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League of Legends shows off new champions, spectator mode at E3


Riot Games' League of Legends is one of the biggest free-to-play titles around -- it started off as a spiritual successor to the old Defense of the Ancients mod, but has since grown, strictly by word of mouth and organic growth, up into its own industry. Riot hasn't actually announced player numbers for the title yet, but this is a huge game online, consistently landing in the top spots on Xfire and other services' most-played lists.

If you've never played (and why not? It's free!), the basic structure of the game has you controlling a champion on a real-time strategy-style battleground, and Riot has been releasing one of these new champions every few weeks for quite a while now. In the game's booth at E3 last week, we got to hear about three of the upcoming new champions, as well as brand new feature to the game designed to get even more players involved: A spectator mode.

LoL's lead designer Ryan "Morello" Scott walked us through the new champions first, starting off with Yorick the Gravedigger (who was recently announced officially on the game's site. Scott said that Riot had played a lot with various types of champions and playstyles, trying to create heroes that were controlled with straight mana resources, combo-style champs, or more flow-based heroes like the recent Renekton.

But the game didn't have a "minions guy," said Scott, and that's what Yorick will be. His four spells all summon a different type of minion that lasts for only a few seconds, and each bring around a different type of attack -- one slows, another allows Yorick to move quickly through other units, and so on. Yorick's passive skill buffs him up when a minion is summoned, which requires players to use minions in "more of a slow cadence," Scott said, rather than just spamming them nonstop.

The next unrevealed champ we got to see was Leona, The Radiant Dawn. This is Riot's take on a Paladin -- Scott says the company realized that they didn't really have a true sword and shield champion yet, so Leona is it. She's supposed to play more like a tank than a fighter, similar to another tank champion, Rammus. The Radiant Dawn gets her powers from the Sun, and while her spells aren't set up completely yet, her ultimate, tentatively titled Solar Flare, will be a medium range area-of-effect spell that will do damage and stun a group of enemies, perfect for initiating a large group fight.

Finally, Skarner the Crystal Vanguard was the last champion we saw, and he's a monster champion along the lines of Cho'gath or Kog'maw. The character looks like a giant purple scorpion, fitted with shiny plates and what looks like a decorative headdress -- Scott said that he is a leader of his race (and that the extra graphical flourish will help players pick the champ out in a crowd). Skarner is set to be another tanky DPS champ, though Riot hasn't quite figured out where they want him to land on that scale.

Skarner's ultimate is still a work in progress, but Scott says he hopes to pull it off: the idea is that Skarner will be able to impale an enemy champion on his stinger, and then actually drag them across the map for a few seconds. Obviously there's a lot of coding involved there (and League of Legends is a game that requires a lot of factors to come into balance), but Scott said that it should be possible. We asked if putting an enemy out of commission for a few seconds was "fun" enough to make it into the game, and Scott said that there were precedents for lockouts like that. Area-of-effect spells, for example, are generally allowed to go no longer than two seconds, with a single target damage-over-time spell going no much more than about three seconds or so. Any more than that and players feel like they've lost control of the fight.

Finally, we got to see the brand new spectator mode in action, a special feature that will allow players not involved in a game to pull it up and watch the match live. The capability will only be available right away with custom games, but Riot would eventually like to add it to normal and ranked games in the future. And while it's just a live mode at the moment, Scott said that this release should lay the groundwork for things like a recording and playback mode later on.

Getting into the mode is easy -- you can just invite players into a game, or just join a custom game from a friend. Spectators in a match get a whole new screen -- both teams of champions are lined up along either side with the usual stats near their portraits -- health bars, ability and ult cooldowns, summoner spell information, and so on. Players can click on each portrait to lock on or watch various players, and there are even quickkeys set up for rapidly jumping to characters in the game. Riot is trying to bake a few game-like elements in the spectator mode, not in terms of rewards, but just in terms of how to pay attention to what's happening. "We're hoping some players will get really good at spectator mode," says Scott.

Across the top of the screen, Scott pointed out what he called the "football score" of the match. In a brand new piece of UI, Riot puts the kills for each team front and center, and then the gold earnings and building kills out towards each side from there. I mentioned that team kills aren't always a great indication of how a match is actually going -- a lot of players believe that taking down buildings are what really wins a match (since the actual goal of LoL is to take out the opposing base). But Scott disagreed -- he said that while player kills won't actually win a game, they're usually a better indicator of how things are going. A fed team could, for example, just push one lane straight to a base, winning the match but only taking out a few towers.

Along the bottom of the screen, there's a table of information very like what players see when they press Tab during a match currently, showing off player kills, items, minion kills, and everything else you'll need to know what's going on. In addition to all of that information during a match, Scott also said that spectators would likely see a different info screen at the end of the match than players currently see, though that design hasn't been finalized yet, and we didn't get to see it.

One thing missing from the spectator mode information was an actual countdown for creeps like the dragon, Baron, and red and blue buffs, and Scott pointed out that while Riot didn't put those actual numbers into the interface, spectators can adjust the fog of war as they like and check on those locations whenever they wanted. Because those objectives are more or less optional, Riot didn't want to bring those up to spectators, instead letting viewers guess if players would go after them or not. That may change based on feedback, however.

Finally, we asked about cheating -- what's to prevent a spectator from just chatting on Vent with a player in the middle of the game? Riot's put a 15-second delay (plus maybe some more, depending on lag) on any spectated match, and they believe that will be enough to keep any kind of cheating from happening. That's the other reason the mode isn't yet enabled for normal or ranked games -- Riot's going to put it out there in as finished a form as they can get it, and then see how players react.

Because we knew LoL players would want to know, we asked about two things players have been waiting on for a while: the Magma Chamber map as well as the Mac client for the game. Unfortunately, none of the answers have changed since GDC earlier this year: Both are still being worked on, and there's no news to share yet.

The new spectator mode looks very well implemented, and it should open up a few new wrinkles in League of Legends play, both showing new players how to play the game (new players can now spectate their friends to learn a certain hero), and combined with outside resources like Fraps and YouTube, allowing even more matches to be seen and analyzed by the community as a whole. All three of the new champions we saw, as well as the full spectator mode, are due to come to the game in the new few months.

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