Here at Riot Games, we're making every attempt to ensure that we deliver exciting champions to even the most twisted and deviant of human minds. So if you're a budding veterinarian or ornithologist, it's now your turn to start getting excited. Meet Swain, the Master Tactician. In addition to being a distinguished Noxian gentleman of impeccable wealth and taste, Swain also just happens to be a fan of our feathered friends. And like some people who wind up at the League of Legends, well... let's just say that he's much more than meets the eye.
I'm happy to announce that our next big VGU after Evelynn will be none other than the leader of Noxus himself, Swain. To start off, his visuals haven't held up very well over time. Swain is supposed to be the all-powerful ruler of Noxus, and he doesn't really look the part at the moment. His theme is also a bit confused with his actual gameplay—he's a Master Tactician, yet he plays more like a Drain Tank/Battle Mage.
His gameplay has also been a design problem for a while. If Swain gets behind, he doesn't really make an impact on the game. If he gets ahead, he becomes an unkillable tank that can also output massive amounts of damage. Swain also has a lot of his power pushed into abilities and effects that enemies can't really do anything about. Looking at him as a whole, we feel there's a great opportunity to revisit Swain and truly deliver a champion worthy of leading one of the most ruthless and iconic nations of Runeterra. We'll be updating his visuals to better match his theme as the leader of Noxus, as well as doing a major overhaul on his gameplay. We want to keep the "essence" of Swain intact, even though we will be completely rebuilding his entire kit from scratch.
We are still very early on Swain but I will be back with more details later in his development.
Now that we're further into Swain's development, we're ready to talk more about the high-level direction we've chosen for him. After a lot of discussions, we felt the fantasy of a “ruthless dictator” with powerful dark magic would lead to a more satisfying game experience for Swain compared to his current title as the Master Tactician. Becoming the leader of one of the most powerful nations implies great cunning and ambition, both of which we still think are critical to Swain's character. In the end though, it felt right for the raven general to be on the battlefield ripping the souls out of his enemies rather than sitting back in a tent commanding troops. The Noxians are coming, and their ambitious leader is already steps ahead of you. What will you sacrifice?
Champion Update: Swain
Swain is the visionary ruler of the Noxian empire, commanding its warhosts from the front lines. Though he was crippled in the Ionian wars, Swain seized control of Noxus with ruthless determination and a new, demonic hand. Now, the Grand General marches against a coming darkness that only he can see.
Ravenous: Swain can periodically right-click any nearby immobilized enemy champion to rip out a Soul Fragment, damaging and pulling them toward him.
Flock: Enemy champions leave behind a Soul Fragment when they die. Shadowy ravens scavenge nearby Soul Fragments, healing Swain for a portion of his maximum health. Swain can store several fragments at once.
Swain unleashes several bolts of eldritch power in front of him, each damaging the first enemy struck. Enemies can intercept multiple bolts, but only take full damage from the first. Bolts pierce through units they kill, restoring a portion of Swain's mana.
Vision of Empire
Swain opens a demonic eye at a target location, damaging and slowing all enemies in the area after a moderate delay.
Vision of Empire deals extra damage to champions caught in the explosion, reveals them, and grants Swain a Soul Fragment for each champion hit.
Swain projects his demonic hand forward, damaging all enemies in its path. The hand returns to Swain and explodes on the first enemy hit, damaging and rooting all enemies caught in the blast.
Swain gains a large amount of health on-cast and drains life from several nearby enemies (prioritizing champions) for an extended duration.
When Demonic Ascension ends, Swain consumes his Soul Fragments to cast Demon Flare, a nova of energy that damages the closest enemies around him. Demon Flare's damage increases for each Soul Fragment consumed.
After draining enough health, Swain can end Demonic Ascension early to cast Demon Flare on-demand.
Playing as Swain
As Swain, you're a warlock general who seizes the life—and souls—of enemies on the battlefield. Stay five steps ahead of the opposition with Nevermove and Vision of Empire, clipping the wings of your foes as you rout them out of position.
With your plans set in motion, head to the front and wreak havoc with Death's Hand, then shrug off any counteroffensive using Demonic Ascension's health drain. Once you've brought enemies low, devastate their formation with Demonflare and claim victory for Noxus.
Tips and Tricks
Demonic Ascension's lengthy duration and the short cooldown on Death's Hand lend themselves toward the longer battles Swain loves, but he has trouble sticking to enemies as fights drag on. Master Swain players should opt into runes or items that offset this weakness.
Vision of Empire's extreme cast range grants you influence over a huge portion of the map. Look for chances to 'gank' for off-screen teammates, track the enemy jungler, or scout unwarded objectives.
