Hey everyone! It might feel weird to talk about preseason in June, but we want to start the conversation early so you have plenty of time to prepare and give feedback.
When we developed last year's preseason, Rise of the Elements, we wanted to expand and evolve League of Legends in an unexpected and exciting way. Elemental rifts add even more spice and each game of League presents a new challenge. When looking at all of the possibilities for this year’s preseason, we decided to take a different approach. This year, we're going to invest in League’s future by building up and refining one of League's foundational gameplay systems.
Preseason 2021's gameplay changes will focus on a fully upgraded shop interface and a top to bottom rework of the item system!
It’s worth saying that there are a lot of satisfying, well-designed items in the current system and that most of the item system's fundamentals are solid. Keeping the best parts of the system is one of our central philosophies; we only want to improve or replace the areas that aren't fulfilling their potential. In terms of change, we’re estimating something like 34% retained, 33% improved, and 33% new.
In this blog we’re going to lay out some of our goals and philosophies around items in League of Legends to start the conversation with you all about what we hope to bring to this preseason.
The Ideal Item System
The first step was to revisit and refine our stance on what the item system is meant to do for League and what the ideal item system would look like. Here are our current principles and some thoughts on how close to the ideal we are today:
- Items provide power for early game consequences and high moments: The core reason for the item system’s existence is so players become more powerful over the course of a game at different paces, with early successes generating gold that pushes your item build ahead of your opponents'. Every outplay or misplay creates consequences for your power later in the game but not so much that comebacks are impossible. This ensures that there's meaning to actions at all stages of the game and enables the rare but extremely satisfying game where you individually carry.
- Current assessment: VERY GOOD
- We’re feeling pretty good about the current state of snowball and power curves in the game. This preseason shouldn’t dramatically shift the overall power or gold efficiency of items in the game.
- Items are satisfying to earn and use: Each game has a miniature RPG loop where your champion powers up from weak to godlike strength. The item system is key to making the ascent in power feel earned and satisfying.
- Current assessment: GOOD
- The gold systems for earning items rewards skilled play. However, while there are many iconic and satisfying items in the system today, others have a lot of hidden, hard-to-notice power that makes them feel weak or unsatisfying.
- Reactive item choices add game-to-game variance and reward strategy: Unlike runes, you can continuously adjust your item build based on what's happening in the game. We want players to read and react to each game’s unique happenings with smart item choices that lead to higher success than if they build the same things in the same order every game.
- Current assessment: OK
- For some champion classes like tanks, the item system offers rich strategic depth and choices. On the other hand we have a number of classes and champions with linear builds without room for adaptation—mage items are particularly solved.
- Items augment your champion’s playstyle: Full item builds should integrate a slight gameplay twist or addition into a champion's play pattern that doesn't override that champion's kit. A perfect example of this today is Trinity Force, which adds a nuanced but not overly complicated new auto attack pattern. Not every item should do this individually, or else a full build would be asking you to do too many things at once.
- Current assessment: OK
- This depends heavily on which class or champion you look at, with some being about right, some with not enough new interest (marksmen), and some with too many effects that overshadow their champion’s kit (enchanters).
- The item system is intuitive: With a deep and complex item system, the choices, stats, and ways you acquire items should be clear and intuitive.
- Current assessment: POOR
- This is a clear area of improvement for us in many areas. Navigating the shop, the way stats stack and interact, and understanding tradeoffs between item uniques and stats are all areas that we could improve.
- A lot of prospective players who might love League are scared away by the impenetrable item system in their first few games. We believe learning the item system over time is a key part of growing as a League player, but an unintuitive system can be a roadblock to believing it's possible to achieve that growth.
Goals for this Preseason
With a refined understanding of the ideal system and where we're falling short, we established our goals for this year’s preseason work:
- Item purchasing is quick and intuitive.
- Every champion can make strategic decisions through item choices in every game.
- Item builds enable exciting ways to master your champion.
- Items feel epically powerful and enhance your champion’s fantasy.
