League of Legends

Riot’s Design Philosophy on Monster Champions Makes Me Sad

LeagueofLegends2 - Riot's Design Philosophy on Monster Champions Makes Me Sad
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So since Lillia’s release, there’s been a sentiment expressed by Riot Reav3 in regards to Riot’s design philosophies regarding monster champions. Mainly this post specifically he made:

*“VGUs totally count when we look at our year roadmap. We still want to make monsters and creatures we just make less of them since they are more niche and when we look at the years roadmap we include VGUs. That being said we have made it a goal to have at least one non-human new champ a year, and we might do more then 1 in a year where we didnt also do VGUs on monster champs. Yuumi was the non-human for 2019 and Lillia is the non-human for 2020. For 2020 though we already knew we were going to ship both Volibear and Fiddle so there wasnt that much room for more monster/creature champs, though we still made Lillia. One of the reasons we chose to make Lillia a whimsical/cute creature was to contrast Voli and Fiddle since we were doing 3 creatures/monster champs in a row. If Shyvana had won the VGU poll, for example, we might have done a new monster champ this year. TL:DR we still want to make creature/monster champs but less since they are niche, and VGUs count towards the amount we make”

This really irks me for numerous reasons. Not so much that I’m mad about it, but so much that I’m sad about it. I’d like to discuss these things in broad strokes, to express why I’m sad about it, and also just issues I have with other things Riot does in regards to this.

Also for the sake of discussion, since Reav3 calls these champs “creatures” rather than “monsters”, I’m just gonna call them creatures too. It’s easier that way.

Problem One: Riot’s creature design philosophies are based on, imo, flawed data

What do I mean by this?

Basically Riot is saying creatures are generally more niche than humans, so they’ll make less.

However, Riot’s own design philosophies have ended up making this happen just as much as player engagement has.

Here’s a question for you dear reader: Do you know how many Skirmisher champions there are in League (The class that includes Yasuo, Jax and Fiora)? And how many of them are creatures?

The answer is 9 (arguably 10), and only 1 of them is a creature: Lillia.

It took Riot 10 years to make a creature skirmisher, and she’s arguably the most niche in terms of gameplay design of all of them.

Similarly, if you look at the assassin roster, there are 17 champions, of which only 3 are creatures: Fizz, Rengar and Kha’Zix. One could argue Shaco and Nocturne also fit in to this category, and while I can agree on Noc I can’t on Shaco.

What about marksmen? 23 champions, 5 creatures: Tristana, Kog’Maw, Kindred, Corki and Twitch. One could argue a case for Kalista here, but either way you’re looking at around a quarter to a fifth of marksmen being creatures.

Enchanters? 3 out of 10 are creatures: Nami, Lulu and Yuumi. A third so not too bad all things considered.

Mages? Not as bad either. You’re looking at about 9 champions out of around 33. Bit under a third.

Then you get in to the area of tanks and fighters, where creatures are way more common. Out of the 14 Vanguard tanks, 10 are expressly creature champions, and 1 extra in Nunu & Willump; well over half of them. Among the 6 Warden tanks it’s an even split. For Divers it’s roughly half and half too, while for Juggernauts it’s in creature favour.

The thing to note here is that the largest proportions of creature champions exist either in inherently niche roles such as tank, or specialist, or are the most niche version of other roles such as marksmen and assassins. This in itself leads to skewed data; if Riot’s creature roster is largely niche by it’s very design, the player base will inherently follow this and be playing more of the human roster, who by and large tend to be more broad in scope and role. The tl;dr here is that Riot’s own gameplay design for their creature roster can be considered a factor in why League’s creatures are, by and large, less popular than the humans.

But there’s also a third element here, in that Riot has created successful, popular creature champions multiple times. And…they seemingly just don’t care to factor in to their data for some reason?

Warwick, Malphite, Yuumi, Volibear and Thresh are all prime examples of creatures that endure as popular champions throughout League’s history, and there are other standouts such as Rengar, Hecarim, Kha’Zix and Aatrox. Instead of looking at these champions to see what they succeed at and how they can try and expand on those concepts while making creature champions, Riot just…ignores them. I really don’t know why.

