/dev: Midseason and Mythics

Lead Gameplay Designer Riot Axes discusses our future plans for Midseason and upcoming Mythic item changes.

Hi folks, Riot Axes, lead gameplay designer, here to talk about the state of the item system and Mythic items in League. It’s been about two and a half years since we shipped our current item system, and right now we’re charting out its future in the game. But first, let’s talk about what led to the League’s current Mythic item system.

The Preseason 2021 Items Update

We discussed our goals for the previous item update a lot in the run up to Preseason 2021, where we saw a number of areas where items weren’t quite hitting the mark. A great item system should be satisfying, add game-to-game variance and optimization, augment different playstyles, and be intuitive for players.

For the 2021 update, we focused on three key areas of improvement:

  • We updated the item shop with a streamlined user experience and a greatly improved Recommended Items page that automatically integrates data from what players are actually building on each champion.
  • We added Mythic items as unique, once-per-player exclusive items that are meant to be purchased first in most games.
  • We carefully built the content of the item system so that every champion would be presented with multiple build options. We wanted to ensure that no Mythic item would be above a 75% purchase rate, and that there would be at least 10 Legendary Items per champion with at least 3% purchase rate.

To accomplish this, we targeted approximately 33% new items, 33% changed items, and 34% items retained with minimal change.

Now let’s discuss some results we’ve seen with the current item system.

The Item Shop

This one’s pretty simple—the UI update and the Recommended Items overhaul went very well. There was some initial concern around changing the UI because it’s normal to be resistant to change—especially for UI—but it faded quite quickly.

Recommended Items saw heavy use right out of the gate—we currently see about 68% of players using it as their primary way of navigating items, which is much higher than the old flow. We view this as a good thing—while picking the right item for the game you’re in is an important skill test, being able to easily access some baseline powerful items makes the game considerably more approachable. Players will learn the nuances of what to buy (and when) as they go.

This level of success for the new Recommended Items flow did confound some of our other goals, however, considering our initial goal for Mythic items was to ensure that no champion picks one more than 75% of the time. This is pretty hard to accomplish when 70% of players are following the Recommended Items flow and making similar decisions within it! We do have some fairly clear evidence that players tend to deviate from the ‘normal’ builds more as they get more practice on champions, which indicates that the Recommended Items are providing a baseline rather than guiding players to the perfect optimal build every time.

So, what’s been going well since we rolled out the Mythic Item system?

Mythic Items—What’s Working…

Mythic items are succeeding in a number of areas worth calling out:
  • Flexibility - Champions have more flexibility in their first Legendary+ item purchase than before. It is in fact more common to see champions deviate in their first item today than it was before Mythics shipped, and we have reason to believe that champions have more flexibility when mastered than we are currently seeing due to the Recommended Items system. However, for some champion/item pairings, this is not the case. Kraken Slayer, Luden’s Tempest, Divine Sunderer & Immortal Shieldbow are the 4 most bound items with the highest number of users that purchase them over 85% of the time.
  • Coolness - We’ve created quite a number of cool, high-affinity items that have resonated with players. Items like Eclipse, Heartsteel, Jak’Sho, Galeforce, and the updated Rod of Ages have found clear audiences and add a lot to the system. This is a major consideration because, at its heart, League is built around an RPG-like progression loop, and enjoying the power-ups you access is an important part of keeping that loop enjoyable.
  • Approachability - Mythic items provide definition to the system in a way that helps make it more approachable. Decisions in the item system are a bit more digestible. It’s easy to understand that you need 1 Mythic item, 1 pair of boots, and then whatever Legendaries suit your needs. And as long as you get to your Mythic, you hit a baseline of power that can be easily understood.
  • Balanceability - Mythic items create an understandable method of creating mutually exclusive items that would otherwise be too powerful or too hard to balance when purchased together.

But there must be another reason we’re sharing this blog with you all today. So where can Mythic items improve?

