The Long Road to Riot

It has been four months since I last posted on my blog and almost as long since I started working at Riot Games.  Now, as I resume my blog, it seems only fitting that I pick up where I left off and tell the story of how I arrived at Riot…

Picking exactly where to start my long and (hopefully) interesting story is difficult, but in the interest of leaving nothing out, I suppose I should start with my first memory related to game design.  When I was in the 6th grade, my teacher made us read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for English class. After we finished, each student was given a choice of three or four different book-related projects to do, one of which was to design a game based on the book.  By 6th grade I was already a well-seasoned gaming nerd and eagerly chose to make a game along the lines of HeroQuest.  I distinctly remember naming it “Pevensie Quest” and creating the board by gluing my own map over the board for Dragon Strike, which I’m proud to say I knew was a pretty atrocious game even at such a young age (for fun times, here’s the VHS that came with the game).  Unfortunately for me, I was a horrible game designer at age eleven and the “rules” for Pevensie Quest were mostly incoherent ramblings interspersed with rampant plagiarism of HeroQuest.  I believe I received a C+ on my project, with a note from the teacher claiming the rules were hard to understand from the perspective of someone who didn’t play Dungeons and Dragons.  I also remember thinking this was absurd and that she was lucky that I didn’t go for true D&D style rules as they would’ve shattered her mind… but I digress.

Undeterred by my first failure with game design, I continued to secretly design games on the side as I made my way through Middle School.  However, the embarrassment of failing humbled me to the point that I never shared these little games with anyone.  I honestly think that if I were truly satisfied with one of them I would have, but my adolescent mind was fickle and loved to wander, so I tended to abandon each attempt well before they got anywhere close to polished.  The only other game I remember vividly was my attempt at making an RPG based on Gundam Wing. I spent a great deal of time figuring out how combat and statistics would work only to hit a brick wall when it actually came to designing antagonists and plot progression.  The weirdest thing for me about messing around with games at such a young age was that I never really considered it as a career.  People would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I’d always respond with “mathematician” despite the fact that my parents had made it quite clear to me that “game designer” was a real job and that it might be right for me.  This didn’t change until my senior year of High School when two things happened.  The first was that, as I started applying to colleges, I needed to consider the directions my life could possibly take out in the real world.  As I contemplated my options, I came to realize that math in and of itself isn’t all that marketable.  This somewhat sobering epiphany forced me to face the fact that while I was very talented at mathematics, I was probably going to have to figure out a way to apply this talent to a narrower field.  The second thing that made me reevaluate game design as a career was signing up for my first Computer Science class.

To most people in my generation, the existence of a Computer Science class in High School is a given. But interestingly enough, my senior year of High School was the first year Computer Science was offered at my private Quaker boarding school; while they gave me a fantastic classical education, they were always a bit behind the curve in terms of technology.  Luckily for me, during my Senior year the new physics teacher had a small background in Computer Science and offered to start up a class.   I found myself immediately drawn to coding and within the first month it became apparent that I was breezing through the material. At this point my teacher let me work on a completely open ended project of my choosing and I decided to try animating and controlling the Zero sprite from Mega Man X4.  Because I had very little experience in how to actually construct a project like this, my program ended up being an if-statement loaded mess that animated Zero by moving a VB.NET Image object around a blank form while continually changing the image file tied to the object.  Yet, after a month or so of hacking away, I actually had a not-so terrible looking sandbox where you could jump around and combo Zero’s various saber slashes into one another.  Thinking back on it now, knowing what I know about programming, it’s remarkable that this monstrosity was what actually inspired me back into pursuing game design.  But back then, I didn’t know any better and was extremely self-satisfied with my ability to make anything that even resembled a video game. At that point, I knew I wanted to go to school for computer science and to eventually channel that knowledge into making video games.

Thanks mostly to fantastic recommendations from my Math and Computer Science teachers (and a bit of luck), I managed to get accepted to the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science.  There, I quickly learned that I was nothing special when it came to programming and that my strength as a Comp Sci major was really all in theory and abstract math.  This wouldn’t have been such a big hit on it’s own, but I also found that when I tried to get into projects for the Game Creation Society at CMU, I couldn’t motivate myself to get up to speed on a game that I wasn’t already interested in.  Over the course of my first couple years, I reached the conclusion that the extent to which I could work on making video games was limited by my pre-existing interest in the game.  This realization also came at a time when I was striving my hardest to be competitive at the games that interested me.  College was the time when I took Magic: the Gathering and Smash Brothers Melee very seriously and traveled far and wide for tournaments in the hopes of becoming a professional gamer.  This drive to compete, coupled with the realization that I  had little to no creative passion for games that I didn’t already find fascinating, made me immediately give up my dream of designing games.  Design now represented an unsolvable conflict of interest to me and, because of that, I simply accepted that I would just get a generic software engineering job out of college and play games competitively on the side.

And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened.  I graduated from school, got an engineering gig at FactSet, moved to Connecticut and lived my life.  I worked 9-5 and spent my free time pursuing various games competitively, though I never really broke out at any of them.  And that very well might’ve been the end of my story had a few things worked out a bit differently.  Instead, 15 months ago, I broke up with my girlfriend of 6 years and was suddenly confronted with the prospect of reevaluating the direction of my life.  I’m not going to go into the details of the break up, as any further discussion is well outside the bounds of this post, but I think it’s important to mention in passing because it took a change of that magnitude in my personal life for me to really confront my dissatisfying career.  Now I don’t mean to take any shots at FactSet here; the reason for my lack of satisfaction at work was due to the fact that I’m a gamer and should’ve pursued gaming professionally all along.  FactSet treated me very well and I wish nothing but the best to everyone I worked with there, but my lack of passion for financial analytics was, in retrospect, a huge problem.

