Dev Blog: Classes & Subclasses

By Statikk

Hey all,

As League’s evolved, so have a lot of our design philosophies, principles, and methodologies. Over this year we’ll touch on a few of those changes, but today we wanted to address our more modern (you might say functional) view of ‘Champion Classes’ and how they exist in League of Legends.

This is going to be a pretty academic discussion as some of it is still work-in-progress, but with the mid-season update on the horizon we thought it’d be a good time to start the conversation. Let’s get started!

James “Statikk” Bach


Classes and Subclasses

To start, classes are groups of champions with similar playstyles. In the past (and still true today), application of these classes was heavily influenced by the fantasy and thematics of the individual champion rather than their actual function in the game (hi Blitzcrank). These days, however, as League’s matured we realized that classes need to be more defined by their actual effect within the game rather than artistic direction or choice of weapon.

So we sat down and sorted all 130 champions into their individual classes.

And saw we needed more labels.

Some classes, like Mages and Fighters, have become too bloated and they encompass such a wide variety of different champions that they're no longer as useful. For example, both Darius and Vi are Fighters, but they differ vastly in mobility, durability, damage output, and their general role in team fights. Rather than just using a generic tag to describe both, we introduced ‘subclasses’ - divisive breakdowns of the parent class - to help us clarify differences, sift out big groups, and label the deeper nuances that set champions apart. Additionally, you’ve seen some of this work bear out in our early approaches for subclasses like Juggernauts or Marksmen (although they’ve been hard to break down, as we’ll talk about below).

Overall the class / subclass structure is designed to:

  1. Shape healthy, clear strengths and weaknesses across champion subclasses
    • Love or hate the Juggernauts, whenever you see one in game it’s clear they’re tanky and deal a ton of damage when they get close to you. That said, they’re also vulnerable to being kited around and out-ranged during their slow approaches. This doesn’t mean we want to get to a world of hard-counters, but your strategic champion picks should have some unique impact beyond just being another body on the map.
  2. Within the individual subclasses, enhance the strategic depth of the game by giving impact to champion choice beyond just personal preference
    • This has largely been what our big ‘roster’ updates are targeting. Understanding when it’s a good time to choose between Xin Zhao’s murderous strengths vs. Vi’s lockdown is a significant part of learning and mastering the game. We want to ensure each champion has a reason to be brought to the table, even within the same subclass.
  3. Create a shared vocabulary!
    • For example, if a Juggernaut feels significantly more mobile than his or her counterparts (whether due to his kit, an item, etc.), the conversation can start from there - “Juggernauts shouldn’t have mobility, why is this one allowed to have that?” - rather than individually hashing out the strengths of a class on a case-by-case basis.

Here’s an overview of how the classes break down into subclasses. You’ll notice some of the classes themselves have been changed - our hope is to roll these out to the in-game client and beyond once we get settled on these titles. It’s also worth noting: the class / subclass structure is more of a set of guidelines than rigid rules.


Class Subclass
Tanks Vanguards, Wardens
Fighters Juggernauts, Divers
Slayers Assassins, Skirmishers
Mages Burst Mages, Battle Mages, Artillery Mages
Controllers Enchanters, Disruptors
Marksmen Marksmen

Two things to note: first, classes and subclasses are completely distinct from lanes and positions. Not all Mages go mid, and Enchanters don’t always have to play the support position in bottom lane (though each subclass will naturally gravitate toward a specific position). Second, we don’t have a subclass for marksmen because they all tend to functionally do the same thing (deal a lot of sustained damage). There are some key differences between marksmen, like range, mobility, and combat patterns, but we have yet to draw a clear line for design purposes.




Does every champion have to fit perfectly into one of these subclasses?

Nope. While it might make it easier for us to balance with tightly controlled groups, if we start shoving all champions into specific boxes, we lose out on a lot of our most iconic and beloved outliers. Additionally, as long as those champions maintain a healthy balance of clear strengths and real weaknesses, there’s no need to force the issue. In fact, if we limit ourselves to staying in pre-existing boundaries, we hamper League’s ability to grow and evolve, which isn’t something we ever want.

If you agree with the above, by the way, you just validated the existence of Singed (sorry!).

We see a lot of outliers break down into one of two categories:

  1. Hybrids - champions who skirt the edges between two subclasses. For example:
    • Varus is a Marksman and Artillery Mage hybrid
    • Kayle is a Marksman and Enchanter hybrid
    • Trundle is a Warden and Juggernaut hybrid
  2. Distinct Playstyles - champions who have completely unique approaches to the game. For example:
    • Fiddlesticks - hides on the edge of combat, waiting for the perfect moment to jump into a team fight.
    • Singed - recklessly split-pushes to apply pressure on a lane, forces multiple enemies to respond, and subsequently trolls them as they struggle to chase him down.



What happens if my favorite champion is categorized under a class / subclass I don’t agree with?

First, it's important to distinguish between a champion's current ‘most effective’ play style and their ideal one. There are a lot of champions whose thematic and/or gameplay mechanics are better suited for a specific subclass, but over the course of time drifted into a different one. For example, Evelynn's stealthy gameplay and nimble aesthetics lend themselves to her being an Assassin, even though her most effective item builds and playstyle might be more representative of a Diver. In these cases, future changes might be aimed at better aligning such champions with their intended playstyle.

