League of Legends is the most popular video game in the world. According to a newly released infographic created by Twurdy, a League of Legends community, 32.5 million players log into Riot Games’ smash hit on a daily basis. That means that if every single World of Warcraft subscriber played Blizzard’s MMO in a single day when WoW was at its peak, League of Legends would still boast nearly three times the amount of players. In addition to its massive player base, League of Legends was recently the centerpiece of one of the largest eSports events in history: The Season 3 World Championships.
The Championship match was held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the same building that hosts marquee events such as Lakers games and professional wrestling shows. If there was any question as to whether or not League of Legends could compete with such events in tickets sales, they were silenced almost immediately as the Season 3 World Championships sold out in 59 minutes. But Season 3 is coming to an end very soon, and Riot Games has been looking ahead to the next season, which starts tomorrow, November 12th. Over the past week, Riot Games employees (Rioters) have been posting numerous articles to Reddit about their plans for the new season to give players a glimpse of what’s in store. After playing League of Legends for two years with two accounts that are in Gold League, I’ve attempted to compile all the proposed changes for Season 4 along with my impressions on what these changes could potentially mean for the future of the game.
First, let’s talk about the state of the game as it is. A year ago, when Riot Games was preparing for Season 3, they placed a great deal of focus on trying to increase gold gains for support players and junglers. They added an item called the Sightstone that would give supports free wards and overhauled the jungle in an effort to give junglers more experience points and gold. Unfortunately, after the meta had settled, it seemed that all of these changes actually made things a bit worse. In Season 2, it was very common for junglers to have one, maybe even two gold per 10 items such as Philosopher’s Stone and Heart of Gold. This gave junglers a greater amount of income to spend on wards and, more importantly, Oracle’s Elixir. Some junglers would buy an Oracle’s Elixir on their first back and spend the rest of the game clearing wards because they could afford to, but Heart of Gold was removed in Season 3, and Shurelya’s Reverie (the item into which Philosopher’s Stone was built) received a health nerf that made it less viable for tanky junglers to purchase. This removal of gold per 10 items from the jungler’s repertoire, combined with the change that made Oracle’s Elixir last only four minutes, meant that it was no longer financially feasible for junglers to buy Oracle’s Elixir.
Since Oracle’s Elixir is no longer a staple of jungler items, it began to fall to the supports to purchase the item. Unfortunately, the supports were already hard up for cash due largely to the same changes: lack of gold per 10 items and low income due to lack of minion farming. If you compare the Season 2 World Finals to the Season 3 World Finals, you’ll see that the supports and junglers simply had better items in Season 2. In most of the games from the Season 2 World Finals, the support players tended to have two gold per 10 items, tier two boots, and an aura item (often Zeke’s Herald). In fact, the winning support had usually managed to afford all of these items, as well as upgrading their Philosopher’s Stone into a Shurelya’s Reverie. By comparison, in the Season 3 World Finals, the support players usually had a Ruby Sightstone and tier one boots. In longer games, if they were lucky, they could afford a Philosopher’s Stone and maybe even a Doran’s shield.
So what does Riot intend to do this time around to fix the problems that they created in Season 3? Well, they have a few ideas that give support players and junglers the opportunity to earn more without altering their playstyles too much. For the supports, Riot is looking at granting more gold for situations that are usually specific for support players. Among these changes are: A mastery (likely in the utility tree) that grants players bonus gold if they are in a shared lane, increased money for assist streaks, and improved gold per 10 items. Some of the proposed gold per 10 items include the Spellthief’s Blade, which essentially functions the same as the current mastery (Pickpocket) and the Executioner’s Emblem, which will essentially allow players to deal 200 damage to a target minion twice every minute. This item is meant to help with late game lane pushing. Finally, the Philosopher’s Stone is set to get a new bonus passive that grants players gold when nearby allies kill minions. For a more detailed look at support changes, be sure to check out the reddit post from Riot’s Alexander “Xelnath” Brazie.
