Quick Gameplay Thoughts 1/14: Preseason 2022
A closer look at how Preseason 2022 has landed.
Imagine knowing everyone’s dreams—how they see the world, themselves, and others.
Now imagine that your mom’s a tree, her best friend is Ivern, and you’ve spent your whole life alone in a magical forest. Your only glimpses of the outside world are through the dreams of outsiders that keep your tree-mom alive.
Then one day the dreams stop coming. Your tree-mom gets sick and the outsiders appear in your forest. You panic, sleep them, and then bam! The dreams are back. Your tree-mom feels better and, what’s more, you can harvest their dreams to feed mommy dearest.
So what’s a good deer-daughter to do? (Oh yeah, you’re a deer by the way—don’t ask.) You prance off into the world to put people to sleep and harvest their dreams.
That’s basically Lillia. Except... not quite. There’s more to her than just that.
She’s shy, clumsy, and self-conscious. She’s selfless and wants to help, but fears getting close to those who need it. Lillia is a rare flower who needed careful tending throughout her development. And when it was over she had blossomed into something we didn’t quite expect: the bravest champion we’ve made, who has an unbreakable bond with dreams.
“Lillia feels a kinship with dreams—she loves them, in fact. But not just because they’re dreams,” explains senior narrative writer David “Interlocutioner” Slagle. “She loves them for what they represent: A whole world full of people who have a beautiful magic inside of them. But people forget this magic. They lock it away. And when Lillia sees that, she wants to do more than just save her mother tree—she wants to help people find the magic within.”
Lillia is the dream of a magical tree in Ionia. The tree gathers dreams in its flowers, and when they bloom the dreams are released as magic, feeding the forest in which it resides. Then, one night the tree has a dream of its own. But instead of blooming the bud falls to the ground and grows into Lillia.
So, dreams. Great. What does that even mean in League? How does a jungler collect dreams? (Can junglers even collect something other than allied tears and enemy missing pings?)
“As soon as we decided that Lillia would be a dream champion, I put sleep in her kit,” says champion designer Dan “Riot Maxw3ll” Emmons. “It’s been a core part of her for a long time, because she wouldn’t be the dream fawn without a sleep. But it changed in a bunch of ways over time.”
At one point Lillia’s sleep was a line skillshot that slept anyone it hit. Another iteration was a missile that created blossoms along walls and slept anyone smooth brain enough to be standing nearby (think Qiyana’s ult). Then there was the field of sleep traps, which was cool, but created an awkward “just stay away from Lillia” gameplay pattern. The team eventually landed on her mass-sleep, which utilizes another important part of her kit: literally everything.
Lillia’s passive applies dream dust to anything she hits with her abilities, which allows her to lull enemies to sleep with her ultimate (all the better to harvest your dreams with, my dear). Oh, and her dream dust also applies a percentage of max health damage over time, which had some interesting challenges during development.
“Our QA testers discovered that Lillia’s passive was a little too strong at first,” says QA engineer Mikky “Riot Koyuncu” Koyuncu. “Her percent max health damage wasn’t capped against monsters, so they made a point by cheat-spawning Baron and showed that level 1 Lillia could solo it. Then one of the testers, Gabriel, drew this picture, and we used it as her loading screen splash art for a while... This one actually stuck around a lot longer than usual.”
But Lillia’s final art is laden with hints and teases at who she really is... the shepherd of dreams.
Her staff is a branch from her mother tree. While she uses it in-game to thwomp her enemies, it doubles as a shepherd’s crook. The bulb that once held her own dream of meeting humans hangs at its end and absorbs the dreams she collects. And the light it emits helps her guide the dreams back to her mother tree.
Lillia’s Spirit Blossom skin retains the shepherd theme, but with a few extras. Instead of her base head-flower, she has a sakura bloom between two antlers, wears a hanamusubi knot around her leg, and her staff takes on a more ethereal appearance.
