Earlier this week, Legends of Runeterra Live Design Lead, Steve "RubinZoo" Rubin, announced he would host a public Q&A session in his personal Twitch account on November 14th.
I'll be doing Q&A + a @PlayRuneterra patch 1.14 review on twitch next Saturday at 2PM EST.
Below is our summary of that session, lightly edited for formatting.
Recent Champion Changes
- Statistically, pre-nerf Lee's win rate wasn't as bad as everyone thought (~53%). If it had been higher, they would have intervened sooner.
- The bigger issue was that it just felt bad to play against.
- They did like that the original buff did some good metagame disruption. If he could do it over, he would have made 5 mana 3|6 immediately.
- The change from 4 mana to 5 was to address how easy it is to play Lee Sin on curve and protect him with spell mana. It also changed the opening mulligan strategy from always keeping him to a risky keep against fast decks.
- They tested several potential changes, including a harder level-up quest.
- They didn’t want to reduce his base attack because then you’d HAVE to buff attack to make him effective.
- The suggestion of making the kick not work with overwhelm is a non-starter -- he’s so dependent on the overwhelm damage to be effective.
- Lee needs to be able to end games. If he just constantly controlled the board but didn't present an actual win condition, he'd just be prolonging games which wouldn't be fun.
- Lee needs Barrier; without it, he might not be playable. Part of his visual effects shows him gaining Barrier so removing that would be a significant effort.
- Experimented with a lot of potential things, including bringing him to 3 mana and having his Crimson Pact only hit 1 ally.
- Realizes "this is probably not the buff Vlad fans wanted".
- Likes that he now gives more flexibility & options to the player.
- Acknowledges there is currently a bug where his Crimson Pact fizzles if Vlad is killed mid-combat; will look at next week.
- His new effect is to the right (as opposed to the left) because that’s what players are used to (support, Zed, Hecarim).
- Live Design doesn't want to create patterns that don't already exist.
- They buffed her +1|+0 instead of +0|+1 since there were concerns that would be too much. They also like that it makes her better on defense.
- Shyvana effective heals herself when she attacks, so more health might "make her unkillable".
- There is also a desire for Demacia to have "square" stats (i.e., X|X instead of X|Y).
- Her champion spell, Confront, is a bit weak because challenger is so strong; at 2 mana it would be a combo card.
Lucian & Jinx
- Wanted to make a change for a while ever since Sejuani’s release since that's the way she behaves.
- Didn't like that there was confusion about if you got the L2 effect -- they always want to err on the side of “pay the player” if there's ambiguity and the player has jumped through all the necessary hoops.
- Since both champs are now strictly better, they considered compensating by also revert the cost of Jinx's rocket and/or Lucian's quest; however getting the L2 effect the same round that you level is so rare that it seemed overly punishing.
- The bug where Jinx makes extra rockets was an accident from how he changed the code; it will be fixed on Monday.
- They like that this change can reward saving Jinx for later so you can try to level her on the same turn, whereas before it was almost always best to play her on curve if you could.
Trundle & Ice Pillar
- "Trundle single handedly made ramp viable".
- 4|5 instead of 3|6 because they want his L1 to be weaker. They want other 5 drops like Rahvun, Daylight's Spear and Gangplank to be able to favorably attack since Trundle has regeneration.
- The decision between 4|5 and 3|6 was close. They ultimately favored less health as it gave more counterplay for killing Trundle.
- Thinks that giving Ice Pillar immobile would make the card overly complex. “Attacking with the pillar is a nice angle”.
- Almost increased Ezreal's quest to 10 before Rising Tides because they knew how well he would synergize with Make it Rain.
- They like champions that level up often, so they wanted to make him easy to level up again but reduce his noninteractive OTK potential.
- They do have fallback plans in case he becomes too powerful again -- e.g., make his L2 passive based on targeting units instead of spells.
- They try hard not to kill off existing archetypes (e.g., Karma + Ezreal).
