Hey everyone, Riot Phroxzon here with a Quick Gameplay Thoughts for patch 13.16.
This week I want to talk about three topics that we’ve been seeing pop up lately: game time and snowballing, champion durability, and role balance (primarily bot, top, and jungle).
Overall, we’re pretty happy with the current length of games. Right now laning is roughly half of the game while the other half is mid- to late-game, and in games that extend past that we’re seeing a good amount of back and forth that allows for more gameplay options in the mid- and late-game. In Regular brackets of play, game time is slightly longer than Seasons 9, 2020, and 2021 and slightly shorter than Season 2022. For Elite brackets of play, game time has been stable from Season 9.
Snowballiness in Regular play is in a healthy spot and still lower than pre-Durability Update levels. In Elite play however, snowballiness has increased a bit due to how the changes to dragons and early sustain in patch 12.14 have been optimized by players over time (which was intended to increase the pace of slower Pro games). Unfortunately the trade off was increased snowballing in Elite play, as they are significantly better at taking objectives and utilizing early game advantages to snowball their leads.
Ideally, lanes are able to snowball a reasonable amount, such that lane play feels rewarding and gives an advantage going into the midgame, but does not completely decide the game. For example, we think that a Darius that comes out of laning 3 kills and 40 cs up should realistically be able to win a 1v2 due to their earned advantage, but they need to then carry that advantage through repeated success in some broader team to team conflict before winning the game.
We’re not aiming to make significant changes to game time, but are continuing to investigate ways to reduce snowballing in Elite play, while not slowing down the pace in Pro. Things we’re investigating include lowering the impact of early deaths, adjusting the influence junglers currently have on their games and decreasing the impact of early objective rewards. We’re still exploring what these changes would look like, but since design changes in this space are challenging and take time to solve we likely won’t be able to meaningfully address these until after Worlds.
While we acknowledge that not all players are interested in Pro, there is a significant portion of League’s audience that cares deeply about it, so we’re trying to find the best compromise between solo queue and Pro as we don’t want to purely sacrifice one for the benefit of the other.
We’ve been seeing discussion about damage returning to the game now that the durability patch is a year behind us. We agree that damage has been slowly creeping back up, but there are a few reasons for this. Item changes from Midseason this year initially resulted in an increase in damage, but after nerfs in the last few patches have been adjusted to be about neutral damage wise with where we were a year ago. There are some specific champions who lost durability from changes to Shieldbow and Bloodthirster and we’ve been trying to restore that over time (e.g. recent durability increases to Yone and Yasuo).
Another reason for this gradual decrease in durability is due to our biweekly patches. Since League gets constantly updated, nothing is ever truly permanent. We expect a natural decline in durability over time from regular balance changes because when we make balance changes, in addition to the main focus of balancing the game, we also need to take champion fantasy into consideration. For example, if a champion like Taliyah (who hadn't been strong for a while) got a buff, her players may not get excited to see a health buff, but they do get excited when they see a damage buff. Durability also may not be what they need to become more viable. Additionally, the nerfs to enchanters earlier this year led to more lethal, damage-oriented supports making their way into the bot lane. We suspect this has also contributed to the increase of overall damage in games.
We’re working towards a durability level similar to patch 12.12 where each class was viable, combat felt like it was interactive, and many champions were viable. In the original release patches (12.10 and 12.11) assassin and burst champions weren’t viable. If we use Patch 12.9 (the patch right before the durability update) as a baseline, 12.12 was ~10% more durable for squishy champions (like Caitlyn, Viktor, and Soraka) and Patch 13.15 is ~5% more durable, so we’re still better off than where we were, but damage has definitely crept up.
We intend to gradually bring durability back up to 12.12 levels through regular balance changes, especially for squishy classes. We’re planning to do this by buffing non-damage things where it makes sense (like the Sylas mana changes in 13.16), nerfing damage rather than other things more frequently and by spot adjusting champions who've excessively skewed towards high damage builds, which will decrease overall damage by some amount holistically (Aatrox, Hecarim, Xin Zhao, Kled, Vi being notable examples here) and by reducing the amount of snowballing as mentioned in the previous section.
Top and bot lanes are in a perpetual seesaw of one feeling strong and the other feeling weak. For the vast majority of players in almost all levels of play, top and bot lane are close in power level and agency. The exception here is bot lanes in very high skill brackets where players are able to better coordinate with their teams, absorb pressure without dying, and consistently optimize their damage dealt.
In Elite play, top is lower on desired power level, bot is close to the right power level, but both are low on agency. This means that it is oftentimes in the hands of other roles (jungle, mid, supp; order varies by skill bracket) to determine which lane gets to “play the game” and utilize the power of that lane effectively.
While we’ve been slowly reducing the need to play around bot lane in the early game, it is still (at time of writing) the optimal way to play. One option we have is continuing to lower the power level of bot and push it further into the low agency category. However, we don’t want to do this at the expense of players’ satisfaction with the role. Having said that, a lot of bot lane is outplaying ganks, which we know is not how bot laners want their agency expressed.
Jungle is currently still overpowered and we believe is a significant contributor to feelings of lack of agency from top and bot especially. We’re going to further adjust the jungle to get to a sweet spot where the role is still fun, lanes feel like they can control their own destiny, and ganks are still effective and keep certain strategies (like perma pushing) from getting out of hand.
Our goal is for each role to be able to impact the game in the way its players want while also acknowledging that players within a role don’t all want the same thing. For some roles, this is through more role to role interaction and for others, it’s less.
We’re continuing to explore ways that lanes would like to have agency over the game. Top laners aren’t a monolithic entity as they’re often split between players that are looking for 1v1 fights and others that want to influence the map and group. We don’t believe a one size fits all solution to solve top lane agency exists. However, we’re figuring out how to deliver on some of the things that top laners agree on; better scaling and less punishment when leaving your lane to impact the map.
While our strategy of buffing weak top laners up (typically with scaling) and nerfing other roles down has been directionally effective, there’s still more work to do. There’s also an upper limit to these types of changes before we return to things like fighters and tanks permanently occupying mid lane. As mentioned in the previous section, we intend to take a look at Elite snowballing to help address some of this after Worlds, as jungle and mid are often the roles that are more likely to snowball the early game out of control and we hope this will give some agency back to other roles.