Evolution of a Dragon Champion
By Kacee 'Iniquitee' Granke 
Late 2013, we gave a super early preview of an eastern-inspired, serpentine storm dragon namedthat was in the first phases of champion creation. Then, in the two years that passed (aside from a few comments in low-key conversations) we went silent. Totally a mistake on our part, and the mystery around this dragon has only increased over time. We've seen the question of “Ao Shin where?” pop up all over the place, including being one of the most asked questions in our recently hosted preseason Q&A in China.
Now that 2016 is upon us and production schedules are being finalized for early this year, we finally have an update: the dragon that we previewed in 2013 has evolved tremendously over time. As such, we will not be releasing the champion that you know as Ao Shin, but in the first half of this year we will be releasing a dragon champion. His name is (tentatively).
We can't say much more about Aurelion Sol, but we did want to share some of the challenges we faced and lessons we learned. While the major news is out of the bag, you can still read on if you want hear how the dragon formerly known as Ao Shin evolved over the course of two years.
First: Ao Shin's kit just didn't pass muster. This is a pretty common problem we run into in the initial stage of champion creation, and while sometimes we can adjust on the fly (a usable 'paper kit' might have two or three core abilities that make things click), other times we need to shelve the entire concept and take a step back. Internally, we call this 'ice boxing' a champion until we can revisit with a fresh perspective.
Second: delivering on the unique shape of a serpentine dragon's body - long and powerful - in a game where instantaneous turning is key presents some unique technical challenges. Given enough time, we were confident we could solve the turning problem, but because Ao Shin's abilities weren't coming together we were reluctant to commit to engineering work that might just end up scrapped.
Finally - and this was the big one - we committed too early to Ao Shin's premise without really developing his thematic roots. Around the time we announced Ao Shin, we were in the process of slowing down our champion pipeline to figure out how to continue delivering resonant characters that feel unique to the League universe. We learned a lot during this time (still learning!) and when we examined Ao Shin with these new lessons - Why was he in Runeterra? What were his motivations? - we unearthed a fresh thematic that really set us off running.
So in the end, while we're sorry to have hyped up the idea of a serpentine, storm-wielding dragon for so long, we're still very excited to deliver a dragon champion this year that we hope you'll love. Aurelion Sol's got some big shoes (claws?) to fill, but we still like surprises so stay tuned - any of our next few champions could be him!
Champion Reveal: Aurelion Sol, the Star Forger
- Center of the Universe
Three stars constantly orbit Aurelion Sol, dealing magic damage and applying spell effects to enemies they strike.
Aurelion Sol fires the core of a newborn star in a target direction that explodes - dealing damage and stunning all nearby enemies - upon reactivation or once it travels beyond his stars' maximum orbital range. Aurelion Sol can travel alongside Starsurge, and by keeping it close he'll nurture it, growing it in size so that it damages and stuns a wider area when it explodes.
- Celestial Expansion
Aurelion Sol pushes his costs mana to cast and drains mana every second the ability is toggled on. Once he toggles the ability off or runs out of mana, Aurelion Sol pulls his back.out to his outer ring, significantly increasing their power. Celestial Expansion
- Comet of Legend
- Passive: Aurelion Sol builds up increasing movement speed as he travels continuously in the same direction, and loses speed on sharp turns. Some of this speed is stored away as Escape Velocity stacks, which are lost entirely whenever he takes damage from an enemy.
- Active: Once Aurelion Sol maxes his Escape Velocity stacks, he can activate Comet of Legend to pull in his orbiting and take flight, traversing over terrain for a long distance. He cannot turn once his course is set, and enemy damage will bring Aurelion Sol back to earth, restoring his orbiting .
Aurelion Sol, unlike most champions in League, deals the lion's share of his damage with his passive.sets up a constant game during laning, with Aurelion Sol looking to maneuver his stars into his lane opponent, who, in turn, has to keep on move to avoid them. Its sheer threat will often send his opponent back to safety, giving the Star Forger the perfect opportunity to unleash and ramp up his cyclical damage. And as these two play out their duel, Aurelion Sol will inevitably deal great swathes of collateral damage to the enemy minions, who’ll wither under the persistent barrage of starfire. All this area of effect punishment means that Aurelion Sol has a super easy time shoving his lane, even while he focuses on his duel.
