Exclusive Interview with League of Legends Game Design Director, Tom Cadwell

With Dominion being playable by the public this week at gamescom, we get a sneak peek and some time with the game, and some time with one of the leaders behind it!
Stow – A scholar and a gentleman folks, I’m proud to be here with Tom Cadwell, Game Design Director of Riot Games.  Without further ado, let’s talk Dominion!  In the current state of game balance, you’ve been nerfing global ultimates left and right.  Is this in preparation for Dominion since global teleporting would be pretty gamebreaking in most capture-and-hold type games?

Tom Cadwell – Not directly.  However, through Dominion, a lot of potential problems of the main game were completely exposed in a bigger way.  Take for example Rabadon’s Deathcap, on release it was completely overpowered, but it was expensive and hard to get.  With the changes to the gold income system, everyone in Dominion is getting a Deathcap consistently rather than having to farm for it—we view that as a flaw in the item, which we can balance independent of heroes or the map.

Going back to the global ultimates, we’ve always had a problem with them.  They decrease aggressiveness—you have to always consider the situation plus the person with the global ultimate potentially joining the fight.

Stow – Couldn’t you say the same thing about stealth?

Tom – Stealth has a lot of the same problems that we’re doing a lot of work to improve, but in Dominion, you can have a cohesive team strategy about holding a point or series of points.  Mitigating the global ultimates makes it much easier to hold your dominion so to speak.  We looked at it for Summoner’s Rift as well and saw it as a win-win so we implemented it there as well.

Stow – We’ve seen a lot of creative items in Dominion both in our time with the game, and with the various previews at sites and the like.  Will we be seeing those items on Summoner’s Rift and Twisted Treeline as well?

Tom – A really interesting question!  One thing we found with Dominion is that since the type of gameplay favors 1v1 and 2v2 type battles a lot more rather than the massive team battles that inevitably happen in Summoner’s Rift.  A lot of items that were balanced for Summoner’s Rift, such as Banshee’s Veil, won’t be in Dominion until they’re overhauled.

Stow – I hate that item.  The community does as well.  What do you guys think about it internally?  What can we do to that item to make it anything less than the ultimate counter to all initiation?

Tom – I can’t exactly comment on the current state of the Veil, but I personally think it is borderline unfair for Summoner’s Rift, but it was extremely problematic for Dominion.  Dominion has so many small fights and 1v1s that are completely ruined by the potential for a 100% spell block.  If you’re Annie and you run into someone with your stun up and they have a Veil, you can’t have someone else take care of the shield first.

Back to Dominion Items, we wanted to add more items better suited for small-scale fighting.   And we might add those items to Twisted Treeline as well at some point in the future, because they both have similar problems.

Stow – How long has Dominion been in the works?

Tom – I think it’s been in active development since late last year.  One thing we’ve found as we were working on it, it initially started as something much less ambitious.  We could have just made another classic League of Legends but the more we thought about it, the more we realized that in order to meet the needs of the growing genre, we needed to give the players a new experience.

Stow – So we’ll never see Magma Chamber?

Tom – Haha, that’s another discussion.  But we feel that Dominion will meet the expectations of gamers possibly more so than Magma Chamber would right now. 

In making Dominion, we’ve had to cycle through a lot of iterations to make it great.  Some had no minions, others had neutrals, and more than you could possibly imagine.  For the past 3 or 4 months we’ve done nothing but tiny tweaks for balance and pacing.  We believe there’s a big difference between pretty good and excellent, so we want to make sure that when Dominion is live, it is up to that excellent standard we maintain.

Stow – You wouldn’t be 15 million strong if you didn’t up until now, and I’m looking forward to seeing the numbers after Dominion goes live.  Now during the press unveiling, you said this is ‘the first map’ for the mode.  Will we be seeing more in the future?

Tom – Absolutely.  We will continue to create content for the game.

Stow – So should we expect a 3v3 or smaller variant next perhaps?

Tom  – No, I think our next map won’t be a Dominion specific one.  We may do that eventually, but one thing we’ve really learned through Dominion is that creating a new map and a new mode creates a lot more new gameplay than simply a new map.

We also had no idea going into Dominion that we’d have to make an entirely new item system.  We didn’t think we’d have to make a global buff system to change how champions interact with each other defensively and offensively—that (de)buff is constantly active from the start!  All champions benefit from improved defensive penetration to encourage offense.

Stow – I could definitely feel that as Vladimir.  Even with armor items, Pantheon was still tearing me apart!

Tom – Tanks and Tanky DPS had a lot of advantages in our earlier iterations of the game.  They can throw their weight around better, and thus hold points more effectively than fragile champions.  Slapping someone with good self sustainability on a point, such as Garen, was proving frustrating.

Stow – That’s definitely true.   You could have supports and speed demons capturing elsewhere, while a Singed is just being a complete pain in the ass.

Tom – We still want tanks to feel like tanks.  We just wanted to make sure that all character types are effective.  The original map didn’t even have minions, but because certain champions thrive with additional farm or experience, we had to include them.  Fights were also just less interesting with no minions around.

Stow – One of the parts about Dominion that makes me more than pleased is the fact that lane control is no longer a factor.  You’re not just standing around trying to last hit or avoid harass for the first 10 minutes!

Tom – While that’s true in comparison to Summoner’s Rift, as you gain a mastery of the map lane control does begin to come into play again—but not nearly to the same extent.

Stow – Some of the power ups seem weak though.  The Health Pack, for instance, only restores about 10% health and mana. 

Tom – That is a decision we made to ensure that there still is some form of attrition in battles.  If you could just retreat to a pack and join the fight again, that would be hell for the defender.  We don’t want it to turn into Team Fortress 2 where a Medic and a Heavy can’t be displaced very easily, or a Druid in WoW.

Stow – Our audience certainly knows how annoying those Druids can be.

Tom – But at this point we’ve played thousands of games internally of Dominion, and we are working to ensure that everything is balanced twice over before suddenly millions of players are playing millions of games daily of it.  We might not be able to catch everything, but we remain committed to fixing everything that is brought up ASAP.

Stow – Speaking of balance, about a month ago we received a major forums post about the new stealth changes, featuring permanent stealth but all heroes having a stealth sighting radius.  That sounds like it’s going to be hell to balance for this game mode!

Tom  – We’re assessing it very carefully, and we’re going to make sure we do the right thing and make these heroes both fun to play as, and not awful to play against.  There are a lot of subtle changes we can make to make it work.  Just like we went through with multiple iterations of Dominion internally to make it the game it is today, it might take multiple iterations of the Stealth system before it’s ready to go.

Stow – Hopefully both it and Dominion are ready to go soon.  Thanks for your time, Tom!

Tom– My pleasure.

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