Nilah: Designing League’s First Melee Bot Laner

A peak into how Nilah was designed and her post-release balance plan.

Leading up to Nilah’s release we wanted to give you a bit of insight into how her gameplay was designed and a peek at her post-release balance plan. Want to learn more about Nilah? Check out her Abilities Rundown and Champion Insights!

Creating a Melee Skirmisher for Bot Lane

We knew from the very beginning of development that Nilah was going to be a melee bot laner. This gave us a great opportunity to leverage a lot of learnings that previous melee bot carries taught us over the years.

One example is Yasuo, the closest thing League has to a melee bot laner today. Yasuo hits on a lot of the great bot lane carry qualities (great scaling, squishy, strong synergies) however his primary, and most popular, role has always been mid which has meant his balance adjustments always prioritize his health in that role. This insight helped us identify an opportunity to create a melee champ in League that would be balanced around the bot lane as their primary role and fulfill the skirmisher fantasy players have been asking for.

Another great example is Mordekaiser’s ghost dragon rework (Riot Games remembers). While we built shared experience and a ghost dragon into his kit to help him succeed in bot, we learned that most players don’t like when champion picks completely change the dynamics of how the lane/game is played (like always having to over prioritize dragons or playing around a slow juggernaut). We knew we needed to give Nilah a unique playstyle and kit without deviating too far from what marksmen and support players expect from bot lane carries.

With these past learnings, we were able to set some pretty concrete goals for Nilah:

  1. Find success in the bot lane as her primary role and balance her with this key objective in mind.
  2. She should not dramatically alter the way bot lane is played and should still deliver, to some degree, on what players expect from the traditional marksman role.
  3. Nilah should be able to work with a wide variety of supports and have abilities that increase these synergies.

We’ll continually keep these goals in mind as we inevitably make balance adjustments and fine tune Nilah’s kit upon her release.

Finding Balance Post-Launch

In our never-ending quest to bring balance to the Rift, we build “levers” into champions’ kits which help us balance them in different ways. Let’s look at Nilah’s passive, Joy Unending, which increases the amount of healing and shielding she receives from allies to further explain “levers.”

For argument's sake, let’s say on release Nilah is dominating top lane. This could be an indicator that her solo abilities are overpowered. In this case, we could pull one of the “levers” we created and nerf her solo abilities and buff her Joy Unending passive to increase healing and shielding received, making her more appealing in bot lane, her intended position. Alternatively, if her healing and shielding turn out to be too strong, we could tune them down so that she isn’t dominating the bot lane.

As we get ready to release Nilah onto the Rift, here are a few of the things we’ll be keeping in mind, as well as examples of “levers” we can pull to correct course:

“Nilah doesn’t have enough counterplay opportunities in losing lanes.”

Sometimes a reason new champs come out strong is because their counterplay strategies aren’t common knowledge yet. Like Vayne or other hyper-scaling bot laners, bullying Nilah in the early laning phase is critical to hindering her scaling. Her shared experience passive only procs on last hits, so make sure to deny her CS as much as possible. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on whether winning lanes are able to punish Nilah early as we intended, and we’ll be ready to adjust her if that’s not the case.

“I want to play a tank support, but Nilah is only good with enchanters.”

As mentioned above, we'll be watching to make sure Nilah doesn't completely alter everyone's approach to playing in the bot lane—which includes her supports. We will try to tune Nilah in a way that most supports can work well with her so that players don't feel like they need to play far outside of their comfort zones. To do this, we've made sure to build in synergies with different types of supports: her passive's increased shield/healing pairs well with enchanters, while her W dodge sharing empowers tankier engage supports. By nerfing or buffing these, we feel confident in the options we have to balance Nilah around various types of supports.

“Nilah is just building fighter and tank items. Wasn’t she intended to feel like an ADC?”

We plan ahead before a champion release by thinking about what builds players will try out. Nilah was designed to build like a traditional marksman, and we even incentivized this by giving her crit scaling on her abilities as a lever. However, players have a history of creating some pretty out-there builds which is all good and fun until it makes the game not good, or not fun, for their opponents and teammates. We’re intent on optimizing Nilah as a bot lane skirmisher, so we want her to be the high-dps squishy that players expect of that role (and not a tank). We’ll be keeping a particularly close eye on her itemization to make sure players feel rewarded for itemizing crit on Nilah.

We’re bursting with joy about Nilah’s release, and we hope all of you are too. Conquer your foes and bring joy to your allies with Nilah in Patch 12.13 on July 14, 2022.