17 March 2011

The balancing act of League of Legends - by Josh Bycer

      Posted 03/16/11 04:31:00 am  

It has been a few weeks since I first talked about League of Legends, since then I've hit level 20, found a champion I like and in the right conditions became a force to be reckon with; an interesting last few weeks to be sure.

I'm going to assume that you have read or will read my first post on LoL so I will not be covering the basics. Instead we're going to get straight to balance and lack thereof, however unlike most games it's not quite that simple.

In my first post I talked about how each champion is unique, with that said some champions are clearly better than others. Whether it is by stats or abilities, there is a reason why in tournament level play some champions are quickly banned from the game.

Abilities play a huge role in balance; attacks that prevent the enemy from responding normally are king in LoL. This covers stunning, slowing, blocking off the enemy and otherwise incapacitating the enemy. The reason is that if you can stop the enemy from responding then you can kill them easier, which gives you gold to buy better stuff and repeat the cycle. Champions who have at least one or more abilities like that or better yet, having an area effecting one are more likely to be picked then someone who doesn't

The problem is that there is no real counter to this, having all the strength and armor in the world doesn't mean anything if you can't reach the enemy to hurt them. With all the different ways to stop the enemies there are very few ways to defend against it.

From what I've seen there are only four ways in the entire game. One is an item that only reduces the time being stunned by 25%; another is a summoner skill that has a long cool-down time. A few champions also have defensive abilities that can free them from these effects. The last way is an item that blocks the first skill that would hit you.

A team without any stuns will be at a huge disadvantage. Battles in LoL are quick, being out of a fight for even one second can be enough time to take over 2k points of damage near the end of the game. Now if the only balancing that was needed was on a 1 to 1 field it would be easy, however there is more to look at.

When dealing with champions in a 1v1 it is easy to see who comes out on top, however with LoL being a team game 1v1 fights are not as common as team fights. Some champions are just better when paired up with someone else then when alone. Have two champions who can incapacitate in the same lane can be a huge advantage. Or having two ranged champions in a lane against two close ranged champions the ranged ones can effectively shut down the other pair.

Some champions may only be at their best during a 5v5 when you have abilities and bright colors going all across your screen, a well timed ability could be all that it takes to tilt the fight in your team's favor. However we still have more things to look at in terms of balance.

Items in LoL grant huge benefits to champions with some getting more than others. The problem is that several champions become unstoppable at the late game with the right items. I've seen one champion take on the other team by itself and win then proceed to destroy their base and there really is nothing the other team could do about it.

Most often it is a combination of items that will do it. For example if someone just keeps buying the same item that increases the chance at doing critical damage, eventually a powerful close ranged damage champion will be hitting every time with a critical hit that does several times more damage. At that point it doesn't matter how much armor you have if you are taking close to 800 points of damage every half second. Personally I think the way to stop this would be to have some effects not stack with having multiple copies of the same item, or just prevent the player from having copies of the same item.

Next are summoner spells, at level 12 you will have access to all the available spells and can pick any two to take with you into a game. Each spell has a different utility, for example Ghost increases movement speed and can be used to run down a fleeing champion or get away. Some spells are more useful than others and when combined with the right champion can spell trouble. The spell Flash allows a champion to instantly teleport to a position on the game screen, when combined with champions who have area of effect skills this spells trouble for the other team.

Other times there are spells that are almost a requirement to survive against some late game champions. For example the exhaust spell reduces the attack damage of the inflicted champion dramatically allowing you to survive against powerful champions. The Ignite spell reduces health regeneration which makes it a perfect counter to champions who recover health fast thanks to abilities or items.

The final point of balance has to do with runes and mastery points. Until you hit level 30 in LoL you will not be able to equip all the runes you want or place all your mastery points. High level players who know their preferred champions inside and out know how to allocate everything to optimize their play style. The problem for me is that I've reached the point that I am leveled enough to have to play against these people and have no way to defend against someone who has found the perfect combination of items, runes and mastery points to demolish me.

These bonuses by themselves aren't that huge, but when you have someone who combines all of them together it's like having a duel with one person using a pistol and the other one using an AK-47. For example with the character I like who is a close range, I'm focusing on runes that grant armor penetration which means that more of my attack damage will bypass the enemies defense to hit them. Currently I only have 16 points worth of this, but once I get enough Influence points and reach level thirty I should be able to increase that amount noticeably.

What makes that a big deal is that it means that I will be doing more damage early on when the other characters are weaker and at the late game I'll be able to kill the other team quicker. Unfortunately for me I have a way to go before that happens and I am now playing against people who had the same idea.

I do not envy Riot's designers who have to find a way to balance all these different mechanics together. Looking at the last few paragraphs there are at least five different areas of game balance to consider in LoL. This in turn does make LoL an interesting game to talk about balance. I would really like to be a fly on the wall when the designers meet to discuss the game and what they are planning on tweaking.

While talking about each champion could be an entry itself I do want to talk about my current favorite. The champion that I'm enjoying is called Blitzcrank. He is a steam driven golem who is tricky to play well with. His first ability shoots out his arm and pulls the first thing it hits back to Blitz and stuns it, this ability has to be aimed however which is where the challenge comes in. His next ability doubles the strength of his next attack and will pop the enemy up into the air for a second. The next ability increases attack speed and movement and when fully leveled can almost be used continuously. Finally his ultimate is an area of effect that stops spells for half a second and does ok damage.

Looking at his abilities, he has three that disable the enemy and his last one makes him stronger. His pulling ability in the right hands is awesome and what really makes him go from an average champion to an excellent champion.

With that said another reason why I pick him all the time is that if I decide to play ranked games where players can choose champions to ban, I'm pretty safe in not having to worry about a ban. There are far easier champions that are better and are more important to ban in a ranked game compared to Blitzcrank. The other team would be foolish to waste one of their bans on him compared to some of the more annoying champions.

At this point in time I am level 23; I've tried a few other champions but still fall back on Blitzcrank as my favorite. I will most likely play up to level 30 but I'm not sure if I will continue past that.


Ardney Carter
16 Mar 2011 at 9:54 am PST

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