2019 was the year of Teamfight Tactics. But there’s reason to believe that 2020 won’t be as kind to the game that dominated the autobattler genre throughout the course of the decade’s closing moments. A game that seemed so promising just a few months ago has taken a drastic turn in an unhealthy direction, and if TFT is to be saved, action needs to be taken quickly.
Think back to early July, when TFT had first launched, and the “age of experimentation” was alive. The game was thriving because of the natural sense of curiosity and intrigue that had swept throughout the playerbase. Everyone was trying everything. The meta hadn’t been defined yet, and the game was genuinely fun. Of course, over time, strategies were developed and the game became more structured, resulting in the formation of a definitive meta that evolved and flowed from patch to patch, but things were never stagnant.
Even with a set “meta”, things felt flexible. During those summer months, there was room for everything. Experimentation still thrived in an ecosystem that promoted it. Whether you were hyperrolling, economizing, or simply trying things out, it always felt like the game had a place for you.
The reason TFT was so popular back in the summer wasn’t because it was new, it was because it was refreshing. It felt nice to play a game that didn’t suck players into a structured force right from the get go. Perhaps the “newness” of the game played a factor in that lack of structure, but when you take that into account, it becomes clear that TFT might never recapture those feelings of hype and excitement that the game’s playerbase experienced back when the title first launched.
Still, that didn’t stop Riot from trying. In the company’s effort to rekindle the magic that made TFT seriously enjoyable back in its beta, the game may have been doomed in the process through a combination of dangerous precedents, abrupt sweeping change, and general overcomplication.
In October, Riot announced the second set for TFT, Rise of the Elements, ultimately turning the game on its head and changing a strong portion of the fundamental aspects of gameplay. Everything players knew about the game was changed drastically as a plethora of new characters, origins, synergies, and mechanics all entered the game at once, sweeping away everything that came before.
Overnight, TFT became immensely complex for no reason at all. It only took four months to completely expand the game into something that it didn’t need to. You can’t help but look at the latest set of TFT and wonder if Riot jumped the gun. They didn’t need to add new units. They didn’t need to add new items. They didn’t need to add another row of hexes. They didn’t need to change the game so drastically all at once. With so many changes, people are bound to look for what’s best right off the bat. In Set 2, there was never any room for organic experimentation like there was in Set 1. The meta was already being established on day 1. It’s stunning to see TFT, a game that once prided itself on the perfect combination of risk-taking and calculated strategy, fall so heavily in favor of concrete structure, tossing flexibility to the wind in the process.
TFT was doing just fine heading into the autumn months and was in no need of a “pick-me-up”. It’s not like those who were playing the game were clamoring for a dramatic change to the entire system in one fell swoop. If anything, the most probable reason for this incredibly massive alteration was the game’s population decrease between seasons.
Sure, there was probably a drop-off in players between July and September, but using a game’s playerbase at launch as a metric of measurement in regards to stability is incredibly unfair. In order to get a more reasonable survey, Riot should have waited until the game started to experience serious dips in population during times of stability before releasing a new set.
Additionally, scrubbing the game clean after just three months is no way to promote a stable landscape. And now, the precedent has been set. In order to keep up with this unreasonable tradition of completely altering the game with a new set every few months, Riot has to work incredibly hard just to reach the standards they set with the release of Rise of the Elements. By that point, Riot would have to release three to four new sets each year just to keep up with where they are now. Not only does that sound remarkably tiresome, it’s genuinely unceremonious. The release of a new “expansion” for a game or even a complete “revamp” should feel special. When the landscape of a game is completely changed every few months, with a ton of patches every few weeks to supplement, it feels like the game is never stable. If TFT is to avoid this process, Riot needs to slow down the rate at which content is released for the game.
Of course, every player wants new content, but too much of it too quickly makes releases feel a lot less important. And for a game as simplistic in nature as TFT, it’s going to be imperative for Riot to keep those really special moments important. New set releases need to hold gravity while still keeping the fundamental balance of the game in check. Finding a way to keep set releases feel important, while still keeping the fundamentals of the game intact should most definitely be Riot’s main goal heading into 2020. It’s unsustainable to start from scratch every few months.
And while no one can take away what TFT achieved in 2019, it’s going to be an arduous task to bring this year’s momentum into 2020. The game is already in a worse off spot than it was when it was at its “peak”. And if a game has already “peaked” five or six months into its lifespan, there are obviously bigger problems at hand.
Photo Credit: Riot Games, Teamfight Tactics, League of Legends