So, I found myself single and unhappy at work and focused on figuring out what I should be doing next.  The first thing that came into my mind was applying to work at Riot, as I had been doing some volunteer work for them in the Private Test Realm around that time.  It had been pretty awesome contributing there and I figured if there was any way I could leverage that foot in the door, that would be a great job.  “But wait!” said a little voice in the back of my head, “don’t you wanna be a pro gamer? You’re pretty good at LoL; a little more time and effort and you could easily make a pro team!”  It was surprising how quickly I shot myself down when I had these doubts.  For years I had discounted any inkling of trying to get into the games industry as it would disqualify me from being a professional gamer on said games.  Yet when I stepped back and took a long hard look on how the real world had changed me, I realized that I wasn’t interested in the idea of being a professional gamer anymore.  The pressure of having your livelihood tied to your performance at a competitive game suddenly struck me as the least appealing thing in the world.  I love competition and I love improving at games, but as a 26 year old dude who still had never been a pro in any game, I suddenly saw that looking for a more reliable career still rooted around the games I love made infinitely more sense than letting the progamer pipe-dream live on.

And so I had decided that my dream job was one at Riot.  Oddly enough, I wasn’t even sure what specific job I wanted; I just knew I wanted to be at Riot.  With that in mind, I decided to put together a plan for getting there.  I worked harder to get in on PTR playtests and give the most insightful feedback I could muster.  I strove to build up a new resume centered around contributing to gaming communities, which included putting out high quality posts on this blog (shoutouts to my friends and fellow smashers Virgilijus and Pakman for all their help editing and refining my posts).  Once I saw Marc Merrill retweet “In Defense of LoL,” I knew I was on the right track, but it took me a solid 2-3 more months to feel confident enough in my resume to send it in with fingers crossed.  I had decided to apply for two positions, Game Balance Designer and Associate Gameplay Analyst, and I heard back from the Designer post first.  All told I think I did pretty well early in that application process, but I definitely managed to out think myself and blow it spectacularly later on.  After hearing that I did not make it in the Design position, I was extremely disappointed and depressed for a few days until I heard back on the Gameplay Analyst position, at which point I pulled myself back together and prepared for that process.  Needless to say, I managed myself much better this time around and a few weeks after my final interview, during an otherwise uneventful Friday in late August, I received an official offer to work at Riot.

It took me a few nights of hard sleeping to make sure this was what I truly wanted, but all hesitation gradually gave way to excitement the more I considered the prospect of working at Riot.  I called back the following Monday and accepted the offer with a start date two months later to give myself time to tie up loose ends at FactSet.  Those two months flew by and the next thing I knew I was on the Live Design team at Riot, balancing the game I love so dearly.  At Riot, I found myself surrounded by my kind; like-minded nerd-bros who would stay late at the office to draft Magic, play 3rd Strike, or gather around a board game.  Almost immediately, I knew this was my dream job.

I get a very odd sensation when I take a step back and realize that it has been almost four months since I started here.  Has it really been that long?  The excitement of moving out here and getting settled still feels fresh in my mind, but the reality is I’ve been living the dream for months now.  I know it’s horribly cliche, but time flies when you’re having fun.  It all seems obvious in retrospect… we spend more waking hours working than doing anything else in our adult lives, so of course the best thing for your happiness is finding a job you love.  It took me a long time to really understand this simple fact of life and act on it by really going after my dream job, but hey, better late than never.

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Posted in Gaming, League of Legends | 6 Comments

On the Road to Riot

I really want to make a long post explaining everything I’ve been up to for the last couple months, but now is not quite the time for it.  That being said, I’ve left all my stream and blog followers hanging for too long and I wanted to briefly get you guys up to speed.

Well, I suppose my title has ruined any chance I have of this being a surprise, but I have accepted a position working at Riot Games, as an Associate QA Analyst, starting this upcoming Friday, the 19th of October!  I’m currently in Evergreen Colorado, just West of Denver, about two thirds of the way through the trek from Connecticut to California.  At this point I’m too exhausted to talk about just how excited I am, but I promise there will be a post attempting that once I’m settled out in California.

The good news is that I will be able to continue blogging and streaming, though my living situation will probably limit my streaming hours, as I’m moving into a 5 bedroom apartment with 4 other Rioters.  I will try to figure out a way to continue streaming and I am intending on getting onto a more regular blogging schedule once I am settled in my new home and as soon as I’ve figured that all out, I will be making another post letting you all know what sort of schedule I’ll be able to hold out there.  Thanks for all your support, and I’ll be back in a week or so.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Developing Solo Top Nunu

A little over three weeks ago, Jayce was added to the League of Legends.  Jayce was an exciting addition for me, and I immediately bought the character and started trying to piece together a successful build and playstyle.  Unfortunately, I could never really get over his clunky attack animations when he changed forms (especially the 1st cannon attack animation) and after a few days I decided to give up on him and work on a new top laner to replace my Pantheon and Darius who were simply not yielding results at the time.  After some putzing around with Irelia, Gangplank and Wukong for a couple nights, I decided to sit down and figure out what was frustrating me about top lane before settling on a character.  My list was only three items:

  1. Ultimately, Ranged ADs take over the game.  It doesn’t matter how fed a bruiser is if they can’t do anything to the opposing Ranged AD.  Need a character that is either a Ranged AD themselves or directly impacts Ranged ADs, either by killing opposing quickly or somehow protecting or benefiting mine.
  2. Counterpicks can make top lane very lopsided.  Need a character with a lot of good matchups and few bad matchups, preferably no unwinnable matchups.
  3. Top lane snowballs stupidly hard.  Need a character that is useful even if opponent snowballs.  Also need a character that can snowball with an advantage.

