Critical Play: Teamfight Tactics
This week, for my balance critical play, I played Teamfight Tactics (Set 7), developed by Riot Games on a PC platform. The game is recommended for ages 13+, which makes sense to me given the in-game chat that is present. The game is intended to be played by a single player, and played in a free-for-all (FFA) format with 7 others.
Players compete with seven others for champions and items in the carousel! (every six rounds)
Game Mechanic Basics
Teamfight Tactics (TFT) is an auto-chess game, meaning player buy units and arrange them on a board, and then are matched with an opponent to conduct an automated battle over which the player has no direct control. For each lost fight, players lose health, and are subsequently taken out of the game when they reach 100 health. The game also uses gold as an economic resource to buy units (which compounds with interest to a certain extent) and items, which enhance units. Thus, the player controls are all strategic; player can click on units to buy them, level up their shop, or save to compound interest. In TFT Set 7, there are 58 champions to choose from, with costs ranging from 1-5 as well as 8 and 10.
Hybrid strategy between a “slow roll” and “hyper roll”
Types of Balance
In TFT, two of the four primary modes of balance apply: strategy and game-object balance. For strategy, there are a few overarching strategies that players can take, mostly involving game pacing and economic strategy. Players can choose to hyper roll (spend all their money as soon as they get it to obtain and early lead), slow roll (save until maximum income then spend money up until the threshold, 50, each turn), or fast level (save money and level up the shop to gain a late-game advantage, trying to minimize early leads). With each balance patch, each of these strategies changes in effectiveness, which is usually closely tied with the game object balance as well. Since TFT has 58 champions to choose from, and many more item combinations, units are very difficult to balance together, and often result in distinct metas forming.
Lots of Permutations and Combinations: This game is hard to balance!
Balancing of Game Objects
Since TFT is a game based on game objects (champions and items), game objects are easily the most important component of game balance. Units have distinct costs, stats, and unique abilities, which makes it difficult to compare with one another; however, since the combat is conducted automatically, it is easy to see which units may be outpacing the others in gameplay. Thus, fruity balance is not as applicable in TFT. Transitive and Intransitive relationships, however, are very present. Transitive relationships refer to the cost curve of units in the game, and thus are most responsible for the fluctuations in strategy balance as well. When one cost units are too powerful compared to four cost units, there is little incentive to save money to chase a weaker strategy, thus leading to a false option. The developers thus try to reduce to overall effectiveness of cheaper units, leaving possible one or two viable carry strategies to encourage a healthy balance.
Bubble Nami: One of the darkest times in TFT balance history
The intransitive relationships are also extremely common in TFT. There are certain checks and balances in the game to make it easier to balance overall in case any one strategy is too dominant. In a spell-heavy meta, for example, certain items such as Shroud of Stillness, which increases cost casts for your opponent, will be valued much higher due to their ability to handicap more opponents. In an auto-attack heavy meta, on the other hand, it will be more useful to build high amounts of armor, which reduce the damage of auto attacks against your team. If the majority of the players build heavy armor, however, it opens up the potential to play a spell-heavy composition to exploit this weakness, giving the non-dominants composition an advantage. Though at times these dynamics have proven to not be effective enough, for the most part they encourage a large amount of variance in strategy (especially at higher ELO/MMR).
In recent sets, TFT has also introduced a new augment system that has greatly helped in introducing even more additional incentives to build varied compositions. The game offers three choices of unique benefits that sometimes incentivize an underperforming composition, or even a completely illogical composition altogether. “Built Different,” for instance, encourages players to not match units at all, as it grants un-matched units a stat boost to compensate, leading to some very strange looking compositions. “Tri-Force” encourages players to only buy 3 cost units in order to maximize its respective stat buff, also leading to highlight games every once in a while. Overall, there haven’t been too many balance issues thus far with the augment system, which has been heavily favored by the community.
Encourage varied strategies with bonus incentives (Academics, reroll, fast level from left to right)
As a side note, the game also heavily relies on luck to distribute units, even if the game is highly skill dependent. This both helps and hurts balance — while randomness makes it difficult to “force” a dominant strategy, it also makes players feel helpless when playing against a player with better luck. To balance this, TFT has increasingly introduced more decisions into the game (such as the augoment system) that allow players to better determine the outcome of the game. While randomness can never perfectly be balanced, in recent sets the game has felt much more balanced in terms of varied strategies.
Overall, TFT is one of my favorite games. However, there have been times (metas) that have been very unbalanced that have turned me away from the game; given the number of iterations the game has had in the form of patches (balancing changes) and sets (entirely new units and changes in items), it seems reasonable that balance would be off a few times. Typically, changes occur relatively quickly, and units are rebalanced to give each unit a moment in the limelight. Although the game has never been perfectly balanced due to the sheer amount of permutations of units and items, for the most part, the game is extremely fun!