- Keeping an eye on Ezreal + Swain’s potential since it is now "all upside", since it helps with Swain's progression and makes it easier to utilize L2 Swain's passive. They think that’s more an issue with Swain + The Leviathan + Ravenous Flock's strengths than Ezreal's.
- Helps make Taric more effective on defense (can now block Fearsome units).
- Pre-buff, Taric had a very low play rate.
- Giving Taric +1 HP would be problematic since he often has Tough, so he might also become effectively unkillable.
- "We know that Aurelion Sol isn't overpowered".
- Part of the reason for the change was they didn't think his old gameplay was healthy -- "A Sol was almost like an old Karma where you play him at 10 mana and win off the level up. Now you have to put in a lot more work."
- Like that he now encourages winning through the generated celestials.
- SpellShield ended up being a stronger mechanic than they realized.
- They might consider reducing his level up requirement from 25 attack in the future.
- Lux + A Sol and Leona + A Sol were indirectly nerfed through the Radiant Guardian and Hush changes even though they weren't trying to impact those specific archetypes.
Discussion about Other Champions
- Fuzzy Caretaker is specifically intended to help Lulu.
- If they made Lulu 3|3, she would be even better than Zed and become auto-include.
- Almost all effective Lulu decks end up partnering with Demacia because of her support's synergy with challenger.
- "I think Lulu is objectively one of the stronger champions, she just doesn't fit in a lot of decks".
- Agrees that she is on the weak side, but doesn't consider her to be unplayable.
- Thinks she usually should only be a 1x in a deck. He has been experimenting with a 1x Kat in his Vlad + MF deck.
- Making her mana cost too small is problematic because then her optimal playstyle is to just spam casting L2 Katarina.
- A big part of her problem is that her signature spell, Death Lotus, is bad plus she recalls herself so extra copies are unusable.
- Editor's note: He's previously commented that changing a champion's signature spell is a significant effort.
- Are mildly concerned Hecarim is too weak, but he's fairly realizable.
- Hecarim's limitations are probably more due to ephemeral cards being weak than the champion himself.
"Need to Attack" Champs
- Lulu, Taric, and Vlad all need to participate in an attack to get additional value, which makes them difficult to balance.
- Contrast with Miss Fortune, who "gets progression for free".
- Braum has a very high play rate overall; he's a resonate character and players like to experiment with him.
- He has built-in regeneration, so he probably won't receive any more stat changes.
- “Regeneration + challenger is a toxic combination”.
- Not every champion should be complex – it's important to have some that are simple and direct.
- “I think Darius is better than people think”.
Fizz & Teemo
- Disagree that they can’t be built around.
- Teemo + mushroom decks are not competitive, but you can still play them.
- Likes Teemo's current power level: "Teemo is hitting the bar”.
- 1 drop champions are hard to balance.
- There might be more Nightfall cards in the next card set that might help you play Nocturne outside of Targon.
Recent Follower & Spell Changes
- Thought he was a fair card as-was; however "it's probably the smallest change we've ever done".
- Doesn’t make much of a change -- very few games would have been decided by the 7th cannon or +1|+0 attack.
- Tried to limit changes in 1.14 to high-cost cards so that they don't disrupt the meta before seasonal tournaments.
- There is also a finite number of spells/skills that can be put on the stack, and this helps avoid that limitation as it's now only adding 6 instead of 7.
- Really likes the +1|+1.
- This was an example of the problem with trying to do balance patches in 2-week cycles -- it's hard to anticipate problems that they introduced from the previous balance patch in time.
Make it Rain
- “You can’t even play 1 cost units when Make it Rain exists at 2 mana”.
- “Now just a fair card”, similar to Will of Ionia.
- Pilfered Goods and Make it Rain were originally strong in part because they enabled other cards.
- Without this nerf, Bilgewater will probably always be over-represented in the meta.
- When a spell is a champion spell, the power level of the champion goes into consideration. E.g., they might not have made this particular change if Miss Fortune wasn't such a strong champion.
Troll Chant, Pale Cascade, & Sharpsight
- Likes proactive burst spells. They are very interactive and force players to play around them or risk being punished.
