Hi there! Tahalden here with the next installment of The 6 Design Values.
League is a multiplayer game where two teams are pitted against each other. It is only reasonable for Riot to provide as many team-oriented aspects in the gameplay as possible. This is the basis for the design value, Teamplay.
One of the most iconic team-oriented champions in the game has to be Sona. Yet, her original kit turned out to be very difficult to balance and was not nearly as satisfying as a champion revolving around teamplay should be. In came the rework. What can Teamplay as a Design Value teach us about Sona?
Let’s dive in. Welcome to Design 101!
(Artwork by kkako)
Last week we talked about the multiplayer PvP nature of League with a focus on the interplay between players on opposing teams.
This week we’ll have a look at the interplay between players on the same team. In the end, if you play a game, you do so to enjoy yourself. In a team-oriented game this implies cooperation to reach victory. That’s the gist of a talk by Tom ‘Zileas’ Cadwell at the Game Developers Conference where he discusses how to design a satisfying ability in terms of counterplay and teamplay.
To reiterate, when designing a champion ability, you can ask yourself a few questions about the ability’s potential for interaction. Is a response from your team mates…
- … possible? Making a play owing to 3% extra movement speed from Janna’s Tailwind is not.
- … clear? Easier last-hitting thanks to Leona’s passive is not.
- … interesting? Locking in Zilean for his passive experience boost is not.
League has trended away from global passives and abilities that affect team members but do not promote team play. Janna’s passive was reworked for this very reason in Patch 3.14. Bringing the movement speed bonus down to a local effect allows a more powerful bonus and makes the passive a little more interesting for team members.
However, if you compare the movement speed bonus to Braum’s ally-activated stun — a passive that requires teamplay to work effectively — Janna’s passive leaves much to be desired.
Of course, it comes to no surprise that the above list includes primarily support champions. Originally, the support champions (and to a lesser degree tanks) dominated the teamplay aspect in League in terms of how abilities affect the battlefield. With the last few champion releases supportive abilities that promote teamplay have branched out to other types of champions more than ever.
- Yasuo‘s Wind Wall invites team mates to dodge projectiles.
- Braum is your tanky mustachioed friend that raises a huge shield to protect allies.
- A complex transformation mechanism that turns Gnar from a poke and disengage champion into a diver and brawler.
- Putting up an impassible wall of warriors and temporarily raising destroyed turrets on a new fighter mage, anyone?
These are excellent examples of abilities that, while great in their own right, really start to shine when your team reacts to them. If used correctly, they can turn the tides of battle and net you a much sought-after victory. Exactly this kind of interaction between team members is what Riot wants to facilitate with new or redesigned champion abilities.
Rather than designing champions who do everything, we create distinct roles to enhance teamplay. Marksmen deal tons of damage, but they’ll likely deal tons more with a tank up front and a support by their side. Teamplay is also an avenue for self-expression. Whether a player wants an assassin that waits for the perfect engage or a tank that fights when he pleases, we want to present a wide selection of champions that can deliver on a variety of distinct roles. (source)
One champion that was supposed to be the pinnacle of teamplay encouragement but failed to deliver in her implementation is undoubtedly, Sona. Her aura gameplay is entirely focused on empowering her team and giving them the tools to overcome whatever the enemy throws at them. Playing her in her original form, however, was not all that satisfying from a teamwork perspective. Let’s compare Sona 1.0 and Sona 2.0!
Sona 1.0 — Auras With Underappreciated Power and Poor Teamplay
Sona was reworked not all that long ago, but let’s take a step back and look at what her old kit consisted off.
- P – Power Chord: Auto-attack steroid after 3 ability casts in addition to an on-hit effect based on her current aura.
- Q – Hymn of Valor: Magic damage upon activation, and passive AD/AP bonus while active.
- W – Aria of Perseverance: Heal and temporary resistance increase upon activation, and passive armor/magic resist bonus while active.
- E – Song of Celerity: Temporary movement speed boost upon activation, and passive movement speed bonus while active.
- R – Crescendo: Area-of-effect stun. (And dancing, yay!)
All aura effects benefited allied champions within a range of 1000 units and they lasted indefinitely. For Sona, the gameplay was focused on choosing which aura she currently wanted to have active. This boiled down to making a choice between offensive, defensive or (dis-)engage capabilities. Typically the activation effect offered more of the same.
Note that in an even earlier version of her kit, Sona’s passive did not grant an additional on-hit effect based on her current aura. In other words, even for the Sona players there wasn’t much to do other than being a passive aura and the occasional ultimate. The passive was expanded upon to strengthen the player’s gameplay experience in juggling auras, and quite successfully at that. Sona’s reworked passive solidified her as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none support champion with strong team-fighting ability.
While interesting for Sona players, the aura gameplay remained rather dull for her team mates. So was a team reaction to Sona’s auras…
- … possible? Players could adapt their play style somewhat based on Sona’s current aura. But were players really going more on the offensive when Sona activated Hymn of Valor, or retreating when she activated Song of Celerity? No, not really.
- … clear? Sona’s visual aura changed color upon aura activation but was not visually distinct. This communicated the type of bonus she was currently giving to team members. However, if you did not know what kind of bonus the aura gave, you didn’t know how to capitalize on an aura change. Moreover Sona typically hung out over in the back of a team fight remaining unnoticeable. Well, apart from a Crescendo every once in a while. Not very clear.
- … interesting? The huge range on the auras did not invite any interactive gameplay. Just being in the team fight was enough to benefit from them. Besides, the bonuses the auras gave were on the 10% level of what champions typically had. Not interesting.
Sona’s old auras didn’t score very well on the potential-for-teamplay scale.
