Teamfight Tactics: Reflections on Set Four

Teamfight Tactics Set Three/Four YouTube Videos Playlist

This is an article writing up some of my thoughts after spending a good bit of time playing through Set Four of Teamfight Tactics (TFT). This is a continuation of a similar set of notes and observations following Set Two of TFT and it presumes that the reader is already familiar with this linked article. I recommend taking a look at that earlier piece if you haven't already done so as otherwise this report will be a bit tougher to follow. Anyway, as a quick refresher Teamfight Tactics is a PvP autochess battler in which eight players form teams of champions using the League of Legends characters and compete with one another to be declared the winner. All combat is completely automated and therefore the goal is to see who can build the strongest team composition by mixing together the individual abilities of each champion, the traits that they bring to the whole team, and the items that appear throughout the game. This is very much a strategy game (much more so than actual League of Legends) which was how I was pulled into TFT in the first place back when it initially released.

As I detailed in my earlier article, I picked up TFT at the tail end of Set One and then played the game consistently throughout the duration of Set Two. I had a lot of success over that span, reaching formal Platinum ranked status while maintaining Diamond rating in the game's hidden Match Making Rating (MMR) system. This was enough to put me somewhere in the top ten percent of players and arguably closer to the top one or two percent based on who I was hitting in my ranked games. After the success of Set Two, it was extremely frustrating that TFT's gameplay took major steps backwards in Set Three, bad enough that I stopped playing the game entirely out of annoyance. Only by scrapping a series of failed design elements and implementing several improvements were the designers able to get me to come back to TFT for Set Four. I'm very happy with where the gameplay ended up at the end of Set Four and hopefully the design team won't break everything again when they move on to Set 4.5 (which will be effectively an entirely new game again).

The goal is this article is to look at what went wrong in Set Three and then how those problems were largely fixed in Set Four. This is necessarily going to involve a lot of dunking on Set Three so apologies in advance for anyone who was a fan of that set. These are my personal reflections and we need to understand why Set Three was a failure for me before I can move on to explaining why Set Four was an improvement.

Set Three Galaxies: The Civilization 5 of TFT

Set Three of TFT replaced the elemental theming of Set Two with a sci-fi futuristic theme. This meant using various skins for each champion that had some kind of cybernetic feel to them and this was an immediate problem for Set Three that never went away with time. Visual clarity is a big deal in a game like TFT where the player needs to be able to recognize each unit on the battlefield and also while scrolling through them quickly in the store. Unfortunately this caused two issues in Set Three: the champions didn't look they way that they normally do in League of Legends, and the championship were difficult to distinguish from one another. For the first issue, a whole bunch of the champions looked nothing like their normal selves and it was hard to identify them while playing the game. This was a problem for the in-game sprites but especially for the portrait art used when purchasing characters in the store. I mean, does this look anything like Jarvan? Would you guess that this was Sona without the text? Who in the world is this? (It's Jayce but it looks nothing like him and it could be pretty much any male human in the game.) This further compounded the second issue in which the champions all tended to look the same. Sure, there were some exceptions like Blitz and Cho'gath who stood out, but way too many of the Set Three models were "person with a futuristic sword/gun" that all ended up looking the same. I had far more difficulty distinguishing the champions in Set Three as compared to the first two sets and I know that I wasn't the only one who had this problem.

Six portraits with visors tilted in slightly different directions - who thought this was a good idea?

Still, if it had only been the visual issues, I'm sure that I could have looked past the problems with Set Three. Eventually the player will memorize all of the various characters and while this was more difficult than it needed to be in Set Three it was still a hurdle that could be overcome. More serious were the gameplay changes introduced (or stripped out of the game) in Set Three. Gone from Set Two were the elemental hexes and the changing traits of Qiyana and Lux. While they wouldn't have made thematic sense in Set Three, I was disappointed that the designers didn't find a way to keep the "terrain" that the elemental hexes represented in some form. It was also disappointing that there was nothing akin to Lux and her changing elemental traits, something that made the endgame in Set Two particularly interesting. Players were encouraged to pivot into different team comps by finding something like a Cloud Lux or a Crystal Lux and the lack of anything of this sort was a real setback. Instead, forcing static team compositions would become a hallmark of Set Three, at least during the time that I was playing the game.

The designers made other tweaks to the base gameplay that made little sense on paper. They changed the player damage formula (which had been pretty much universally agreed to be working well during Set Two) in drastic fashion, removing almost all of the damage caused by number of surviving enemy units and shifted it instead into base damage for the stage in which combat took place. In other words, it no longer mattered very much whether a fight was a narrow loss or a complete blowout - the damage taken would be nearly identical in both cases. This was a profoundly stupid decision as it caused players to take way too little damage early in the game and way too much damage later on. Making matters worse, the developers also changed up the formula for win/loss streaks by increasing the gold associated with them and lowering the number of rounds needed to begin a streak. I believe that you needed to win/lose six rounds in a row to get max gold in Set Two while you only needed to win/lose three rounds in a row to get max gold in Set Three. It was absolutely imperative for players to be either win streaking or loss streaking in Set Three or they would lack enough gold to be competitive on an economic basis. Of course you can't control or know which player you're going to face next so you might get unlucky and have your streak disrupted and then you're out of luck. It was a terrible mistake to tie so much of the in-game economy to streaks that players had limited control over.