Ravenous Flock can grab enemy champs immobilized by any effect, not just Swain's. Work with your allies—you'll often find better targets by following up on their lockdown, rather than trying to set up plays by yourself.
Champion Insights: Swain
Swain was always a thematically complex champion, but the various aspects of his character didn't really make sense together. He was a renowned military strategist in Noxus, but on the Rift, his “strategy” generally involved walking towards enemies until they died (or he ran out of mana). And then there were the ravens. Beatrice and Swain were always together, and Swain could transform into a bird, but how did any of that connect with his role as a military tactician?
There was a lot to sort through before Swain could step up as the ruthless leader of Noxus, and Swain's lead developers are here to share what that process was like.
VICTORY THROUGH SACRIFICE
With Narrative Writer David 'Interlocutioner' Slagle
What elements of Swain's original character did you want to maintain during the update?
Here's a potentially controversial (but revealing) statement: This is one of the first champion updates I've worked on where I don't think the original character was actually the biggest touchstone for us. It felt more important to make the Swain in players' imaginations real.
Perhaps more than with any other character, the idea of who Swain was shifted with developments in League's lore. He went from a creepy battle prodigy who somehow never lost (but only talked to his bird), to a brilliant man ruling the most ruthless, deadly nation in Runeterra.
With Noxus becoming more defined, I'd look at Swain and wonder, “I thought he was a general, why's he wearing green bathrobes? Why's he transforming into a birdman? How does that help him win battles?” There were definitely answers to those questions in the old lore, but the weirdness would've only grown over time if we hadn't tried to find a new center and start from what people thought Swain was, rather than what he actually was.
How'd you approach updating Swain's backstory and character?
I think the most resonant characters in League are the ones that draw on familiar archetypes but change them in ways that give players something new to discover. For Swain, we decided that the core archetype would be “ruthless dictator,” so developing his backstory was a quest to find the ways we'd twist that into something unexpected.
Swain is a dictator who's able to enforce his will because he's made a Faustian bargain… but it's inverted. The demon he made a deal with was outsmarted (as far as we know). And Swain is such a ruthless ruler because he's able to channel the demon's power and see farther than anyone else—Swain plays the long game and is the “visionary” of Noxus.
This focus also enabled us to bring back shades of the old “master strategist” archetype, but in a much more specific way. Having conquered a demon of secrets, Swain can send extensions of his will in the form of ravens across Runeterra, gathering memories from the dead. Some of these whispers haunt him, giving him glimpses of a dark future. This makes Swain a great strategist, but it's not just because his wisdom stat is higher.
Swain's at his most brilliant when he's at his most brutal.
The other important part about updating Swain was parsing out his psychology. A lot of Noxians are driven by what they believe about strength, and that belief should be different for each character. (Otherwise, they'd all have the exact same thing to say, and there would never be conflict.) Swain believes in a vision of strength through unity, even if he must play the villain.
What was the most challenging part about updating Swain?
Usually when we do VGUs, the characters get a bit more streamlined in terms of their themes. For Swain, we initially sacrificed the demonic bargain and raven aspects of the character, since we identified “ruthless dictator who wields magic” as his key component. But the first iteration didn't really feel like Swain and we couldn't figure out why. Some people would tell us it wasn't Swain because he wasn't “Noxian leader” enough. And others would say it could never be Swain without the limp. Or ravens. Or not just ravens, but Beatrice.
So it became kind of a constant balancing act. Keeping all of the themes in play, but identifying which ones to emphasize where. Conversations within the team were super difficult because everyone had their own balance in their head, and then the balances would get reshuffled as team members changed and as we talked to other teams. But the more we built, the more Swain started to come into his own, and you could judge new elements against the existing ones. It wasn't until the final few weeks that a lot of the work in progress proved out.
How did Swain's new role as the Grand General of Noxus impact his visual design?
We wanted to keep Swain's design simple, especially his clothing. Noxus values strength above all, so functionality is more important than appearance. Swain may be the Grand General of Noxus, but he couldn't care less about what others think of him. He's wearing practical armor, similar to what he would've worn when he was a soldier, and his captain's coat is the only thing denoting his status.
We talked about adding more ornate details to his coat, but Swain just doesn't have the desire for dramatic flair like some other Runeterran leaders (lookin' at you, Azir). We envisioned Swain as more of a Darth Vader character, in the sense that he has a bold, simple design and color scheme.
Swain becoming the Grand General of Noxus also gave rise to some tough questions, including “How old should Swain be?” Some people thought one of Swain's defining characteristics was that he was League's old dude, but Swain's old age no longer fit his character very well.