Of course, all thispushing is likely to attract the enemy jungler's attention, forcing Aurelion Sol onto the defensive. This is a clear weakness of the celestial dragon's because, outside of a couple last-minute big red button abilities, the Star Forger has very few defenses inside his orbiting . One of his options comes in the form of , which he can essentially double tap to stun his face-to-face enemy before making his way to safety. The other comes once he hits .
So, instead of waiting for the enemy minions to bounce back, Aurelion Sol often works best bringing his might to bear elsewhere.flight is powerful, but its range - especially at early ranks - is pretty limited. The Star Forger mitigates this by roaming toward his target, building up his Escape Velocity stacks as he approaches his take-off spot. Once he's picked enough speed, he can take to the skies with , gliding over the last walls as he prepares his assault. is crucial here; by casting it before or as he flies, Aurelion Sol can actually keep pace with his flourishing star, expanding its size and threat as he draws closer to his hapless victim. Timing is vital, as is communication, but when Aurelion Sol successfully into another lane with a colossal world-destroying by his side, well... he's definitely going to leave a mark.
By mid-game, Aurelion Sol should have some of his essential items, granting him enough raw presence to threaten the enemy team while aiding his own. He doesn't jive well with raw AP, but instead thrives with tanky AP items that provide him and his team with utility. It's this utility - alongside Aurelion Sol's Dragon, for instance, and dissuade the enemy team from contesting by body-blocking with while his allies secure their objective. The enemy jungler will have to avoid cycling as well as , or else vacantly stare on in stunned silence as the Star Forger's team successfully their winged target.threat - that gives the Star Forger such a huge presence around neutral objectives. He can set up outside
Things only get hairier for the enemy team once Aurelion Sol gains access to his ultimate,. The ability can devastate entire teams when the Star Forger positions inside one of the jungle's tight corridors. And by unleashing down one of these pathways, Aurelion Sol won't just wreck enemy squishies, but also knock back any approaching tanks or fighters looking to claim an apparently easy kill. Kiting's a simple enough thing when he moves to rejoin his team, with items like repeatedly slowing his pursuers while passive kicks in, accelerating Aurelion Sol's retreat.
Aurelion Sol has a couple of options when it comes to teamfighting. One is to carefully position himself behind his team's frontline, whittling down his distant enemies withwhile saving to stop enemy assassins from ruining his day. plays a key role here, too, blowing back divers or withering away his clustered targets' health bars. This tactic requires a beefy frontline capable of distracting or otherwise preventing the enemy team's killers from breaking through, but is generally the safer, more reliable method.
Then there's the other option, where Aurelion Solinto the heart of the enemy team with a huge freakin' by his side. As grand as this entrance can be, it requires incredibly precise timing with Aurelion Sol's team to pull off. Smash your way in too early and the Star Forger will only last a couple of seconds before meeting his maker; too late and his team will have already lost a four vs five teamfight.
But time it right and he'll pave the way for his team's entry - or follow up on an ally's initiation - with a massive area of effect. Once he's landed, he'll need to stay on the lookout for enemies who can encroach inside his , particularly if is still on cooldown. And if he hasn't used his to eject enemy divers from his proximity, the Star Forger can turn to to finish off fleeing stragglers who haven't yet perished beneath his brutal, unending attacks.
|Works well with:||Struggles against:|
|Braum - the Heart of the Freljord
Braum provides Aurelion Sol with plenty of beefy frontliner bulk for the enemy team to contend with. He'll happily slow enemy divers withand block their onslaught with his standard into combo, all while Aurelion Sol chips away at his enemies' health bars with . Also, the Heart of the Freljord and the Star Forger both have super strong if any baddies still manage to break through.
|Akali - the Fist of Shadow
Akali has all the tools needed to expose andat Aurelion Sol's weaknesses. Remember, he has very few defenses inside his orbiting , so if a heavy damage dealer, like... say... an assassin, can get up close and personal to Aurelion Sol, he's screwed. Enter Akali, who can her way past the Star Forger's before artfully him up into a really expensive pair of shoes.