After looking over these, I decided to revisit playing Nunu solo top.  As a high sustain character, Nunu is robust to both issues 2 and 3 above, and Blood Boil, Ice Blast, and Absolute Zero are really perfect for buffing your ranged AD while debuffing the opposing ranged AD.  Also, Nunu received a nice set of quality of life buffs in the Jayce patch and I was hopeful that I could adapt Nunu successfully to top lane.

Now, I’m not going to pretend I invented playing Nunu solo top, it’s been a cheesy build for years, but it’s never really been more than that.  Neoillusions (from Team Liquid) and I had been trying to find a way to legitimize Nunu playing top lane in Febuary but we eventually gave up when we hit a wall with the build.  We were mostly trying to make Rod of Ages, Will of the Ancients and Frozen Heart as a core, but this build had a lot of weird timings that weren’t really working out unless you got fed in lane (needed to rush RoA to make it efficient, but resists outperformed HP in lane due to consume; not enough Magic Resists to deal with bursty casters midgame).  So while I was hopeful that these buffs would help solo top Nunu, I also knew the build needed some work.

My initial games with top Nunu revolved around building Philosopher’s Stone, Heart of Gold, and Kage’s Lucky Pick to generate income while providing good early game stats, then transitioning towards high resist items after Hextech Revolver (which, if you didn’t know, is just hilarious with consume).  Early iterations tended to follow up immediately with Sorcerer’s Shoes into Abyssal Scepter (a la Galio builds) for the combination of Magic Penetration and Magic Resist, then selling off Philosopher’s Stone for Frozen Heart.  This build was reasonably good, but later in the game I found two major issues.  The first is that Nunu tends to sit in the front of his team in poking phases, and as such, not having Mercury Treads or Ninja Tabi was a big liability in terms of potentially getting caught.  The second is that even with Frozen Heart, I was running out of mana if I tried casting as many spells as I wanted to cast in these drawn-out poking engagements.

My knee jerk reaction to this was to fall back to the old Rod of Ages-centric build that forewent Magic Penetration, but the build still felt dated and off.  The issue is that Rod of Ages gives survivablilty and Mana in entirely the wrong forms for Nunu.  Because of Consume, Armor and Magic Resist vastly outperform HP, not to mention that Nunu has the highest base HP at level 18 in the game.  And because of Nunu’s incredible ability to outlast everyone in a fight, having a high base Mana pool isn’t as valuable as having high Mana Regeneration.  Enter the only new and interesting contribution I’ve actually made to playing Nunu…

If you’ve never even seen this item, it’s Athene’s Unholy Grail, the Chalice of Harmony upgrade that they added into the game about two months ago.  And it completely breaks Nunu.  With Athene’s Unholy Grail, a Glacial Shroud, and a Hextech Revolver, Nunu becomes one of the most potent characters I’ve ever seen in League of Legends (depending on your level and timing, you can easily solo baron with these items).  Once I discovered how powerful this item is on Nunu, the rest of the build was a fairly straight-forward set of the usual suspects on Nunu.

The Build

Masteries: 9/0/21 (standard) or 9/21/0 (vs. tough lanes such as Rumble or Riven).  The point here is to get enough CDR from masteries that Grail + Frozen Heart will max out your CDR.  If you can afford it, getting utility to get Mastermind is ideal, but ultimately you take what you have to in order to be competent in lane, so take defensive masteries if you have to.

Runes: Marks: Magic Penetration, Seals: Armor, Glyphs: Magic Resist, Quints: AP.  A lot of people ask me why not run Gold/10 runes on Nunu, but all I can really say on this is that Nunu has enough potential to be an early lane bully that I think it’s foolish to pass up on high flat stats on any rune slots.

Summoner Spells: Flash + Ignite.  It’s really hard to kill anyone without ignite, so take it, and Flash is a no-brainer at this point I think…

Skill Order:  QEE(Q or W)ERE(Q or W)EQRQQWWRWW.  Take Q level 1 and eat opposing large wraith + small golem from the golem camp (if you’re blue) or your own golem camp (if you’re purple, start by attacking big golem twice, then eat small gol, then smack the big gol while kiting, then eat it when Q comes of CD, this should let you regain the remainder of your missing HP with your first Q in lane).  Take W at level 4 or 8 depending on how badly you need level 2 Q to sustain in lane, but make sure you get it by 8 at the latest to escape opposing ganks and support friendly ganks.

Items:

Start with:    

Because of Consume, Mana Potions are more efficient than HP Potions as long as you can get to a creep to eat.  Having an HP potion to build a buffer if you ever get knocked really low is always useful, hence why you buy one, but outside of that mana pots are actually very good on Nunu.

Next get:  

Nunu’s not a tremendous farmer, so getting income items lets you roam as necessary without compromising a lot of farm and guarantees your midgame-endgame build regardless of any efforts from the opposing team trying to shut you down.

If you need quick armor against your opponent: 

Ninja Tabi are absurdly efficient and if you’re having trouble vs. a physical damage dealer, buy them sooner ranther than later.