- All 3 might be "too good", but there's no way to change them without making them worse.
- Suspects Tianna doesn’t have Elite tag because of lore reasons (elites are all members of the Demacian vanguard), but not sure.
- She now is better than the other 8 drops because she needs a good attack to justify her Rally.
- This change makes ramp more interactive and decisions more important. It also might make Faces of the Old Ones more viable.
- This card really wasn't played at all before Trundle.
- Wanted to empower Lulu without directly improving her stats, so they buffed this follower as it was played almost exclusively in Lulu decks.
- Giving her more agency and flexibility in how she's used. The Quick Attack allows her to “eat” big units on attack.
- Expensive units have a very big opportunity cost, so they need to also have huge effects to make them relevant.
- Has a lot of potential. Especially because it has some interesting synergy with the Ezreal rework.
- Gives her a home in some decks and makes P&Z decks generally more appealing.
- At the time of the original Black Spear nerf, they wanted to change it from 2 mana -> 3 damage to 3 mana -> 4 damage. They only did the cost increase as they were worried the community would perceive it as a net buff to an overly popular card.
- Comparing it to Ravenous Flock: having a unit die is easier to activate but needs to be cast that round. Black Spear can be cast on anything versus Ravenous Flock can be played around.
- Eclipse Dragon was originally a 7|7. It was nerfed in final design because of concerns Dragons would be too strong.
- At 7|5 it was a slight tempo loss since its Daybreak/Nightfall abilities don't immediately impact the board and it was easier to kill off at 5 HP.
- Didn't want to remove attack because of both Shyvana and Aurelion Sol.
- Part of the reason they are comfortable with such a big change is because Eclipse Dragon hasn't been in any significant metrics.
- The problem with the Zephyr Sage infinite combo deck wasn't it's power, it was that the client's turn timer doesn't handle it well.
- They are currently working on turn timer changes; they will probably revert Zephyr Sage change when that goes live.
Discussion About Other Followers & Spells
- It's only a 1|2 because Lifesteal + SpellShield are such strong keywords.
- Was originally 2|3 and was busted.
- Thinks Flock is “exactly what the doctor ordered” for Swain decks. It only costs 1 mana but also costs 1.5 cards for removal -- i.e., it's trading value for tempo.
- It effectively provides a "catch-up mechanism", which there aren't many of in LoR.
Rhasa the Sunderer
- Everything Live Design is “from the ground up” – what’s best for LoR, bad in other card games?
- Worried about returning to 7 mana because it might return to being divisive.
- SI has a lot of bad 8 drops epics, so one might be reworked to be 6-7 mana (Spectral Matron?)
- Thinks it is a healthy card because of counterplay.
- It is one of the avenues for beating greedy decks. Don't want to change it from 6 mana to 7 because being able to cast 2 in a turn is critical for that match-up.
- Since They Who Endure, no deck with Atrocity has broken any win rate metrics.
- Porobot currently has a bug where if its random tag is Quick Attack, then it will get a 2nd tag.
- It's already been fixed internally, but they haven't deployed it yet because its not very relevant.
Feel The Rush
- “Expensive slow spells are not really that strong” -- they are counterable.
- Worried that if they increased its cost from 12 mana to 13, it wouldn't be playable.
- Likes that it's better than Warmother's Call in terms of making deck building more flexible & interesting.
- They hope that the Frejlord nerfs will tamp down on FTR's success some.
Discussion about Specific Archetypes
- Ephemerals are fundamentally difficult to improve since the units don't last .
- It's very hard to make ephemerals balanced because changing stats don't have the same effect -- just making Darkwater Scourge a 6|6 or Shadow Fiend a 5|5 is much different than making Shyvana a 4|4.
- Wouldn't consider changing Herald of Dragons to 1|2. "It would be a dangerous change" because of dragons' snowball potential.
- The lack of a 3 drop dragon is deliberate -- they want the archetype to "feel meaningful different" from Elites, which just play big units on curve.
