/Dev: Behind the Scenes of VFX Updates

Learn more about the VFX updates process and how you can help!

DevAuthorsRiot Sirhaian, Riot Riru
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Hello, Riot Sirhaian here! I’m a senior VFX artist on the Skins team who sometimes updates older League champions’ VFX.

VFX updates started out as a personal project a few years ago with Veigar (never forget the old Veigar cage ❤). Now, a few years down the line, we’re a small team of passion-fueled VFX artists working to modernize League’s roster and improve gameplay readability.

With more VFX updates coming, we thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about why we’re doing them, how we go about it, and how you can help us improve!


Veigar’s cage before and after the 2018 update

VFX Updates Explained

VFX updates—or visual effects updates—are small improvements geared toward sprucing up some of the oldest champions in League’s roster. They’re done to upgrade overall gameplay consistency, readability, and graphics quality, all while elevating champions’ thematics and resonance.

Unlike VGUs, VFX updates only affect the visual effects of a given champion, not all of a champ’s visuals. Most of the time, VFX are the spells they cast, or the effects that play around them when they emote. Explosions, magic, sparkles, you name it! There are a few exceptions to this rule, though. Occasionally the audio team might make a few tweaks or add new sound effects, and we may make small adjustments to animations or quickcast indicators if they’re really inaccurate (like Annie’s pre-update W). But when it comes to gameplay, models, textures, and character animations, there are no changes. This tight scoping allows us to ship VFX updates a lot faster than VGUs or ASUs (Art and Sustainability Updates).

Because VFX updates are a lot faster than VGUs or ASUs, we have a lot more free reign on which champions to tackle next. A huge factor for us is passion, but we also focus on the champions that need the update most. To figure out who this is, we have some goals we use as guidelines:

  • Primary: Fix gameplay issues such as inaccurate or missing hitbox indicators, VFX features that broke over the years, or wrong visual communication (does something read as its appropriate spell)
  • Secondary: Improve gameplay readability (how easy it is to see abilities), reduce overall visual noise (reduce the “busy-ness” of textures that have a lot of very fine, unneeded details) and adjust spells' visual power levels (spells should not be too bright or too hard to see)
  • Tertiary: Enhance thematic resonance (make a Void champion feel more Voidy, for example)

Our goals are ranked in order of importance, so gameplay readability will always prevail over thematic resonance, and the primary goal of VFX Updates will always be to prioritize the correction of inaccurate hitbox indicators.


Blitzcrank’s R, before and after his VFX Update

There are a few other things we have to consider when working on and shipping VFX updates. For example, just like our engineers have made strides to remove spaghetti code from the game, we’ve been hard at work removing the... marinara (blood) that dressed it. This is something we could get away with in the olden times, but not anymore, no matter how much it pains us (who doesn’t love some good marinara on their spaghetti code?).


Trying to match the style from The Curse of the Sad Mummy for Amumu’s new R VFX

We also try to add more flair to skins that under-deliver relative to their skin tier. That said, we have to be mindful of the time commitment when we’re approaching skin catalogs. Here are some general guidelines we follow when updating skins:

  • All skins will receive appropriate changes to match the new base changes. For example, if an indicator is made bigger on base to better match the gameplay, all indicators should have the exact same size on all the skins.
  • Skins that already had modified or unique VFX before the VFX update will preserve that same level of distinction
  • 750 RP (and lower) skins can only receive one small tweak if it makes sense
  • 975 RP skins will receive a small recolor if it makes sense, and some added elements if it makes sense
  • 1350 RP skins will receive entirely new VFX if they don’t already have them
  • 1820+ RP skins will receive entirely new VFX if they don’t already have them, and can receive VFX for their emotes where/if it makes sense

Skins that already have modern VFX matching their tier will likely not receive new VFX (there’s no need to update the brand new skin your favorite champion just received if they already have modernized VFX).

How We Approach VFX Updates

Are you still with me? Good! Now I’m here to tell you how we actually do the thing in seven simple steps!

