League of Legends visual gameplay updates make old and outdated champions relevant again, improving visual quality, smoothing out gameplay, and helping to create a standard throughout the game. But Riot has its priorities elsewhere.
Lead champion designer Bryan “Axes” Salvatore says the devs don’t dislike VGUs, but they face a number of issues that limit how many they can (and want to) work on at a time.
One of the main issues with VGUs is the “churn” among existing players of the champions, Axes said in a response to a post on League’s subreddit. Even the “respectful, lower disruption” updates can cause some players to quit the champion.
“Everyone wants more VGUs of the champions they don’t play, but few people want their main’s gameplay to change meaningfully,” Axes said. “We need to bear in mind that while a well-executed VGU gives something cool to play with, it also takes something away that someone loved.”
This resonates particularly with one-trick ponies—the players that exclusively play one champion.
The most recent example of a VGU is Dr. Mundo’s June 9 update. In this circumstance, the changes were seen in a positive light, but that’s not always the case. Updates to Volibear, Fiddlesticks, and Pantheon in 2019 and 2020 received a mixed reception from the community.
Another issue with VGUs is they’re far more “costly” than new champions, according to Axes. The devs have to spend a considerable amount of time and resources updating skins. For a champion like Dr. Mundo, that’s 11 skins, which means hiring VFX artists because “there are never enough to go around.”
The devs do see a “sales spike” on those skins, but not nearly what they’d see from releasing new skins. “This cost is largely on the art side, so shipping VUs instead of VGUs doesn’t help us much here,” Axes said.
That being said, the devs want to do more VGUs than they’ve done for 2021, but the rate “likely isn’t” going up to go up “enormously” in the future.
“We want to do more than one in a year and are pretty likely to do more than one next year,” Axes said. “It’s not going to replace all new champions for a given year or anything like that. If we can find clever resourcing tricks to get the rate higher, particularly on less disruptive stuff (true VUs, or Ezreal-style light VGUs for champions like Jax), we would certainly pursue that.”
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