Follow up with: 

Chalice is crucial to the build.  Once you have it, you are immovable from lane, so even against physical damage dealers, I prioritize it rather highly.

Then upgrade boots if you haven’t:  or 

As I stated in the write up, these boots are crucial to being an effective tank later in the game.

Next three items as you see fit:  +  + 

Typically I rush the Grail at this point, though sometimes I’ll throw shroud in beforehand if I need armor.  Revolver is usually overkill early, but if you need the sustain boost, it provides a ton to Nunu.

Finishing up:        

I always get Frozen Heart and either WotA or Gunblade.  Gunblade may seem silly, but remember that Blood Boil incidentally greatly increases your Attack Speed, so it can put that stat to good use if your team doesn’t need a WotA from you.  Outside of those two, your last two slots should be fairly straight-forward conditional picks from the remaining items I list here.  Typically my games don’t make it to these last two items, though I’d say that Aegis, Abyssal and Omen have probably been my most popular choices, though Deathcap and Wit’s End certainly do have their places in some games.

So with all that being said, all I’ve really added to Nunu is Athene’s Unholy Grail.  Was that worth writing 1500 words on the subject?  If you ask me, it sure was.  I’ve gained over 150 elo since developing this build.  I’ve posted over a 65% win rate with Nunu in over 60 games, all at over 2000 elo.  And most importantly, I feel untouchable playing this character with this build.  Sometimes, all it takes to break open a ton of potential is finding the one missing piece of the puzzle, and that’s what I believe I’ve done with Nunu.

Posted in Uncategorized | 55 Comments

Sportsmanship in League of Legends and Other Gaming Communities

Thinking back on my childhood, I most distinctly remember learning sportsmanship through playing soccer.   At the end of every game both coaches would line their team up and each player on team A would shake hands (slap hands) and say “good game” (mumble “good game”) to each player on team B.  I didn’t really think about the meaning of this gesture as a 1st grader, but in retrospect, I see the exchange of a handshake and “good game” as a sort of emotional cool down following a competition.  It’s a display of mutual respect that transcends the game itself and while I may have just gone through the motions as a seven year old, it has carried through to my behavior as an adult and now there is the actual intention of showing respect when I shake my opponent’s hand and say “good game.”  Through the years, I’ve belonged to a wide variety of gaming communities, and I’d like to share some of my experiences with them and how they deal with these gestures.

The first real competitive gaming community I belonged to was Magic: The Gathering, which I have played since I was seven or eight years old and would say I played competitively from my junior year in High School until the end of my College career.  Magic has all the right ingredients to create bitter losses; it has a luck factor that can make players feel like their loss was out of their hands as well as many little nuances that could lead to disastrous misplays from a small misunderstanding of the rules (especially back when I played).  All that being said, as long as your opponent wasn’t being a rules lawyer or overtly disrespectful to you, Magic players are typically pretty good about shaking hands and saying “good game” to one another.  They may bring their bad beats back to their friends and bemoan how terrible you are and that they can’t believe they lost to you, but I’d still say that Magic players are pretty decent about showing a reasonable amount of sportsmanship to each other’s faces.  Some of the spirit of mutual respect can be lost in these complaining sessions, but at least they still have the decency to shake your hand.

In my freshman year of college, I started to get into competitive Smash Bros. Melee and have been a smasher ever since then.  Unlike Magic, Smash Bros. does not have much in the way of randomness or rules nuances.  Occasionally there will be contested tactics that can leave players bitter and angry (i.e. wobbling and timing out), but for the most part smashers don’t have the same level of frustration after a loss that Magic players do.  As such, handshakes and saying “good game” come very easily in the Smash community and it feels like players genuinely mean it the way I’ve always envisioned the gestures.  I think this is one of the reasons I’ve always found it so easy to identify myself as a smasher.  There are plenty of problems with the community and things I’d love to change (I’ll touch on this another time), but smashers still generally treat each other with more respect and in a more friendly manner than any other game I’ve played competitively.

When I left college, I found playing Smash Bros. regularly much harder as my job put me a solid half hour away from any particularly active community.  Thus, I started turning to online games to satisfy my need for competitive gaming.  The first of these that I really put any effort into was Starcraft: Brood War.  What makes Starcraft such an interesting case to me is that it’s very similar to Chess in that a game of Starcraft is over before it’s over.  That is to say that there are gamestates where there is no hope of victory outside of your opponent having an aneurysm or a heart attack before they can take care of business.  In Chess, this typically translates to opponents knocking over their king, extending their hand and optionally saying “good game” to indicate a concession.  Likewise, in Starcraft, typing “gg” (“good game”) is an indication of concession.  In both of these games, the act of extending your hand and/or saying “good game” carries a precedented meaning in addition to just being a gesture of sportsmanship.  To presume the game is over as the winner is conceited, while accepting defeat as the loser is a show of humility, and as such, it is in incredibly poor taste to offer the hand and say “good game” first as the winner.  In the rare case where your opponent chooses to be an ungracious loser and storms off without the handshake or “gg”, it can be frustrating for those of us who don’t like hard feelings after a game, but it’s a necessary downside due to the precedented meaning of the gesture and the fact that it’s not required by the rules of the game.