The main problem, however, was in the huge fraction of the power budget they took up. If Sona provided the bonus to all four team members as well as herself the gold value of the aura was immense.
Consider the Hymn of Valor. In the most optimal situation and at max level, Sona provided 5 x 20 AP and 5 x 20 AD. With a gold value of 21.5 per AP and 36 per 1 AD — based on Amplifying Tome and Long Sword, respectively — Sona’s Hymn of Valor provided 1150 gold worth of stats to every team member! That is huge. And barely noticeable per champion.
Given that team members had to try really hard not to be in range of Sona’s auras, Sona used to provide 5750 gold worth of offensive stats with Hymn of Valor during team fights!
Sona’s power was primarily hidden under the form of stats. In addition, she provided strong poke and sustain to her marksman partner during the laning phase. This made her incredibly difficult to balance. It took a severe hit to her base defensive stats as well as a meta shift toward tanky and all-in dive supports for her to phase out as a dominant pick.
Sona needed a rework if she was ever to be the pinnacle of team-oriented gameplay that she was meant to be.
Sona 2.0 — Auras With A Twist
Sona’s rework arrived in Patch 4.13. In summary, the most important changes include:
- No more persistent auras. The fixed duration can be extended by having more allies get tagged by the aura.
- The aura radius is smaller at 350 units and the visual representation of the auras and their range is much clearer.
- No more passive offensive stats for Hymn of Valor! Instead entering the aura gives on-hit bonus damage on the next auto-attack.
- No more passive resistances on Aria of Perseverance! Entering the aura radius provides a short-duration shield.
- Crescendo now increases the strength of the auras as you level it up.
- Power Chord and effects upon activation remain largely unchanged.
Given these changes, we can look at the teamplay aspects again of the aura abilities. For a given aura activation, a proper reaction from team members is…
- … possible? Yes, absolutely. Both Sona’s positioning and her team mates’ awareness of Sona’s current aura are important to make use of bonuses effectively. You have to walk into the aura to be tagged by it and receive the bonus.
- … clear? Better than the old version. The aura’s visibility as well as range are indicated with a more pronounced radiant aura centered on Sona and changes color based on the type of aura. The aura disappears when the effect wears off.
- … interesting? Yes, you cannot be just about anywhere during a team fight to be tagged by the aura and it requires a much more active approach to using the bonus. Because the aura is not persistent anymore, the bonuses are more pronounced and noticeable.
Sona’s new kit provides a lot more interactive gameplay with respect to her team. She also maintains her own impactful decision making through Power Chord and the aura activation effects. The freed up power budget from the old passive auras can now be used to increase the impact of leveling up Crescendo by providing stronger aura effects. Bonus: a much smoother power curve for Sona without punishing her for maxing a different aura first!
The new kit is definitely an interesting take on the aura concept. Your team mates have to actively choose to walk into the aura and then make use of the bonus for it to be effective. However they don’t have to stick around in range of the aura encouraging a highly mobile play pattern.
New Tools, New Ways: Some Item Advice
Sona’s old kit did not encourage her to get close to the enemy. That often led to a squishy item build with the emphasis on supportive and poke properties. Now that Sona’s auras are more interactive and require a close-quarters team-fighting pattern, she is going to be in the thick of battle a lot more often.
- CDR remains extremely important. More Crescendos, more aura swapping (they do have higher cooldowns now!) and more Power Chords mean more utility.
- Sona’s going to have to tank up a bit. This also meshes well with Crescendo because it allows her to initiate and not be blown up afterwards. Sona wants to continue providing her supportive auras.
- Aura items! Sona is positioning closer to team mates as well as enemy champions making aura items all the more effective. Mikael’s Crucible also belongs here because you will always be in range to use it on your marksman or your front line if needed.
- Frozen Heart and Locket of the Iron Solari come to mind (providing mana, tankiness, amazing passive or active auras, and CDR!)
- During the laning phase, Sona’s pattern still favors poke and interaction with her marksman. The Spell Thief’s Edge or Ancient Coin lines are likely your best options here.
- Ability Power is less of a focus now that Sona has to be in the middle of a team fight, but Zhonya’s Hourglass (if swimming in gold: it provides AP and armor — the auras persist through its active!) and Abyssal Scepter (a short-range aura as well as MR and AP!) could be interesting options.
- Oh, and Sightstone. Because vision.
In a PvP multiplayer game, satisfaction can be achieved through promoting Teamplay. Achieving victory together rather than on your own is generally more satisfying. Hence Riot wants to encourage teamplay through abilities as well as making sure team-oriented strategies have more success overall.
Three aspects concerning teamplay are essential for abilities. Is a response from your team…
- … possible?
- … clearly communicated?
- … interesting?
Given this set of rules, we’ve seen a clear trend from Riot to move away from global abilities and passive stats auras. In fact, recent champion releases see an increasingly interactive approach to what a team-oriented ability should be, and not only on support champions!
Sona has always been one of the most iconic support champions through her aura gameplay. But passive auras providing free offensive or defensive stats to an entire team in a wide radius does not promote teamplay. Such auras typically contain a lot of underappreciated power leading to a rather dull gameplay pattern.
Hence the Sona rework. Her aura gameplay stuck, but with an interesting twist. Short-range, one-time interactive effects make her the aura juggler in the thick of battle that she was originally meant to be. Sona’s new gameplay encourages highly mobile and team-oriented patterns. She’s a great example of what Teamplay as a design value can bring to the table.
Do you think Sona’s rework was successful? Will it take a while for players to get the hang of her new kit? Which champions do you think offer amazing potential for teamplay? Drop a comment below!
Cheers to Denise for providing the amazing splash arts to these articles, and to Fridgecake and Valkyrie for their editing!
Music Discovery of The Day: