The 6 Design Values – Part I: Mastery & Lee Sin

Hi there, this is Tahalden bringing you the first installment of a series that will dive deeply into the six design values in League of Legends. With each entry, I will relate the design value under discussion to a champion that was recently reworked/buffed/nerfed.

When a given champion is nerfed, buffed, or reworked entirely, can we as players understand why? Should we always despair whenever Riot updates the PBE and “guts a champion”?

First off: Mastery will be illustrated by the changes to Lee Sin in the most recent patch.

Welcome to The 6 Design Values! (Design 101?)


(Artwork by kkako)

Introduction: The Six Design Values

Before jumping into Mastery and why Lee Sin embodies that concept, let’s reiterate the six design values Riot has put forward to guide their design choices. They introduced these aspects of design in their first Dev Blog:

  1. Mastery: Getting better at League is a goal. There is no terminus.
  2. Clarity: Fight your opponents; not the game. This is PvP, not PvE!
  3. Meaningful Choice: Cookie-cutter builds are so 2009.
  4. Counterplay: Action-reaction is a thing.
  5. Teamplay: Solo-queue is the worst name for a team-oriented queue ever.
  6. Evolution: Change is good. Stagnation presents no challenge.

Important to note is that these design values are more like guidelines rather than actual rules.

They are what Riot envisions as the end-goal for League but an evolving game doesn’t have an end point per definition, right? There are many older, outdated champions in the game that could do with some polishing if they are to meet today’s standards. Some even should be completely rebuilt from the ground up — hi Sion! — as they do not adhere to the six design values at all.

Moreover, making changes to the game is largely a process of educated trial and error.

It’s important to balance out a champion’s strengths with clear trade-offs but hitting that sweet spot is not straightforward. Even though a given change adheres to one of the six design values, it may always introduce unexpected effects that violate one of the other values.

In fact, sometimes this leads to surprising new uses of a champion (Lucian’s changes) in a previously unfilled niche, which allows the game to diversify further.

In design, one should not be afraid to break the rules from time to time, as long as it happens in a controlled way. It keeps the game fresh and even if a choice does not have the desired result, it’s still a lesson learned. There’s always the possibility to retrace your steps or apply more changes to nudge a champion in a given direction. In any case, not acting for too long is rarely the right option. Remember: indecision is the enemy.indecision_enemy

What is Mastery?

In their latest Dev Blog, Riot’s designers state that the end goal of a MOBA-genre game like League of Legends is the pursuit of mastery. Generally speaking, mastery of the game simply implies getting good at it but in a multi-layered game such as League, there are many different aspects a player has to improve upon in order to master the game.

Riot designers actively recognize this and attempt to provide separate pathways to improve skill in the different aspects (personal expertise, teamwork, and adaptability).


To offer a different perspective, let’s look at Mastery in terms of the the skill dimensions that we’ve discussed previously:

  1. There’s the micro-level of play
  2. The macro-level of play (including “the meta”)
  3. The actual knowledge of champions, their roles and abilities, items, game rules, etc.

As an example, consider what would make you a good marksman player. As a marksman you scale very well with items and actually need those items to be able to perform the role of “AD carry”. You have to be able to farm efficiently at most stages of the game.

  • In the early game, this includes accurate last-hitting while dealing with the opposing team’s players in the lane.
  • This also includes predicting which lanes will have minions pushing deeply enough to be farmed up quickly and safely during the mid game.

However, the micro-level of play is always balanced out by the macro-level: what is happening with the rest of the team? What is going on in different parts of the map?

  • Are multiple members of the opposing team pushing down a turret elsewhere? Then perhaps it is a good idea for you to push down the turret in the lane you’re farming in.
  • If you head out to top lane in the mid game to farm up a large wave of minions that leaves his team in a vulnerable position if the opposing team decides to group up and push down the bottom inner turret. Knowing when and how to react to as well as predict events elsewhere on the map is part of the macro-level.

