Champion Update: Ryze heads to PBE
By fizzNchips 
One of League's original 40 champions, Ryze's gameplay has been largely left alone over the last five and a bit years. Welp, time to change 'has' to 'had', because the champion update crew just finished creating a Rogue Mage fit for 2015's champion aficionados. Alongside his new ability and sound effects, a couple of Ryze's abilities have undergone some pretty hefty changes. But before we get into how new Ryze plays, here's a quick look at his shiny new kit:
- Arcane Mastery
Ryze builds up stacks of Arcane Mastery as he casts his abilities. After reaching max stacks, Ryze becomes temporarily supercharged and gains a couple of powerful buffs: casting an ability significantly reduces the cooldown of his other abilities. Ryze also gains a shield based on his maximum mana.
Ryze's damage dealing abilities scale in part with his maximum mana.
Ryze fires a ball of rune energy out in a target direction, damaging the first enemy struck.
- Rune Prison
Ryze traps a targeted enemy, damaging them and rooting them for a short duration.
- Spell Flux
Ryze targets an enemy unit, blasting them with a slow-moving ball of energy that, after striking the target, splits to damage all nearby enemies before returning to Ryze's original target, dealing increasing damage based on the number of bolts.
While Ryze's general role has stayed consistent (he still absolutely has the potential to be a late game powerhouse) our update brings both the blue man and his opponents sizeable windows of power to play around. It's a term we introduced with Gnar, and basically means that, where old Ryze was largely consistent with his damage output, new Ryze alternates between moments of relative weakness and power. For both Ryze and his opponents, learning to play around Arcane Mastery is crucial: Ryze's power spike is colossal as soon as it's triggered, so he'll likely start to move in to engage as his passive stacks near completion. Once Arcane Mastery kicks in, Ryze can quickly cycle through abilities which, in turn, help reset the cooldown of the spells he's already slung. Provided he has the mana - and this is important - Ryze will at least win the trade, and at best, utterly destroy his target.
Aside from his passive, some of the biggest changes have hit Overload and Spell Flux. Overload is no longer targeted, so while there are benefits to his new Q (its new range is much longer, for example) it's much harder to land against targets who sit within or behind their minion wave. On the other hand, Spell Flux now works best on targets who've buried themselves amongst friends. Essentially, Ryze's opponents now have to decide if they're best off hiding behind their minions and dealing with Spell Flux's potentially brutal damage, or moving off to the side and hoping they can dance around multiple Overloads.
- Champion Insights
- Ryze, gameplay by RiotRepertoir
Old Ryze had a number of problems, but first and foremost, he just wasn't all that interesting. His damage output was predictable and his damage windows were pretty much always open. He'd build aand as early as he could, then pretty much sit back and hope to reach his final late game hypercarry form. This turned him into an all or nothing champion in competitive play - he was either 100% pick/ban or never seen at all depending on where his numbers were - and while consistency isn't usually a bad thing, Ryze just ended up flat and predictable. Changes were needed.
Which brings us to the update. As we mentioned earlier, the update revolves around the notion of windows of power. When his passive is down, Ryze will actually be notably weaker than old Ryze, but by giving him that period of weakness, we're able to really amp up his power when his passive triggers. These windows give both Ryze and his lane opponent(s) a bunch more to think about, and can even dictate the outcome of entire late game teamfights. We still want Ryze to get into the thick of things and melt faces from his limited range, but now he has to judge his timing and make sure his team fights when he's good and ready to ramp up.
Champion Update: Ryze, the Rune Mage
- Arcane Mastery
Ryze's spells deal additional damage based on his bonus mana, and his maximum mana is increased by a percentage of his ability power.
- Passive: Casting Ryze's other spells resets the cooldown of Overload and begins charging a Rune. Cast another spell (not Overload) within this window to fully charge the Rune, or cast Overload to cancel the charge.
- Active: Fire a runic blast in a direction, dealing magic damage to the first enemy struck. If Ryze has a Rune fully charged when he casts Overload, he is shielded and gains a temporary movement speed boost.
- Rune Prison
Instantly root a target and deal magic damage.
- Spell Flux
Deal magic damage to a target and marks it with Flux. Ryze's next spell on targets marked with Flux will deal bonus effects:
- Overload deals bonus damage and bounces to nearby enemies marked with Flux.
- The root duration of Rune Prison is doubled.
- Spell Flux applies Flux to all nearby enemies.
If a target marked with Flux is killed by any champion, Flux is applied to all nearby enemies.
