Thursday, March 14, 2013

Risk vs. Reward in champion balance

Hello everyone, I have been recently been watching a lot of LCS matches and with the abundance of certain ranged spell champions, I’ve been thinking a lot about of risk vs. reward and how it applies to different aspects of League of Legends, particularly champion balance. But first, an overview of the concept itself.

Risk vs. Reward

The concept of risk vs. reward is simple: the more risk an objective has, the greater the reward should be. This concept can be applied to many things we see in the world. Gambling grants you rewards dependent on how much money you wager, the risk being a chance of spending all your money and not making any profit Competitive poker players have to know when to fold, call bluffs, or risk a huge wager on a bad hand, the reward being more chips. Stock markets involve buying stock at low prices and knowing when to sell it back for a larger profit, the risk being that prices could drop at any point below the price you bought it at, not allowing you to profit.

Video game developers often implement risks and rewards to increase the entertainment value of their creations, from Super Mario Brothers (putting 1-up mushrooms in difficult to reach places, forcing the player to risk their own lives to gain more) to the Diablo series (hardcore mode gives you only one life, but beating the game gives a much more sense of accomplishment). A low risk/high reward ratio often implies an imbalance in competitive gaming or a simplicity in game design. For example, the overabundance of 1-ups mushrooms in Super Mario 3D Land gives the player no fear of death. 

At this point, you are probably thinking about risk vs. reward in League. From start to finish, every decision you make in the game is influenced by this concept. Why don’t people dive towers at level 1? Because the risk of botching a kill and giving the other team first blood is just too much. So people farm up, get items, and decrease the risk of making such plays. Ever wonder why people opt to do baron after a successful team fight? Because there is almost no risk in doing it and a great reward to boot. But trying to baron while the other team is in the area is a huge risk, as there is the possibility that you will lose a team fight, lose baron, and possibly lose towers and inhibitors. It’s important to weigh these factors against each other when making decisions in League, otherwise you’ll suddenly find yourself down 3 inhibitors and wondering what went wrong.

Risk vs. Reward and champion balance

Now, this is where risk and reward really needs to be balanced against each other. A mismatch between the two could lead to a champion that’s exceedingly difficult to play and doesn't help their teams chance of winning despite great play (high risk, low reward) or a champion that is amazing at many roles and is seen as overpowered since nothing can stand up to them (low risk, high reward, such as AP tryndamere pre-nerf). Riot does a great job at keeping champions in check, but there are some champions that I feel go against this concept. However, before I delve into that, I want to take a look at some good examples of risk versus reward in League.

Akali is an excellent example of a high risk, high reward champion. Generally every assassin has that play style, but seeing as Akali is the most popular (from what I’ve seen), I will focus on her. The job of an assassin means getting to the squishier enemy champions and bursting them down before they have a chance to harm your team and push a fight in their favor. This often requires mobility, gap closers, deception, and of course, high amounts of burst. Akali is a great example of this as she has a three usage gap closer which recharges and does substantial burst when combined with her q, as well as a shroud that masks her movements and increases her survivability. However, the risk of playing an assassin is that they are generally somewhat squishy themselves. Someone that isn’t very competent at Akali will go in a fight and find themselves being killed almost instantly. Good teams will carry pink wards to counter her invisibility and peel her off their carries. So while Akali brings great rewards to her team, she is very risky to play and often times, you will see a team build around Akali to decrease the amount of risk she has.

Nasus is another champion that I feel has a medium-high risk/high reward ratio. His risk comes from his weak early game, in which he needs to build up damage on his Siphoning Strike to do substantial damage later on in the game. At lower level play, teams are not aware of his danger late game and let him farm without harassment, then 40 minutes hits and he’s bashing your team for tons of damage. Smart teams will attempt to take objectives early in order to become strong enough that a farmed Nasus isn’t a threat later on.

Now, let’s move on to champions whom I believe are mismatched in the risk/reward ratio, focusing on low risk/high reward.