And so we come to League of Legends.  The usage of “gg” within the LoL community has been quite the hot topic since I started playing two and a half years ago.  Many people take offense to their opponents saying “gg” at the end of a game of LoL.  Some argue that Starcraft has set the convention for online games and that the winning team should never say “gg” at the end of a game unless the losing team says “gg” first.  This argument feels largely misguided to me because most “ggs” in LoL are said after the winning team has been notified that the losing team has surrendered or as the opposing nexus is being destroyed.  As such, there’s no presumption behind the “gg” from the winning team after receiving notice that the opposing team has surrendered.  In terms of the Starcraft analogy, this built-in surrender notification is functionally the same as a “gg.”  The losing team has acknowledged that they lost, and the winning team knows for a fact that the game is over and are saying “gg” to bring closure to the game.  Admittedly, there are usages of “gg” prior to surrender votes or eminent destruction of the opposing nexus, and I agree that these usages are inappropriate, but they are a comparatively small number next to the common and appropriate exchanges of “gg.”

The other issue that some have with “gg” is that they take a literal interpretation of “good game,” meaning that they believe that a “gg” is only in order after a good game.  I could talk about how a good game is a subjective concept, but ultimately why this bothers me is that this interpretation of the phrase misses the whole reason that people say “good game.”  I’ve gone through four other games here and how they use the phrase, and you’ll note that in none of these games is the usage of “good game” dependent on the game being good.  In all other cases throughout my life, the usage of “good game” is about bringing closure to the competition.  In Magic, when your opponent topdecks for the win, you still shake their hand.  In Melee, when your opponent delivers a one-sided drubbing, you still say “good game.” In Starcraft, when your opponent cheeses you out of the game, you still offer your concession with a “gg.”  The point of the gesture isn’t about reflecting on the quality of the individual game, it’s about acknowledging your opponent as a respected equal now that the game is over.  We enter competitive games knowing that we might get unlucky, be overmatched, or be simply unprepared for an unorthodox strategy from our opponent.  All of these situations can lead to a bad game, but that shouldn’t be stopping us from saying “gg” to our opponents.  It seems to me that the simple act of closing out games with “gg” is what keeps gaming communities respectful of one another; stubbornness towards interpretation of the gesture is detrimental to people’s experiences with the LoL community.

Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that a healthy gaming community is built off of mutual respect and that LoL players need to do a better job of displaying this respect if the community is to thrive.  The act of both sides politely saying “gg” to close out a game may seem like a minor point to harp on, but I firmly believe that the meaning behind this gesture is a vital aspect to the health and growth competitive gaming.  When players end games with “bgs” and taking offense to opposing “ggs,” we end up with latent hostility towards each other that only serves to weaken the community.  We LoL players would be much stronger as a community if we could just step up and replace these frequent antagonistic feelings towards one another with the age-old respect behind a handshake and “good game.”

Posted in Gaming, League of Legends | 11 Comments

Remembering Final Fantasy

I’ve been finding it hard to write about League of Legends for the past month and it occurs to me that maybe I should try my hand at writing something else to keep these blog posts going, even if it’s not about LoL. So today’s post has nothing to do with League of Legends. If you’re looking for a continuation of my posts on Teamfighting, I’ll be happy to oblige on Friday, but today I really just needed a change of pace to get the blog going again.  So today marks the first of what’s sure to be many posts about growing up and gaming with my dad.

I don’t even remember when my family got our Nintendo Entertainment System.  I must have been somewhere between the ages of four and six, but truthfully, I have no strong recollections of the first set of games we had on it.  I imagine we must have had the original Mario Bros and I think I remember my brother playing Duck Hunt for as long as we had the system, but all my memories from our first batch of games are hazy at best.  When I was roughly six years old, my eldest cousin (who was much more on top of video games than we were) donated a batch of old games to us that included the original Final Fantasy, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga’s Ambition.  The latter two of these games were a bit outside of my comprehension, but I was excited about Final Fantasy, as my father had explained it as a video game version of Dungeons and Dragons (which I had happily played with my dad and my thoroughly disinterested brother).

That being said, these were the early days of gaming and we didn’t have the luxury of the things we take for granted nowadays such as save slots.  So since my father and I were both interested in playing Final Fantasy, we decided that we would play together and each play two of the characters in our party.  With that figured out, we went about making our party.  The first character choice was simple – every party needs a Fighter.  I was obsessed with cool weapons and armor and as such I wanted to control our Fighter, so choosing his name fell on me.  After giving some thought to it, my six year old self decided that the single best name for a Fighter was ‘Penis’…  Yes, that’s right, I wanted to have Penis the Fighter gallantly leading our party.  I was quite adamant about it too, I seem to recall my dad trying to convince me that maybe ‘Penis’ wasn’t the best name for a Fighter, but I held firm in my belief that this had to be the name of our Fighter.  So my poor father gave in and let me name our fighter.  P-E-N-I-S…  Thankfully for him, this was still the olden days of video games, and just as Final Fantasy’s limitations only allowed one save slot, it also only allowed four letters per character name and when I entered the fifth letter, it simply overwrote the fourth.  Upset that ‘Penis wouldn’t fit, I begrudgingly settled on ‘Pens’ being a passable name.

For our next character, my dad wanted to find whatever the closest translation to a Ranger from AD&D would be.  Looking over the characters and their skills from the instruction booklet, he decided that the Red Mage was the closest thing and promptly named the Red Mage ‘Pop’ after himself.  Then it was my turn to pick again.  Looking at the last four character types, the Black Belt was the most appealing to me.  I’m pretty sure it’s because I thought he was a ninja, as my mental image of ninjas was probably most heavily influenced by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time.  I have no idea if I had a mental block or if my dad wasn’t going to risk me naming him ‘Butt’ the Black Belt or something, but the naming of our Black Belt turned into a process of my dad suggesting names for my approval until we found one to my liking.  I can’t remember any of the earlier suggestions, I just remember that we settled on ‘Sven’, which was just a funny sounding name to me, but that I’m sure my father found particularly amusing because of the mental image of an extremely Scandinavian Black Belt.  Finally we got to the last slot, and my dad decided that we needed some more offensive magic and picked a Black Mage and named him ‘Igor’ after the character from Young Frankenstein.

