After a long hiatus, the fan-favourite game mode has finally returned to League of Legends. Unfortunately, the new events, prizes and features come with their own problems.
Riot has a long history with alternative game modes. Over the years we’ve seen them branch out from the tried and tested Summoner’s Rift, and some modes have been huge successes; ARAM is always there for some quick fun, while URF comes around every now and then for low-cooldown chaos. Wacky modes like One-for-All are also great for messing around with weird team compositions and ‘what if’ situations.
Unfortunately, for every staple mode, there’s another that didn’t make the cut; the beloved but neglected Twisted Treeline was retired last year, and many players miss old classics like Ascension and Dominion. There are also a plethora of fun modes that were made for an event, used once, and then scrapped; think ‘Dark Star: Singularity’ or ‘Project // OVERCHARGE’ which featured unique maps, assets and objectives.
PvE modes like 2017’s ‘Star Guardian: Invasion’ allowed players to toy with the core League of Legends gameplay in a completely fresh and exciting setting, but have never managed to find a permanent place in the client.
So why do these fun game modes never last? Essentially, because they have little replayability.
"They didn’t continue to hold your interest for very long. In other words, players were excited to try these modes but would quickly return to Summoner’s Rift after the novelty wore off," Riot_Mort explained in a dev post last year.
"What we found was that modes that focused on being unique could never keep interest in the same way modes that focused on high replayability could. So to that end, the Modes Team is focusing all of our attention on improving the existing long-term game modes and discovering new, potentially long-term modes that you can play for years."
Nexus Blitz’s Creation
What Riot needed was an alternative mode that could hold up in the long-term like Summoner’s Rift. They got to work experimenting, trying to create a more casual ‘party-game’ mode. The result was 2018’s Nexus Blitz, launched as the first “experimental game mode”. This was a new development approach where Riot started live testing very early in development to determine if the mode was worth polishing. After positive feedback and many changes, Nexus Blitz returned for a second run alongside Snowdown.
Nexus Blitz was available for six weeks, the first four of which were a part of the Snowdown event and missions. With loads of new features and missions to complete in NB, players queued up for game after game with their friends. "We saw huge interest in the Nexus Blitz missions, mode-exclusive unlockable cosmetics, and the Snowdown missions to earn tokens," said SpaceNorth in another dev post from last year.
With the exception of the URF modes, Nexus Blitz had the highest engagement from players on an alternate game mode.
Things were going well until the Snowdown event ended, and the missions expired. In these last two weeks of NB, the player base moved back to Solo Queue, and the player numbers plummeted.
"There was a significant drop in hours played per day, and engagement continued to decline for the rest of the run. The big reason people came back consistently was because they had goals to work towards in the form of earnable cosmetics, mission completion, and tokens. Once they had achieved those goals, the vast majority of players preferred to switch back to their usual modes."
Despite Riot’s best efforts, Nexus Blitz suffered from the same problem as almost every other mode before it; a lack of replayability. It was obvious that Nexus Blitz would not work as a permanent game mode, and Riot made the decision to move on in its search for alternatives. "Ideally the experimental mode that we make permanent will be able to draw people in over and over again, even after that first burst of novelty wears off and there isn’t an event going on."
Although Nexus Blitz was a failure as a permanent game mode, that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun when paired with events. "While Nexus Blitz didn’t have the level of consistent engagement we’re looking for in an always-on mode, it still makes for a really strong game mode we’d like to bring back a couple times a year."
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A Not So Glorious Return
Despite its problems, many players waited eagerly for the return of Nexus Blitz. With such a long hiatus, expectations were high for new features and events.
Nexus Blitz, maintaining its identity as an “experimental game mode”, first hit PBE servers for an extended period. The biggest change was obvious - the map. It had been entirely redesigned into an Ionian location, ‘The Temple of the Lily and the Lotus’. With beautiful new assets and colours, it’s impossible not to give credit to Riot’s artists.
Unfortunately, the game mode changes felt lacklustre in comparison to the art. Only two new events and one prize were added, with the rest being almost unchanged from 2018. The two new events, ‘Protect the Soraka’ and ‘DPS Check’, are nothing all that special. The majority of players much prefer the old events like ‘Prize Fight’, and ‘URF Royale’ as teams have to depend on their own skill rather than random spawns and dodgy AI. The AI complaint also applies to the ‘loot’ events, where the Teemo or Veigar’s pathing can make the event virtually unwinnable for the winning team.
The new prize, Elder Dragon Buff, is the biggest offender though. This buff is made for Summoner’s Rift, specifically for the late game when teams are trying to close out a match. The execute effect is insanely strong on Summoner’s Rift, so imagine its power in a game mode where all you can do is fight. If a team receives Elder Buff after the first event, they have two minutes of almost guaranteed kills, allowing them to snowball their lead massively. Its strength is so overwhelming that some players would rather surrender as soon as their opponents receive it.
This new addition feels awful when the other prizes include the ‘Int-Sled’ and ‘Int-Pult’, which are great ways to throw a lead. Often you can win an event and get a mediocre prize, while the enemy then wins an event and gets Elder Buff or Guardian Angel, making them untouchable for two minutes.
These prizes are boring and uninteractive, and not even the recipients enjoy using them. It’s telling that the affectionately named ‘Int-Sled’ is by far the lowest win rate reward, but also players’ favourite reward. In this ‘party’ game mode, fun and balanced mechanics should always be valued over stat-check and powerful mechanics.
The newest iteration of Nexus Blitz also includes ‘guardians’ which stand watch over each teams’ jungle. These golems are extremely durable while also being able to knock-up and almost one-shot you. While they are not normally problematic and act as an anti-snowball mechanic, they become painfully unfun when combined with poor event spawn locations. The losing team often has events spawn in their jungle, forcing the winning team into the guardian’s range. Certain exploits could even trap the guardian behind the jungle cannon, leaving a team defenceless in their jungle. Fortunately, this bug is now fixed, but many players had their games ruined by it.
The new Nexus Blitz almost feels like a step back, and the player base reflects that. Paired with the Spirit Blossom event and Spirit Bonds, Nexus Blitz initially saw massive play rates. After only a week of playing though, many players had achieved S in all Spirit Bonds and had little reason to play Nexus Blitz. Now, just two weeks after its release, Nexus Blitz has seen an over 70% drop in player base and much longer queue times.
Thankfully Riot is aware of these problems and has acted quickly to resolve them. In 10.16, Nexus Blitz is receiving a micropatch which may see some players return to the game mode.
While just a 30-second reduction to the buffs seems insubstantial, it’s good to see that changes are still being made to improve the game mode. Unfortunately for those Nexus Blitz mains out there, it seems unlikely that Nexus Blitz will not become permanent any time soon. When asked about it, lead game mode designer Reina Sweet had this to say:
With the event already winding down though, many players will not be returning to Nexus Blitz this time. With some luck, Riot can learn from this blunder to make the game mode even better the next time around.
Images via Riot Games