Azir, the Emperor of the Sands, Revealed
An oft-repeated legend stirs in the desert of Shurima. The swirling sands carry rumors of the ancient emperor , somehow returned.
- Shurima's Legacy
- Conquering Sands
- Shifting Sands
- Emperor's Divide
Azir is a mage who summons Shurimanto control the battlefield and basic attack for him. The soldier's piercing basic attacks furnish most of Azir's damage potential, making him an outlier amongst mages as a right-click-focused champion. Azir's spells, on the other hand, manipulate his and his soldiers' positions to keep him safe and establish dangerous no-go zones for his enemies.
Azir establishes shifting zones of power through soldier placement, gaining control of the lane and farming with their assistance. For instance, a soldier placed near the enemy's caster minions dares a lane opponent to harass or farm through the piercing spear. When the opposing laner missteps, Azir commands the attack, repositioning soldiers with Conquering Sands and finish them off. When the is flipped, a quick Arise! and Shifting Sands rushes Azir out of danger.to make the most of the opportunity. Once a favorable trade or two unlocks kill potential, Azir utilizes , knocking the enemy champion up and setting himself up to compel a
Add Azir's Arise! and Shifting Sands to position Azir behind his opponent. From there, Emperor's Divide drives the foe deep into Azir's side of the map. Pushed so far into Azir's territory, the opposing champ's sure to meet their end at a spear's tip. If offense proves temporarily unwise, Azir's provides safe passage from a fight, building a wall between Azir and his pursuers.to the mix and the Shuriman leader exercises even more zone control. To go for the kill, start off with
As in lane, as in teamfights: Azir shines in battles tied to one physical location, where he can safely order his soldiers around and dispatch adversaries from afar. In that vein, Azir dominatesand fights, using his to lock enemy teams into (or out of) the pits. If teamfights take a roadtrip, Azir must be judicious with and , moving his zone of control along with the combatants. Post-initiation, Azir's an expert at punishing uncoordinated enemies. - combined with Azir's - separates enemy front-liners from their damage dealing dependents, dividing the enemy team for methodical conquering. With the baddies split, Azir charges his soldiers in for the kill, pumping out marksman-level sustained damage until none challenge his rule.
In jungle skirmishes, Azir sets up nasty ambushes with Conquering Sands, transforming convenient exits into spear-guarded gauntlets. Similarly, Emperor's Divide wholly closes a jungle entrance, sealing Azir's foes in with him. Trapped, they're surely short work for Azir, his soldiers and their allies. If a fight goes south, Azir reliably disengages with his or beguiles baddies with Arise! and Shifting Sands, spiriting himself over a jungle wall.
Arise! and Shifting Sands help him jump the base wall and sneak around the siege to rebuild his own inner turret. Caught between the inhibitor turret and the , the enemy team can either scatter or be crushed.doesn't raise a turret quick enough to be of much use in teamfights, but sieges are a different story. When attacking enemy inhibitors, Azir can resurrect their inner turret, trapping the enemy team inside their crumbling base and making counter-engages a dangerous proposition. Conversely, when Azir's base is under assault,
|Works well with:||Struggles against:|
|Yasuo - the Unforgiven
Picks are easy with this pair: Azir uses, knocking up a foe, setting up Yasuo's and positioning himself between the thoroughly-screwed baddie and the rest of the enemy team. A timely pushes the rest of the enemy team away as Yasuo safely slices and dices. Kill secured.
|Ziggs - the Hexplosives Expert
Ziggs simply outranges Azir with, giving the emperor loads of trouble in lane phase. Azir shouldn't expect to do much besides stand near his turret and farm against the diminutive demolition expert.
|Sejuani - the Winter's Wrath
When Sejuani crashes into a teamfight, layeringon an enemy team, she grants Azir all the time and safety he needs to set up soldiers for maximum damage output.
|Kassadin - the Void Walker
With plentifuland a potent , Kassadin's equipped with tools to work around Azir's -controlling, -damage fighting style and bully him out of lane.
|Sivir - the Battle Mistress
Sivir'sand the soldier's piercing attacks dish out a withering amount of AoE damage and break teamfights wide open. With the speed boost from , Azir and his soldiers can chase down any champs before putting them to the spear.
|Maokai - the Twisted Treant
Azir thrives on his ability to move around fights with. Between , and the damage reduction of , Maokai enables his team to lock down and depose the emperor.
- ZenonTheStoic , game design by
What does it mean to be the Emperor?
More than anything, an emperor has subjects. An emperor does not act; he commands. With that in mind, it made sense to focus gameplay on controlling the might of Shurima!
Internally, we call these champs 'minion-mancers'. Once we knew Azir would take on this kind of kit, we knew it was time to look at what does and doesn't work for these often-problematic designs:
Heimerdinger taught us that auto-attacking, stationary minions tend to lead to defensive play. From the likes of Elise, Malzahar, and Yorick, we learned that players do not appreciate minions that run off and do their own thing. Spiderlings ended up on a short leash and Voidlings follow Malefic Visions relentlessly. Finally, minions the player directly controls aren't a great fit for League's control scheme and lack the counterplay of 'stay outside of this zone'.