Legend has it that an unkillable demon king once said "Ryze is the champion to learn when you want to understand the importance of hitting the right keys at the right time and in the right order." Ryze is about combos, and this rework isn't changing that. At his core, the Rune Mage is still a mean purplish-blue dude who uses dynamic combinations of spells to lay the whoopass on his opponents.
So let's get into it: what combos should Ryze players know when they're in the laning phase?
Waveclear Overload ( E > W > Q) Drop Spell Flux on a minion that's near-death, then finish it off with any other spell to spread Flux to all other surrounding minions - Cannon minions are a perfect target for this, since they tend to sit near the center of waves. You've now got a powerful way to wave clear with a bouncy Overload.
Prime the Wave, Stun some Babes ( E > E > W > Q) Flux-infected waves pose a threat to your lane opponent, since Ryze can recast Spell Flux on fluxed-up minions to spread the effect to nearby targets. If Ryze catches an enemy champ with Flux in this way, he can instantly root them for an extended period with Rune Prison. An added strength of the E > W portion of this combo is that it fully charges a Rune, ensuring that his next Q grants him a shield and a brief movement speed boost to help him chase down a kill (or kite away from a bloodthirsty opponent)
- Teamfighting and Late-Game
When full teams clash, Ryze players have to rapidly compose spell combos that solve the problem at hand. Do you need to burst down one specific target? Are you better off applying damage to as many targets as possible? Or are you cleaning up after a successful engage? Bad Ryze players pop open a can of ability spam. Great Ryze players choose their combos wisely.
Flux me Once, Shame on You... ( E > E > Q) Ryze may not be able to burst down tanky frontliners, but that doesn't mean he's useless - he'll just have to temporarily play as an AoE backline mage. Sting a nearby champion with Spell Flux, then hit them with it again ASAP to apply the effect to any and all enemies nearby. You'll then only need to hit one of them with your Q to deal damage to the whole crowd.
No Escape ( E > W > R > E > Q > faceroll on keyboard) The scariest thing about Ryze's ult is his ability to reposition himself and his team mid-fight. Nothing prevents Ryze from moving about freely and casting his other abilities after the initial cast of Realm Warp, so if he or an ally lands a stun (like an empowered Rune Prison) on a low-health opponent, he can immediately begin casting Realm Warp and aim it behind them. While Realm Warp channels, Ryze can unload the remainder of his spell combo on his opponent, then immediately afterward warp his entire team behind them to cut off their escape. When his cooldowns come back up after the warp, somebody is gonna go down. The best way to stop this if you're up against Ryze is to tag him with a crowd-control ability - that'll cancel the warp altogether.
Ryze's Realm Warp never achieves the same lane-swapping potential of a Taliyah or Tahm Kench ult. As a result, the fact that he brings allied minions along on his ride is usually nothing more than a happy little accident, and his displaced friends soon return to their rightful lane. This doesn't hold true inside the enemy base, where lanes converge and Ryze's level 18 ult can actually transfer one lane's minions to an adjacent lane. If, for instance, you've got a massive wave that just destroyed the enemy's bottom lane inhibitor, you might Realm Warp to bring a pile of them with you to attack the midlane inhibitor turret. They'll dutifully give up their allegiance to the botlane and attack the turret closest to them.
These combos are just a starting point, and the hope for this rework is that players smarter than us will figure out more surprising ways to combine the tools in his kit.
- Champion Insights
From a narrative perspective, Ryze has been a total enigma - nearly a blank template, as far as characters go. What is there to say about him, other than that he's a magical hermit with a bigass scroll on his back? His few scraps of in-game dialogue told us that he's an impatient old coot ("Let's go! Let's go! Come on already! Don't hold me up!") Beyond that, there's never been much substance there.
The challenge was to flesh out that shell of a character without screwing up the impressions that players have formed about Ryze over the last seven years of playing as him. "It's a little intimidating to update Ryze", says senior narrative writer John 'JohnODyin' O'Bryan. "He's almost a poster boy of League."
Instead of ditching Ryze's existing story tidbits, we set out to answer questions we've always had about him. Why is he nomadic, what's up with this big scroll, and why is he so blue? Slowly, JohnODyin and others on the narrative team filled in the blanks: Ryze is nomadic because he's on a mission to find and gather up ultra-powerful runes that are effectively weapons of mass destruction. He stores these runes in the scroll on his back, and is very protective of them; they'd be terribly dangerous if they fell into the wrong hands.
