I had a chance to chat with streamer/caster/content creator Darick Oswalt (aka CHARM3R) about the new title from Riot, Legends of Runeterra, and discuss where we see the game headed. He's had a lot of experience with various video games from both player and caster sides and brings valuable insight to the game design process. Here's the conversation we had.
Neonangel: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? I understand that League of Legends was the first game you started streaming, so I'm sure it had to be really exciting to see the news about Legends of Runeterra!
CHARM3R: Whenever anyone says, "tell me about yourself," I always have a moment of panic where I can't figure out what the relevant information is. On the one hand, I have a full career that I've developed (I'm an old man). On the other hand, I've got my content creation life that sprang up almost five years ago. I've been streaming on Twitch and making content for YouTube for almost five years now. When I first started, I was playing League of Legends on stream. I really just wanted to make some friends who were playing the game. Eventually, I found a bit of a calling when I started making content for card games. I've been playing card games my entire life. I also have worked as a teacher (an adjunct for a local university), so making content that taught folks about how to play certain decks felt like a great combination. That led to me making a bit of a name for myself in The Elder Scrolls: Legends community, which led to me casting some events, which opened up more opportunities with Artifact and other card games. Now, almost five years later, I've had some great experiences all because I turned on my webcam in my basement a few years ago. So, to answer your question and go full circle, I was *very* excited when Legends of Runeterra was officially announced. It's the perfect combination for me.
N: You have certainly come a long way! Since you've been casting events for TESL has that made you readjust your priorities as gamer/content creator/caster or are you just a Jack-of-all-trades?
C: Well, I'm definitely a jack-of-all-trades because I kind of have to be. TESL only has one big event a year, and the rest of the competitive scene is all community tournaments. This means that I have to cover a bunch of different games to get casting gigs regularly, and so I do my best to stay knowledgeable in a number of titles. I've done events for Underlords, MtG Arena, Apex Legends, and some other titles as well. I hope to get the opportunity to cast some TFT and LoR events in the future. But as a freelancer, I have to advocate for myself and that sometimes means that regular work is hard to secure. I had a lot of Artifact gigs lined up, but... Anyways, I just try to stay busy and supplement casting with regular streams and YouTube content. In the end, I just love talking about games and I'll do it on just about any medium. I used to run a TESL podcast. I've written articles. I've been paid to create "How to play" guides for card games. I just really like the strategy game genre, and I'm actively looking for excuses to do more.
N: You've mentioned Artifact a couple of times and I know that has to be really disappointing how it turned out for them. Legends of Runeterra does share a similar priority system with Artifact. Do you think there's a danger there or did Riot manage to succeed in the implementation?
C: I think that the priority/initiative system of Artifact was actually one of the best things about that game. I don't think there's any danger at all in taking inspiration from it, because it rather elegantly solves one of the problems that M:tG has in the digital space. In M:tG, there is this idea of priority and it's a very nuanced rule set that requires both players to constantly pass back and forth at different moments in time. In person, this is very easy to do with nonverbal cues or quick verbal confirmations. In a digital presentation, however, it can be very clunky. It's one of the reasons that MTGO can feel like a chore to navigate. It's one of the reasons that turns in M:tG Arena can sometimes feel drawn out. Artifact took that concept and boiled it down to a simple "You go then I go" system. Yes, there are still "rounds." But player turns were instead replaced with opportunities to take action. It keeps the players engaged, but it takes away that mental slog of passing over and over for the phases of a turn. I think the free flow of Runeterra's turn structure makes it easy to pick up, but also allows for some interesting nuance. For example, I realized pretty quickly that sometimes it's better to go straight to combat instead of playing more units before engaging. This would deny the opportunity for my opponent to play blockers, because I had priority. But in other cases, it was better to play things and try to bait my opponent to use mana. I think this was one of the things that created depth in Artifact, and I'm glad to see it brought over to LoR.
Priority system in action - responding to an opponent about to attack.
