Heroes of Newerth recently followed Dota 2's example and made their entire roster of heroes free to new players from the outset. League of Legends, however, still retains its original system. You get to try a cycling selection of heroes for free, but must pay a wad of in-game currency or a bit of real money to unlock them permanently. Owen asked lead champion designer Ryan Scott whether Riot were considering a shift to free heroes.
"Well I think a game with a more traditional Moba design you actually have to make all the characters free," he said. "The reason for that is that the game design doesn’t lend itself well to not having all the characters and still being able to be viable. It’s a little more rock paper scissory. There are very hard counters for characters, and not having access to those counters can really just change the entire game.
"League of Legends doesn’t really operate in that way because of the way our characters are made, and the way we balance all the time and things like that. Not having a bunch of characters doesn’t make you unable to play."
Hard counters are heroes with a skill set perfectly tuned to shut down their opposite number, their presence in Dota 2 is one of the reasons the pre-match picking session is so important in top level tournaments. Not having a hero available to pick would be a serious problem in that context, but Riot have different concerns in mind when they're expanding their roster. Every addition is designed to shake up the battlefield and keep fans interested.
"The constant content additions are what keeps us fresh and we ask of our players not only mastery ... it’s like you have to master the game yes, but you also have to be adaptive. You have to always be learning and trying new things, because there is that trickle of new content regularly that can change up all the strategies in one go. And that’s exciting, that’s fresh. I think that’s why I like the way we do things but I can understand why maybe some other designers do not do it that way."
It's vital that Riot ensure that new hero additions are varied, both visually and mechanically. Scott recalled a problem Riot had earlier this year with a rush of heroes, Darius, Draven and Jayce, that put players off. An event Scott referred to as the "Doompocalypse."
"Even though they were different roles. That kind of thing when they came out literally one, two, three on release and that made people very upset about it, not because those characters were bad, or not that they wouldn’t want them all in the game, but literally with them all next to each other it fatigues people out on a certain type."
Scott said that Riot still have a huge backlog of new champions they're planning to implement, shuffled up a bit to prevent another Doompocalypse. Given the variety of their current line-up, it feels as though they could add almost any creature/animal/machine they saw fit. Do they have any rules in mind when inventing new characters?
"We don’t like rules we like guidelines," said Scott. "Rules are things that will prevent you from doing things while guidelines are what’s a League of Legends character, what’s it’s style, what do players respond to. Those are guidelines and sometimes we break those rules as we learn more."
League of Legends is free to play. If you fancy giving some of those champions a whirl, you can download the client from the League of Legends site.