- Iconic items are retained and you don’t have to relearn everything from scratch.
Polishing Every Item
Beyond our goals for the project overall, we also laid out some principles we think every item should meet in order to hit our highest design quality:
- Items have a clear, unique, and single purpose.
- We want every item in the shop to have a clear purpose that sets it apart from the other choices in the shop. Multiple items overlapping in purpose or items with confused or conflicting mechanics undermine the clarity of choices and bloat the system overall.
- Items fit one of two archetypes: Either a contextual purpose or a kit augment.
- In picking apart the successful items that have improved the game over the years, we discovered that items in general can be broken down into two major types.
- Contextual purpose Situational items that allow players to counter certain champions or events in the game (like Quicksilver Sash).
- Kit augments are items that are pickable in any game, and have satisfying synergy with champion kits to make them feel more complete (like Lich Bane).
- Interesting build paths provide variety and small choice opportunities.
- Great Legendary items (tier 3) have smaller choices peppered throughout each component or advanced item choice. Small optimizations to respond to a lane matchup (if I'm building Trinity Force, do I build Stinger for longer all-ins or Sheen for trades first?) or risk/reward tradeoffs around buying small or saving up for a bigger component (I have 1100g, do I go back for Pickaxe or risk staying for B.F. Sword?) are good examples of this working well.
- Item design is elegant and we use only the mechanics that we need.
- Over time a lot of items have accumulated some unnecessary bloat in the number of stats and passive effects. We can do the work to focus items into the needed stats and mechanics for them to effectively deliver their purpose.
- Items contribute to an overall healthy game by not removing counterplay and weaknesses.
- We want the item system to move the game closer to its ideal state where all champions have clear weaknesses and counterplay, as well as the right durability, utility, and damage output. Reactive or counter item choices should confer an advantage against the right opponent but not completely negate them. Additionally they are meant to come at a significant cost to the champion’s ideal build path—for example diverting into a defensive item should offer significantly less dps than the pure offense alternatives, but is still the right choice against a fed assassin.
The Big Shop Upgrade
Last up but definitely not least is the shopping interface. There's a ton of room for improvement here. While nothing's been finalized yet, we do have early concepts to help illustrate some of our design directions.
Broadly, there are two main types of users for the shop, so we want to create versions of the interface that serve each player in the ways they want.
Rec items are for the player wanting a more guided experience. “Show me the best choices but don’t overwhelm me.”
- Better recommendations: Compared to our current handmade recommended items pages (which can easily become out of date), we want to directly integrate our data to have always up-to-date recommendations based on highly skilled player choices.
- Focused choices: Not every item is equally viable at any given point in a game, and the shop can make it hard to find viable choices since it presents hundreds of options at once. We want rec items to dynamically surface the top few choices to players at any point in the game.
- Don’t remove the strategy: Even though this is the more curated shop experience, we still want to present options to players, not a linear build path. Knowing when it’s the right game for Thornmail or Randuin's Omen is still a decision we leave to the player.
- Contextual Analysis: Helping less experienced players gain experience with reactive item decision making is a core goal, so we’re adding some new systems to analyze the allies and enemies in each game and show you which items offer effective counters or synergies.
All Items is for the advanced player that already knows the shop inside and out. “Give me all of my options in one place for fast and easy access”.
- All items that you need on one screen: This is the one stop shop (literally) for an expert player to go to and find and purchase items with the fewest clicks possible.
- Consistent position: With the invested player in mind, we wanted to make this a place where items are placed in logical layouts on the screen and we move them rarely if at all. This can allow you to develop muscle memory over time and learn where each item lives in the shop.
- Data enhancements: We also want to integrate our new data capabilities into the all items interface to highlight viable items for your champ. Finding items and buying quickly will be easier than ever.
This is only the beginning of a long and exciting road to preseason. We’re revealing our plans as early as possible so that we can see and process as much of your feedback as we can. Thanks again for playing, and we look forward to forging an incredible future for League together.
-The Summoner’s Rift Team