N: I always loved M:tG Online and played it for many years, but felt it desperately needed updating. When Hearthstone was released it certainly scratched that itch for many players and a lot of developers have borrowed elements from HS, since it was the first digital card game to really "get it right". Over the past month Blizzard has been in a lot of hot water over the Blitzchung incident at the Grandmasters and left a lot of players looking for something new. Do you think LoR is a good candidate to fill that void and something that can be picked up easily?
C: I definitely think it has that potential. I've been talking to a lot of card game veterans, and one of the interesting things I keep hearing from folks is that Legends of Runeterra might be *too* simple. Now, I don't personally think that's the case at all. I think it has a solid core, and that the base set of most games often feels "vanilla" by design. I'm not worried about that. But, even if it is truly simple, I think folks are underestimating how that can be a good thing. Complexity can add depth to card games, and that can make them more rewarding. I'm one of the few people that actually liked Artifact's gameplay because it was complex. But it was also hard to follow. It was hard to learn. I had people that had played card games for years say to me "I keep losing and I don't understand why." That is a problem, as it will inevitably lead to low player and viewer retention. I think the accessibility of Legends of Runeterra is a boon. Everything you need to know about the game is visible on the screen. A viewer can tune into any esports broadcast or Twitch stream and quickly assess what is going on. The core mechanics are easy to pick up, but it will take a while to master the finer points. For example, combat resolution seems pretty straightforward when you first look at it. New players aren't going to feel overwhelmed by it to the point where they feel lost. But savvy veterans will pick up on things that others miss. For example, combat resolves left to right. So, if you want your Kalista to level up you can place her as the last of four units so that the other three die before she engages in combat. There's a bunch of little things that make the game just complicated enough, but it's still at its core very easy to learn.
N: I agree with you and don't feel that LoR is too complex to grasp and offers a lot of familiar territory from other games that makes it easier for players to jump right in and get started. I really like the Champions in LoR and look forward to seeing more of them. Did you have a favorite Champion from the Preview Patch? I think mine was probably Ashe because I just loved her Frostbite ability!
C: I'm a huge game design nerd, and nothing makes me happier than when the flavor of a card matches up well with the function of the card. For that reason, I think Yasuo is my current favorite of the bunch. I think they did a great job of capturing the spirit of the champion with his card.
N: How bummed were you when you discovered they did not include Ahri, the Nine-Tailed Fox as part of the Ionia lineup? I understand your name came from her main ability "Charm" in League of Legends, right?
C: Yeah, my "name" does come from Ahri's signature ability. I was playing an awful lot of Ahri at one time, and so I changed my summoner name in League to CHARM3R for a laugh. Then I started streaming less than a month later, and it just kind of stuck. I'm not sure it's what I would pick if I could do it again, but at this point it's too late. I'm CHARM3R for good now. As for your other question, I was a little disappointed but that means I have something to look forward to as well. I can envision a number of ways that she could work as a champion, and I'm sure she'll be added at some point. The other "favorite" of mine is Malzahar. His kit is a lot of fun, and I will definitely be making some decks with the two of them when the game finally allows me to. Even if they aren't good together, I think I'll do it for a few memes regardless.
Ahri, the Nine-Tailed Fox from League of Legends - A character sure to make an appearance in LoR!
N: Was it odd to see less popular characters like Anivia from Freljord and missing major ones like Lee Sin from Ionia? I think it gives Riot a lot of room to expand but might be a little disappointing for some.
C: I think that the first wave of champions is actually pretty brilliant. You have some popular choices, but some like Anivia are also just iconic. They've been around for a long time, so people recognize them. Anivia is also one that has great flavor, and you see that with Eggnivia. I think they did a good job of throwing a few nods to "old school" champions while including some current relevant ones. I do also think it was smart to leave out a few, as you want to have some marquee champions to showcase with each expansion.
N: How do you feel about the positioning aspect of the game? The one time it really seemed to be important is when you had units with the "Support" ability. That was about the only thing I found a little clunky about gameplay.
