Players vs Patch Cycle
With worlds right around the corner, players might be able to breathe a sigh of relief with the rapid changes that have come every two weeks. I can't speak for all of the players in the world , but my own experience with the bi-weekly update format has made me feel overloaded and anxious. I never know who's going to get a buff, a nerf, or a change, and to what degree. I've gone from saying, "I doubt Riot will touch any of MY champions" to "NO ONE IS SAFE FROM THE DECREES OF RIOT." I took a long break from ranked since I just couldn't adapt fast enough to all the changes that kept coming out. When I thought it things were safe, BAM new items, new reworks, and suddenly I'm playing Dominion on Summoner's Rift whenever Skarner is in game (Dominion is that other game mode besides ARAM that you never click on).
Change is difficult for players to process. At a pro-level, the situation is agitated even further when the competitive game-state is different from the live one. Players are forced to keep track of two forms of the game and discouraged to expand on strategy. My point is not STOP WITH CONTENT or NO PATCHES PLEASE, but the sheer bulk of content that gets shot at players every two weeks is overwhelming. Reading patch notes feels like building IKEA furniture; either you're successful and things turn out exactly as expected, or nothing works and you don't know why.
While this article could go into detailed statistics, the problem is so broad that a few case studies can reflect how too much content released at once can affect the state of game.
- CASE #1: RUNEGLAIVE (& EZREAL)
Runeglaive was a revision on a jungle enchantment made for AP junglers. Originally, the AP option was "Magus". A quick comparison:
Context of other recent changes: Ryze reworked and still being tweaked, Jayce changes (6 instead of 5pt skill max with ult auto-leveling), Elise changes (rework would follow shortly), Luden's Echo introduced as well.
In the midst of 4 significant reworks and a new one month old champion (Ekko), Riot releases Runeglaive and removes Magus. Not only did this change the roster of AP junglers, but introduced AP Runeglaive Ezreal to the mid lane. Coupled with Luden's Echo, Ezreal became a wave clearing AP nightmare when he emerged.
I personally didn't think too hard on how to counter it. One of my friends opted to play AP Malphite to counter it, but the rest of our group banned it out in ranked and didn't bother to think of a counter. Instead we just believed it was overpowered enough that RIOT would patch it in the upcoming patches (which they did).
Runeglaive Ezreal may seem like an argument for frequent patching since Riot quickly fixed what it broke, but it really should not have been broken in the first place. Runeglaive is not the only major item change in the game.
Just a few more examples from the recent months:
- Dead Man's Plate
- Sterak's Gage
- Zz'Rot Portal
- Ludens Echo
- Cinderhulk/Bami's Cinder
- Black Cleaver (reworked)
- Devourer (Sated, major rework)
These are just 7 major item adjustments, not champions or other item tweaks. Although items can theoretically be bought on any hero, not every hero will buy every time. Still, these are not niche items but ones that can significantly impact the game.
- CASE STUDY #2: Champion/Juggernaut changes
A much more recent change involved tweaks to four champions: Mordekaiser, Darius, Garen, and Skarner. Riot gave some extra love to these champions and added more aspects to their kit. Darius and Garen received tweaks that gave them more power/sustain, but Mordekaiser and Skarner saw some totally new mechanics. These were introduced about a month ago, not too far from the Gangplank update as well.
Here's a list of some champions with notable changes:
- Ashe (Major mechanics change)
- Elise (Buffs and changes made her a strong jungler)
- Fiora (Large scale rework)
- Gangplank (Large scale rework)
- Four "juggernauts" previously listed
Coupled with some new champions:
- Tahm Kench
This averages out to about 2 major champion changes per month (approx one per patch), along with multiple balance changes coming through the pipeline. All of these champion changes added some non-intuitive gameplay mechanics that can severely punish players who do not understand how to respond to them. Although I joke about Skarner and Dominion, the new mechanic doesn't reveal the shift in power when a Skarner is in his "zone." Skarner was wiping the floor with people prior to the nerf, but players who were less informed couldn't respond to him; they probably didn't know where his power was coming from.
Regarding reworks, my experience when playing with less seasoned players is that new mechanics with so much power attached them can feel oppressive and punishing. Fiora's new passive deals damage based on a % of their health and gives Fiora a movement speed buff for 1.75 seconds. New players would perceive this as "broken"; the problem isn't so much the mechanic as the counterplay isn't clear. Yet when a whole champion is changed, it takes more time for counterplay to develop. If Riot patches too quickly, counter-play doesn't develop, and the playerbase develops a habit of complaining for change rather than discovering it.
My main point here is to try and reduce the amount of content introduced in a patch and slow down on the leveling of tweaking constantly being done. I get scared reading patch notes because I'm afraid my champion will get nerfed out of play or a new item will create another Runeglaive monster.
What can Riot do? Here's what I suggest:
Maintain a more stable gamestate - Skins/aesthetic content is great, but major champion tweaks shouldn't be included mid-season and patches that have seen major adjustments should not see competitive play. We saw multiple games of the new Ryze that could lockdown a champion for excessive periods of time, something that Riot could have tweaked earlier (we saw this with post-rework Skarner). If competitive play could have a ranked state that saw changes less frequently, the game could find deeper counterplay and strategy. Simply updating champions and introducing new items every month makes me hold my breath for the next Runeglaive Ezreal in my games.
The latest slew of updates has created an unstable gamestate with too many volatile factors in the air. With the worlds stage right around the corner, my hope is that Riot releases only a small number of fixes and lets the dust settle before stirring up another storm of change. I think for the first time in a while, we can start exhaling in relief.