Click to enlage.

The net result was something that the designers surely did not intend: deliberate loss streaking became the norm among the top players. There were players who had done this back in Set Two in order to get higher item priority on carousels (particularly in the days of "Blender Nocturne") but it was highly risky because player damage was a real threat in Set Two and losing seven or eight rounds in a row would leave someone near death. There were no such risks at the outset of Set Three where players could lose round after round and take minimal damage while making no effort to field a team at all. I watched someone on Livestream lose 11 rounds in a row and still have about 55 HP remaining. I mean, why not? It was crucial to either win streak or loss streak and the only thing that mattered was being strong at the end of the game. A narrow loss at the end of the game would mean 20 damage taken while crushing losses at the start of the game would only result in 2 or 3 damage taken. Might as well be super greedy and play for top carousel item priority to get "best in slot" gear for your champions. Unfortunately, the key tradeoffs in the gameplay completely disintegrated in the process, losing the need to balance being strong at the moment to preserve health versus pushing economy to be strong later. These were major steps backwards and the gameplay largely became incoherent as a result.

The tradeoff to prevent loss streaking was supposed to be randomized item carousels. Frequently, roughly 40% of the time, the item carousels wouldn't have their normal mixture of item components but would instead have some kind of weird collection of items instead. It became common to see carousels that only had offensive items or only had defensive items, or only had a single item with no choice at all, everyone getting a Giant's Belt or a Negatron Cloak or whatever. The TFT community detested these carousels and sarcastically referred to them as "Mortdog Carousels" after TFT designer Riot Mort who had implemented the feature. The designers stated that these carousels would force players to adapt and think on their feet but of course that argument made no sense at all. For starters, these oddball carousels were completely random as far as when they showed up and there was no way to plan for them ahead of time. How could players strategize over something that might or might not ever appear, and could take different forms when it did appear? Furthermore, the whole point of the item carousels is to let losing players have first pick and therefore get a chance to turn around their situation. Handing everyone the same item didn't force creative strategic decision-making, it simply gave some people what they needed and gave some people useless items. It actually did the exact opposite of what it was intended to do: strip out decision-making since knowing what items to take is a critical element of TFT gameplay. I genuinely have no idea what the designers were thinking here.

The biggest innovation for Set Three were the "Galaxies" themselves. These were various rules that changed up the gameplay of TFT for that particular game in some kind of unusual fashion. Set Three ended up with about a dozen of these in total with a number of galaxies added and removed over the course of its patch history. (A normal non-galaxy game only occurred 10% of the time in the final version of Set Three.) Some of the initial galaxies that I encountered were the Medium Legends Galaxy where everyone started with 125 HP, the Neekoverse where everyone was given two Neeko's Help items at the beginning of the game, and the Lilac Nebula where the first carousel contained all 4 cost units. While these galaxies shifted up the gameplay in different ways, they all had serious issues and didn't particularly make TFT more fun to play. Medium Legends was awful and compounded the problems identified above where lategame was all that mattered. No one was calling for longer, slower games and I have no idea how this made it into a released product. Neekoverse generally just meant that whoever high rolled an early 4 cost or 5 cost unit could slam their Neeko's Help items onto it for a two star unit and then crush everyone who wasn't as lucky. The Lilac Nebula caused the whole game to turn on who could grab the best champion off the first carousel; if you get the Kayle or the Jinx or the Irelia then enjoy your top four; if you get the Wukong, sorry buddy. You should have clicked faster in the first three seconds of the game.

Some of the later galaxies were designed better and players tended to like the Trade Sector (one free reroll per round) and Treasure Trove (massively more item drops from monsters) galaxies. Still, the whole concept always felt gimmicky to me and something that undermined the core gameplay of TFT. Players were never given a choice when it came to the galaxies and could find themselves forced to play under rules that oftentimes were severely anti-fun. I think the designers eventually realized this because most of the galaxies that survived to the end of Set Three just gave out more rewards to the players (either free rerolls or extra items or free spatulas or free Force of Natures). This kind of variantism is great for Single Player games but it really doesn't work in a competitive Multiplayer environment. Opting into a variant for fun is very different from being forced into a variant agaisnt your will, especially in a ranked game with your rating on the line! The galaxies just did not work as intended and the fact that the designers backed off from anything that actually changed the rules of the gameplay was a clear sign that this was a failed concept.

This needed to die in the heart of a thousand suns.

