Bits and pieces of any big multiplayer game start to gather dust over the years. For League of Legends, the game's age reveals itself in champion characters who become less and less interesting -- and therefore less popular -- with time.
Over the past few weeks, Riot has introduced a number of major updates for two of the very first champions to ever appear in League of Legends back in 2009: the mage character Ryze and Ashe, the frost archer. How dramatic are the changes? "I think comparing the new Ryze with the old Ryze is a pretty useless exercise," one player argued on the subreddit dedicated to League's meta-game. "It's a completely new champion. Ryze as we knew him no longer exists."
Seeing Ashe and Ryze go through so many game-changing under-the-hood changes while still, ostensible, looking and acting like the same characters they have always been isn't just intriguing in the same way any type of video game character evolution is. Their transformations are also important to note because of what they reveal about how League of Legends as a whole has changed since they first came into it six years ago.
OK. Let's look at Ryze for a second. His "Overload" spell that players activate by pressing Q, for has been turned into a skillshot. That means players will have to manually aim for a target every time they want to hit it in a game:
...rather than just pointing, clicking and watching its health bar go down.
Ryze's Q might not sound like all that big a change. But bear in mind, you end up using most (if not all) champions' Q abilities a lot in any given League of Legends game. Positioning and proper aiming are also skills that are just as hard to master as they are essential to being a good League player.
Another major Ryze change comes in his passive ability Arcane Mastery, which previously reduced the cooldown times he suffered by a second whenever he casted a spell. Now, Arcane Mastery stacks up Ryze's damage in a dynamic way: by giving him a chance to go into a supercharged state after casting five spells within a short time window. League developers said they're hoping this will create variable "windows of power" similar to the ones the champion Gnar has whenever he transforms from a cute little monster into a gigantic scary one. Ultimately, that's meant to make Ryze more fun to play as and against.
Ashe's changes aren't quite as severe as Ryze's. But they still have fans of the character feeling pretty excited:
The main problem Ashe had been facing in League is that she'd fallen out of step with the position she's best known for playing: ADC. ADC players are the ones on the team who are meant to build up their attack damage over the course of the early and mid-game by farming minions and killing enemy champions. They need to be very dextrous and mobile so they can avoid being killed by melee enemies who get too close. Ashe sort of had that going for her. But she also lacked important assets like, say, any sort of ability to help her escape from a tough situation when two or three opponents suddenly swarmed her.
It's too early to tell what the new Ashe will be like. But I can already see how Riot's addressed some of the issues people had with her. She now has a passive ability that slows down any target she hits -- something that used to cost mana as her Q ability, for example:
I have a hunch that this is going to end up being considered totally overpowered and nerfed in some way in the coming weeks and months. But hey: let's enjoy it while we can. I mean: if we can. The new Ashe is still in beta. Sigh.
Why do Ryze and Ashe need to go through all these changes? Riot's developers said something interesting when explaining Ryze's reworked kit that sheds light on the problems League faces when its original champs end up seeming like old farts in comparison to the game's new blood:
Old Ryze had a number of problems, but first and foremost, he just wasn't all that interesting. His damage output was predictable and his damage windows were pretty much always open. He'd build a tear and catalyst as early as he could, then pretty much sit back and hope to reach his final late game hypercarry form. This turned him into an all or nothing champion in competitive play - he was either 100% pick/ban or never seen at all depending on where his numbers were - and while consistency isn't usually a bad thing, Ryze just ended up flat and predictable. Changes were needed.
Which brings us to the update. As we mentioned earlier, the update revolves around the notion of windows of power. When his passive is down, Ryze will actually be notably weaker than old Ryze, but by giving him that period of weakness, we're able to really amp up his power when his passive triggers. These windows give both Ryze and his lane opponent(s) a bunch more to think about, and can even dictate the outcome of entire late game teamfights. We still want Ryze to get into the thick of things and melt faces from his limited range, but now he has to judge his timing and make sure his team fights when he's good and ready to ramp up.
There wasn't anything necessarily wrong with Ryze, then. He'd just become uninteresting as the game around him continued to grow and take shape in fascinating, often unexpected ways. Good on Riot for being able to recognise this, and finally start to do something about it.
Picture: Surrender at 20