One of our fundamental goals in creating League of Legends champions is ensuring each has a distinct, cohesive, and well-executed identity. In a game with an ever-expanding roster of champs, some are better examples of this than others — especially when you consider some of the older characters inhabiting the Rift. Some champions donâ€™t offer distinct enough gameplay, despite working well within their role. Some champions have fundamental things that feel right, but require a more cohesive package. Others need to be rebuilt from scratch (see: Poppy). Champion Update is the team tasked with sorting out which champions fit where, and figuring out how to update and upgrade as needed to help those champs reach their full potential.
This process isnâ€™t without risks. If Champion Update is committed to the goal of blowing players away and defying their expectations, the occasional strike will always be a possible side effect of swinging for the fences.
When the ChampUp team looked at Fiora earlier this year, it spotted some major gameplay problems. With no dodgeable spells and immense damage output, a fed Fiora felt like an unfair opponent. If she caught someone, she killed them — end of story. Her tower dives were legendary. But Fioraâ€™s strength hinged heavily on her early-game performance; if she was behind, there wasnâ€™t any real way to come back. Even worse, she lacked utility that could make up for her low damage output, leaving a struggling Fiora no option but to sacrifice herself to the fray in the hopes of at least contributing a bit of useful damage. Fiora was either an unstoppable monster or a liability to her team.
Additionally, ChampUp saw a mismatch in the promise of her character and her actual gameplay, as game designer Stash Chelluck explains. â€œShe was promised to be the Grand Duelist,â€ says Chelluck, â€œbut her pattern felt very straightforward. It required little thought and reactivity.â€ And so, ChampUp dove into Fioraâ€™s kit and started making tweaks.
Instead of focusing on what could be dialed back or toned down, ChampUp looked for opportunities to more effectively tie her gameplay to her in-game persona. Says Seb Rhee, who lead the ChampUp team during the Fiora re-work, â€œthatâ€™s where Stash discovered the really interesting fencing gameplay — the idea of dueling between two players. Not only would it solve some of her innate gameplay problems, it would make her more cohesive as a character.â€ The new duel mechanics would help Fiora live up to the image of a talented duelist who can dodge attacks and hit opponents where theyâ€™re weakest, along with providing some much-needed utility in the event that she fell behind.
Going big with Fioraâ€™s mechanics posed significant risk. Players who loved her old ult, for example, likely wouldnâ€™t be happy to see it removed. However, ChampUp often has to remove pieces of the original champion in the interest of making him or her better overall (Sionâ€™s original VO, for example). The decisions arenâ€™t easy, but the hope is always that players feel like theyâ€™re gaining more than they lose. In the case of Fiora, the team felt as though her new mechanics were a marked upgrade from her old kit, enough that the pain of losing some familiar play patterns would be mitigated.
With the mechanics in place, the team moved into refreshing Fioraâ€™s visuals.
New and modified champion mechanics usually need art assets or updates. In the case of Fiora, the team saw a chance to pair gameplay-centric art additions (VFX, ability animations) with a refreshed vision for Fioraâ€™s base appearance. ChampUp concept artist Michael Maurino brings up an increased understanding of Leagueâ€™s universe and factions as inspiration: â€œWe saw an opportunity to dig into the work Foundations was doing with Demacia, to see if there were some aspects we could apply to Fiora from there. We know sheâ€™s from Demacia; she should look like it.â€
Rhee adds, â€œThe update felt like a second chance to execute on the sort of haughty, condescending character she was originally intended to be.â€
The art team worked to align Fioraâ€™s costume with that of Demacian nobles, using muted golds, clean white fabrics, and high-quality leathers. The team also used visual cues to emphasize Fioraâ€™s character attributes. Says Maurino, â€œFiora is a sharp character; her design is going to have a lot of aggressive points. Her armor comes to a point. Her tunic ends in a point. Anything we can do to drive home what the character represents on first read is a high priority.â€ From a design perspective, itâ€™s important that players can glance at a character and tell exactly what that character is about.
The art adjustments werenâ€™t limited to costuming. ChampUp also took a knife to Fioraâ€™s features, both on the in-game model and in the new splash art set to accompany her launch. Maurino walks through the thought process of artists working on the update: â€œWe stylized Fiora very intentionally. We decided to give her a much more chiseled face. We wanted to make her sharpâ€”not just in design and costume, but in features. He hair was sharp and her face was much more rigid.â€ Each change was carefully considered in terms of what it conveyed about Fiora as a character and as an in-game weapon.
It was another big risk — one that wouldnâ€™t play out quite as well as the one the team had taken with her mechanics.
Initial reactions to Fioraâ€™s updated art were negative, to say the least. Across the League of Legends community, Fiora fans expressed concerns about her new, more angular design. While players were largely in support of her gameplay changes, they rejected her art changes almost unanimously. The outcry was a stark contrast from what the ChampUp team had expected. It seemed as though the team and players had dramatically different visions for Fioraâ€™s identity and how that identity should be represented.