- Dragons are supposed to be building up to play big dragons and then using strike spells.
Karma + Lux
- "I feel bad that Karma Lux got a lot of collateral nerfs" (e.g., Loyal Badgerbear, increasing Karma's cost).
- Disliked the Karma nerf because it meant both her and Lux would cost 6 mana. They try to avoid having both champs at the same mana cost from popular / established archetypes.
Star Spring / Soraka + Tahm Kench
- Of all current archetypes, he probably dislikes TK Soraka the most because it encourages not blocking or attacking -- that goes against LoR ethos of rewarding proactive gameplay.
- Star Spring's win condition is 22 because 20 seemed too low and 25 seemed too high.
- Doesn't consider Star Spring problematic since all regions will have landmark removal after the next card release.
- Doesn't like that there are no real gameplay decisions to be made and your opponent can't directly interact with the ramp.
- There won't be any improvements to the Nab archetype as counterplay is a big problem.
- There probably won't be more Nab cards -- it’s a divisive mechanic amongst players.
- Scouts have been extremely successful, but they have also already received a lot of small nerfs (War Chefs, Genevieve Elmheart).
- Part of Scouts’ success is because they punish ramp decks, which have been very popular lately.
- Scouts also have very good "replacement level" – e.g., Relentless Pursuit replaced War Chefs; might actually be better now than pre-nerf War Chefs.
- Didn't like the no champion P&Z + Noxus burn deck because it exclusively focused on dealing nexus damage.
- Likes that modern Aggro decks give a lot of agency: “You can really work over your opponents by making smart plays”.
What Live Design Does
- Live Design owns balance changes after cards are released. They do participate in other parts of the design process, but other teams have ownership there.
- The Live Design team is Steve Rubin and Dave Smith; they do the physical software changes and playtesting.
- Partners with other teams like QA and SW engineering for feedback and code review.
- Live Design wants to avoid “undoing” the existing basic design unless its necessary (e.g., Kalista and closed beta's Anivia).
- Making cards "fun" is the responsibility of Final and Initial Design; Live Design tries to preserve their efforts.
- The work to make a big patch is 3-4 weeks total, 2-3 of which are spent testing changes. This is one of the big challenges: 4 weeks feels like a very long time to the player but not to the developer.
- Most changes are only experiments and don’t make it into the final patch.
- Each balance patch has a stated goal.
Deciding What Gets Change
- No meta deck should be above 55% win rate or 15% play rate.
- Win rates aren't a great indicator for an archetype's power level. Win rates change a lot because, as a particular archetype becomes more popular, the meta will adapt to it.
- Directionally, community suggestions are used to understand the frustration but not taken literally. E.g., if everyone asks to change Decimate from 4 damage to 3 damage, that might be indicative of burn being too strong.
- “Balance is based off the best version of a deck”.
- Player perception is as important as actual win rate.
- Changes like Heimerdinger are because players felt like it was ruining the meta because dying to elusives feels bad and it has a lot of high-roll auto-win potential. In actuality, Heimer only had a 49% winrate.
- If they know a card is too strong and will warp win rates, they will "pre-nerf" it before it becomes popular.
- "Every champion's gameplay plan should be realizable" -- i.e., not necessarily competitive.
- Once we have 10 regions, it will be effectively impossible for every archetype to be equally competitive.
The Value of Random Number Generation
- Cited Alex Lee's article on RNG.
- RNG is necessary to produce variance and make games feel different.
- Avarosan Trapper is a good example of RNG as it tests adaptability. If your opponent played a Trapper last round, he now has a 1/3 chance of having drawn it yeti which affects whether or not you should open attack or develop. If the yeti was instead just summoned 2 turns later, it would be deterministic and less interesting.
- Requests people hold judgement on The University of Piltover until the final Set 3 cards release next month.
- Editor's Note: that release will include P&Z's new champ as well as 9 other new P&Z cards, so this might be a subtle hint at a future synergy
- Disagrees with the opinion that smaller card releases don't impact the meta -- cites Jack the Winner and Trundle as cards that resulted in unplayed archetypes becoming popular again.