Swain is the person on the frontlines leading Noxian troops into battle, inspiring and preparing the soldiers for war. It didn't make much sense for the one leading the charge to be an elderly guy—it needed to be someone lively and strong. But Swain also couldn't be some young whippersnapper because people wouldn't respect him. This is why Swain's a seasoned military man. He's experienced, both in life and in battle, and this earns him the respect of his people. And even though he's a bit past his prime, he's still ridiculously powerful because of the demon he's captured.
We did a lot of portrait studies to try and hit the sweet spot where Swain looks mature and wise yet also strong and capable. He needed to command respect and have presence.
We also decided to remove Swain's limp and cane for similar reasons (it's hard to fight on the frontlines while also relying on a cane). However, some people believed the most aspirational part of Swain's character was that he's crippled and yet more powerful than he appears, so we tried to find a middle ground. In Swain's updated backstory, he lost an arm and had an injured leg, but when he made a deal with a demon, his body was restored. What others perceived as a weakness was transformed into strength, but now his hand serves as a constant reminder of the choice he made. This is a classic example of Swain turning a handicap into an advantage. Swain doesn't accept setbacks.
Also, Swain wears a leg brace—which is a nod to his old design—and word on the battlefield is that he rather enjoys dancing with a cane.
What was it like illustrating Swain's splash art?
Throughout production, Swain's visual design was about this stark statement of black and white plus red, so I tried to see if I could incorporate that into the thumbnails for his splash. It felt like a propaganda poster, which some people thought might be more appropriate for a promotional piece than a splash. I wasn't able to fully convince the team to try it, so we compromised.
The palette was challenging to work with since reds have to remain fully saturated (otherwise they start to look pink) and blacks can look dull or generally overwhelm the composition. It was a difficult piece to balance, and I'm not sure if I pulled it off.
What about Swain's original kit did you want to maintain?
From the beginning, there were three main things we knew we wanted to preserve:
1. Swain's ability to wade into teamfights as a frontline mage.
2. Swain's snare. It's so core to his character.
3. The lifestealing and healing mechanic.
Nothing else was guaranteed, including his transformation. This was mostly because during early design work, we struggled to find a version that felt like a huge transformation moment—something that was exciting and satisfying to use—while also feeling fair to play against. We kept landing on iterations that either felt lackluster, meaning they didn't really stand out from game to game (like Swain's old ulti), or else Swain would gain crazy amounts of power with little counterplay.
What was the development process like for adding in the transformation?
Despite the early struggles, we still wanted to include some form of transformation in Swain's kit. Up until about two months before his PBE debut, Swain's transformation ability was on his “E” and worked similarly to his old ultimate, where he'd drain HP from nearby enemies. In this version, Swain couldn't cast any spells but he'd gain extra movement speed. Swain collected souls from champions who died around him, and he could spend five souls to cast an empowered version of the transformation, which was basically the same ability but stronger.
We moved away from this design for multiple reasons. For one, requiring a maximum number of souls to cast the more powerful transformation created feast-or-famine situations that didn't feel good for Swain or his opponents. There were also thematic concerns: Swain is supposed to be in control of the demon, yet he'd completely silence himself in demon form. It didn't seem like Swain was empowered by the transformation, and it was selling the fantasy short.
To try and resolve these problems, we moved the transformation ability to Swain's ultimate and gated it behind a longer cooldown. Increasing the cooldown meant we could add a lot more power into the ability. Now, Swain no longer needs a certain number of souls to transform. Instead he has access to a more powerful ability while in his ultimate form, and the damage it deals increases based on how many souls Swain has to “spend.” He's also able to cast his other abilities while in demon form. Together, these changes helped create a more memorable ult for players that also better fit Swain's thematic.
WHAT ABOUT THE BIRDS?!
With Interlocutioner, The Bravo Ray, RiotEarp, 3rd Collosus, and Wav3Break
It's true—there was a time during development where Swain didn't have any ravens. Beatrice and her feathered friends disappeared completely when we were trying to simplify Swain's many themes. (Plus we wanted to clarify that Swain himself was the source of his power, and not the birds.) But homing in on only the “ruthless dictator” and “dark mage” elements of his character didn't seem right. It just didn't feel like Swain.
We eventually realized we were gonna need the birds.
When Swain was focused around being a death mage, he didn't have any bird-like elements in his ultimate form. That's when we asked ourselves, “What if we at least gave him wings, like an Angel of Death?” Once we put the “bird form” in-game (aka the wings), it felt so much more like Swain. And then when we added the ominous hover, everything finally started coming together.
We added the iron feathers on his coat, which connected him to the raven theme in a less literal way while also hinting at the wings that appear in demon form. And at this point, Swain's gameplay was already solid without ravens doing the brunt of his dirty work, but we saw an opportunity to do something immersive and new to League. Let's just say we didn't murder Beatrice… we made Beatrice a murder.
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