But Lillia couldn’t be the queen of dreams without them being an all-encompassing part of her identity. Sure, she has dreams woven into her artwork, harvests them in-game, and is a dream herself, but that left out a pretty big part of her design: sound. And because Lillia is the first champ all about dreams, sound designer Darren “Riot DummerWitz” Lodwick had to start from scratch.
“Lillia is very pretty and delicate, as are many of the fairy-like nature champs in League like Lulu, Ivern, and Neeko,” explains Riot DummerWitz. “But I didn’t want Lillia to just sound like a fairy, because that wouldn’t do her justice. She’s not a spirit of sparkles and butterflies. She’s an entity of dreams. She loves the dreams that people create, and knows that human dreams aren’t simple things. Even when they’re happy they can be surreal and bittersweet, weird and emotionally confused. I wanted to capture that in her sounds.”
To do this, Riot Dummerwitz utilized emotionally confusing source material with distant positioning in Lillia’s sound effects. When she swings her staff you can hear laughter and crying, but far-off in some intangible location. It’s distant, surreal, and neither good or bad.
“I wanted to create an emotional dissonance between her delicate and pretty visuals and the unsettling ambiguity of dreams,” Riot Dummerwitz says. “And I wanted to make sure Lillia doesn’t sound like anything else in League.”
So there she is: Lillia, the fawn of your dreams. Except... okay. You caught us. That’s not the whole story.
Lillia’s development wasn’t always so dreamy. As you may recall, Ryan “Reav3” Mireles made some thinly veiled allusions to Lillia in the Champions in Season 2020 video. At that point Lillia’s core identity was built around form swapping.
Grab your jammies and your favorite blankie. It’s time for the story of how Lillia became the precious fawn baby you see today.
Work on a champion begins with a “seed,” which is really just the early idea the team anchors their exploration to—this can be a gameplay hook, a narrative goal, or even just the feel of a champion. Sometimes after months of watering, tending, and care, the seed blooms into exactly what we were expecting—but other times it blossoms into something else entirely.
Lillia’s seed was “form swapping jungler on a timer,” so concept art lead Gem “Lonewingy” Lim took a pass at what that could look like.
“I drew three different concepts for Lillia,” says Lonewingy. “One was a shy priestess with a murderous side. The next was the shy fae deer whose mood changed the seasons. And the last concept... Ha! It was a traveling shaman/exorcist with a... dark side. But basically all of them had two sides, a dichotomy.”
The fae fawn really resonated with the team with its unique design. Plus it’s a deer, which was perfect for a jungler because, as we all know, deer live in the jungle—don’t fact check that. And as an added bonus, it gave us a unique silhouette.
Move over Hecarim and Yuumi (and Nidalee’s cougar form), there’s a new quadruped in town on the Rift.
“Lonewingy’s initial pitch was that the fawn changed the seasons with her moods, like fiery summer when she’s joyful and icy winter when melancholy. But another shirtless champion running around and throwing fireballs—ahem, Brand—didn’t feel cool enough,” explains Interlocutioner. “So we started thinking about other possible dichotomies. Physical vs. spirit. Day vs. night. None of these things actually change on Summoner’s Rift, so it would be hard to tie them to gameplay in a meaningful way.”
Day and night eventually shifted to dreams and nightmares, and Lillia would swap between teamfight bruiser (dreams) and assassin (nightmares) every five minutes, no matter what. The playstyles were meant to be different enough that players on both teams would have to adjust their gameplay around her—spread out during bruiser form, stick together when she’s an assassin. The idea was that Lillia’s teammates could make calls for objective control or teamfighting depending on which form was coming up, unlike Kayn, who commits to one form for the entire game.
The team thought they were on to something cool, except there was one teeny tiny problem: Players didn’t like it.
“We got a lot of feedback after the first playtest and players just didn’t really like her,” recalls Riot Maxw3ll. “I was trying to give the form swapping a high strategic value while making the mechanics fairly simple. And I think the cost to get both of those things working well together was just too high. The result was a kit that didn’t really resonate with players, so that meant we had to start over.”