So after our arduous process of party creation, we were eager to start down the path of the Light Warriors with Pens the Fighter, Pop the Red Mage, Sven the Black Belt and Igor the Black Mage.  We went into town and started pricing out our options for weapons, armor, and spells.  Four hundred gold didn’t go a long way and we decided to favor better equipment over getting Pop a spell. so we bought chain mail for Pens and Pop, cloth armor for Sven and Igor, rapiers for Pens and Pop, nunchucks for Sven, a dagger for Igor and the fire spell for Igor.  I remember both my father and I being puzzled at what wood armor was exactly and who would use it, but we ultimately decided that it was just for a Fighter who couldn’t afford chain mail.  You see, back in these days, the only way to know who could use what equipment was trial and error or to have the fold out poster that came with the game that our cousin had lost.  Feeling satisfied with our purchases, we wandered out of the town to go fight some monsters and earn enough money to teach our Red Mage the cure spell, rest at the inn and then we would go forth and find that Garland fellow they were talking about at the castle.

BAM! We had our first random encounter.  Three Imps, no big deal right?  They sure looked wimpy, we should’ve been able to just crush them.  But that fight was pretty rough. We got through it, but those little jerks sure hit hard and we seemed to do very little damage.  Our next encounter was significantly worse: two Imps and a MadPony.  Given how tough just three Imps were, my dad decided to have Igor cast Fire on the MadPony at every available opportunity and we scraped through the fight by the skin of our teeth with a dead Sven and a bruised and battered Pens, Pop, and Igor.  We spent our hard earned gold on reviving Sven and resting at the inn (back in my day, sleeping at an inn didn’t revive fallen party members, you had to go to a special shop to revive them).  Looking at the clock, my dad realized it was my bedtime and I begrudgingly went to bed.

The next day my father gave our dear cousin a call to find out if Imps and MadPonies were supposed to be so goddamn difficult or if we were missing something about the game.  As it turned out, we were.  You see, when you bought a piece of equipment in Final Fantasy and the game asked, “Who will take it?” this was only asking about which inventory to put the item into (each character had their own inventory for weapons and armor) and from there, we were missing the step where you actually had to go into the character’s inventory and equip the equipment.  Which explained why all our characters just walked up and flailed around with awkward punches instead of swinging swords and nunchucks, an observation that I believe we had chalked up to graphical limitations.  So, with our new found knowledge of how to equip items, we set forth and embarked upon our journey, ready to dispatch of MadPonies without expending all our Black Mage’s spells for the day.

I have no recollection of how long it took us to beat the game, but my fondest early memories of video games are those of my father and I huddled around the TV, guiding Pens, Pop, Sven, and Igor through their journey.

As an aside, many years later, when I was in college, I stumbled upon Final Fantasy A+, a neat little Flash video that someone made as a project for their Japanese class.  In this video, the protagonist is a Fighter… named Pensuke.  Just a fun little coincidence.

Posted in Growing Up with Mike Ruttle | 1 Comment

Learning your Role in Teamfights Part 2: A Basic Example

This post is a follow up to yesterday’s post, so if you haven’t given that a read, I suggest you do so before reading this one.

For the example I want to go over today, we’re going to be taking a look at a couple team comps and how they’d match up in a relatively even late game.  Later in the week I’ll be going over some examples that discuss extreme cases with fed characters and feeding characters at different points in the game, but for today, we’re going to keep things a little bit simpler and just look at how these teams match up in a relatively even game around 20-30+ minutes.  Originally, I planned to do two examples today, but this exercise took a bit longer than expected, so we’re just going to go over one for now and I’ll see about getting a second example up tonight.

Blue Team: Pantheon top (me), Anivia mid, Maokai jungle, Kog Maw bot, Soraka bot

Purple Team: Nidalee top, Ahri mid, Lee Sin jungle, Graves bot, Janna bot

Let’s get right into it and analyze how these teams match up.

Long Range Mobility: Blue has a very slight edge in this regard with Pantheon having the semi-global jump vs. Nidalee’s repeatable Short Range Mobility skills.  This edge is very minor though, especially since Lee Sin also has decent cross-map mobility.  It’s also entirely likely that with these team comps, Nidalee would run teleport to completely erase any advantage that Blue could hope to get from Pantheon’s semi-global.

Short Range Mobility: Purple wins the Short Range Mobility competition by a landslide.  Blue has two targeted jumps that are useful for initiation between Pantheon W and Maokai W, but they have no generic mobility abilities and will mostly have to rely on Flashes to reposition in fights.  Purple on the other hand has low CD dashes on every single one of their characters other than Janna and Janna has incredible base movespeed between her passive and her W.