Awareness around these problems allowed us to introduce appropriate trade-offs to Azir's kit. With these weaknesses in place, we could make the soldiers very strong indeed; imagine if I told you that, given the right setup, your basic attack has 1200 range and hits units in an AoE.
Here's how we approached the core loop of soldier generation and manipulation:
Arise! creates a sand soldier at a target location, from which the soldier projects threat in a circle - so far, so Heimerdinger. However, soldiers require an active input. Azir must right-click and go through a basic attack animation for soldiers to do anything. This makes both Azir and his enemy understand that a conscious command was given to the soldier. This also means that if Azir is stunned or running away, soldiers cease to be a threat. All of a sudden, Azir's opponent can comfortably aggress.
Conquering Sands orders all soldiers to charge toward a target location, damaging and slowing enemies they pass through. This forces Azir to think carefully about when and where to send soldiers. Can Azir afford to use the spell for damage and slow or (Counterplay incoming!) will this allow the enemy to engage on Azir while his soldiers are temporarily unable to move?
Taken together, Arise! and Conquering Sands form a minion kit that gives enough control to make the emperor feel in control while leaving enough weaknesses to make enemies feel that aggression is an option.
- TYPHOONS AND SAND WORMS
Most champs who make it through the development process eventually find a home on the Rift... but not all. And while lost-but-not-forgotten champs might not ever reach the promised land, they often inspire new designs and pave the way for future champions who do.the Hydrosoul is one of those characters.
Well was a water mage developed during League's Beta whose abilities summoned rainstorms, vortexes, and other watery things. He needed a ton of particle effects, but League's technology wasn't exactly the greatest back then. Unable to support such a VFX-heavy champion, Well ultimately met the dreaded fate of cancellation
But a few years—and tech advancements—later, Well's designs inspired a new champ named Seth the Sand Mage. Senior game designer Colt 'Ezreal' Hallam says, "If you compare Seth to Well, he's basically the same guy, but instead of controlling water, it's saaand."
Seth was an aspirational fellow who wanted to turn everything into a desert, thus spreading the realm of Shurima across the land. In-game, his abilities left sand on the map for a few minutes—the more abilities you used, the more sand you created. If you landed an ability on an enemy standing on the sand, it had a bonus effect, like extra range or a knockup. In some iterations, Seth even had a friendly sand buddy: a terrifying sand worm that sporadically attacked wanderers above.
It wasn't long before Seth fell into developmental quicksand—adding so many particle effects to the game was causing lower-end computers to struggle. To counter this, the duration the sand stuck around for was reduced, then the number of particles was lowered, then the duration was hit again...until eventually, the sand-creeping idea was abandoned altogether. "To hit worldwide players, we just couldn't go into this design space," Colt says, "which still breaks my heart, because it was dope."
When Seth lost his sand-spreading privileges, he was left with a hodgepodge of abilities no longer united by their creep-spreading mechanics. Bradford 'CertainlyT' Wenban took over gameplay development, but he quickly became disillusioned. Concept artist Gem 'Lonewingy' Lim says, "Brad was like, 'What even is sand? Does it burn it like fire, or is it slow like ice? What is it?' Then he went crazy and didn't want to work on the champion anymore."
Seth the Sand Mage seemed quite lost.
- SHIFTING SANDS
Seth's character design was just as muddled his gameplay. Since Seth stopped spreading sand in-game, his identity as a "desert expander" no longer made sense. His kit change drove devs to reimagine the Sand Mage's character, which resulted in a royal upgrade: Seth was now the long lost Emperor of Shurima. This shift also meant artists and writers could explore a region that (until the Shurima event) lacked a central story.
Seth—make that Azir—was the last ancient Emperor before Shurima fell, but what exactly was his role in the kingdom's demise? Did his malicious decisions lead to the downfall, or was he a well-intentioned ruler who made costly mistakes? The second option seemed like a more complex, dynamic approach, and Gem set out to redesign Azir from this perspective.
The Emperor's new appearance was primarily inspired by Egyptian mythology, which seemed fitting because two previous Shuriman champs were already modeled from Egyptian gods. Nasus was inspired by Anubis, god of the afterlife, and Renekton was influenced by Sobek, a crocodile-headed god associated with military prowess. The foundation for soon-to-be-Azir was Ra, god of the sun. Ra was a powerful, falcon-headed god who was often pictured with a sun-disk, much like the now-iconic one in Shurima.
- SOLDIERS, ONWARD
Azir had an updated backstory and new look, and now he needed fresh concept art for his abilities. Inspired by his position as the Emperor, Gem drew a picture that's now recognized as the turning point in Azir's development: Azir summoning sand soldiers.
After that, everything fell perfectly into place... except not at all.