Knowledge Is Skill

Moreover, there’s not just one marksman champion in the game. Even though all of them definitely have some aspects of play in common they also have vastly different abilities. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of all those marksmen greatly contributes to your skill level as you can adapt on-the-fly during champion select by picking the most appropriate marksman for your team’s and the opposing team’s composition.

Champion knowledge, and by extension overall game knowledge, greatly contributes to mastering the game.

  • On the micro-level, you better know the abilities of your support as well as those of the opposing team’s

    (Artwork by breathing2004)

    marksman and support. This benefits your ability to farm up and trade effectively.

  • On the macro-level, you will vastly improve if you learn what role a particular marksman champion fills:
    • Does the marksman hyper-scale with items into the late-game? Then you should prioritize safe play and get as much farm as possible.
    • Does the marksman fill more of a supportive role? Then you should attempt to steer the game towards team fights in the mid game.
    • Is the marksman a bit of a lane bully with a poorer late game? Then you should try to zone the opposing team’s players in your lane and perhaps grab some early kills to snowball the game to an early victory.

Hence, mastering the game includes many different aspects intricately connected with each other. Players can improve at the game by identifying these different aspects and then choosing which one to improve at first. These multiple layers of mastery are the basis of a game that asks players to continue improving on the long term, because, in the end, being the best means knowing all aspects.

Master Yourself, Master the Enemy

The prime example of a champion that requires mastering before you can perform well with him would be Lee Sin. He has been in the game since early Season 1 and saw no changes until Season 4. Then why can he be such a dominant pick at all levels of play nowadays?

Multiple layers of mastery, but no weaknesses.

Creating optimization paths for champions is a design strategy we’ve spent more time on over the years. When we design or update champions, we ask if there are multiple levels of mastery possible – places where a player can fine-tune their skills to become even better over time. (source)

Zileas used Yasuo as the preferred example of a champion with an incredible depth of mastery, but I think Lee Sin embodies that concept better while also showing the danger of not including clear weaknesses.

When players started to figure out Lee Sin and his incredible potential — and granted, this took a few months, if not years — he quickly became a favorite pick for the mechanically proficient players who could reach Lee’s skill cap. Especially in professional play, Lee Sin has been a dominant force because the current meta has favored Lee Sin.

Early-aggro junglers that are able to control the flow of the early game are strongly preferred because they can help protect those weak-early-game hyperscalers.


The problem with Lee Sin (and also Elise, for that matter) is that he adds too much to a team composition in the late game as well. A few seasons back players were not as proficient with Lee Sin as they are today, however, and it was a rare sight to see the famous inSec plays being pulled off.

All of his power budget has always been part of Lee Sin’s kit but over the years his mobility has begun to define him as a champion to the point that it needed to be toned down a bit in Patch 4.5 (and players simply got amazingly good at pulling off his fancy moves).

This is the danger of adding multiple layers of mastery: specific players can become so good at specific champions that they begin to dominate games. That in and of itself is not an issue, but if the majority of the players are able to pull off the complex moves Lee Sin allows for then there is simply no more reason for them not to pick Lee Sin.

Lee Sin simply does not have well-defined weaknesses and fits in pretty much any team composition and as such Lee Sin has always seen play regardless of the meta.

Lee Sin – The Bruiser Tank AD/AP Support Assassin Carry Jungler

So what is Lee Sin good at pre-Patch 4.13?

  • Assassin Lee Sin: amazing damage scaling on Q1/2, E1/2, R, qnd execution on Q2.
  • Ganker Lee Sin: Close the gap with Q1.
  • Duelist Lee Sin: Shut down AS-based champions with E2, AS steroid from Passive.
  • Initiation Lee Sin: Hit Q1, Q2 in, place ward, W1 hop ward, R player into team, Flash out.
  • Diver Lee Sin: Tank turret, your choice of Q1/2 or W1 out.
  • Invader Lee Sin: Abuse your superior mobility through ward hopping.
  • Bruiser Lee Sin: Build tanky, still kill people with Q2/R.
  • Anti-stealth Lee Sin: Reveal that pesky shrouded Akali with E1.
  • Chaser Lee Sin: Slow people to a crawl with E2.
  • Support Lee Sin: Kick all the people away from your marksman. Oh, and wards!

