League of Legends' AI bots multiply, get smarter, and move to Dominion [Hands-on]

I ran out of my spawn area on League of Legends' Dominion map and made a move for the nearest capture-point, which an enemy Sona was stealing from us. I was confident I could take the flimsy healer and reclaim our home point, but before I can get in range, a burst of flames erupts around me and burning-man Brand bursts from the bushes. He's now pacing side-to-side between me and Sona, tossing out flames if I get close, but stubbornly refusing to let me drag him off point, where I could safely kill him.

Now, Brand running interference on a point in Dominion isn't that unusual—but this Brand is a bot, and he's ruining my day, courtesy of the improved AI and bot rosters being added to League of Legends in the next few weeks.

I'll get into the details in just a second, but first, a word of warning: Brand Bot is the new Annie Bot. That guy was everywhere during my four matches against the improved AI last week at Riot's headquarters, and he burninates all the peoples without hesitation.

On top of being added to Dominion, the other most exciting change for LoLers who play co-op regularly (and Riot says that most users play at least one co-op-vs-AI game a week), is the influx of 26 new champions added to the AI's roster. Existing bots have all been retained, with revamped AI to make them play smarter. But these new-and-improved bots aren't meant to be drastically more challenging: Producer on the project, Mark Norris, told me that the developers' goal was to keep the difficulty level of the two AI settings, Beginner and Intermediate, about the same in combat.

Instead, the improvements to the existing AI focus on improving their behavior near towers to nullify players' cheesy tactics and on making better big-picture strategic decisions. For example, when bots ace the player team, they'll know to press their advantage and push a lane while the players wait to revive. And when I over-extended myself on top-lane, the bots triangulated on me from the jungle on every side, alternating their CC on me to keep me stunned from full health to death. Current bots tend to all spam their CC at once, resulting in wasted attacks.

The biggest change to bot AI is their ability to use skill-shots: spells that require precision targeting that often relies on predicting a players' movement. None of the old bots had the ability to use skill shots effectively, which is why Riot chose champions without them the first time around. But no longer! Karthus, Cassiopeia, and Morgana and the rest of the skill-shot crew are all welcome on the bot roster now—and they're really strong at predictive aiming, if my time spent getting blasted by Brand and Graves is any indication. On top of that, they'll even dodge incoming skill shots you send their way, much like a Noxian Agent Smith.

They're also better at using items, and can now use items with active abilities like Zhonya's Hourglass, which can make them invulnerable for a couple seconds. Norris told me that Fiddlesticks in particular loves to use it to run right up to you and melt your face with impunity.

To balance out this newfound power and keep the bots from being too strong at current skill levels, the devs have baked in a chance for the AI to "make a mistake" and target the wrong area or juke the wrong way with skill shots. This'll happen much more often with Beginner bots, which are tailored for brand-new players to go up against.

In addition, bots are still unable to jungle or counter-jungle effectively, and while they'll check brush to see if you're hiding there, they do so by running face-first into it. During my games, I was still able to pretty easily ditch bots by ducking into brush. Sr. Game Engineer Thomas James confirmed that they're definitely smarter about knowing that you still exist when you go into brush, but admitted that "they have a very short attention span" when it comes to remembering you're in there. All things considered, my team of 5 experienced LoLers had no real problems beating the AI two times each on both Dominion and Summoners Rift.

That said, the developers' work on improving the bots has only just begun, and we can expect to see more frequent updates going forward. Norris explained to me that the programming structure they've built the new AI onto allows them to share AI logic across all the champions where it makes sense, which makes it significantly easier for them to make fixes to things like tower-awareness or even to add new champions. I don't think we should expect a new bot being added every week, but it certainly sounds like the developers are eager to release updates and new bots more frequently.

On top of that, the developers are certainly capable of creating some more difficult challenges for us—even if they aren't including them in this update. Norris told me of one instance where a Tristana bot double-Rocket Jumped (the ability resets when she gets a kill, and it reset while she was in mid-air and she used it again) her way to quad-killing four-fifths of the entire dev team. The devs playing argued over whether that was even possible in the existing rules, but upon further FRAPS review, it definitely was. Fortunately for our win:loss ratio against bots, the developers decided that they didn't want the bots performing at quite that level and restricted Tristana Bot from performing any such feats of godliness when this update hits.

Norris wasn't able to to give a firm release date on the AI update yet, but told me that players can expect it to come in a patch in the very near future. A full list of the bots that will be available is included below.

All 14 existing bots that have improved AI:

Annie , Ashe , Cho'Gath , Miss Fortune , Nunu , Renekton , Ryze , Shen , Soraka , Taric , Trundle , Warwick , Malphite , and Sivir .

The 26 bots being added:

Amumu , Brand , Caitlyn , Cassiopeia , Fiddlesticks , Galio , Garen , Graves , Irelia , Jax , Karthus , Kayle , Kog'Maw , Leona , Lux , Malzahar , Morgana , Rammus , Shyvana , Sona , Swain , Tristana , Udyr , Wukong , Xin Zhao , and Zilean .