…And What’s Not

Now despite those benefits, we agree with many of the complaints you’ve been having about the Mythic item system. We aren’t happy with the current state of Mythic items, we were wrong about some of our initial goals and our philosophies around items have evolved as a result. Some of the most important drawbacks with Mythics that we’ve been hearing from you all and facing when trying to improve them include:

  • Satisfaction - Prioritizing optimization and choice over satisfying designs has left a lot of champions needing to buy a relatively less exciting item more often than they get their coolest choice. Morgana and Fiddlesticks are always going to care more about Zhonya’s Hourglass than Liandry’s Torment; the Zhonya’s active is kit-defining for them. In some extreme cases, in order to hit goals around item choice, we actually had to delete satisfying items which were too perfect—it’s hard to get many enchanters to consider anything but the old Unholy Grail item if it exists in the system. Prioritizing the goal of “players being able to make choices” each game at the cost of items that “feel right” for champions was the wrong goal in hindsight.
  • Generalist Content - Because they need to serve a diverse audience (“All ADCs” or “Most Fighters”) early in their builds, Mythic items often provide too many different outputs. Champions’ needs to feel functional vary widely, especially early in the game. However, this creates serious game health problems when a single item delivers too strongly in too many different ways. Items like Goredrinker, (old) Eclipse, Divine Sunderer, Riftmaker, and Immortal Shieldbow are in an uncomfortable balance position as a result.
  • Complexity - Mythic items tend to be highly complex, pattern-forming items. This is exemplified by items like Duskblade, Prowler’s Claw, and Everfrost—items that are more “pattern warping” than we’re comfortable with, creeping complexity and often adding significant frustration.
  • Content Creation - Because Mythic items are exclusive with each other, designing new Mythic items requires us to consider every existing Mythic item and their relationships within a complex choice structure. Two and a half years in, the system’s content isn’t really complete. And even when all the baseline content exists, we’ll want to be able to add and improve over time.

Overall, the current Mythic items are sacrificing too much of the quality of the game, and we’re planning to act on them.

Midseason Changes

Following MSI, we’ll be rolling out some significant changes in three main areas.

The larger goal here is to test a version of the system where Mythic items are meant to be high-power, high-satisfaction, capstone effects that define builds, rather than being a set of situational responses to the game you’re currently playing. We’re specifically looking at changing our philosophy on Mythic items for many champs and are no longer holding Mythics to the original 75% purchase rate scrutiny. We are instead holding high player satisfaction as the most important value, even if it means a champion builds the same Mythic item every game.

The largest overall change will be to ADC itemization, as this was the Mythic system that was the closest to the structure above. On live, ADCs effectively have two parallel Mythic paths to follow: Galeforce / Immortal Shieldbow / Kraken Slayer, and Infinity Edge / Navori Quickblades / Guinsoo’s Rageblade. This leads to a uniquely constrained set of item builds. We’ll be moving to a new model where ADC Mythics are Infinity Edge, Quickblades, Rageblade, and Galeforce. Kraken Slayer and Shieldbow will be redesigned to fit into the Legendary items, and we’ll be reworking other items as needed. A couple highlights to watch out for—Statikk Shiv will be back in the system with a different stat profile, and Rageblade is going to look a lot more like its older versions.

We expect all ADCs to be covered by at least one high satisfaction Mythic item with this system, but it’s likely that at least some of them will have exactly one optimal Mythic. With that said, a surprising number still have multiple Mythic options, though they end up using their kits somewhat differently based on which they choose.

Besides ADCs, we’re also looking at enchanter items and Lethality items for Midseason. We’re doing a targeted set of changes to the Lethality space to resolve game health problems with Prowler’s Claw and Duskblade of Draktharr. Prowler’s Claw will be reworked into a Legendary with a new effect (and no dash), Duskblade will be reworked, and Youmuu’s Ghostblade will be promoted to a Mythic item with upgraded outputs.

Enchanters will have a number of items reworked with the primary goal of being more satisfying to use, with better build paths and higher satisfaction outputs, including a riff on the old Unholy Grail item.

The Future

The major decision in front of us right now is: What should we do with Mythic items in the long run?

We are currently assessing all options. Our Midseason changes—especially to the ADC item system—should provide us with a clearer picture of our options for the system, and we’re working our way through a number of other options internally in the meantime.

I hope this gives a sense of our current thinking around the Item System and Mythic items, and what to expect over the next few months. Once the midseason changes have settled a little, we’ll share some thoughts on what’s next for itemization and what we’re thinking for Preseason. See you on the Rift!