Ryze is centuries old, and is kept alive by runic magic. He's traversed the world on foot, and seen empires rise and fall. Anyone who endures so much would become a bit world-weary - Ryze has been alive so long that he's seen humans make the same screwups over and over. "The blue thing we didn't necessarily solve", admits JohnODyin. "But we think he was a regular guy who was changed over time by the magic he wields."
- The Re-re-rework
Certainly, many players will agree that Ryze has changed a lot over time. This rework is arguably our third or fourth attempt at redefining the Rune Mage, and players have rightfully called us to task for not getting him into a better spot sooner.
Champion designer David 'RiotRepertoir' Capurro has done a lot of thinking about this problem. A year ago, RiotRepertoir worked on a gameplay redesign of Ryze with the goal of giving him 'windows of power' to play within. The idea was his passive and ult would (after careful management of stacks) combine at key moments to make Ryze incredibly powerful. To get the most out of Ryze, players needed to carefully manage their spell stacking and implement combos that reset their cooldowns. With the Rune Mage currently sitting at around a 50% winrate, some might argue that the last round of changes turned him into a more-or-less balanced champion. So why rework him again?
But winrate doesn't tell the full story. The Rune Mage had three major problems: he's too difficult to learn, too strong once you've mastered him, and too confusing to lane against for players who haven't memorized the nitty gritty details of Ryze's stacking and spell-combo gameplay. The Rune Mage is sometimes unbearably strong for reasons that aren't necessarily clear to his opponents. The windows of power we'd imagined for Ryze have, in practice, acted more as two-way mirrors of power. The knowledgeable Ryze player sees and understands what's going on with his kit, but other players see only darkness.
Historically, the problem with strong Ryze players has been that they're hyper reliable and impossible to deal with when they're ahead. All they really do is deal tons of damage and instantly root you - with the last set of changes, we didn’t fix that.
It's not that we have a problem with high skill-ceiling champs, or that you shouldn't have to put in effort to learn them. Deep, challenging characters are actually vital to League's long-term success - they're often the most rewarding ones to master. The problem is when champions feel impenetrable for those learning the champ and for people playing against it.
So, how do we apply this thinking to Ryze? First, we killed the stacking/cooldown mechanic on his passive, but reworked some elements of it into his other abilities. The idea is that Ryze players (and their opponents) will have to spend less time keeping track of nearly-invisible stacks and think more about their very recent actions. Ryze's buffs and debuffs are now tied to a three or four second duration, which means that generally speaking, there are specific, memorizable combos that Ryze players will have as options at any given point.
"Ideally, Ryze's skill ceiling is similar to before, and the skill floor is now higher", says RiotRepertoir. "Anyone can pick up Ryze and have a general idea of what you’re supposed to do with him, and then get better from there."
- Ding Dong, You're Rooted
The running theme through Ryze's gameplay rework is that his kit needed more clarity. Ryze's visuals and animations contributed to this problem. Whether it's a total noob trying Ryze for the first time or the best players in the world taking him to his mechanical limits, it always looks the same whenever Ryze is doing stuff: his arms flail around and a lot of blue shit comes out.
There's no question about the quality of Ryze's current in-game visuals, says art lead Joshua 'HUGEnFAST' Smith. "He's in the bottom ten. He's got the pizza feet, the really weird proportions. We wanted to get him to the same level of visual fidelity of a new champ."
The solution was to make his movements more exaggerated and flavorful. We rigged him to put more punch and power into his attacks, instead of just casually flinging spells out. It’s much more physical now, and the Rune Mage's tattoos pulse and light up as his power flows through him.
It wasn't enough to light Ryze up and teach him some new moves: new gameplay demanded a new approach to his sound design. The big problem approached by sound designer Eugene 'Riot Kyugene' Kang? Our blue buddy is too damn loud.
"There's very little dynamic range among the sound samples on Ryze's current kit", says Riot Kyugene. "They're loud, they're intense, and they're all pretty similar. Because everything is loud, nothing is."
Without a basis for comparison amongst that sea of spells, it became hard for players to use sound indicators to tell what Ryze is doing to them. Riot Kyugene's new sound work on Ryze emphasizes the importance of his new E, because it tells players that what's coming next is the more empowered part of Ryze's combo.
This week, designer David 'RiotRepertoir' Capurro, writer John 'O'Dyin' O’Bryan, and splash artist Josh 'HUGEnFAST' Smith share the behind-the-scenes story on updating Ryze, the Rune Mage.