League of Legends' [official site] 2016 season will be coming to an end on November 7 (so, the week after the World Championships finals). Perhaps slightly confusingly the 2017 season will be beginning about a month later on 6 December 2016. I wonder if we're just going to start a month earlier every year from now on and the LoL calendar will start to feel like how you buy a magazine in June and it proudly tells you you've bought the October issue. Anyway! That means a pre-season period of about a month in which Riot will be making a host of big season-defining changes.
Let's take a look at what's been announced so far, piece by piece as I don't think we've done that yet:
Before I start, bear in mind that a lot of this will only make sense if you're already familiar with League as it's about changes rather than introducing the game!
This is the part where solo and duo queue are being reinstated after they were removed in 2016. There was a massive outcry at the loss of the ability to queue as a competitive solo player or one with a competitive buddy.
Dynamic Queue is changing into something called Flex Queue. That's where you'll get everything from pre-made five-stacks of players to team-befriending solo-ers.
REPLAYS AND PRACTICE
Practice: Practice is another moment of Riot needing to walk back a previous idea in the face of the player response. They didn't actually remove anything as they did with solo and duo queue, but they did confidently say they didn't want to add a sandbox/practice mode. They then moderated their stance in the face of the player response, saying they wanted to do it but couldn't affix a team to the idea at the moment.
Season 2017 will introduce a simple practice tool as part of the game client update where you can do things like reset cooldowns in order to practice using abilities or lock your level for last-hit practice. That basic toolset will then be developed over time to try to provide the necessary tools for players seeking to improve.
Replays: This one was also waiting on the client update. Players will now have the ability to download replays of their matches as well as saving and sharing video highlights via a built-in recording tool. Reading up on that it sounds like it'll be a case of being able to pull up replays from games that you play from the point the new client arrives and watch them in-game using the replay mode. Footage of older matches... I'm not actually sure. Am I just missing a key sentence where Riot give a yay or nay on that one? They talk a fair bit about backpatching and the difficulty of that and whether it was really necessary in the post so I'm assuming it's a going forward thing rather than a backwards thing?
This one is about the rebuilding of the LoL game client from the ground up because the old one was creaky and bits were falling off it.
"Although updating the client was mostly about preparing for the future, we couldn't help but build in a few exclusive new features for those who upgrade. Drag and drop rune pages to reorder them, or see in-game ability scaling information and change your in-game settings—all from the client. Oh, and all future features (Replays and Practice Tool!) will be exclusive to the updated client."
The new client will get offered to players via a pop-up at some point during the pre-season so you can opt in then. If you've decided to hold out for some reason, you've got until the end of the client's open beta to caress the current one and tell it that you love it before being dragged kicking and screaming to your new one. There's no firm date for that so I assume it'll be "when we've ironed out any problems that arise"
This is the class of heroes Riot are focusing on this time around, pulling a bunch of them out and making changes so they each feel different to play. You might remember that previous patches have looked at Juggernauts, Mages and Marksmen.
Talon: His direction is AssCreed parkour-ish stabby stuff. He can use Assassin's Path to vault over map obstacles like walls. Noxian Diplomacy lets him leap to a target, stabbing them for damage. Like I said. AssCreedy.
Rengar: There's an element of incentivising kills across the enemy team as the Bonetooth Necklace passive gives a permanent attack damage boost every time a unique enemy champ gets taken down. It's to fit with the trophy hunter idea so you're trying to bag yourself a full set of kills where possible. His stacking Ferocity count has also been rejigged to offer slightly different effects and takes four instances to come to fruition rather than five.
Leblanc: This one's about amping up the potential for faking people out (THAT IS A FAKER JOKE BECAUSE FAKER IS GOOD AT LEBLANC). Sigil of Malice is now her passive which marks enemies when she uses her abilities. She can then use these sigils to increase her damage output, as with her new ability Shatter Orb. That one can bounce, damaging marked enemies nearby. Her ultimate has also been tweaked so she not only casts a mimicked version of a prior spell, she actually creates a mimic to do it for her while she goes invisible.
Katarina: Instead of Katarina just being a deadly carwash of blades, she's now got more of a knife-play theme. Bouncing Blade and her new ability, Preparation, both end with a dagger on the ground. Shunpo lets her blink to a target enemy, ally or dagger, so she can then use it to add that extra terrifying mobility. If the dagger came from Bouncing Blade she also deals magic damage around her.
