On November 3rd, the Runeterrable Radio podcast interviewed Andrew "Umbrage" Yip, the Game Director for Legends of Runeterra. Umbrage shared his thoughts about the state of the game, the K/DA event, competitive gaming, and more. Below is our summary of what was discussed. Keep in mind that Umbrage was expressing these comments as an individual; his statements shouldn't be misconstrued as official announcements about Legends of Runeterra.
The Past, Present, and Future of Runeterra
- Umbrage has been at Riot for 9 years, and the concept of a League of Legends card game has existed that whole time.
- Runeterra in its current form has existed for 4-5 years.
- The public version of the game just had its 1 year anniversary (counting the close beta).
- "We're on Step 1 1/2 of our 10 Step Plan".
- Runeterra has completely exceeded Umbrage's expectations in terms of quality of the core gameplay and level of meta diversity.
- Umbrage acknowledges there have been complaints about recent metas, but cites Kozmic's meta breakdown as an indicator of true diversity.
- "Half the pie chart is 'Other'. If that were any random Magic tournament, they'd be like 'We're doing hot!'".
- In terms of the League of Legends IP, "we're the game, other than the upcoming Ruined King game, that advances the setting and the relationships with the characters".
- They work on sets 2 years out.
- Last week the team had an intense planning season for all of next year and parts of 2022.
- For the longer-term future (~5 years), Umbrage is really excited to make the game more social.
- He'd like to incorporate more activities like tournaments and shows within the client.
- He also wants to create compelling single-player experiences, especially as a way to make the game more welcoming to new players.
- He'd like to see more awesome formats as the card collection grows, especially community-discovered formats like MtG's Commander and Cubes.
- "Card games are not [just] a game. Card games are like a platform."
Redefining the Genre
- "We're in the game of slaying giants [of stereotypes of the card game genre]".
- The first "giant" was the notion that card games must have packs.
- They wanted players to have easy access to cards, which is why you gain wildcards and shards and can't disenchant cards.
- The next "giant" they are attacking is tournaments.
- They want to recapture the experience of travelling to / participating in major regional tournaments through the digital client.
- This is especially important in the current global pandemic.
Engaging with Players
- One of the reasons Umbrage decided to join Riot was because he saw the previous head of LoL Game Design respond to some game criticism by engaged with players and openly shared his pillars of good game design.
- Riot does listen to Reddit and Twitter, but only as "early smoke" that might signal a fire that could need an immediate response. They are aware social media accentuates the vocal minority and don't want to overreact.
- His morning ritual is to wake up and check social media to see what players are responding to and what sentiments are.
- After the K/DA release, "that was not a boring set of mornings for me".
- At large, Riot relies on player surveys rather than social media to gauge players' experience.
- They run surveys in swaths of every region that ask questions like 'what did you enjoy the most? what didn't you enjoy?'
- "Keep the feedback coming -- we love it. Constructive is definitely better than 'I'm going to quit the game', though."
One of the reasons we were so anxious to launch the game was because we were so anxious to interact with players and get that feedback loop going. We look at [events like K/DA and labs] as conversation starters with our players to figure out what they love and don't love.
- It was only 5 cards, not a set, so it wasn't possible to create something for everyone. Trying to make everyone happy would have been a trap.
- "We need to understand who this was for. And for that audience: did they love it?"
- Most of the negative feedback has been from North America, which Riot needs to weigh against the less-negative feedback from other regions.
- Part of the K/DA event is an experiment.
- Part of it is figuring out how immersive to make the experience -- do you "dip your toe" or go further?
- "I don't fault players who didn't like the event. It's not their job to like something that's not for them. It is their job to tell us what they like and don't like. And then we are responsible for zooming out and saying, across the entire player base, what decisions we should make."
Are we interested in [setting entire card sets in] Alt-universes? That's something we have to understand how players would react and how we would execute way before we make that decision.
- The Oracle's Eye was a feature that they pressed hard for to allow players to play at the strategy level instead of the arithmetic level.
- "Our engineers killed themselves to get [Oracle's Eye] working to the degree it does. It's technically a very complex feature."
- They make an intentional effort to avoid unnecessary complexity to the game (e.g., showing cards in your opponents' hand) because it compels you to do extra math every turn and slows down the game significantly.
- Umbrage thinks Runeterra's competitive structure should be built around players' needs rather than just assuming it should copy another game's existing model.
- "We try to make the best games for the players that play those games."
- He's delighted with the communities' grassroots tournaments and events and wants to be conscientious about what any official Riot-sponsored events might have on that ecosystem.
- In his opinion, Riot would ideally work with the existing grassroots efforts circa fighting games' communities instead of replacing them.
- Riot has is a central org for supporting all its games' e-sports; they haven't finalized anything yet.
- The upcoming seasonal tournaments will be four 1024-player tournaments, one for each of the current shards. There will be an effort to consolidate that into a single world champion.
- They are looking into how to have more small-scale, "always available" competitions into the game; these might not have the same format as the seasonal tournaments.
- These first seasonal tournaments are single-elimination because they were worried about total time. 5 rounds of single-elimination means 5 hours, which seemed like a big commitment.
- They will evolve the format based on player feedback though -- if the community prefers double-elimination and longer runtime, Riot will accommodate.
- Umbrage greatly prefers the new 2-month "set-split" format over the original 4-6 month approach.
- It is harder to get something for everyone in the smaller sets the same as the larger sets.
- When you're releasing 100+ cards, it's easy to build hype and give players lots of new archetypes.
- When it's just 3 champs, they can only offer one new archetype and outliers that accents other existing cards.
If anything, we should find ways to make content releases even more frequent.
The challenge is: how do we make sure those content releases are impactful and exciting for as many players as possible?
- Umbrage acknowledges that, as a side effect of the generous distribution of crafting resources, many active players are sitting on a glut of shards.
- They are having discussions about alternative ways to spend shards, but it's not high on their priority list.
- The player with the most shards currently has enough to buy years worth of cards.
- Umbrage's favorite guardians are Gloomtooth and Powder Monkey.
- He hates the Professor von Yipp guardian.
- Editor's note: Professor von Yipp was allegedly modelled after Umbrage's own cat, against his knowledge and wishes.
- Yasuo is one of his least favorite champions for design reasons.
- Yasuo is one of the most popular champions from LoL, so players will always want to play him.
- If Yasuo was top tier, it would be very frustrating to play against. "New players would say 'I didn't could do anything ever'".
- More tools like Bastion and Nopeify! might mean they could safely buff "jerk decks" like Yasuo decks.
- Favorite champions include Zed, Elise, and Twisted Fate.
- They all "resonate" without being "jerk decks".
- Umbrage really like Lee Sin from a design viewpoint because he feels like the ability-spam play pattern from League -- "almost like acting too quickly for you to see". It's one of the best in terms of "highly resonant and highly played". Similar to Yasuo, though, he can feel very frustrating to play against.
- He does feel "too complete" in practice because of his ability to remove the opponent's board and all the protection available.
- Umbrage's preference is that every champ spends some amount of time in the L1 side and some in the L2 side, so they recreate the "transformation/power-up fantasy."
- Champs with deck-based level-up are more reliable, and that makes champs like Lee Sin dangerous.
- He would rather fight 1 Nautilus-sized Teemo than 100 Teemo-sized Nautilus.
Those are the highlights; you can listen to the entire interview as Runeterrable Radio Episode 46 either through their website, your preferred podcast application, or the video embedded below. A big thanks to Umbrage for taking time out of his vacation for this interview and to Runeterrable hosts The Blevins and Saucy Mailman for conducting a great interview!