Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Missed Utility

Most of the changes planned  for Season 4 have been revealed by Riot during this last week. Among those are a total revision of the Support role, a change to the Jungle, the flow of the game, and the introduction of Trinkets, an 1-per-player item that is to be used in the vision game.

Although most of those changes can be commended, there is one in particular that really grind my gears: Those affecting Supports.

Why? After all, they are finally doing the one thing people wanted, giving the ability to have gold and spend it on items. So everything should be fine?

Well the problem is that by giving so much gold to the role they have effectively destroyed it.

Hint: They won't give you any...

Let me explain. First thing first, we have to agree that the Support role is a role that was and is defined by gold starvation, or more precisely by gold deprivation in that they are the only role without a source of income naturally provided by the map. It is this deprivation of gold that made people choose level-dependent, utility focused, or protective champions for the role, champions whose primary source of power in their kit was utility not scaling power (for example the buffing auras of Sona), utility that only needed levels to become better.

Now, of course the role suffered for a long time because of the 'ward bitch' (and 'heal bitch') aspect of it. Supports for the whole of S2 and S3 were expected to cover the entire map in wards, and they did, mostly because nobody else would! This made them unable to get items and get into the building game with other roles, the gold being spent in wards.
S3 tried to change this with the addition of Sightstone and an increase in the gold Supports received. But what happened is that Supports now had enough wards and gold to cover even more of the map AND buy some pink wards and then cover the map with them! In the end no items were ever bought.

Now then, in S4 will come a huge change that will fix this problem. Each player can only ever have or put 3 wards on the map. Now this will have Supports buying items. All that was needed then was the gold to do so.

Again, Supports are defined by gold deprivation. One way they get around not having a direct source of gold is through GP5/10 items, items that give gold each set amount of seconds and have stats that can only be desired by Supports. Unfortunately, those items have been left in a bad shape for 2 seasons, with the best but most toxic one, Heart of Gold, being removed and Philosopher's Stone being the only one viable but with a need to be upgraded into a nice item with no GP5/10...

Now those items needed some love, and they did get some in the incoming S4 changes. Supports will have 3 gold income items that will fulfill all their needs.That plus the inclusion of Assist Sprees, rewarding players with a lot of assists. Support have a strong income of gold, and this is where things are going very wrong. That income of gold is strong, too strong, to the point of allowing any champions to fill the role that was defined by gold deprivation...

What was at first a role that favored utility through levels will now allow any champions that scales with AP or AD to come and play what is essentially now the 'lane partner that doesn't last-hit' role. No longer will utility be favored, on the opposite there is now a strong incentive to bring what will be a semi-carry (AP or AD) to the bot lane.
To counter that Riot will buff the current Support champions by having their utility 'scale' with AP or AD aka with gold. But what they are not seeing is that due to the very nature of the game, nature that favors damage, people will naturally flock toward champions that will bring the minimal amount of utility needed and with damage that scale well.

Plus the only way they can really counter that is by making the utility scaling of Supports champions way off the charts, and I think we all have an idea of how badly this can break the game (watch Janna's Shield become the OP thing ever).

What could have been done to avoid that? Make sure the role retains its trademark characteristic, being the role without a natural source of gold and with the slowest acquisition of it.
Although Assist Sprees are a good thing as they reward players that do things that are of paramount importance to the success of a team, they run the risk of giving out too much gold. GP5/10 items and the way they have been streamlined are a welcomed and needed addition, so there is no way I would ask for those to be removed (maybe toned down).
Then with the role having less gold than others, favoring utility, what do you do to make the role not an inferior version of the others (especially now that their 'ward bitch' aspect has been removed)?

You add utility items! Cheap, GP5/10-related, with a strong focus on actives, vision effects, CC, buffing, aka utility! Items that have poor scaling stats like AD or AP, favoring instead stats like CDR, Armor, Magic Resist, Regen, but with strong actives, actives that could turn a match around when used with smarts.

She is better than Sona, deal with it!
This would be a model that would closely resemble the one of DotA 2, with the actives of the items bought defining a hero and the game. Supports would have their utility scale with gold, that because of the accumulation of active items, with masteries that would favor their uses or reduce their cooldown. That plus their focus on utility increasing through levels from their kit, the role would be complete.

This is something that a lot of players would have enjoyed, a role that is more focused on thinking and overall strategy than Damage or Click-Per-Minutes.

Unfortunately right now, with the poor amount of such kind of items, this is something that is hard to do and that will be ever harder to justify in the eyes of other players, each one of them seeing you as someone who went for a bastard build between damage and utility.