|Sivir - the Battle Mistress
Whereprovides and - in the literal sense - Sivir's all about . She provides her team with her customary chase/reposition tool with , before pairing up with Aurelion Sol to form a terrifying mass attacking duo through her and and his and . If the enemy team stays grouped, they'll die together; if they split up... well, that seldom works out, either.
|Graves - the Outlaw
Not only can the Outlaw useto dart away from - or inside - Aurelion Sol's orbiting , he also packs more than enough firepower (thanks to and ) to fire the celestial dragon over to the land of the gray screen. And even if the big blue dragon survives Graves' bonanza, the Outlaw can simply lay down a and walk away from his blinded adversary.
|Tahm Kench - the River King
Tahm Kench candown on Aurelion Sol to become a horrific, maniac in team fights. The Star Forger's will continue orbiting him even when he's exploring the hidden depths of the River King's gastrointestinal system, meaning everyone's favorite catfish-frog-thing can happily speed his way around the enemy team, using to absorb the enemy team's beating while withering his targets away under repeated rounds of pain.
|Nidalee - the Bestial Huntress
There are a couple of ways Nidalee can ruin Aurelion Sol's day. There's her terrifyingly pointy long-range, of course, that'll leave the Star Forger whimpering for mercy. But even if he gets close enough to land a few on the Bestial Huntress, she can just before in and Aurelion Sol apart in form.
Champion Insights: Aurelion Sol
By Conor 'fizzNchips' Sheehy 
Design notes by Luke Rinard aka Rabid Llama
Art notes by Gem Lim aka Lonewingy
Narrative notes by Matt Dunn aka FauxSchizzle
Despite previous challenges, we still thought the dragon archetype was a really cool, ripe space for a champion, so our first order of business was to try and figure out the theme or style of dragon we were creating. We tried out smoke and earth themed dragons, then slotting him into a few of the Runeterran factions. But whether we dressed him up in Noxian gear, hextech threads or Ionian attire, something just didn't feel right - our dragon didn't feel particularly unique to Runeterra. We started thinking bigger, and as we did, received new artwork from the Foundation team - Rioters who were already in the process of redefining Mount Targon's look and history.
Something clicked instantly. Instead of slotting our dragon into one of our pre-existing factions, we could have him come from the universe beyond Runeterra! Mount Targon was already something of a bridge between Runeterra and the celestial world -and in particular - so aligning our skeleton of a champion closest to it made a ton of sense for us. If nothing else, it meant we could go big, upping his scale way past anything else we'd made before. And let's face it: when it comes to dragons, epic is the cost of doing business.
- Dragon Mechanics
With the foundations starting to take form, we started thinking about how exactly a space dragon would operate in a game of League. Would it attack with its tail? Would it fly? Did it have wings? Scales? Would it breathe fire? These were all questions we needed answers to, so we mocked up an early demo version of a dragon, and sent him on to the Rift.
Even before he had his abilities down, his shape and size gave him characteristics that didn't tally up with the champion we were trying to create. Our dragon's early tail snaked around after him, and made it super easy for enemies to hit him with skillshots. We tried running with that, thinking of dragon as a tanky champion to match his tanky shape, but it didn't hit the space-faring magical dragon fantasy we were leaning toward, and we started running into weird art and gameplay issues with his tail. On top of looking more like a snake than a dragon, he could head up to the top lane triple brush area and have his head in one section of brush, the middle of his body in the open, and the tip of his tail in the next brush over. What did that mean for visibility in our game? Our concerns led us to trying out other body shapes, and we ended up turning to the night's sky for inspiration, using the idea of a comet - with its burning bright body and faded tail - for our dragon's body. Our dragon would start out solid, but gradually become more and more ethereal - with stars peppering his body - as you got closer to his substantially shortened tail.
Feedback was solid. We were on the right path. Next we tried to figure out what our dragon would actually look like in-game. We were super cognizant of the various dragon interpretations around the world (dragons are huge, flying, fire-breathing beasts in Western mythology, and serpentine water-based creatures in the East) so looked to tread some ground without leaning too far in one particular direction. At the same time, we started to tackle the dragon's character. It was all well and good creating a colossal space dragon, but who was he? How could we realistically slot this potentially galaxy-sized cosmic thing into our world? How or why does he interact with the denizens of Runeterra?
