League of Legends is no stranger to an unusual backstory: its battlegrounds host both publically-accepted sentient robots and soul-gathering ghouls. But plant mage Zyra’s began after her release in mid-2012, when abusive play patterns led to dramatic nerfs.
“One of the most unfortunate aspects of her being over-tuned on release is that players developed an attachment to her for reasons that were not long-term sustainable,” says associate game designer Bradford 'CertainlyT' Wenban, looking back. “Even in a state of balance, a lot of people will subjectively feel that Zyra is weak.”
Wenban argues that Zyra is balanced, despite community claims to the contrary - but acknowledges that there are issues “deeply baked” into the champion's kit.
Wenban designed Zyra himself during his early career - and asked about Zyra’s failings, he waxes self-deprecating. “Real talk,” he says. “Zyra is not the most well designed of champions for some very core reasons”.
The designer cites plant spells too similar to let the player know their abilities are improving - and plant damage that appears less powerful than it is, due to its slow-burn duration.
“It's important to be honest with your own work, and this is something I just have to live with as her designer,” says Wenban. “In the long run, we may make efforts to resolve some of these, but it will not be easy since they are deeply baked into the kit and I might not be the best person for the job.”
Despite the problems, Riot have no current plans to buff Zyra’s abilities - ultimately, says Wenban, she’ll always be a champion with “niche appeal”.
“If you feel as if Zyra doesn't offer a lot to her team, is incapable of dealing damage, or just lacks the tools to succeed, it's entirely possible that Zyra just isn't the champion for you,” he explains. “It's easy to feel like a champion is a generalist when they are just an overtuned specialist. Zyra is a good example of this.”
Zyra is at her best counter-engaging, says her designer, or supporting an engagement with follow up CC. Have you been playing her wrong, do you think? Or perhaps you've seen others doing the same?
Thanks, Reign of Gaming.