Zone Control: Thankfully for Blue, they have incredible Zone Control to make up for their poor short range mobility.  Anivia’s Q, W, and R are all incredibly powerful Zone Control tools, as are Kog Maw’s E, R and W autoattacks (since he has a considerable range advantage on Graves).  Maokai and Pantheon can also both contribute some minor poking between saplings and spear shots and Maokai’s ult and Pantheon’s E are both strong Zone Control tools once initiation has taken place, despite the fact that neither is terribly useful pre-initiation at controlling neutral space.  Purple’s zone control mostly boils down to Ahri’s Q and E poke, Grave’s Q poke, Lee’s Q poke and Nidalee’s Q poke.  They do also have Grave’s W, which is nice for counter-initiation, but isn’t as useful if the other team isn’t looking to engage.  While these are all decent pokes and can easily clear creep waves, they’re not as long range or as high damage as the Blue team’s pokes, which can easily kill someone slightly out of position in the span of a couple seconds.  Blue’s Zone control also expands well beyond damage with the two AoE slows to severely impede any attempts at initiation from Purple.

Damage Output: Blue has higher sustained damage output, while Purple has higher burst.  Both teams output a lot of both types of damage, but Anivia and Kog both sport low cooldown ults designed for sustained DPS and don’t lean very heavily on their ults for DPS, while Ahri and Graves have higher cooldown ults designed for bursting and notice a significant drop in damage output after they’ve used their ults.  Both teams have a fairly even mix of AoE damage output and single target output, with Blue’s AoE coming mostly from Pantheon and Anivia and Purple’s AoE coming mostly from Ahri and Graves.

Durability: Generally speaking, Purple is a more durable team.  Graves is beefy for a ranged DPS, Lee Sin and Nidalee both tend to build fairly tanky and Ahri typically has a core that involves Rylai’s at the very least and typically Hourglass and/or Abyssal as well.  That being said, the single tankiest character in this game is Maokai and he’s going to be problematic for Purple to kill and Soraka’s heals add considerable durability to her team.

Crowd Control: Both teams have pretty good crowd control.  Maokai is a crowd control beast with his W and Q, Pantheon brings a stun to the table, Anivia provides AoE Slows, an AoE stun, and a wall, Kog Maw has another AoE slow, and Soraka has her silence for counter initiation.  Purple has Janna’s full kit with it’s knockup, slow, and blow back, Lee Sin’s AoE slow and kick back, Ahri’s charm, and Graves’s smoke screen.  I’d say Blue has better general crowd control, but Purple has some very strong displacement skills.

Putting it all together: Looking at this from Pantheon’s perspective, let’s try to work out how to play teamfights.  The first part of this is figuring out how to play from a neutral position.  As a character with a semi-global, the first question we should be asking is should we abuse split pushing with this team?  The answer, in this case, is most likely no.  While you are capable of ulting across much of the map faster than anyone on the opposing team, you have poor short range mobility and will find yourself getting ganked and destroyed by the opposing team’s incredible short range mobility unless your team can pin down at least 4 members of the opposing team.  In other words, you cannot afford to lean on split pushing at first, but should your team siege up a tower and find themselves in a stalemate, you can split off while they keep enough pressure on the tower to keep the opposing team locked down.

Your general team strategy should be a methodical five man approach to objectives and then attritioning your opponents down to abuse your superior Zone Control.  Your team needs to be very careful at all points in time, lest you leave your Kog unguarded for a second, only for three members of the opposing team to jump over the wall and burst him down.  As this is how your team can best leverage its strengths as a team, you need to abandon the traditional Pantheon mentality of, “I’m going to split push and then try to jump across the map onto the opposing ranged carry.”  Your team wins the attrition fights, and thus the pressure of initiation is on your opponents, so your best course of action is sticking with your team and using your Aegis to peel and Heartseeker Strike as a counter initiation zoning tool to force opponents to take massive damage as they approach your primary damage sources (Kog and Anivia).  The decision to play further back and not dive the opposing team is made especially easy in this game, as Janna and Lee Sin both have displacement skills that can punt you away from your target as an assassin, thus relegating you to a defensive source of AoE damage.

Posted in Gaming, League of Legends | 4 Comments

Learning your Role in Teamfights Part 1: Metrics for Analyzing Team Matchups

One of the systemic problems that runs rampant among lower level LoL players is a general lack of purpose, especially in teamfights.  You might think that this is largely due to some of the issues I’ve talked about before related to turning your brain off and auto-piloting through matches, and while that’s certainly not helping, I think that this issue is actually considerably deeper than just that.  See, one of the beautiful things about LoL is that while characters may fall into similar archetypes, the synergies between full team comps can drastically alter how to optimally play your character.  The problem that many people run into along these lines is that they have a hard time adjusting their personal strategies to play better in specific scenarios.  Namely, here’s what most of the LoL Community has been trained to think of as their role in teamfights based on their role:

  • Bruiser: Dive opposing carries and chase them from the fight and/or kill them.
  • AoE Caster: Try to hit as many people on the opposing team with your AoE spells.
  • Assassin: Try to blow up the opposing AP before they can use their main spells or try to blow up the opposing AD.
  • Ranged Carry: Stay the hell away from everything and shoot the highest damage target that you can from a safe range.
  • Support: Babysit your Ranged Carry and prevent opposing Bruisers and Assassins from killing them.

While these are good rules of thumbs that can give us a very basic understanding of what our character is supposed to be doing, they fall short of describing how to become a successful teamfighter in LoL.  What I want to do in this series is teach you how to put some more thought into teamfighting strategy.  In today’s installment I’m going to try to start us off by breaking down teamfights into discrete elements that can help paint the right picture of how the two teams match up.  However, I don’t want anyone to take my word here as the end all, be all.  If you find yourself comparing teams completely differently, there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you’re figuring out how the teams match up and how you and your team should be approaching teamfights.  That being said, let’s get into my metrics.