But don’t worry, this doesn’t just automatically mean we’re going to overhaul your champion. Most champions also don’t fit perfectly into any specific Subclass - We’ll repeat: the class / subclass structure is more a set of guidelines than rigid rules. Sharing our vocabulary here just means we can have better conversations about the state of the game at any given time. If your champion is in a Subclass you don’t agree with, let’s have that discussion.


So what’s this actually look like?

Tanks

Tanks excel in shrugging off incoming damage and focus on disrupting their enemies more than being significant damage threats themselves.


Vanguards

We like to refer to Vanguards as “offensive tanks.” Vanguards lead the charge for their team and are specialists at getting action started. Their explosive team fight initiation seeks to catch enemies out of position while allowing allies to follow-up to devastating effect.


Wardens

If Vanguards are “offensive tanks,” then Wardens are surely “defensive tanks.” Wardens stand steadfast, seeking to hold the line by persistently locking down any oncomers who try to pass them. Wardens keep their allies out of harm’s way and allow them to safely deal with enemies caught in the fray.


Fighters

Fighters are durable and damage-focused melee champions that look to be in the thick of combat.


Juggernauts

Juggernauts are melee titans who relentlessly march down the opposition and devastate those foolish enough to get within their grasp. They are the only subclass who excel at both dealing and taking significant amounts of damage, but in turn they have a tough time closing in on targets due to their low range and extremely limited mobility.


Divers

Divers are the more mobile portion of the Fighter class. Divers excel at singling out high-priority targets to blitz toward, immediately forcing those targets (and their teammates) to deal with the diver’s presence. Divers are not as durable as the tanks or juggernauts of the world, but Divers can take their fair share of punishment while bringing enough damage to be a real kill threat if left unchecked.


Slayers

Slayers are fragile but agile damage-focused melee champions that look to swiftly take down their targets.


Assassins

Assassins specialize in infiltrating enemy lines with their unrivaled mobility to quickly dispatch high-priority targets. Due to their mostly melee nature, Assassins must put them themselves into dangerous positions in order to execute their targets. Luckily, they often have defensive tricks up their sleeves that, if used cleverly, allow them to effectively avoid incoming damage.


Skirmishers

Unlike Assassins, Skirmishers aim to shred through any nearby enemy that approaches. Because Skirmishers lack high-end burst damage or reliable ways of closing in on high-priority targets, they are instead armed with situationally powerful defensive tools to survive in the fray, along with extreme sustained damage to cut down even the most durable targets.


Mages

Mages are offensive casters that seek to cripple and burn down the opposition through their potent spells.


Burst Mages

Burst Mages aim to single out vulnerable targets by locking them down and following up with a devastating barrage of damage from range. Burst Mages struggle heavily against beefier targets who can shrug off their initial spike of damage.


Battle Mages

Battle Mages get into the middle of the fray, seeking to wreak havoc upon the entire enemy team with their overwhelming sustained area damage. Due to their relatively short (but not melee) combat ranges and the need to burn down their opponents over time, Battle Mages have significant defensive capabilities that range from sustaining endlessly to literally defying death for a short period of time.


Artillery Mages

Artillery Mages are the masters of range, and they leverage that advantage to whittle down their opponents over time from great distances. In turn, Artillery Mages are severely punished when enemies finally succeed in closing in on them, due to their extreme fragility and limited mobility.


Controllers

Controllers are defensive casters that oversee the battlefield by protecting and opening up opportunities for their allies.


Enchanters

Enchanters focus on amplifying their allies’ effectiveness by directly augmenting them and defending them from incoming threats. Enchanters themselves are often quite fragile and bring relatively low damage to the table, meaning they really only shine when grouped together with others.


Disruptors

We initially called this subclass ‘control mages’ but realized that could be expanded to the entire group (that and ‘Utility Mage’ wasn’t a very good Class name). Disruptors specialize in locking down opponents or, in some cases, entire battlefields by creating intense zones of threat that only foolish enemies would dare wade through. Although not as reliant on their friends as Enchanters, the fragile and immobile Disruptors greatly benefit from allied presence - both to deter incoming danger and to help capitalize on targets they’ve locked down.


Marksmen

Marksmen excel at dealing reliable sustained damage at range (usually through basic attacks) while constantly skirting the edge of danger. Although Marksmen have the ability to stay relatively safe by kiting their foes, they are very fragile and are extremely reliant on powerful item purchases to become true damage threats.

Marksmen are such an already distinct set of champions that they are not currently divided into subclasses. Even though there are some potential ways to split the Marksmen (ex: mobile vs. immobile, spell-based vs. basic attack focused), all of the Marksmen ultimately serve a very similar role for their team. In the future, we may explore breaking down the class further.




Where does my favorite champion fit under?

It’s important to note that, just like the game itself, our understanding of the Classes, Subclasses, and each champion is constantly evolving and changing over time. Nothing is set in stone. Our view of where each champion currently is and even what Classes and Subclasses currently exist will probably change over time. We think that’s exciting.

This is probably a lot to take in, but we’re really excited to start sharing this with you guys.


9 months ago

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