“After the player feedback came in, the question became, ‘Do we save any of this?’” says Interlocutioner. “Is she just a fawn now? Do dreams still work? And that’s when we really leaned into one of the other things that excited us, which was her shyness.”
“We knew we wanted Lillia to be cute from the very beginning, but a lot of League’s traditionally ‘cute’ champions are secretly crazy,” says Interlocutioner. “It’s just an unfortunate reality of the champions in League. They have to kill people, so most of them are going to be a little bit unhinged.”
League’s got cute covered in a few ways: Lulu is whimsical and loopy, Annie is menacingly adorable, Jinx is a loose cannon, Lux is the bubbly girl next door, Neeko is an overly curious fish-out-of-water, Poppy is humble and heroic, Zoe is childlike and wise, Soraka is a purple banana, and Yuumi is a cat. So what kind of cute was League missing? And how do you keep out the crazy?
“I drew an early animation spread of Lillia attacking with her weapon,” says Lonewingy. “She had her eyes closed and kind of leaned away as she swung her branch. We realized that that was the kind of cute we were missing: shy. And even though form-swapping didn’t work out as planned, it gave us our precious shy fawn.”
But the team needed to make sure that players would be fawnd of Lillia as a shy dan-deer-e. So they took a look at the two major things that carried through to her final form.
“I started to think, what if her shyness and dreams combine forces to flex metaphorically?” says Interlocutioner. “Lillia wants to help people and get to know them, but is afraid. What if she eventually reaches a point where she’s no longer afraid and now she’s just frolicking around full of joy and wonder. That’s basically what dreams offer us, after all.”
The team used Lillia’s gameplay to show how she goes from timid to full of wondrous joy. Her Blooming Blows has a passive that applies a stacking movement speed buff that decays over time. This promotes a hit-and-run style of gameplay that lets Lillia scamper in, thwomp her enemies, and hurry out while apologizing over her shoulder.
“I really wanted Lillia to feel like a shy, awkward fawn. It was a big challenge. How do you make ‘shy’ active?” asks Riot Maxw3ll. “Specifically, I wanted her to be weak against early invades. If you stumble upon this fawn in the forest, she should get scared and have to run away because she can’t fight you yet. And her movement speed gives her the ability to do that.”
But League already has a really fast four-legged jungler, so the team needed to make sure there was no possible way players could confuse the ultra cute fawn with Hecarim, the spooky ghost-horse.
“I just... Ugh... Some people like to think Lillia is Hecarim’s wife. But no! RiVeN hAs A sWoRd, TrYnDaMeRe HaS a SwOrD. ArE tHeY hUsBaNd AnD wIfE tOo?!” laughs Lonewingy. “We had to make sure there were enough differences between Lillia and Hecarim so players wouldn’t confuse them in-game, so we gave Lillia a floofy tail, brighter colors, and made her smaller than Hecarim.”
“When I was thinking about how Lillia would move, I watched a lot of young deer videos,” explains animator Drew “Sandwichtown” Morgan. “Their legs are quick, and when they step they jab the ground. Their bodies are heavy but nimble. And as Lillia moves faster, I wanted to give some joy and excitement to her run. So I looked at videos of an antelope called a springbok. They do this bouncy jump called ‘pronking’ when they’re happy, and that inspired Lillia’s run animation.”
Lillia begins each game as a bud—unsteady, unsure, hesitant. But as she collects dreams she blossoms into something else entirely. Her confidence grows, she speaks louder, she comes to life, prancing across the Rift, putting champions to sleep, and harvesting their dreams.
“We faced so many challenges with Lillia along the way,” reminisces Interlocutioner. “Shifting her kit, tying into Spirit Blossom... It all added up over time. People ask us, ‘How did you come up with Lillia? She’s so specific.’ The answer is secretly, ‘We had to. It was the only way forward.’ I just hope all of these challenges fade into the background and she really has blossomed into a beautiful flower that players love.”
And that actually is the story of Lillia’s development. From form-swapping jungler to shy dream fawn. Lillia didn’t turn into exactly what we expected, but after careful tending, Lillia not only bloomed, she flourished.