Welcome to another design blog entry! Today we'll be talking about Yasuo and, specifically, his unique ability: Wind Wall. How did Wind Wall come about? What unique challenges did we face in designing Wind Wall? Why does a melee fighter like Yasuo have Wind Wall? All of these questions and more will be answered in today's Yasuo Wind Wall design blog.
I'll reiterate here that the design blog is still under heavy iteration, so if you've got any feedback on the layout, the topics you'd like to see, or even the name of the blog (please!), then let us know!
Anyway, I'll pass over the mic to Champion Designer CertainlyT, the man behind Thresh, Zyra, Darius and, most recently, Yasuo. Onward!
When we introduce new abilities to League of Legends, our main goal isn’t about making them interesting on their own – instead, we want to make interesting play experiences that work in the overall framework of the game. In other words, ability design serves kit design (overall cohesiveness of the champion’s abilities), and kit design serves game design (overall cohesiveness of the game). This blog post is focused on how Wind Wall came about, and what makes it appropriate for Yasuo as a champion.
Projectile Blocking is one of those effects that's both obvious and intuitively appealing -- I’m sure many players wished they had the ability to bat a Nidalee Javelin out of the air as they saw it glide toward them or a wayward teammate. It was almost a certainty that it would make it into League at least in some form. The challenge – aside from creating the tech for it – was finding the right champion/kit for the ability.
One of my first paper kits (basic ability descriptions that conceptualize a champion’s role and core play pattern) at Riot was for Darius, where he had the ability to swat his axe in a direction, knocking enemies to the side while also destroying any missiles on the way. It didn’t make sense on Darius, but I’ve thought about the ability a few times since - namely on what sort of champion the ability would work on.
Fast forward to our Season 3 pro playtests and the spell came up again. I polled the players as to what sort of champion they'd like to see this kind of play pattern on, and most responded “support” without hesitation. Only one player gave a different answer: HotshotGG suggested the ability would be best suited to a melee AD carry.
After reviewing our melee carries, a few things become clear:
Melee carries have extremely dangerous combat patterns, which means they need equally powerful self-protection abilities. By virtue of being melee, they expose themselves to damage from the enemy backline of mages and marksmen: damage tuned to be high enough to kill 200 armor / 3000 health tanks. The speed with which a melee carry needs to kill – without defensive tools – limits the amount of in-combat decision-making we could put in their kits which, in turn, also removes the ability for their victims to react defensively (aside from staying far, far away).
In the past, we’ve resolved this problem through some powerful and iconic defensive abilities, usually involving invulnerability/untargetability (Trynd’s Undying Rage, Yi’s Alpha Strike Chaining, Fiora’s Blade Waltz). We gate these afore-mentioned abilities with long cooldowns (typically on the R button), but that conflicted with another of Yasuo’s design goals: to create a light fighter who felt fair to fight on a moment-to-moment – rather than game-by-game – basis. This meant trying to avoid cooldown gating, where the champion was weaker than their opponent until they used their long cooldown abilities, in which case their opponent would become weaker than them. That back and forth is fair in the overall pace of the game, but doesn’t offer a singular moment of parity.
Finally, both to make room for these powerful self-protection abilities and because we assume that melee carries are unlikely to appreciate altruistic power, we've historically not put utility skills onto our melee carries. This contributes to wide variances in their performance across games, something we call in designer-speak the "feast or famine" effect. In the context of League, it means champions feel immensely satisfying when they're ahead (feast) but they're almost useless when they're behind (famine).
Wind Wall sought to reconcile all of the above problems by replacing temporal invulnerability (invincible personal states) with spatial invulnerability (invincible zones). This approach let us do a few things:
Now that Yasuo’s live, we have a lot of data to judge the ability. Overall, I would say that Wind Wall has been partially successful by the metrics laid out above.
It's a powerful tool to deny the backline the ability to focus Yasuo when he engages, but Yasuo is also too potent a diver to make fighting in the midline an optimal strategy. Last Breath's synergy with allies like Vi, combined with the late game power of his shield made him far better as a backline dive-assassin. We’ve iterated substantially on Yasuo since, but only time will tell if his play pattern evolves to a point where Wind Wall is used as a midline protection tool.
The counterplay of re-positioning to avoid the wall has played out well, but the instant nature of Wind Wall often leaves opponents feeling like they have no way of preventing their most important spell from being blocked. One drawback here is that the successful counterplay against Wind Wall can only feel satisfying well after the initial bait. Generally speaking, the clearer and more direct the link between action and result, the more satisfying the play. Baiting Wind Wall with a Nami Bubble and waiting for the wall to dissipate before tossing in your nukes is less rewarding than immediately knocking Katarina out of her Death Lotus, for example.
Finally, the team utility element of the spell is where I think Wind Wall has exceeded expectations. Repeating the feast or famine paradigm above, when melee carries get behind they're typically forced into split push strategies because they don't feel they can meaningfully contribute to a team fight. With Yasuo, we've seen a lot of Yasuo players team fighting (from solo queue to LCS) even when behind. A great deal of that is due to the fight-turning power of Wind Wall (in addition to the extra crowd control capabilities on Last Breath). Regardless, it's been rewarding to watch players improve with Yasuo in their approach to team fighting.