Riot Ghostcrawler: “If you get trapped in your base, the game should be over pretty quickly [...] I think we have too much waveclear”


Pro players often complain about how hard it is to carry games from the toplane compared to mid or botlane. It's much easier to translate advantages from midlane due to it being in the center of the map and botlane can roam and farm at the same time, structural advantages of which the toplane has neither. Are you happy with the state of the modern toplane? What's your philosophy about what the toplane role should be in the game?

GC: A lot of players like toplane because they feel like they are almost playing their own version of the game, it’s like, let’s go off and play our own version of the game and then we come back and join the rest of the game.

We call it an island sometimes, except from maybe a roaming jungler sometimes it’s probably you and the other player, so it’s a very good place to notice your skill: “I fell behind in farm, how do I catch up? I’m behind one level, how do I respond to that?”

I think the way Teleport has worked out has actually been pretty good for toplane being able to impact (usually bottom lane) the rest of the game a little bit, but on a cooldown, you can’t just do it willy-nilly.

I think the challenge of doing something very different in top is that a lot of people who play top, what they like is being so far removed from the rest of the game and kind off having this almost 1v1 game that they play early on. I think we have to be very careful not to take things too far away from that because we’d lose somewhat what players like about top.

Removing trackers' knife, combined with the change to all camps being considered as four creeps Riot is unhappy with the strength of jungle tracking at the competitive level. Do you consider tracking an unhealthy mechanic? How strong would you like jungle tracking to be?

GC: On the one hand, we used to not show you respawn timers for when objectives were back up and we change that to show them because a lot of players could easily just do it by having a mod or add on, even have their timers on their phone which seemed dumb.

We want the game not to be about “Can I track information?” but rather “How do I use that information?”. When presented with information, what decisions do I make? If dragon is about to come up, should I contest it or leave it to the enemy or do something else?

The problem with the jungle stuff you are talking about is it became too easy to predict what the other player was doing. We really want part of the strategy in the jungle should be, you know: “Do I counterjungle? Do I just want to farm and get more power than the other player? How much time do I want to spend ganking…” and we thought it became a little too easy, that information felt unearned.

Rather than having to have good vision and kind of trying to understand what the other player was trying to do based on past behavior, we felt like we were giving away too much, sort of “Oh, this is what is going on.” and you can counter that play really easily.

It’s a narrow line between giving the right amount of information and giving too much. We’ll show you ultimates if ultimates are up or down if you see the other player, but we won’t tell you if you don’t see them for example.

On the one hand Riot is moving towards faster games with the improved Baron and Elder buffs while on the other new elements like Minion Dematerializer or stopwatch make stalling the game easier. What would the ideal length of the average League of Legends games be and what are the main problems you have to navigate to reach that state?

GC: We think the current state of the game is probably a bit long, particularly in professional play, professional players can be very safe in the way they play. We think those games have gotten a little long, when you have a long game with long action they’re less interesting to watch.

Snowball is really challenging because the game needs some amount of snowball, without snowball getting an early advantage is meaningless, like “Oh, even though I won every lane and gathered a thousand more gold I couldn’t leverage that into victory so what’s the point.”

We used to make a joke about basketball that you should just start everyone at one hundred points and just play for thirty seconds. But if snowball is too intensive you run into the opposite problem of “Oh, we lost lane so let’s just surrender because there is no way to turn it around.”

We want some way to turn it around, there should be some ability to come back, but it has to be somewhat rare, it can’t be super common or else it just feels random.  Even if you got an advantage early on you weren’t able to leverage that into victory, so we try to make it so the game is snowbally but not too snowbally, and sometimes things shift, particularly when we did as many changes to stuff like runes, were we had to touch the base stats of almost every character in the game, that risk of everyone being way too tanky or way too fragile.

It’s probably something we need to adjust for at least another year, so we get a feel for like, what’s the right balance of runes and how much influence should they have.

Waveclear is a stalling tool but also a snowball tool, where you will push, roam and invade the enemy jungle. What would you say is the hardest thing about balancing waveclear champions?

It’s hard, particularly because we have so many champions now, often mages, but others as well that have so much waveclear, particularly lategame that it feels like they don’t have to pay attention to a lane, they just immediately turn it around.

We also feel like we have a problem where a team can get shoved into their base and survive for a really long time, when it should feel like the enemy should be able to just close out that game. And again, maybe sometimes a team that is trapped in their base is going to be able to get an ace and go to the enemy base, those are very exciting games but that should be unusual, it should be kind of rare. Often, if you get trapped in your base, the game should probably be over pretty quickly.

Overall, I think we have too much waveclear, late particularly when it’s just like “Oh, I use my q and erase an entire minion lane”. We’ve been thinking about things like, maybe we can make minions a little beefier late game to kind off keep that scaling in track.

Although players often complain about stagnated metagames and ask for balance changes, Worlds often showcase an evolving metagame despite not having patched, similar to how console games have evolving metagames despite the lack of patches. How much of this stagnation do you feel is real and how much is it players not being willing to investigate how to adapt to it?

GC: That’s something we struggle with all the time. If we react too quickly, then players lose that sense of experimentation and problem solving which is a lot of fun for players “Oh, every time I run into Vi jungle I lose, so what do I do? Is it a different build? A different champion? How do I overcome that?” that’s really fun to try to solve, if Riot jumps every time and as soon as it happens solves it, then players are just going to stop trying.

On the other hand, part of what Riot was founded on was on this idea that we are going to have a living game, we are not going to have a game were players solve it and then, you know… I use Super Smash Bros. as an example because that’s one where the meta is entirely up to players because the developers hardly interact at all, and if Bayoneta is too powerful in that game, how long is it going to take until players are able to counter that? Or do they just have to live with it for months and moths?

In a game like League, some players might keep trying to beat an overpowered champion or strategy while others might just give up, like, “ I play this game one hour every day, I’m tired of all this losing to the same strategy, I’m just going to go play something else.”

Really long term, I’m talking about several years, we want to make sure there are a lot of different strategies overall. Right now the meta feels a little solved, always 1-1-2-J, meaning jungler, almost always a marksman in the bottom, usually a mage or an assassin in the middle… We want to try and open that up a little more towards players having more options, to where they feel like even if they’ve played a thousand games, which a lot of our players have, they feel like they see new things, that they feel there are some different things they can try.

And that’s something we debate all the time, should we step in or let players try to solve it?

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