- Thinks Bilgewater is actually overall in a very healthy state -- its cards are used in a variety of different archetypes, and there is very little overlap in which cards are used.
- Want to see a combination of aggro, control, combo, and midrange decks in the meta.
- Is working with Alex Lee to internally document and define the desired play patterns for each archetype.
- Really likes the Radiant Guardian change -- now it can't profitably block Gangplank or Vladimir.
- Thinks Genevieve Elmheart and Radiant Guardian feel very good where they are right now.
- The War Chefs change might have been too severe.
- “Demacia wins a lot". It has a bunch of great stats and rallies. Scouts and Fiora + Shen where also 2 of the highest winrates from the last patch cycle.
- They are trying to give Demacia a lot of buffs without buffing the "core" since those cards are all really strong.
- Sharpsight is a really strong card -- they almost pre-nerfed it before it went live.
Piltover & Zaun
- Not having "beefy" followers is part of P&Z's regional identity.
- In general, they also don't want any follower to be overly powerful -- e.g., Midenstokke Henchmen needs to be answerable.
- Their principle of having every champion being "realizable" doesn't apply to followers -- e.g., they are OK if 1-cost Professor von Yipp decks aren't good.
- If they just put +1 HP on every P&Z follower, that would make the individual cards more competitive but overall it would make LoR worse.
- Everything has tradeoffs -- working on any one thing limits how much effort can be spent towards others.
- Riot is thinking about more “social modes”, but he can't reveal anything.
- By the December card release, every region will have a landmark; each will have a landmark removal.
- Will probably do set rotations eventually – no details at this time.
- It is possible Yone and Senna will have champion cards in the future (they are champions in LoL but only follower cards in LoR).
- Probably won’t add alternative champions until all LoR champs are released. LoR only has 45; LoL has 150.
- Really likes the current card release schedule (new region every 6 months, new cards every 2 months).
- Likes archetypes with 1 modular champion who can be utilized in multiple different archetypes anywhere plus 1 static champion who is more rigid -- e.g., in Scouts Miss Fortune is modular and Quinn is static.
- Could see "Steamer Mode" (i.e., making user names anonymous to prevent stream sniping) in the future, but it's not currently a priority.
- Would like to see in-game achievements.
- Overhealing (allowing Nexus health to go above 20 or giving a mechanism like Hearthstone's armor) is intentionally avoided because “we don’t want any game to become insurmountable. We want games to naturally come to conclusions”.
- Favorite poro is Nimble Poro, who's artwork resembles Minah Swiftfoot because he’s trying to imitate her.
- Female poros can have mustaches. At Riot Headquarters, poros are used to indicate bathrooms (male, female, neutral) – all 3 have mustaches.
- Doesn’t really play meme decks. When he plays, he wants to play competitively.
- His favorite "memey" card is Subpurrsible. He also likes Pick a Card.
- In League of Legends, he is a support main -- plays Karma and Thresh.
- Lore-wise, he likes Poppy and her story about not realizing she’s actually the true hero of Demacia.
- Is working on a lot of R&D projects right now.
- Spends most of his time meeting with other departments.
- Was in school and playing pro Magic tournaments.
- After going 11-4 at Pro Tour Hawaii, he was was invited to an MTG Grand Prix. He needed a place to stay so he reached out to / met RiotDovagedys.
- RiotDovagedys was secretly developing Runeterra at this time. He later invited several people including Steve Rubin to come check it out.
- 9 months later, invited for full time as QA. Steve was LoR's first playtester.
- The big reason LoR has Live Design is because Steve kept wanting to improve the game.
- For Rising Tides, they had a design goal to make the games faster. It was a success: the average game length went from 9.0 Rounds to 8.5.
- He thinks Gauntlet's matchmaker is based on total wins, but he's not sure.
The full video of this session is still available to view through Twitch. Another big thanks to Steve Rubin for taking so much personal time to engage with fans.