Of course, a lot of these abilities shine for a given role only. If you build tanky, you will not assassinate people. If you build damage, you will die instantly in a team fight before you can execute gap-closer/ward/hop/kick moves. So it’s likely not fair to list all these abilities and hidden power cards and call Lee Sin overpowered. He’s not. Not really. However, because Lee Sin has become so dominant in the professional scene, something’s got to give. If a champion’s strength is having no weaknesses, it’s not healthy for the game.

This is where mastery comes into play again: Riot wants to emphasize Lee Sin’s strengths and give him some weaknesses in different areas. But they also want to maintain the multiple layers of mastery that his mobility offers, because gutting that aspect of his kit punishes all those players that have put in an incredible amount of time perfecting their Lee Sin play. So to reduce Lee Sin’s flexibility and power budget while also maintaining his identity — the mobile early-game aggro junglerPatch 4.13 saw Lee Sin’s AS-reduction on E2 be removed. There’s two major consequences:

  1. Lee Sin’s dueling potential is severely reduced versus AS-based champions. If Lee finds Skarner in his jungle, he won’t have as easy a time killing Skarner.
  2. Lee Sin’s marksman-shutdown potential in the late game is not as effective, especially in a meta where hyperscaling marksmen are the hype.

So now there’s actually a few reasons not to pick Lee Sin, but he still remains the ward-hopping jungle master he’s always been. It’s not clear if this will put him in a better spot with respect to jungler alternatives, but time will tell.


Well, this turned out to be a rather long-winded essay on Mastery and Lee Sin. If you skipped through most of that and ended up here: welcome! I’ll give you the gist of what’s been said above.

By defining six design values for them to adhere to, Riot wants to make sure they design champions that live up to today’s standard. They want to continue diversifying the game, but are attacking that problem with a standardized approach. If a gameplay aspect doesn’t fit one of the six design values, it has to go.

The first such value is Mastery. Riot believes that pursuit of mastery keeps players around in a MOBA game. By making sure there are multiple layers of mastery to as many gameplay aspects as possible players are able to keep improving their skill level for however long they wish to keep playing the game. This enriches the game in such a way that there is no real end point; in fact, the game can continue to evolve and challenge even the best of the best players.

This relates to the recent discussion on the three skill dimensions: 1) micro-level skills, 2) macro-level skills, and 3) game knowledge. Each of these dimensions offers players a unique gameplay aspect to improve upon and each player can choose their own path to mastering the game. But to reach the highest echelons of ranked play, you will have to work on all three of them, because they are intricately connected to each other.

Lee Sin offers many layers of mastery, which makes him an enriching champion for the game. However, he also does not have any obvious weaknesses, apart from the fact that he’s difficult to play well. But now that many players have perfected their Lee Sin play, he’s become a dominant pick, especially in the jungle. The recent changes with respect to his obscene mobility and dueling potential toned him down a bit while maintaining the aspect of mastery that is so inherent to Lee Sin’s kit. Mastery is important for a champion’s kit, but it has to be balanced out with clearly defined weaknesses. A high skill cap should not be the only weakness a champion has.

Which champion do you think harbors a deep mastery level? Drop a comment below!

Music discovery of the day:

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A game-design blogger on League of Legends, with some editor work on the side. Alternate mathcrafter, professional stargazer, dedicated gamer, Skarner fanboy. Getting better at games by understanding their design philosophy is a thing! Follow me on Twitter @Tahalden or on Facebook for updates.

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