Feels like Kindred and Aurelion Sol had something to do with this; like how they as champions received huge positive reception for their themes, characterization and the like, but then more or less flopped in the popularity department, and Riot took it hard enough they don’t believe a non-human can be successful regardless of what they do. That’s just me being suspicious though.

Problem Two: Riot bundles all creatures together, implying that all creatures are the same.

The first thing to discuss here is that Riot seemingly believes that all of these champions are something that can be bundled together under the broad label of “creature”.

Going by this logic, this means that the following champions are, in essence, within the same niche:

*Aatrox *Teemo *Lillia *Vel’Koz *Fiddlesticks *Rengar *Blitzcrank *Hecarim

Looking at those champions, I think we’d all agree that they’re so disparate from one another that calling them all “creature”, while technically true, is also a gross simplification. Yes they’re not human, but to think that these things fundamentally are the same and thus exist within the same niche is, in my opinion, harmful from a design perspective.

Creature champions can cover as wide a variety of niches as humans champions, and then do more, considering that, even within the same kind of creature theme, champions can be made substantially more varied than that.

If we look at cute creatures, we can boil it down to being Lillia, Yuumi, Nunu & Willump and yordles, however not only do Lillia and Yuumi provide this theme while also being drastically different champions in terms of aesthetic design, gameplay and silhouette, but every single yordle that is classified as cute does to. The kind of cute that Teemo gives off when compared to Lulu is notably distinct, as Lulu is more about frantic, crazy whimsy, whereas Teemo is more about youthful wonder and enthusiasm, which in itself is closer to what Nunu & Willump go for, but with extra flavour in their overarching theme of true friendship and their icy thematic.

If we look at monster champions similarly, we can boil things down to Aurelion Sol, Fiddlesticks, Skarner and the Voidborn as League’s “pure monsters”. Within this, Fiddlesticks represents demonic, eldritch horror, Aurelion Sol represents the grandiose, majesty, but also impossible might and scope of cosmic power, while the Voidborn are all more about inhuman, alien horror. Within that too, the Voidborn present different themes as well, considering the cuteness of Kog’Maw contrasts with the cold cruelty of Vel’Koz and the primal, animalistic themes of Rek’Sai.

This isn’t to say that recent creature champions being more cute is in itself a bad thing; they’re something that’s been sorely needed in League for a while. Lillia’s quickly become a favourite of mine, so I can see the value they have personally. But they aren’t in the same thematic ballpark as the more monstrous or humanoid creatures, and it’s what players like myself are really craving.

By condensing these things all in to the label of “creature”, it dilutes what makes each of them unique, as if being a creature/non-human is something that can be expressed as a singular, intrinsic value, which is wholly inaccurate.

This segways in to the second issue I have:

Problem Three: The above means that creature champions have to compete for space with each other in the roster.

When it comes to design variance, it makes sense to spread out champions that’re edgy, cute, serious, masculine, feminine, horrific, funny, or any other themes, as too much of the same thing can be boring for players and designers alike.

The problem here comes from the fact that, given Reav3’s comments, seemingly the idea of being a creature is also included in that, when in my opinion it shouldn’t.

The reason is simple: by making “creature” what amounts to a theme for a champion rather than a design element, it means those individual creature thematics have to compete for space in the roster. This is especially noteworthy since Reav3 has said they aim to have at least 1 creature champion a year at minimum, and since VGUs are counted against having more than 1, it means that the following will be competing for space not just with the five yearly humans, but also with eachother for a single champion slot per year:

*Darkin *Voidborn *Celestial Beings *Yordles *Undead *Demons *Spirits *Ascended *Non-Human Races *Animals *Robots *Anything wholly new Riot wants to add

With the Mundo VGU having been said to be putting Mundo in to the creature space in terms of aesthetic and silhouette (this in itself is theoretically good for Mundo btw), this means that 2021 looks to be a year with one new creature and that’s it, especially since we have no idea what the other VGU Riot’s currently doing is.

Now in some cases this is perfectly understandable. This year in fact, Riot only releasing one new creature, especially coming hot off of the heels of two creature VGUs, makes sense. Three creatures is a lot to roll out at once, and each one was distinct from each other and provided something new to the roster, so that’s not an issue.