Rhee explains that the team went into the reveal with high hopes: â€œFrom the teamâ€™s perspective, the art changes on Fiora were above and beyond what we needed to make the gameplay work. In the moment, it was like, â€˜Wow, we can deliver this incredible cohesiveness on smaller-scope projects — even if theyâ€™re not huge Sion-level re-works.â€™ We came out the other side of the process thinking, â€˜This is incredible. We ended up with something so much more than we anticipated this project would ever become.â€™â€ Moving from that sense of excitement into immediate damage control, he explains, â€œfelt like running faster than you ever thought you could, then being exhausted at the finish line and realizing you ran the wrong direction.â€
The feedback highlighted a disconnect between ChampUpâ€™s understanding of Fiora and the understanding players had developed through their interactions with her. In playing as Fiora, game after game, players gave her an identity of their own invention. Rhee frames it as a natural evolution: â€œOnce a character goes live and players learn that character and use that character (sometimes in ways we donâ€™t anticipate), that character becomes something different from what we built.â€ In other words, the character matures. Rhee explains that players rejected Fioraâ€™s new art not because of its objective quality, but because â€œthe update failed to honor who Fiora had become for players.â€ ChampUp focused on her haughtiness and better-than-thou attitude, but players more closely associated her with a young, beautiful swordswoman.
This type of feedback, though difficult to hear, is immensely resonant to teams like ChampUp. Players werenâ€™t reacting from a negative space or from an aversion to change, but to something that betrayed their understanding of a character they cared about. Notes Rhee, â€œItâ€™s not so much that players are loyal to a particular hairstyle, or to Fioraâ€™s cheekbones. Theyâ€™re loyal to what Fiora represents to them, to the parts of the character that resonate.â€ Again, players had been asked to give something up — in this case what they gained didnâ€™t feel like more than they lost.
Maurino continues the thought: â€œPlayers said, â€˜This character would not represent herself this way.â€™ Not, â€˜I donâ€™t like, red, I like blue,â€™ for example, but, â€˜Fiora as a character wouldnâ€™t choose red, she would choose blue.â€™ When a player says, â€˜Fioraâ€™s hair streak, or the way her hair is positioned, does not fulfill what this character is to me,â€™ thatâ€™s completely valid. Thatâ€™s what happens when a characterâ€™s design speaks directly to a player.â€
ChampUp worked hard to accommodate player feedback by making changes to Fioraâ€™s new art, softening her features and bringing her hair closer to the original design. But without the bandwidth for another complete overhaul, the team had to settle for a middle-ground. â€œIn the end,â€ concedes Rhee, â€œour corrections were more of a compromise. We made a lot of players happier with the changes we made, but ultimately it felt like us and players may have started with different understandings of Fiora.â€ Itâ€™s a lesson the team wonâ€™t soon forget.
For ChampUp, success isnâ€™t measured by the quality standards set by artists or designers. Says Rhee, â€œFioraâ€™s update shouldnâ€™t be judged by â€˜What did we want to make, and did we make it?â€™ Itâ€™s measured by, â€˜How do players feel about this? Do players love this change? We try to surprise and to do things players donâ€™t expect, but that end goal is always present.â€ The objective quality of art assets or VFX are a lower priority than whether those elements reflect player passion for a given champion. A miss is a miss, regardless of its technical execution.
The Fiora update and the controversy surrounding its art brought plenty of self-examination for the ChampUp team. Champion Update isnâ€™t here to change things for the sake of change, but to improve League of Legends by constantly improving upon the gameâ€™s roster of champs. If changes — artistic, mechanical, or otherwise — donâ€™t feel like big gains to players, those changes are missing the mark. The Fiora update served as a lesson on both ends of what can happen when we work to improve the characters players know and love, and a reminder that these improvements arenâ€™t without their potential pitfalls.
Making bold choices and trying to surprise players will never be completely safe. Rhee concludes: â€œIn our effort to really reach, to raise the bar, weâ€™re going to take chances. If weâ€™re taking the level of risks we should be taking as artists, designers, and people who love League, weâ€™re bound to miss the mark sometimes. Whatâ€™s important is that when we miss, we figure out what went wrong and we move forward with those lessons in tow.â€
League of Legends can often feel like a living creature that evolves right before our eyes. With each change comes new champions, new item combinations to try out, and new strategies to win the game. But change also means saying goodbye (or good riddance!).
Join us in remembrance of the parts of LoL that are no longer with us.
RIP Minion Models – Updated with SRU
In honor of their service, letâ€™s raise a glass to those whoâ€™ve been our faithful gold generators for six years.
RIP Baron Nashor Model – Updated with SRU
Here he is enjoying retirement as the centerpiece to the time-honored â€œCircle of Life Drainâ€.
RIP Revive – Removed from the Game
Now even Zombie Karthus canâ€™t worm his way out of this many ultimates.
RIP Deathfire Grasp – Removed from the game
RIP Runeglaive Ezreal – Item changed
So much poke…so much damage…
RIP Fioraâ€™s Hydra Blade Waltz – Gameplay and Visual Update
RIP Gangplank – Gameplay and Visual Update
RIP Old Mordekaiser – Gameplay and visual update
Now he haunts the occasional bot lane in search of AD carries and Dragons to enslave.
RIP Indestructible Poppy – Gameplay and Visual Update
Nothing inspired terror quite like a fed Poppy waddling toward your team.
Now that weâ€™ve said goodbye to 2015, what are you looking forward to the most in 2016? Let us know in the comments below!
If you have any questions, feel free to ask me atÂ @NoL_ChefoÂ or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.