League of Legends fans know the cycle well: every two weeks, a new champion is released, kicking off a complex chain of events filled with various personalities. Most people are usually fairly excited (try to think back to the last time the servers weren't totally slammed on patch day—pretty much never). You've got the diehards, who make sure that they save up 6300 IP every 14 days to ensure that they can afford the new champ the exact second that they're released. You've also got the theorycrafters, who are already trying to figure out how overpowered the next champ can be and the best item/rune combinations to use with them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, of course, you've got the haters. These are the guys that feel the need to troll every thread everytime a new champion is released, complaining that they want to play new maps. Or how they think the new champ will be OP. Or that not enough, or too many, female champions get released. Or that balance suffers as Riot adds more champions. Whatever camp you fall into, champion release days can be quite the polarizing experience. But what about the devs at Riot Games? What's their take on the champions that they've consistently released twice a month? We asked them, and they had some very interesting answers.
Recently, we got the chance to speak with two of Riot's head honchos: Marc Merrill, the president, and Travis George, one of LoL's producers. Picking their brains on what they consider the best champion releases is intriguing—but let's step back for a second. What about the rate at which champs are released? Merrill's decided that "two weeks is a good cadence... what matters most to us is [keeping] players engaged and excited." Part of that process is constantly giving players something to look forward to, and that includes new champions. "The question we always ask ourselves is: what's the most fun champion we can make?" says George, who's been much more involved in the hero creation process in 2011 than previous years.
What, then, defines a fun champion? Merrill's convinced that, as the game continues to evolve, uniqueness is more important than fine-tuning balance as champions are pushed to live servers. "The most important element to creating a great character is having a very clear and well-defined theme," he said. Merrill views Shaco as a good example: the creepy jester is all about sadistic trickery and the "clown gone bad" vibe. Merrill describes the champion design process as "highly collaborative... we try to [eliminate] people's preconceived notions."
If Shaco's a dev favorite, what about the post-launch champions? When asked which champion launches he's most proud of, Merrill lists Ezreal, Nidalee, and Renekton. It all comes back to uniqueness: Ezreal and Nidalee enable totally new playstyles unlike any other champion, focusing on constant, fluid mobility and poking from a distance. Renekton's fury mechanic, as well as the ninjas' energy mechanic, also please Merrill, as he enjoys any champion that lets you experience something apart from the norm.
George's answer to the "most successful champion launch" question is much more controversial. At the time of the interview, George felt that every champion released thus far in 2011 was spot-on. "Karma was very popular for support," George said. "Support overall is just not played as much as the other archetypes, but I feel like we executed really well what Karma is. We don't feel like she's game-breaking; we feel like she's got a unique, iconic look and theme, and she's fun and interesting to play for people who enjoy support."
Say what? Many a Summoner might beg to differ with George's take; I personally haven't seen more than two Karma players since the week of her release, and neither of them seemed to contribute much to the team. But George stood his ground, saying "I feel like we executed all our champions [in 2011] well... We always look back on the previous champions and ask ourselves, 'How did that go, what did we learn, what are we gonna do next time, what did we do awesome?' And I really feel that we're [on a roll this year.]"
But what about the gargantuan elephant in the room: Magma Chamber, the additional map that was revealed in our magazine last year before Riot went silent on its progress? "We learned a couple things from [designing] Magma Chamber," says George. "[For one,] we have a really high internal standard for quality." George admits that Riot may have jumped the gun with prematurely unveiling Magma Chamber, and the team feels guilty for getting players' expectations up long before they could deliver on their promises. "We probably feel the pain [of Magma Chamber still being unreleased] far more than anybody else does," says Merrill. "We're our [own] harshest critics."
As for upcoming champions, Merrill told us that they definitely want to add more "true tanks," though they tend to be the most powerful champions (I'm looking at you, Shen), so they require more tweaks and testing.
Whaddya say, Summoners? Have Riot's brightest minds assuaged your fears, or fueled your flames? Do you agree with Merrill and George's takes? And what's up with Karma getting praised?