Back then, the soldiers were assigned to just one of Azir's abilities—an addition to sand hands and a newly designed windmill of death, which was a summoned tower that shot four rotating beams of lethal light. When Daniel 'ZenonTheStoic' Klein—Azir's fourth and final champion designer—took over for Drew Marlow, he realized Azir's current kit was dead on arrival. "Nobody could quite find a kit for this guy," Daniel says, "And sometimes, that just happens."
But instead of leaving Azir in dust, the champ team tried to reimagine him using the existing concept art and in-game assets: a character model, a sand soldier (and its dash animation), and the windmill of death.
For three full days, developers worked in small teams, each trying to create a compelling character from the ruins. When it was time to share their designs, everyone's had one thing in common: The soldier was central to the champion, both in gameplay and thematic. "Everyone thought everything else about this guy was generic," Daniel says, "except for his soldiers. We knew then it had to be about the soldiers."
At long last, it was time for Azir, Emperor of Shurima, to rise.
- THE ORDER IS GIVEN
Designing a champion centered around soldiers meant abandoning the sand mage's kit completely. Instead, he became a minion-mancer, a champion who controls summoned things. "Deciding to go in this direction was scary," Daniel says, "Because it was a very unresolved space." They looked towards champs like Heimerdinger, Malzahar, and Zyra to see what about their kits worked... and what didn't:
Minions who automatically attacked (Heimer's towers) weren't very interactive, minions that acted on their own accord (Malz's old, old voidlings) weren't fun, and most minions could create oppressive zone-control (Zyra's plants), so there needed to be a trade-off. All previous minions were also targetable, had HP, and blocked skillshots. In an attempt to sidestep previous balance issues, they approached the design space from a different angle: Azir's soldiers were untargetable and couldn't act on their own; rather, their actions and positions were controlled directly by Azir's player.
The resulting kit looked a lot like the one you know and love—or don't love—today, but with one key difference: Azir had to personally auto-attack a target before his soldiers would follow suit. After one playtesting session, Colt said, "This is kind of cool, and I see what you're trying to do, but wouldn't it be better if you just commanded the soldiers to attack instead?"
"That was the moment we were like, 'Oh shit. We have an actual champion,'" Klein says.
When playing Azir, you are the emperor. You make your own army and everything you do commands them, even your right-clicks. Azir doesn't have to attack you; he just points in your direction, then his sand soldiers stab you to death.
- LESSONS FROM THE EMPEROR
It's no secret that Azir had one of, if not the, roughest champ releases in the last few years. We were fixing Azir bugs for months after his launch, which made an already difficult-to-play champion feel practically impossible. Part of the reason Azir was so buggy was because multiple teams at Riot (including Azir's) agreed stuff related to the Shurima event would all be ready at the same time. Azir's coding was really complicated, and when that date came, he still had problems. However, his release was central to the Shurima event, so he launched anyways.
Since then, the champion dev team has been very reluctant to commit to a hard deadline. You never know what can happen in development, and we don't want to release a champ that isn't quite ready for live again.
Aside from technical issues, balancing Azir has always been a struggle because the problem lies within his kit. "We completely underestimated how hard he would be to play," Daniel says. The individual inputs, or buttons you hit in-game, seem easy enough—click on an enemy to do damage—but altering a fundamental system—right-clicking usually makes you auto attack (not soldiers)—caused the learning curve to go through the roof. Even though his strength was hidden behind really complicated inputs, it was only a matter of time until god-like players could pull it off. For a while, if you could hit the all the right buttons, Azir was OP, but if not, he was basically garbage (and today he's seen as rather weak across all divisions).
Part of the reason Azir's kit is so unique is because around the time of his development, the competitive pool kept shrinking. Devs thought it was because so many champs had overlapping strengths and weaknesses, so in 2014, devs set out to make champs that were really, really distinct. Creating a super original champion was a success, but it came at the expense of long-term balance. "Azir's development is a cautionary tale of executing too well on bad goals," Daniel says. "And in the future, we'd like to make Azir more possible to play by mere mortals."
Champion Roadmap: July 2017
- The Sands are Shifting
So, as many of you know, we are planning on doing a smaller rework to the legendary Emperor of Shurima, Azir. Azir has been a balancing nightmare since his release. He has a little bit of everything—engage, disengage, long-range damage, hyper-carry potential… you name it and Azir probably has it. When Azir is strong (and played optimally) he removes all potential for counterplay due to how well rounded he is, a problem that becomes even more pronounced in competitive play. In order to bring Azir in line, we’re going to have to tone down or remove some of his strengths in order to open up some more weak spots.
At the center of all these issues is the Shurima Shuffle, which is his ability to dash a pretty long distance and use his ult to force an engagement or escape a tough situation. We are currently looking at two possible solutions to the Shurima Shuffle dilemma. One would be to keep the shuffle and build a supporting kit that can co-exist with this iconic move. The other solution would be to remove the shuffle and push his kit closer towards his thematic, which is that of an Emperor commanding his sand soldiers from the backline.
We are still in very early exploration on Azir, and it seems that players are just as torn as we are between the two possible directions. Stay tuned for future Champion Roadmap blogs that will go into more details about Azir once we have better locked down which direction we want to go.