  1. We choose a champion to update. This can be a champion a particular artist really enjoys, one we feel really needs a touch-up, or just someone next on our list. Some champions need more work than we can solve (like VGU or ASU tier), and we pass on these during our evaluation. So, if your favorite champion has very old VFX, they may be even more challenging than they appear—but that doesn’t mean we won’t get to them eventually.
  2. Once the champion is selected, the VFX artist starts with the base skin. Throughout production there’s a constant feedback loop between the artist, the VFX Update team, and the entire LeagueVFX Community at Riot. This involves sound designers, game designers, and a whole lot more people. While it is most often a single artist working on a given VFX update, it’s always a team effort, especially when it comes to feedback.
  3. Once the base is solid and approved, the VFX artist starts working on the skins. All skins are made to match the updates made to the base. Older skins tend to receive more changes than newer ones, as more modern skins are usually pretty up-to-date.
  4. After this, everything's sent to testing to catch potential oversights and bugs.
  5. Once bugs have been fixed we ship the VFX update to PBE, often sharing a little video on Reddit or social media so we can look to players and the community for feedback.
  6. We try to gather as much feedback as we can, constantly watching Twitter, YouTube, and the League of Legends and LeaguePBE subreddits. We make sure to look at each champion's “main” subreddits as well.
  7. And finally we ship the VFX update to live. If anything comes up at a later date, we’ll apply it in an update in the following patch to make it right.

How You Can Help

Because VFX updates are faster than other in-game updates like VGUs or ASUs, we don’t publish development blogs along our journey. That said, we still love to get your feedback! We always try to read as much as we can, but sadly we cannot reply to everyone. But if your feedback is constructive, helpful, and provides an alternative that we hadn’t run into before, there’s a chance we’ll follow up to get more of your insight!

In general, the best place to offer feedback is through our r/LeaguePBE Subreddit posts such as these: Leona VFX Update Feedback Thread or Shaco VFX Update Feedback Thread.


Working on the Thresh Lantern for his 2020 VFX Update

All this said, sometimes it can be hard to make feedback constructive, especially if we're talking about your main! Here are a few things we look for:

1. Is it actionable?

Specific feedback that points to a specific change is by far the most useful. This might look like “This skin could use a new Q indicator like the others of the same tier” or “This hitbox looks incorrect, can you take a look at it?” Or even, “The projectile isn’t very visible and is hard to read.” These are all examples of great actionable feedback that we can take a look at and address.

Vague feedback is hard to act on because it's less clear what would address it, and all-encompassing feedback (like adjusting theming) is usually out of scope for VFX updates.

2. Is it objective?

Like all art, VFX can elicit opinions. While one person might love the original design, someone else could hate it. So saying “I hate the color green, can you change it?” unfortunately isn’t something we can solve. But we could potentially address “This color green doesn’t match the skin.”

3. Is it mostly unanimous?

This is a pretty big one. While we always try to make as many of you happy as possible, the reality is that not everyone likes the same things. We’re more likely to act on overwhelming consensus than we are a single person’s dissent (even a main's!).

Something else to note here is that League is a global game, so while something is trending in your language or region, that might not be the global response. At the end of the day we try to listen to the majority of people everywhere, not just the loudest!


As a special callout, I just want to add that insulting an individual artist is never the right approach. Constructively calling out issues with the work is alright (encouraged, even!) but personal insults make it less likely that members of the team will want to keep working on these extracurricular passion projects. They also risk sending a signal to League leaders that VFX updates could be harming the community rather than helping it: Angry players + Discouraged devs = Not Worth.

We love getting your constructive feedback because it shows us you’re really passionate about this endeavor. This keeps us going and helps us make League a better game!

The Future of VFX Updates

We hope you learned something from this post! We haven’t talked much about the VFX updates process in the past, and that’s something we wanted to fix. Whenever a new VFX update happens and you see a post about it on social media channels, please don’t hesitate to leave your feedback! We always try to read as much feedback from all of you as possible.

And as for who’s getting the next VFX update... Well, that’s a secret! But don’t worry, we’re hard at work on more VFX updates to make sure your favorite champions get the sparkles and love they deserve!

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