Fizz, Zed, Akali, Kha'zix, Shaco and Ekko will all have tweaks but nothing as major as the main four.
Assassin Items: With regard to items, there are also changes to the way armor penetration works so it scales according to opponent level. It's thus "less snowbally" so I assume that, in turn, helps with the balancing.
Stealth: Stealth is now divided into camouflage and ability. The former is more medium-to-long-duration stuff, so like Evelynn's passive where if she isn't fighting enemies can only see her by getting up close or using true sight. The latter is shorter stuff like Wukong's tiny stint of invisibility after planting a Decoy.
With that in mind, wards are getting a bit of a revamp. Vision wards are going to be replaced by Control wards which grant vision and disable and reveal nearby wards/traps (hence the control). From the description it sounds like they also reveal camouflaged units but not invisible ones.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
As ever, there are changes to the jungle. The changes fit within the ethos Riot have been talking about for a fair while now - of giving players choices so they can work out their own priorities instead of just interacting with a solved problem to a more or less successful degree.
Smite - the spell which lets you do an extra chunk of true damage thus helping you take out jungle camps - ended up being this thing you can either use effectively or not and the choices were more about budgeting your charges of it so you could get particular effects from killing particular monsters or saving them for team fights/dragon attempts and the like.
To this end, Plants are now a thing. That's Plants with a capital P, not just aesthetic tweaks to jungle foliage:
"Plants are small, single use neutral objects that activate when attacked by a champion. They spawn in semi-random locations in the jungle (similar to Bard’s chimes), and respawn after a window of regrowth. Their spawn points are fairly restricted for early game, making sure they can’t have too much impact on early gank routes or invades. We also ensure that plants have extremely strict rules around fairness: teams should have balanced access to each plant that shows up in the game. Plants also telegraph themselves to ensure players have adequate windows to adapt, showing up as a seedling 30 seconds before they can be used."
That area of effect repel in the video above is one of the plant effects being used to thwart a chasing enemy. Others include a restorative Honeyfruit that spawns in the river and Scryer's Bloom which reveals champs and wards in a cone.
Smite rewards and jungle camps are being rejigged in response to Plant additions, by the way:
"With plants overlapping some (not all) Smite rewards, we’re streamlining things by removing Smite buffs (Smite will now heal you whenever you smite a large monster, no matter which one it is). We're also making some additional minor changes to camps to make each feel more distinct."
The Krug camp has ended up kind of like Pink Horrors in Warhammer or Golems in Dota 2 in that they split into smaller monsters when you kill them.
I'm not sure how I feel about these changes and I want to see them in practice before I decide. There was an introduction post on the forums that made the Plants stuff seem more like adding complexity for the sake of it. The follow-up comments added a bit more understanding about tactical trade-offs or skill in execution but it's still not feeling entirely convincing right at the moment. I have no idea if that's a communication issue or whether this is a case of a game-wide ethos being applied to fix a problem that wasn't really a problem for a lot of people. I'm not naturally a jungler, though so ARGH! It's hard to tell.
The main thing here is that the magic resist aura of Aegis of the Legion is gone as Riot are trying to stop the situation where you have "must buy" items for particular classes. It's art of that strategic depth thing I mentioned earlier. Accompanying this decision will be two new items: Knights Vow and Redemption.
Knight's Vow is a kind of armor-ish flavour of support item which lets you pick an ally as a partner and gives you armor and move speed when you're near them. It also means you take a portion of their damage dealt as healing and their damage taken as damage to yourself. It's an item that basically screams "I'm with you, my liege, at your laning partner".
Redemption is more about magic, so it grants a bit of extra mana and some cooldown reduction for your spells as well as the health and HP regen. The active effect lets you target any area of the map healing allies and damaging enemies. You can cast it while you're dead as well so I'm guessing it might end up as a support version of Invoker's Sunstrike in Dota 2, maybe picking off an enemy fleeing on a sliver of health, or making the difference between life or death for your own teammates.
Obviously there will be a squillion other changes but those are the stand-outs. Also my hot water bottle stopped being hot around the "Items" section so I'm stopping now!