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The Blind Pick Driven Balance - BlackKnight's Blog #3

By Andybear - 17th July 2010 - 21:51 PM

The players of League of Legends have hitherto only dealt with shadows of balance and the meta. We have seen the shape and outline of the ins and outs of our beloved MOBA, but as of yet we have yet to see its depth, it's subtleties. We witness daily the form of a brilliant game, but all its distinctive elements must be left to our imagination.

As it was up until this Tuesday, the masses have only experienced the blind pick game mode, being forced to pick a team without any knowledge whatsoever of what the other team may be composed of. This forces us to pick the trusty champions, the all arounders, the ol` faithfuls that we know we can use and adapt to almost every situation. Games often feature mostly the same twenty champions, with some odd few coming and going as the flavor of the month changes. We saw the excessive prevalence of push teams months ago, when Promote was still in it's prime, and Taric and Rally alone could double the effectiveness of a team. We saw Area of Affect loaded teams have dominance, Disable teams came and went, and the most recent blindingly overwhelming strategy was that of the Heal Composition.

When in the time of there prime, all the above listed strategies were almost guaranteed wins in blind pick. While no strategy is an absolute win, blind pick exacerbates any existing imbalances by denying the enemy team the ability to counter particular champions and compositions. Compositions like mass healing or pushing are general strategies that excel in many many situations, whereas the direct counter composition is so specialized that you're doomed if you were to face an enemy team that wasn't the current flavor of the month.

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You think Heimer can push? We laugh at you!

The potentially most disastrous side affect of this phenomenon is that the results of Blind Pick games have had practically sole influence on the balance tweaks implemented by Riot Games. Most recent rage and nerfs have been directed at poor Heimerdinger and Shaco, both champions largely ignored, and even considered underpowered in arguably stronger states of existence in the past. Both, now, due to the odd and sporadic changes in blind pick balance, have been nerfed in reaction to a sudden surge in overall performance.

It is (hopefully) accepted knowledge that champions are almost always immediately branded as terrible or overpowered immediately after release or remake by the general forum population, and regardless of merit or experience with said Champ, the stigma stays until the character is habitually dodged and overbuffed, or mindlessly raged at and hilariously overnerfed. Heimerdinger was consistently considered useless and dodge worthy for 90% of his life span, and with no change we see his sudden emergence as the most broken character in the game.

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As our hero awakes, he finds himself living his life 3 months ago, where he is told to take his lush white afro and get out of this queue.

With every champion there are always a small group of aficionados who love the character and play despite the stigma. Often the players will accept the negative stigma of their champion like everyone else, but those who master a champion before all else will begin to dominate. I had the pleasure of playing with now Gamereplays Artist (don't you think his portal art looks cool?) for several months now, and he was and is one of those aficionados of Heimerdinger. By playing with him, and occasionally against him and his Heimerdinger, I was allowed to see the turret/grenade throwing champion at his greatest months before people realized his potential. In the months that followed I started to see a slow emergence of Heimerdingers playing with the same style of Mr. Plundypops, and people began to understand how truly potent Heimerdinger could be.

All this was coupled with another sudden shift in Blind Pick Prevalent Teams. It (arguably) started with Janna's original buff, and when Janna became prevalent people started to combine her with Soraka and Ezreal to create the dastardly heal composition. As Riot's reaction to healing was simply individual champion nerfs instead of fixing heal stacking, the composition changed slightly. Ezreal wasn't seen as often, and Taric took a soft step back into the spotlight, to replace either Janna or Ezreal. All of this so happened to occur over the same period of time where Heimerdinger was put on free rotation, and with the slight emergence of competent Heimers to mimic, as well as Phreak's spotlight giving a general feel as to how to play him, Heimer became an integral part of the Heal/Push/Kite comp.

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Shhhhhh, no one on the US server admit that the EU called this first!

Heimer very easily replaced Ezreal due to his ability to set up a safe zone to allow the single target heals of Taric/Soraka to be used slowly but effectively while pushing steadily. This coupled with Heimerdinger's Grenade damaging turrets made the composition excruciating to face. Was Heimerdinger overpowered? Individually, absolutely not, he fills the role of pusher/anti pusher, and that's it, specialization is healthy, but he fit so well into the current composition that his power was exaggerated. The team composition of push/kite was again simply a safe, sure win in blind pick as it takes a very specialized team to counter it.

We are now a week into Season One, the long hailed salvation and cancer curing ladder season that brought us Draft Mode, which despite the saddening lack of other features, at least has made League of Legends again Fresh and brought a great deal of balance into the game. I've oft berated Tier lists , and comments on the balance of our game as almost always foolish and nonsensical as Blind Pick has forced Riot into -attempting- to make all champions viable in all scenarios. As I said earlier, role specialization is a great mechanic, it's good that Hiemer is a pusher but terrible at fulfilling other roles, it's good that Veigar is a great Anti Mage, it's good that Nunu exists to punish low CC teams, but the attempt to generalize champions degrades the spontaneity of the game.

One week of draft mode has already alleviated most of the prevalent QQ over champions like Heimer or teams like Janna/Soraka/Taric. If you abhor a champion, you can have him/her banned, if you love playing Veigar, you know when you're able to successfully use him.

The whole concept of attempting to balance the game beyond obviously broken things pre-draft mode is conceptually flawed, without draft people can't experiment with counters, without knowing if anything is able to counter said perceived overpowered thing, it makes any nerfs or tweaks simply blind swings of the hammer hoping to hit the nail.

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Justice is blind, apparently so is balance! Where is Blind Monk anyway? ...

I'm personally concerned that changes to characters and champions in the past could have irrevocably, and unintentionally changed what the game could have been. Do I have any real opinion on what we've possibly missed out on? Well, no, but I can't help but suffer slight melancholy over the lost potential. We can hope that now that Draft is actually here, balance tweaks and changes will be more healthy and focused, and that even more hopefully, the game will be able to find it's true balance before more blind and preemptive mechanic changes take place.

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