Anyone who has played League of Legends has encountered this champion (or devil, if you were unfortunate enough to meet one building AP). Teemo is a huge offender of having an ability that is no risk/high reward, his ultimate ability which places invisible mushrooms on the ground that poison and slow enemies that run through them. He can place an infinite number of mushrooms as there is no limit to the amount that can be on the map at once (although they disappear after 10 minutes). There is no risk in placing mushrooms on cool down as they continuously recharge, but there are a great deal of rewards that come with them:

  •    Free vision
  •    Potential for free kills
  •    Safeguard for dragon/baron (mushshrooms are placed in all entrances to the objective)
  •    No fear of a gank during laning phase
  •    Oracles being bought means 400 less gold on the other team 
  •    Impossible to clear mushrooms in bush without entering one

Unfortunately, Teemo is most likely to remain untouched. While his shrooms are a product of imbalanced game design, his team fight is certainly lacking compared to the other champions that could be in his place, which is why he isn’t seen too much in solo queue except as counter picks to melee champions. Ways to balance his ult could be making mushrooms visible (just like all other traps in the game), limiting the number of mushrooms that can be on the map at once (similar to techies from DotA and probably the best way to balance the ability), making his mushshroom a targeted ability that does damage and slows, or just removing it completely and giving him a new ult.

Now we move on to the next two champions that spurred me to write this article. If you watched the NA LCS super week, you should know that I am talking about Nidalee and Lux, both very common picks and bans in every game (I don’t have the exact stats).

(Here is the part of the game this is from)

The power of Nidalees spears and Lux’ ult is quite absurd because is almost no risk involved in using those abilities. The cool down on spear is a mere 6 seconds and when paired with Tear of the Goddess (a very common item on Nidalee), expect a nonstop flurry of spears when either sieging or defending. And when a spear connects, the damage is so high that a team is forced to either back off or fight with someone at less than 50% hp.

That is not the face of a sane person.

Lux isn’t as bad, but the extremely low cool down of her ult at level 3 (24 seconds at 40% CDR, easily accomplished with her core items) allows her to use it on every creep wave when pushing or defending, removing the ability for a team to push onto a tower without tanking it themselves or allowing her team to push onto a tower without an enemy creep wave there to block them. She can also take the role of Nidalee while defending or sieging, throwing out her Light Binding on cool down and ulting whomever it lands on, most of the time leading to a kill. The two approaches she has (ulting a creep wave vs. ulting an ensnared enemy) both grant her huge rewards with almost no risk involved.

The range of all the aforementioned abilities is so big that neither character has be remotely close to danger in order to do massive damage. Once again, referring to risk vs. reward, there is no risk for Nidalee to use her abilities while Lux has the risk of a 24 second cool down (the horror!), whereas the reward is huge (one caught person usually means a tower and/or inhibitor). How is this fixed? The cooldown on Lux’ ult needs to go up so the player doesn’t feel like they can spam it on cool down without punishment. The damage on it is fine, a nerf to it would ruin the reason why people play Lux and the satisfaction players get from landing it. Nidalee has several means to scale her down. The cool down on her spear can be increased, the range of the skillshot can be decreased to force her closer to danger, or a limit to the number of spears that can throw  in a window of time so that she uses them more conservatively. Nidalee’s kit is already great enough without having a 1HKO ability, so she should be rolled back to the tank/split push Nidalee we are already familiar with.


A competitive game needs to have a match between risk and reward in order to maintain a sense of balance, otherwise the game turns into who is playing the most overpowered champions and skill becomes a lesser factor. Nidalee/Lux are prime offenders of it right now (Teemo too, but I doubt he is an issue to the Live Design team at the moment) and should be expected to see nerfs soon. I have confidence in our balancing team as we have seen swift nerfs to things deemed overpowered (Black Cleaver, AP tryndamere for example). In the meantime, be sure to abuse the two of them as long as you can (since Riot is already on the bandwagon) and get that free elo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn ur dumb. I would maybe agree with the Nidalee part, but the part about Lux is just idiotic, u want them to nerf a champion which uses only skillshots, and u know what that means? U CAN MISS ALL UR SKILLS, that's a perfect example of a HIGH risk / HIGH reward champion, u land ur Q - E - R combo and all is great, u miss it, and ur f*****. And pls dont tell me that 24 seconds is little time, cause with champions like Vi, Malphite, Jarvan 4, Nocturne or even Ryze with his Flash into Rune Prison which all can engage and start a fight in a few seconds, 24 seconds is a shitload of time that u as Lux provide almost no utility to ur team except shield. If anything happens to Luxs current state she will be overnerfed and unusable, cause her low CD is what makes her viable, and what makes her Lux. Also, if you're so affraid of Lux, take a Nocturne on ur team with his spellshield, or build a Banshees Veil and all will be fine, but i see instead of thinking u just want to whip out the nerf vagon. Hope that smarter people on Riot wont take the Lux part of ur article into consideration.

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