Bard’s one-year birthday is this March. As a Bard main who has spent over 400 games ignoring my lane partners’ screams while I wander off, I felt like I owed the old chimer something for all the journeys we've taken together. But despite the countless jungle runs and Meeps slung, Bard remains something of an enigma to me. Who is he really, and how does he fit in amongst the other support champs in League? Perhaps, I thought, I could dig into some data for some insights that could help me better understand the Cosmic Vagabond.
The first thing I wanted to investigate was his identity as a Caretaker. The easiest way to frame this investigation was a simple comparison of healing vs. damage-dealing: Caretaker’s Shrines vs. Cosmic Binds. I needed to place Bard’s healing/damage output in the context of other support champions, so I created the Banana-Burn Index (BBI).
The BBI is a measure of the difference between a support champion’s healing and damage. The shorthand is on a scale of Soraka to Brand, are you slinging bananas or delivering burns? The BBI is calculated by taking the absolute value of a support's damage to enemy champions and subtracting the average healing of allied champions (including the support himself/herself).
BBI = | damage to enemy champions - healing to self and allied champions |
On the right side we have champs like Brand, who’s known for tilting his lane partner by stealing kills with tons of damage. On the left we have Soraka, who enrages the entire enemy team with last minute heals on her carries. While it's not the perfect metric for caretaking (utility, CC, and other impactful abilities are not included), the BBI gives us at least a snapshot of a support’s primary output.
If we think of a “caretaker” as someone who heals others, Bard is outclassed by Soraka, Taric, and Nami. But Bard is a cosmic caretaker, so perhaps tinkering with the plates of time and space requires a balance of healing and damage. He ranks 9th of 25 in healing, 10th in damage, putting him right in the middle of the BBI. From this perspective, Bard curates whatever output is necessary for the situation.
This analysis supports the notion of Bard as a Cosmic Caretaker who doesn’t just save things but also destroys things (like my team’s faith in my ability to land ults). Sometimes champions need a loving shrine, and sometimes they need a reproaching bind.
Bard’s lore tells us that he “travels through realms beyond the imagination of mortal beings,” and in-game he’s described as the “roaming support." Both his passive (Traveler’s Call) and his E (Magical Journey) incentivize quick movement across the map. But does Bard’s lore and kit manifest in-game as a roaming support? More specifically how much does Bard roam compared to other support champions?
We need to know the area that a support champion typically covers in laning phase on Summoner’s Rift. To test this I created Rovals, or Roaming Ovals. Rovals represent the average area that a champion moves around in during laning phase. The bigger the Roval, the more likely that champion is roaming out of lane more.
The Roval is created by:
Babysitters are your typical botlane hand-holders. Champions like Soraka, Janna, and Sona have the smallest Rovals as their strength comes from empowering another champion close by with healing, shields, and speed boosts.
Caretakers like Lulu and Morgana have similar support abilities but likely roam a bit more because of CC or buffing abilities that enables them to make safe invades with their junglers.
Playmakers like Blitzcrank and Thresh have larger Rovals as successfully landing hooks and other hard CC in midlane or the enemy jungle means a surprise kill or two for their team.
And then there's Bard. Bard not only has the largest Roval, but compared to Shen, the 2nd “roamiest” support, Bard’s Roval is 400,000 units2 larger despite Shen’s global ultimate that can teleport him to top lane.
Another interesting insight about Bard’s roaming is that if we map out the X-Y positions for Bard, he notably spends more time in the jungle and is the only support champion who consistently appears inside walls on Summoner’s Rift. Take a look at Bard’s positioning compared to the least roamy support (Soraka) and a classic playmaking support (Thresh):
During a playtest one of the designers screamed out
'GET IN MY MAGICAL JOURNEY!' And that was it!
I still didn’t fully understand Bard. Analytics had only helped me scratch the surface of the Wandering Caretaker, so I decided to take a different approach. Instead of outputs and coordinate positions, I investigated a unique Bard story—a one-in-a-million play that captures the quirkiness and bewilderment that Bard always brings. In the clip below, Bard attempts to catch a fed Quinn on the opposing team with an ultimate. She flashes to avoid it. The story could have ended there, but Bard did Bard things.
Bard launched a Cosmic Binding (Q) through the minion line caught in the Tempered Fate (R). The binding made it through the entire minion line except for the last caster minion before the Tempered Fate expired. The binding caught the now-targetable minion at the end of the line, activating the secondary range of the Cosmic Binding which snagged the seemingly safe Quinn. With Quinn stunned, the Gangplank on Bard’s team flashed in to finish her off with his own Q.
This play is impressive, but it's even better when you analyze the underlying mechanics. So I decided to calculate a single component of this play: the time period that Bard player had to cast the Cosmic Binding to pull off the play.
The equation is relatively simple. If we know the distance between two caster minions in a lane and the velocity of a Cosmic Binding, we can calculate the time window that the binding could have spent in that space. We have to first figure out distance d and velocity v and then calculate for time t.
The distance between minions is not actually hard coded in. Rather, they have a spawn time delay which results in a relatively constant distance between the minions in a wave. Using this time delay in addition to a minion’s base speed we can calculate the distance between them. It’s another simple equation involving distance, time, and velocity, but this time we’re solving for the distance between minions, or d minion (never forget).
t minion spawn = Minion spawn delay = 800ms or 0.80s
v minion = 325 units/s
d = v minion * t minion
d = 325 units/s * 0.80 s
d minion = 260 units
The total distance for our final equation is actually slightly more than the distance between minions in a line. It also includes the diameter of one caster minion (the minion hit by the Cosmic Binding at the end of the line). Adding the diameter of a minion and the distance between minions gives us our total distance.
diameter (ø) of minion = 96 units
d total = d minion + ø minion
d total = 260 units + 96 units
d total = 356 units
The velocity of a Cosmic Binding is set at 1,500 units/second until I can convince the Live Balance team to increase it to 1,738 units/second. #RemiBardz.
So with d total (356 units) and v cosmic binding (1,500 units/s) we can calculate for t—the final time window:
0.237 seconds or 237 milliseconds—that doesn’t leave Bard a lot wiggle room. But PGM Vondalv, the Spanish Bard player behind the Cosmic Bind, knew what he was doing. “The play was intuition," he said in an interview with me. "I knew it was possible, and all good Bards know the timing of his ult and that you should throw a Q through it.”
When you talk to Bard's creators about his identity in League, a recurring theme emerges. “Bard is a folklore champion.” His existence is a result of designers, artists, fans, and players projecting bits of personality and character onto an enigmatic slate. Both his cosmic and sometimes comic nature are created and expanded upon by players experiencing Bard and sharing stories like Vondalv's insane play.
All of this analysis has helped us grasp some elements of Bard's place in League, but it's ultimately limited in power. Maybe understanding Bard isn’t about pulling large data sets, analyzing his movement, his output, and the numerical sum of his impact in games. To understand Bard is to experience him, to be a part of the goofy fan art, dank memes, and game-winning (or losing) plays. So with that I encourage any player who hasn’t heard those cosmic chimes firsthand to experience the Wandering Caretaker and give Bard a play. You never know what magical journeys he’ll take you on.
To understand Bard is to experience him.