League of Legends became the most popular video game on the planet in part to Riot Games’ commitment to keeping the game fresh through new content and new heroes. Every year, it releases a patch with sweeping game changes to set the stage for the next season of League.
Today’s 4.20 patch, the Preseason 2015 release, may be the biggest change ever made in the game’s five year history.
The patch notes take all of 30 plus pages, outlining a host of changes that will destroy the metagame. Riot Games put together two explainer videos and a preseason primer portal just to make sure fans and players can digest all that’s happening to the league.
The theme of the patch is “Strategic Diversity,” something that’s apparent in the design decisions made with regards to the two areas of biggest change, the jungle and map objectives.
The jungle should be a much more interesting place next season, if Riot’s efforts pan out. Last season, jungling was so easy that champions that specialized in sustain fell out of the metagame—you don’t need sustain when you’re at full health on a damage threat like Lee Sin or Kha’Zix. That led to a large portion of the jungle champion set locked out of the metagame, their specialty essentially useless. In 2015, the jungle will be harder. Much harder.
Riot is adding more mobs and more decision points for jungle players, meaning junglers won’t just be able to run a set route and be good to go. They’ll need to think on their feet about what mobs to kill and when, and which mobs to Smite. The Smite spell will now give special buffs depending on which mob the jungler nails with it, each with situational uses. Smiting the Krug gives a bonus against minions and turrets, nailing the Raptor gives a buff aiding vision control. Riot hopes its changes opens up a more diverse and interesting jungle metagame.
Changes to major map objectives like the Baron, the Dragon, and inhibitor turrets also aim to increase “Strategic Diversity,” by opening up more varied avenues towards winning the game.
The Baron buff, originally designed to allow teams to siege through a “low-impact swirl of purple stats,” as Riot Games puts it in the patch notes. Now, it will do so through a massive buff to nearby minions and a quicker recall. But teams camping the Baron need to be careful.
The Dragon is completely re-worked. Instead of a global gold bonus, it gives a team-wide buff that stacks each time the boss is killed. The first stack, for example, gives 8 percent total attack damage and ability power. The fourth stack boosts siege ability with 15 percent damage to turrets. At a full five stacks, players receive “Aspect of the Dragon,” a massive boost to power for 180 seconds that doubles the four previous bonuses and adds a true damage burn to attacks.
That change makes the decision process on map rotations and taking objective much more interesting—giving up dragon to take an inhibitor turret to let the enemy team gain another Dragon stack won’t be as simple a trade as before
The theme continues in itemization changes, most obvious with changes to Elixirs. Instead of flat stat bonuses like Season 4 versions of the items, the new elixirs will grant buffs that change the way a team plays. The Elixir of Ruin grants nearby minions a damage buff and movement speed, as well as a 15 percent damage bonus against towers. The Elixir of Iron grants tenacity and slow resistance while buffing allied movement speed.
That’s just a small taste of the massive number of changes introduced in today’s patch, which includes a host of other balance changes, new content like the marksman hero, Kalista, set to terrorize the bottom lane with her spear chucking ways, and massive structural changes. Base stats and hero scaling, for example, received a complete rework. Even the map itself—the visual rework—is now live.
It’s a massive change for League of Legends, one that will take weeks or even months to get used to for both players and fans, and even the developers themselves. There’s bound to be dozens of balance issues swimming in the reeds.
One of them is the Expansion Tournament, which began last weekend. Over the next month the top challenger teams in league will battle for a spot in the League Championship Series—and now they’ll likely be playing part of it on a whole new game.