The junglers have an entirely new camp to look forward to, which will be placed around the Ancient Golem (blue buff) and wolf camp. In addition to the extra gold and experience granted by this new camp, the jungle monsters will scale with the average level of champions on the map. This means that if junglers are lower than the average level, they will be able to catch up faster by clearing jungle camps. For more on the jungling changes, Riot’s “Solcrushed” has provided an overview on Reddit.
While those include some of the changes to the specific roles of jungler and support, there are plenty of overall gameplay changes that will affect every role. Perhaps the most significant change will be the new additions to vision and map control. In Season 4, vision will be everyone’s job, not just the supports. Each player will have a ward limit (currently set at 3 green wards and 1 pink ward), where exceeding their limit will delete the player’s oldest ward on the map, much like the current Sightstone item. Pink wards will no longer be invisible, meaning they must be guarded much more carefully; however, they have 5 hitpoints instead of 3 and will remain until destroyed. Additionally, there will be new trinkets that will fill a trinket slot. As of now, there are three confirmed trinkets: The Sweeper reveals and disables invisible units (not champions), the Totem has a renewable ward function similar to Wriggle’s Lantern, and the Lens works much like the summoner spell Clairvoyance. Xelnath has provided more information on the changes to vision at Reddit.
Riot’s final post about Season 4 was about changes to “Game Flow.” Among the game flow changes are alterations to runes and masteries, changes to bounties, and a different focus on Dragon and Baron. Baron Buff is being reworked to be more of a siege tool and less of a teamfighting buff, whereas Dragon’s gold and experience rewards are being scaled as the game goes on to keep it as a relevant objective even into the later stages of the game. Additionally, turrets will no longer grant as much global gold, but will instead grant more gold to players directly involved in the turret’s destruction and less gold to players on the other side of the map. For a full rundown of the changes to game flow, check out this Reddit article from Riot’s “Feral Pony.”
So what do all of these changes mean for the future of the world’s most popular game? Well, it’s hard to be sure based on Riot’s track record. Leading into Season 3, many people thought that Riot’s “new jungle” and changes to support, including an item that gave them free wards, would fix the lack of gold flow to junglers and supporters. Obviously, this was not the case. So as great as it is to hear Riot talk about all of the improvements they are making, it’s important to take it all with a grain of salt and look at the situation objectively. Here is what we do know based on what we’ve been told: Supports will be limited in the amount of vision control they can provide. This means that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, supports will no longer be relegated to ward-bots who simply run around dropping and clearing wards. However, whether or not they will be given a meaningful place in a team’s roster beyond that remains to be seen. Perhaps they will have enough money to build items and scale into the late game, but are there enough meaningful aura items to do so? Or will support players be looking to build more personal items that don’t focus on helping their teammates? Perhaps champions that haven’t traditionally been supports will suddenly be viable in the role. Perhaps support Pantheon will be much more popular if he can put his money toward an early brutalizer and dominate the bottom lane with his high burst and reliable stun. I think this is the biggest question regarding Season 4… how will supports fit into the meta, and, more importantly, will “support champions” still be the best choices for the support role?
From a jungler perspective, it looks like Riot is trying to make farming creeps a more viable option, but this doesn’t necessarily fix the problem of lanes being snowballed by early ganks. If you sit in your jungle and continually farm jungle camps while the enemy team successfully ganks each lane twice, your lanes will be so far behind that it doesn’t matter if you can keep up in gold and experience. Meanwhile, many people want to see “carry junglers” become more viable, as the jungle has been dominated by tanky bruisers such as Jarvan IV and Lee Sin for much of the past two seasons. I think the most important thing to look for in jungling for the upcoming season will be the risk/reward of ganking opposed to farming. If laners get the Totem trinket, they can feasibly be warded at all times, making it much harder to pull of a successful gank. And if you waste too much time trying to gank while your opposing jungler is farming, you could fall very far behind. Junglers will definitely have to find a balance between ganking and farming like never before in the upcoming season. Luckily for us, we’ll only have to speculate for a little while longer, as the Season 4 patch is set to go live on November 11th at midnight. By the time you wake up on Tuesday, you’ll be fully entrenched in Season 4, waiting to discover all the changes and how they affect gameplay.