The first thing I look at when comparing teams and how they match up is mobility.  Mobility in LoL comes in basically two forms; Long Range Mobility and Short Range Mobility.  Long Range Mobility is your ability to move from one lane to another quickly and most characters in the game are pretty mediocre in terms of Long Range Mobility.  Some examples of characters with stronger innate Long Range Mobility are the global and semi-global teleport characters (Shen, Pantheon, Twisted Fate, Nocturne), low cooldown jump or blink characters (Nidalee, Shaco, Kassadin) and characters with innate movespeed bonuses (Teemo, Miss Fortune, anyone with Boots of Mobility).  Also, any character who’s using the Teleport summoner spell obviously has great Long Range Mobility.  Having a significant Long Range Mobility advantage is one of the most powerful advantages to have in LoL, as this means that you can apply pressure to multiple objectives at once while still being able to quickly group as five if a fight breaks out.  Essentially, if you have a strong Long Range Mobility advantage, you need never teamfight 5v5 as long as you can maintain enough ward coverage and map control to properly adapt to the opposing team’s movements.

Short Range Mobility on the other hand, is much more common in LoL and can be found in all sorts of movespeed buffs, dashes, and blinks.  Typically, Short Range Mobility is either strictly offensive (dash to target enemy) or completely free form (move faster, blink to location).  All short range mobility is useful for initiation.  If you’re a highly mobile team and an opponent gets out of position, you should be able to quickly reposition to initiate a fight to punish your opponent for their mistakes.  Non-targetted blinks and speed boosts are also extremely useful for spreading out and staying in safe positions.  An Ezreal with a wall to blink behind is in a much safer position than an Ashe in the same position because he can quickly react to new information and get to safety.  Generally speaking, Short Range Mobility advantages can be leverage via dictating initiation and disengaging, which is typically most useful in the open, between objectives or at neutral objectives, but not at towers.

Another useful metric for comparing teams is what I like to call Zone Control.  Zone Control is my way of talking about a team’s ability to control neutral space.  Zone Control comes in many different shapes and forms, but essentially any ranged attack or ability on your team contributes to the team’s overall zone control.  The most useful forms of Zone Control in teamfights are typically long range, low CD AoE spells that can be used to repeatedly poke at enemies and kill creep waves (Anivia Q/Ult, Cassiopeia Q/W, Brand W), but there are also extremely useful forms of long range terrain creation and AoE crowd control that can be just as useful for controlling neutral space (Trundle Pillar, Anivia Wall, Singed W, Kog E).  Long range skillshots and auto attacks can also help at establishing control of neutral space, but only if doing so isn’t placing your squishy carries into positions where they can be instantly killed.  The whole idea of establishing control of neutral space is to gain an advantage via superior poke before an all out engagement is reached, and as such, Zone Control advantages are typically most useful when you can force your enemies to fight in tight spaces, usually at towers or the tight jungle pathways leading to neutral objectives.

These three metrics are all about how teams control the terms of engagement and establish advantages before getting into an all out fight.  Typically speaking, once you’ve considered these three, you should have a good idea of the scenarios in which each team has an advantage in engaging.  If you have a Long Range Mobility advantage, you need to be making map control a priority so that you can abuse splitting for multiple objectives and likewise, you need to be denying opposing map control if you’re at a disadvantage in this regard.  Short Range Mobility disparity also drives teams towards map control to understand positioning missteps, but as opposed to focusing on pressuring multiple objectives at once, the aim is typically to catch opponents in the open as they move from objective to objective.  When you’re at a Short Range Mobility disadvantage, it’s important to maintain good team positioning as you’re moving through unknown areas so that you’re not initiated on at a severe disadvantage.  Zone Control disparity is the least map dependent of the three, as a Zone Control advantage is typically leveraged slowly and methodically through coordinated pushes that are meant to attrition the other team down.  Playing with a Zone Control disadvantage forces the your team to utilize mobility to initiate quickly and avoid drawn out confrontations or pressure objectives more quickly than the opposing team can attrition down other objectives 5v4.

Once you’ve considered these factors, it’s time to figure out how the teams matchup once they engage.  Short Range Mobility and Zone Control are still relevant post initiation, but it’s also necessary to consider things such as Damage Output, Durability and Crowd Control.  When considering Damage Output, you need to be considering AoE vs. single target damage and burst damage vs. sustained damage.  Typically speaking, if you have good AoE damage, you want to be favoring fights in tight areas, where fights naturally funnel the opponents through choke points where you can hit AoE on as many targets as possible, whereas single target damage is best in open fights where you can isolate individual opponents and focus them down one at a time.  Sustained damage is best leveraged in extended fights where you properly protect your Sustained damage sources, whereas Burst damage is all about properly diving the opposing team and focusing down their damage sources before they can do their damage.  Durability is also important to consider because durable champions can position themselves in more dangerous positions and draw focus from more threatening squishy targets.  Crowd Control is the term we use to talk about disables in LoL and it’s incredibly useful for crippling the enemy team to allow your team to do what they please unimpeded, whether that be disengaging or focusing down targets.

Now I’ve just thrown a lot at you, and while a lot of it is stuff that you’ve almost certainly thought of at one point in time, it’s important to keep yourself thinking about these things in game and analyzing what it means in terms of how you should be teamfighting.  Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to put it all together, so the best I can do to get you thinking about it is to go through a series of examples and walk you through how I’d analyze them.  Over the next three days, I will be going over two team matchups per day and how I would analyze the matchups and approach teamfights in each of them, so be sure to check back in.

Posted in Gaming, League of Legends | 2 Comments