Quick Gameplay Thoughts 2/25: Comeback Mechanics

Let’s talk bounties. Why do comeback mechanics exist, and how do we approach designing them?

DevAuthorRiot Phroxzon
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Hi everyone, Riot Phroxzon here. Comebacks have been a pretty spicy topic throughout League’s history and with the addition of Objective Bounties, now seemed like a good opportunity to talk about how we approach designing them.

Why do comeback mechanics exist?

Comeback mechanics allow losing teams an achievable but difficult path back into the game. When tuned correctly, they help to balance snowballing, but it's a very fine line. Leaning too hard in either direction can lead to game states where early leads don’t matter (i.e. when comeback mechanics are too strong), or where comebacks never get to happen (i.e. when snowballing mechanics are too strong). The latter also leads to scaling comps feeling weak, which is relevant but not exactly the same thing.

They also allow winning teams to enjoy feeling more powerful with larger leads. This one's a little counterintuitive, but here's how it works: If we didn't have potent comeback mechanics, we would have to heavily water down snowballing for scaling champs to even get a chance, and you'd never get to experience those early Draven pop-off games. Comeback mechanics also incentivize winning teams to use their leads—wisely. So when your fed Lee Sin gets greedy and starts counterjungling without vision, he'll realize that he probably deserved it when the enemy team cashes in on his 1000g shutdown. (We've all been there once.) On the flip side of the coin, if he sits back and does nothing with his lead, he leaves the door wide open for the enemy team to make plays and catch up.

What makes a good comeback mechanic?

The key is that comebacks have to be earned. You're playing from a disadvantaged state with a 40% or less chance of winning, losing most encounters, and struggling with strategic map movements. A comeback supported by the game’s mechanics needs to feel reasonable to the winning team, despite not being in their favor. It should result from the winning team's misplays (or lack of good plays), and it should never feel like the losing team was granted a free win.

Another way we think about this is that being in a winning state doesn't necessarily mean that you will win. A winning team has earned an advantage, not a victory—they have to play well in order to claim that W. Conversely, losing doesn't mean you will lose. Either way, a good comeback mechanic rewards teams that play well and punishes those that play poorly.

What's top of mind for comeback mechanics right now?

Given that comeback mechanics balance snowballing, we know that it sometimes feels like you're being punished for winning. However, teams that are significantly ahead usually have a lot of agency to prevent or mitigate bounty claims. To claim a champion bounty while behind, you have to kill someone who is significantly stronger than you. With objective bounties, the winning team probably has more vision and map control, plus better items and higher levels to boot. However, fairness in practice matters more than fairness in theory, so we're monitoring and adjusting the system accordingly.

In addition to tuning existing bounties, here are some other things we’re thinking about to strike that balance:

  1. Edge cases. If a player is 0/4 and then gets 2 kills, should they have a bounty? What about if a player is 8/0 but solo carrying their team? Or how about if a team is 4v5 yet winning hard—should Objective Bounties still activate?
  2. Team comps. For example, a full scaling team that’s down 3k against a full early game team could actually be even (or ahead!) and still activate Objective Bounties in their favor today.
  3. Specific champion qualities. It’s much harder to claim a slippery 8/0 Ekko bounty than one on an 8/0 immobile and squishy Ashe. At the same time, Ekko has to risk himself more in order to leverage his lead, whereas Ashe can drive a reliable victory with enough peel (... which also requires a lot of teamwork).
  4. Clearer visualization. In particular, XP leads and dragons are a lot more impactful to bounty activations than they currently seem, whereas players tend to over-prioritize gold leads when determining whether bounties look fair or not.

Comebacks and snowballing mechanics have huge implications on every facet of the game, so we're being extra careful adjusting them as the data becomes clearer. We hear you and are working to make the system understandable, intuitive, and—most importantly—function the way players expect. Thanks as always for playing, and hope to meet you on the Rift. Peace.

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