Welcome to our experimental "State of the Season" dev blog, where we'll check in every so often with an update on the state of the game from a high-level perspective. Expect to hear thoughts on what we think’s going well, what's a problem, and what we're planning in the foreseeable future.
The first of these is easier because it's all about preseason:
Preseason's a time where we focus more on revising systems and challenging established parts of the game than usual. We do this in order to make long-term improvements that just aren’t possible to do bit by bit. That means game balance will be a lot more variable than usual toward the end of each year - which is also why ranked play takes a break and competitive play's much quieter than usual. At the start of the new year, however, we'll shift back to more standard balance patches, particularly from 6.2 onwards.
For those who speak English, we have some preliminary thoughts on game pacing in the Dev Corner and will have more formal details early this year.
As a summary, however, our goal this season was to introduce changes to games where they could either resolve when they were considered ‘over,’ or allow a team that plays well to come back. So far, overall game length is down slightly (around 7%), which we feel is within an appropriate range. We saw game pacing get a little too stompy in 5.22, but with the changes in 5.23 and 5.24, things appear to be stabilising if not improving.
Rift Herald's currently looking a bit underutilised and we believe it’s still too expensive (in terms of health lost) for many champions to take. We don't want to make the Herald a mandatory objective, but do want to see it used more. There's likely also some learning curve as well, so we're curious to see how teams do or don't work it into their strategies.
Similarly, Dragon doesn't look like it's attractive enough either, which leads to a consistent focus on taking turrets instead. That's not new to preseason, being something we saw as a trend toward the end of 2015, particularly in the World Championships. We're currently exploring changes here to put more value on Dragon, which would potentially include making the second buff stack more appealing.
We think that Keystone masteries so far have done a good job of demonstrating how masteries can have appreciable in-game effects in a satisfying way. Satisfaction aside, we don’t think the trees are delivering enough choice, both because some masteries are too dominant or weak, and because many don't have real choices at some tiers. To improve that, we're planning both new masteries and balance adjustments throughout the season.
Our first steps here will be to flesh out the T1 and T2 keystones, and then consider additional T3 Keystones. For the next addition, for example, we're considering a T2 Ferocity keystone that functions like the old Expose Weakness Mastery, amping damage a target takes from your allies if you've recently damaged it.
We're fairly happy with both marksmen and their items so far, in terms of the different experiences they offer and increased amounts of item choice/diversity. There have been some balance outliers we've had to adjust (Quinn, Kog'Maw, Graves, Lucian, Miss Fortune, Essence Reaver, etc) and we expect there'll be some need for additional refinement in the next few patches as well.
As far as specifics plans go... we think Cull's almost certainly too weak, so we'll be looking to buff it a bit so its users can survive in lane to farm. Phantom Dancer also needs help and we're planning on having it offer some constant movement speed, like the other Zeal items, rather than only being about in-combat mobility.
There are some AP junglers that aren't well supported in the jungle who we think should be. To help, we’re exploring replacing Runeglaive with a new AP-focused jungle item so it has a less exclusionary design (ie: something that supports broader mage patterns). We're also considering whether we'll need to tweak jungle monster stats as well, with a focus on initial clear capabilities, but will have more details in the future.
Vision's a subtle system and changes to it take longer for teams to ‘figure out’ and adapt to than most. Understanding that, vision is an area where we're still deep in assessment on the impact of preseason.
So far, it's looking like Blue Trinket's too strong, whilst Yellow trinket in the mid and late game is too weak, so we'll be making changes to both. We've also got some tweaks for the combination Sightstone + gold generation items, which at present have an excessive amount of their power in mana regen, making them unappealing for quite a few champions.
For our next class update we'll probably be looking at some immobile mages. This will definitely be a long-term project, so a very rough guess is they won’t be out before the middle of the season. We can, however, talk through some details in terms of which champions we're thinking of working on (and why), early this year.
Overall we feel the preseason changes are trending in a good direction, though there’s plenty of work still ahead, both in the refinement of existing changes and some new content. Now that the new year is upon us, we’ll be pushing for more communication and transparency in the coming months. Do let us know if there are topics - preseason-related ones especially - on your mind that the above hasn’t covered, would love to talk about them where possible.