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However there’s also cases like 2019, with one new creature in Yuumi, one VGU that could be argued to be a creature in Morde, and 7 other champion releases: 4 new ones, 3 VGUs, that were all human.

And also 2018, where there were no new creatures, only creature VGUs, of which there were 1 and 1/2.

We already have seen the effects of this in practice:

*It’s been 9 years since the last female yordle *It’s been 6 years since the last Voidborn, Ascended or Shadow Isles monster *It’s been 5 years since the last demon *It’s been 4 years since the last yordle or celestial being *It’s been 3 years since the last animal-humanoid

This is factoring in only new releases, but there’s a strong argument to be made that VGUs don’t hit the same as new releases, not just for Riot’s bottom line, but also for player engagement. There’s a difference between updates to an already existing champion, and an entirely new one, when it comes to player engagement.

So does this mean it’s gonna be 2024 before we see a new celestial being? 2026 before we see a new yordle lass? 2030 before we have a new darkin?

While perhaps a bit hyperbolic on my part it’s also a legitimate concern I have as a fan of non-humans.

Problem Four: If creature champions are supposed to be the “niche champions”, then what about niche human champions?

This isn’t as big a concern for me personally just because with so many more human releases it feels like it won’t be an issue, but it’s something that still bothers me.

If creature champions are expected by Riot to fill in the more niche roles within gameplay archetypes and classes, then the chances of seeing a new Taric, Swain, Zyra, Illaoi or Urgot go down drastically, which in my opinion dilutes the human roster in and of itself, as if it’s all made to be broadly appealing it’ll very quickly start getting stale.

I’m personally not much of a human-champion player, as you might’ve guessed, but I still try them and stick with some. Sona, Morgana, Irelia and Taric are among some of my favourites. In respect to that though, y’know what’s gonna tank my interest in human champions super hard? If it’s just all Yasuo’s, Setts and Kai’Sa’s from here onwards. There’s only so many edgelords, beef cakes and super models I can take before I just say “I literally can’t care less about you please go away” .

Hell, that’s been me for the last few years anyway. Before Lillia, the last champion that really stuck with me was Ornn, released 3 years prior. The exception is Neeko, but her gameplay doesn’t stick with me, just her personality and lore. And also her fantastic Star Guardian skin.

As I said, I don’t think this will be as big of an issue because of the frequency at which Riot pumps out humans. It’ll be hard to not make some of them niche, even if it’s ultimately accidental. Even then though, it is still a concern.

Problem Five: People keep saying it’s all China’s fault, but if that’s the case where are all the god damn new dragon champions

That title may be a bit weird, but lemme explain.

I see this talked about a lot, and it mostly comes from that one tweet about the top aesthetically pleasing champions between NA/EU and China, where in the former category it’s more broad between humans and creatures, while in China it’s all bad arse lads and sexy lasses.

The thing is not only does that tweet not tell the entire story, as it ignores two main things:

*China’s playerbase ADORES Malphite *China’s culture ADORES dragons

The argument of “China only wants sexy humans so we won’t get creatures” comes across to me as shortsighted and not looking deep enough, because it ignores the fact that some creature champions do succeed in China; we know of Malphite, but that’s just one case, and there are likely a good few more that’re successful. It also doesn’t account for the fact that China fucking loves dragons, and if Riot really wanted to nail the Chinese audience, we’d have seen a 4th dragon themed champion by now.

We have 3 dragon themed champions: a mage, a juggernaut and a diver. Where’s the support dragon? The marksman dragon? The tank dragon? The assassin dragon?

This one’s more of a bug bear I have with the community than a problem with Riot’s design philosophies, but I’m including it specifically cuz I know ya’ll’ll bring it up so I’m bringing it up myself, and if you bring it up yourselves without addressing the point I’ve made here I’ll have an excuse to laugh at your expense for not reading fully (hehehehe).

Ok Sharjo we get it, but really, who cares? It’s not like Riot’s doing anything wrong are they? Why is this important?

In broad strokes, it’s not really important.

