‘Pwyff’ Tom

Mastery

Players are driven to play different game genres for different reasons. In MMOs, it might be a feeling of progression or social achievement. In single-player, story-focused games, it might be about immersion, or making your way through a deep narrative. In the MOBA genre, we believe the main thing that motivates players to stick around is the pursuit of mastery.

Whether you're trying to be the best League player in the world or you're just picking up on how to last hit, playing League of Legends is about continually growing and becoming a better player. We believe that players who play League are seeking mastery, and our design philosophy is deeply tied to this idea. For our part, we hope to make a player's journey endlessly rich and fulfilling; someone who adapts quickly and instinctually should be rewarded as much as the one who spends days figuring out the most optimal path forward - both are pursuing mastery in their own unique ways.

We’ve identified three major areas of mastery: personal expertise, teamwork, and adaptability.


Personal Expertise

Personal expertise is the direct skill you bring in controlling your character to win a fight or earn gold. It’s your ability to last hit, execute a basic combo, dodge and land skill shots, or make an informed decision in a fight. Some of the ways we can support personal expertise include:

Creating optimization paths for champions is a design strategy we've spent more time on over the years. When we design or update champions, we ask if there are multiple levels of mastery possible – places where a player can fine-tune their skills to become even better over time. Yasuo and his passive, Way of the Wanderer, is a good example of growing mastery, where maximizing Flow through movement and ability use – and ensuring that large flow increases aren't 'wasted' on a full bar – can separate the good Yasuos from the great Yasuos.

Rewarding consistent demonstrations of skill is an important philosophy for us, and this means smoothing out cases where this isn't true. As an example, system overhauls are large projects that try to build more potential for mastery. We continue to look at League and ask ourselves: when and where are players unable to use their skill to shine? And where these problems exist, is there a way we can fix it?

Here are some examples from the 2014 pre-season changes where we made system overhauls to reward consistent skill:

  • Reducing team snowballing allowed players to win more often via their skill than their stats. When teams snowball out of control prematurely it becomes impossible for the opposing team, even with amazing play, to recover. On the other hand, a really 'fed' single player can still be focused and killed. 
  • Stronger support scaling allows support players to continue to show their skill into the late game, rather than being overshadowed by the rest of their team in importance. When your power level is too different from other players in the game, even highly skilled players can feel like they're not making a difference.

Counterplay, which will be further detailed by Morello in another blog, is the philosophy of designing champions to be challenging to master for both the player playing them and the opponent trying to beat them. When two champions fight, we want nuance, thought, and timing to matter in both directions, which means the best player should win. You're only as good as the opponents you can beat, and a champion that lacks counterplay is one which, if executed perfectly, leaves their opponent with shallow or nonexistent response choices.


Teamwork

Teamwork is the ability to read a teammate's intentions while also giving cues in turn, or the ability to stay positive when setbacks occur, or the ability to do what's best for the team at all times.

We design for teamwork in two major areas: teamplay and team incentives.

Teamplay is a design philosophy similar to counterplay, and Statikk will be going more in-depth in his dev blog. In short, if a particular strategy or set of abilities become stronger with increasingly effective team coordination, teamplay is there. At a basic level, this means that we have to design in a way where your teammates need to care what you're doing, and react to it. To do this, we try to make abilities, like Thresh's Dark Passage, which greatly increase in power when the team collaborates effectively. 

Team Incentives encourage players to play as a team. Basic systems like assist gold are an example of this, as are objectives like towers, dragon and baron. We've also positioned all of League of Legend’s out-of-game rewards and ranked play (wins/losses) entirely around team success in order to reward players for playing as a team. This has the final effect of helping players understand that the path to mastery must involve the mastery of teamwork.


Adaptability

Adaptability is both your ability to learn and respond to new ideas, new threats and new changes, along with your ability to play in a variety of styles. Different players are adaptable in different ways. Some choose to pick up a large number of champions, while others spend that time deeply mastering one along a variety of builds. We try to support both, but fundamentally believe that to pursue mastery in League is about being an adaptable player. 

Our primary method of rewarding adaptability is through system and play balance changes. We aspire to keep as many champions as possible viable at a competitive level (to mixed success, admittedly), and also spend a lot of time trying to increase the amount of viable team-level strategies. The better balanced the game is, the more we can reward players who remain adaptable against a wide breadth of threats, and similarly reward them for investing time in learning to play less-popular champions and strategies.


Closing Thoughts

We're committed to continuing to improve the potential for mastery in League of Legends, and look forward also helping you understand the ways we can achieve this goal (or give us feedback if you feel we're not!). We fundamentally believe a game where you know you're getting better with effort is also a game that's rewarding to play. We also hope you'll remain committed to your own mastery – and that this blog can serve as a reminder to challenge yourself to master new skills, champions and strategies!

Tom "Zileas" Cadwell

5 months ago

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