C: I think the positioning is one of the cool things about the game, as there is a lot of nuance to it that you don't quite realize at first. Cards like Lucian and Senna, Sentinel of Light showcase it well. Kalista too. Even some units with Last Breath. For example, I had a game where I had Lucian and 2 Senna on the board. How do you position them? If Lucian is first, your two Senna might trigger when he dies. But your opponent might read that and just block the Sennas so that you don't get the Lucian bonus in that combat. You could place Lucian at the end, but they could do the same thing and deny your Senna triggers. Because all effects resolve left to right, you have to consider how you place your attackers and how you block. Ephemeral units are another thing that adds complexity. If you place three ephemeral units attacking before Kalista, she will level up by the time it gets to her. There's just a bunch of neat things they can do with it from a design standpoint, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.
N: What are your thoughts on the current monetization scheme? It's a brave move to tell your players you won't be selling any card packs!
C: I think it's even more brave to say, "You can't buy the entire set day one." Most free to play models live and die by their "whales," and this move discourages whaling to a certain degree. That said, I think that Riot is used to monetizing from things outside of the core game elements, so this is a great fit for them. I would expect to be able to purchase all sorts of cosmetics for this game, and there are plenty of ways they can choose to implement them. New boards. New "guardians," which is what they called the Poros on your board. Alternate art cards. Premium cards. Card backs. These are all standard in other games anyways. Why not go bold and offer more? Alternate animations for leveling up could be cool. Give me a different nexus model. Give me custom emotes based on LoL voice lines. Riot could do so much, and I expect them to. This is not even counting other ways they could introduce monetization. Single player PvE campaigns? Could be fun. Special game modes? Sure, why not. I think choosing to limit how much folks have to spend on the core experience is a great move, as it builds trust with the community.
A look at the LoR Store and the purchasing options for Wildcards.
N: I'm really looking forward to the Expedition patch next week, as limited is my favorite format. I don't expect us to keep any cards drafted because of how they are handling their card acquisition, but I wonder if they might have anything new to offer or if it will be a typical draft process. What do you think?
C: So far, Legends of Runeterra has done a great job of just trying to borrow the best parts of other games. I don't think we'll see anything too groundbreaking, but I wouldn't be shocked if they end up borrowing from some *other* card games. I've been thinking quite a bit about games like Slay the Spire, or even some of the Hearthstone events, where you draft cards in different ways. I'd like to see something where you draft a pool of cards at a time instead of a single card per pick. I think it makes decisions a bit more interesting if you have to take certain cards together, instead of always taking the best pick available. Drafting is a ton of fun, but I often find myself getting to a point where a limited pool of cards is "solved." What I mean is, I just end up drafting the same way every time. I could write a script to draft for me. But if the draft process was about picking 3-5 cards at a time as a package, it would mean I would have to assess each package against the others every time. It would really ramp up the decision making and replayability. Anyways, there's not any indication that this is the way they are going to go. It's just something I've been thinking about recently, and I think it would be a great way to shake up a process that has been the same for a few decades.
N: I can totally relate to writing a script to mimic my draft process - guilty! Mythgard is another new game that does an excellent job of offering lots of different modes of PvP and PvE play. What is a format you would like to see LoR introduce in the future?
C: I'd like to see special weekly or biweekly game modes get introduced that pull from League of Legends. I think an URF (Ultra Rapid Fire) mode where we start at max mana or our spells cost less would be fun. I think an ARAM (All Random All Mid) mode where we build a deck but are given random champions could be interesting. Finally, I think a 2v2 or some kind of team mode would be a lot of fun. I'm a bit spoiled by Mythgard's 2v2 as I've grown to enjoy that mode. I also just don't think you get the true LoL experience without having a teammate to blame your losses on.
N: Haha! So, I think I can scratch off asking you to carry me in LoL then.
C: My backpack isn't big enough to carry myself, let alone others.
N: Thanks again for chatting with me and sharing your insight to this amazing new game. I think it's got a lot of potential and Riot is poised to have another huge hit on their hands. While we eagerly await the next patch where can our readers find out more about you and view LoR content you've already created?
C: I'm CHARM3R on both Twitch and YouTube. You can find my Runeterra specific stuff in this Playlist. I also have a Discord that folks can join if they want to chat about the game, and I'm sure I'll be posting about things regularly on Twitter (@thatCHARM3R).
Make sure to register for a chance to participate in the next Preview Patch starting on Nov. 14 at the Legends of Runeterra official website.