- Dragon, the Rock Star
So, who exactly was this giant space dragon? We started out thinking about space itself, and why this dragon was there in the first place. After a few failed directions, we started thinking about him as a celestial creator, someone who literally created entire galaxies as he meandered about the final frontier. Instead of a-style beast, he was an artist - a beautiful, magical being who'd for centuries created the constellations that peppered the night sky. The idea slotted in well with his burgeoning look, so we ran with it. But we needed that spark, that wink that'd catch us off guard, a square peg for the round holes we'd found in his character. So we gave him a sprinkle of pomposity along with his magnificence.
's the reference we kept on floating around the office. He ticked all of the boxes we were looking for with dragon: artistic, effortlessly marvelous, and beautiful, and the whole thing was a pretty convenient reference, too. We wanted our dragon to be really smug and pretentious, but, crucially, to get away with it, too. Say some guy walked up to you claiming to be the world's greatest musician before sitting down at a piano and banging out some keyboard-destroying, world-changing masterpiece. You'd probably pull a face and say something along the lines of "Yeah, fair enough", right? That's what we wanted our dragon to do, too, but instead of tickling the ivories, he'd create entire galaxies. Imagine the ego on that guy! He'd be the most condescending and belittling ass ever, but, because he'd earned it, we'd love him regardless. Of course, we had to think carefully about the name. We couldn't call the most grandiose character in our universe "Steve" or "Gary" - he needed something much more spectacular. After a few weeks of toying with monikers, we came up with the name bestowed upon him by the Targonians. It was suitably artistic, pretentious and... well, big: .
So that the who sorted out, but now the other big character question: why? Why was he here? We went back to Mount Targon and started thinking about potential connections between it and Aurelion Sol, and after learning about the Aspects stories, decided that we could tie the two together quite nicely. We devised this story of Aurelion Sol as a proud creature who was given a crown by the Targonians, ostensibly in tribute of his magnificence, but really to force the dragon into their servitude. He was tricked, basically - a victim of his own hubris - and did the Targonian's bidding before he finally discovered a reason to come to Runeterra: to set himself free. We won't spoil his full story here, but it lined up perfectly with the character we'd given him.
- The Star Bender
Meanwhile, Luke experimented with Aurelion Sol's kit, working closely with CertainlyT to find a really solid gameplay hook. They knew that the dragon would wield strong magical power, but he couldn't be, as RiotWrekz put it, "just a wizard in a dragon costume". Looking to really give him a unique spot among the mages, they focused on fluid movement and emphasizing the long tail's graceful motions. This led (eventually) to the orbiting, which put a huge focus on constantly moving to keep your target at the perfect range. added another point of interest, changing Aurelion Sol's back-and-forth dance into a headlong sprint towards danger. For , CertainlyT was inspired by the idea that taking flight should feel like a reward, and as such it needed to be earned somehow. Building up speed along a runway first before launching into the air turned out to be super satisfying while still offering a clear window for Aurelion Sol's opponents to interrupt his takeoff. Slowly, ability by ability, we figured out a kit thematically grand enough to match Aurelion Sol's narrative and art.
- Completing the Creator
We started applying the finishing touches to Aurelion Sol. We tweaked his visuals, animating him so that he looked less aquatic, while touching up his face so he was less of a beast and actually pretty handsome. Next came his crown, which we were able to link to his actual gameplay. We already knew that Aurelion Sol's tail would be much wispier than his head, but decided to use the physicality of the Star Forger's front half as a way of showcasing the power the Targonian crown had over him, while adding inner stars to the tail end of his body. This doubled down on the sheer scale of the dragon while also reinforcing where players should and should not aim their skillshots when they're fighting him! Magic. Finally, we picked out the voice actor for the role, and headed to the studio to record Aurelion Sol's lines. His quotes actually came really easily - Aurelion Sol had plenty to say, particularly to other champions - but, for whatever reason, the deliveries weren't quite right. After some different takes, we tried something a little... weird, and suggested the actor do jazz hands as he read his lines. It worked a treat, and once we were done recording, we'd just about wrapped up the glorious beast about to hit the Rift.
Forging the Star Forger
This week,gameplay designer Luke 'Rabid Lllama' Rinard and writer Matthew 'FauxSchizzle' Dunn drop in to share the inside scoop on the Star Forger's development.