Riot can design champions as they want to, and if they believe it’s best for the game that’s on them. There isn’t anything wrong with it at all, functionally speaking. But that’s not why I made this post.

I made this post because I’m sad.

Sad because it feels like Reav3’s saying Riot won’t make champions I’ll really care about for a long time.

Sad because it feels like he’s saying that the things I value in champion design, from an aesthetic and lore point of view, don’t matter at all.

Sad because it’s completely sapped all the joy and anticipation I’ve had from new champion releases, knowing this.

Sad because it’s killed any motivation I had to see new champions at all, because they’ll all be humans with broadly appealing, generic themes that I won’t care about anyway.

Sad because it’s as if Riot’s saying they want to make the game less magical, less expansive, less impactful, less awe inspiring, while we have the stories of Universe and the cards of Legends of Runeterra exploring concepts and ideas that the current champion roster doesn’t even scratch the surface of.

Creatures, to me, represent some fundamentally important things within the realm of fantasy. They’re where the creative muscles can really be flexed, the limits of imagination stretched, and can explore specific themes that human characters can struggle with, while also still being approachable within human-centric themes as well. They help diversify and enhance the roster of the game, ensuring that not every game is just humans, humans and more humans. They help to express the more fundamentally unique and mystical elements of the world, and can be both insanely human in some ways, and widely alien in others, allowing for some truly unique experiences.

Runeterra has troll women that’re as savage and powerful as the troll men. It has edible vegetable people, living constellations, cyclopian ice beasts, star unicorns, an entire 1920’s styled pirate underground of spiritual animal creature things I still don’t fully understand other than they’re all amazing, and seemingly very little of that will ever find it’s way in to League of Legends.

The new champion; the support, should be my jam considering support is one of my preferred roles, but given Riot’s words on the matter of creatures, all I’m expecting is a grizzled Noxian that I’ll pick up and put down within a few weeks. I want to be wrong. League’s a game that’s given me champions that’ve captivated and inspired me immensely.

But the three years of wait between Ornn and Lillia, with no new champions between that I’ve really engaged with outside of VGUs, and the shift to those same generic, broadly appealing humans popping up everywhere and getting all the attention, while many of the champions I love get left in the dust, has gradually worn away at me.

It’s the same feeling I’ve had about skins. It’s not just the pain of seeing other champions get skins on the regular, it’s cases like Lux, where she gets an ultimate, two legendaries, a prestige and like three epic skins in the time it takes Skarner, a champion I love, to get ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Every skin for Miss Fortune, Ezreal and Lucian gives me similar feelings, it’s not exclusive to just her. Tbh I feel like Ezreal skins hurt most because he’s a champion I actively despise.

Even writing this post makes me sad, cuz it reminds me of why every new champion release is a mire of disappointment for me, and reminds me of a time where I was super stoked for every new face to the roster, regardless of who or what they were.

I don’t wanna feel this way, but it feels like this is the lot I’ve been given for liking creature champions over human champions.

Got a TL;DR? This is kinda long

Sure.

*I’m a big fan of monsters, creatures, and anything that can be considered a non-human *I think Riot’s design philosophies towards creature champions are inherently flawed *They seemingly ignore the fact they have historically designed creatures to be more niche in general, skewing player perceptions and the data they can get from said champions *They seemingly ignore the successful, popular creatures and ordain to learn nothing from them to help make new creatures *They bundle all creatures together as if they’re all the same, which I think is wrong *They’re committed to one new creature a year at minimum, great, but that creates concern about what will make it in and what won’t, especially since VGUs affect this, and Mundo counts as a creature for next year *That one slot has every possible creature design fighting for a chance to occupy it, so for every darkin we get, we potentially miss out on getting a yordle, demon, celestial or something else *People are too quick to blame China for aspects of champion design philosophy. If Riot really wanted to stan China as hard as we say they do we’d have seen way more dragons in the roster by now *All of the above makes me really, really sad

And that’s it.

Sorry if this post seems a bit down and out, especially towards the end, but it's been a long last 3 years. There are only so many jojo memes, 200 years and people constantly putting down some of your favourite champs because of they're "creatures" that a lad can take before he's worn out.

Thanks for reading!

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