Finally, the actual gameplay balance was genuinely awful for many patches on end at the start of Set Three. It's always going to be a bit rough when moving over to a completely new set and putting it in the hands of millions of players for the first time, but even with that said the first few patches of Set Three were brutal. The 5 cost legendary units were severely overtuned initially, particularly Gangplank who could kill the entire board of enemy units with a single ultimate. There was nothing fun about this as a two star Gangplank with a Jeweled Gauntlet would cast his ult and every tile on the board would get hit and die immediately. Fun stuff, lots of counterplay available there! The Rebels trait was wildly overbuffed to the point where six or seven people would be playing it simultaneously in lobbies. Rebels added increased damage and a hefty shield to everyone on the team and there wasn't any way to beat it for a couple of weeks. Then the designers inexplicably overbuffed the 1 cost units and team comps running Poppy and Xayah and Twisted Fate came to dominate the metagame, with everyone rerolling for three star versions of these units and then win streaking with them into the endgame. The whole thing was a nightmare and the design team couldn't seem to get out of their own way.

In the face of all this, I just couldn't stomach continuing to play Teamfight Tactics. The galaxies were obnoxious, the trait and champion balance was terrible, and the economic changes under the hood frustrated me to no end. I *HATED* the fact that the endgame was all that mattered as it went against my conception of how TFT should be played. Now obviously the rules change over time for TFT and players need to adapt to them but it drove me crazy that loss streaking and playing super greedy were being rewarded while being consistently strong throughout the game was not. There needs to be danger in the early game and midgame to stop everyone from pushing economy the whole time, and there just wasn't anything of that sort. It might as well have been a "no rush 20" Starcraft game, sheesh. I grew tired of the whole thing and quit without any intention of coming back. I made the comparison at the top of this section to Civilization 5 and I think it's a solid choice. Much as we saw with Civ5, Set Three of TFT had "good ideas, bad execution". The concepts that sounded good on paper simply didn't work in practice. Players were left with a bunch of gimmicky nonsense instead of solid gameplay, single-item carousels and galaxies serving as the TFT version of archaeologists and global happiness. These ideas had to be scrapped for the gameplay to move forward and fortunately they mostly were in the next incarnaton of both series.

Set Four: A Breath of Fresh Air

Set Four separated itself from the previous set by introducing a major new gameplay mechanic: the idea of Chosen units. Players would be offered the chance to purchase Chosen versions of the same normal units in the store, with each Chosen unit starting at two stars (i.e. triple the cost of a normal unit) and with additional stats above and beyond a normal two star unit. Chosen units would have either extra health, extra physical or magic damage, or lower mana costs depending on the unit in question. To stop the game from being a race to collect as many of these units as possible, each player would only be able to have one Chosen unit on their team at a time, and the shop would not offer any more Chosen units if there was already a current one in use. The whole concept was therefore both extremely simple and also full of interesting strategic decisions for the player to make. Should you play a Chosen that appears in the store even if it isn't a great fit for the current team composition, or consider pivoting into an entirely different setup to utilize a tasty Chosen? How long should the player hold onto an early game Chosen versus selling it and searching for a more expensive and powerful lategame Chosen? There were a lot of tough decisions to make here without easy answers.

The best part about the Chosen mechanic is that it flowed naturally and organically out of the core TFT gameplay. Unlike the weird stuff that was thrown into Set Three, the Chosen mechanic never felt like something external to the gameplay tossed into the mix to annoy players. It was one additional feature added on top of the basic TFT goal of building a team from a collection of champions that randomly appear in the store. Players were never forced to pick any particular Chosen and could reject all of them if they wanted. That tended to be a suboptimal decision since the Chosen units were powerful additions to a team but the player always had that option. Finding a Zed Chosen didn't mean that the player had to run an Assassin team comp, they could ignore it and play something else as desired. This was the flexibility which was sorely lacking from the galaxy mechanic in Set Three.

Furthermore, Chosen units also counted for two versions of one of their traits in the same fashion that Lux had counted for two versions of an elemental trait in Set Two. This created an immense amount of replayability on top of all the other good things added by this mechanic. A Garen Chosen could come in the Warlord variety or the Vanguard variety and each would lead the player down somewhat different paths (the former would encourage the player to run Warlord 6 while the latter would make Vanguard 4 easy to achieve). Every game the player would be given different Chosen options and the opportunity to play different team compositions. Unlike the failed design goals for Set Three, the Chosen mechanic actually did promote creativity and flexibility on the part of players. It was much more difficult for players to force certain team comps in Set Four and the gameplay rewarded those players who could adapt on the fly to the Chosen units that they were finding. The net result was a strategically deeper and more rewarding experience for players where it was virtually impossible to put together the same team composition in game after game.

Visual clarity is important.

There was more to Set Four than just the Chosen mechanic, however. A new set meant a new visual overhaul for TFT with the futuristic Set Three replaced by a series of bright, pastel colors in Set Four. The overall vibe of Set Four was vaguely based around the springtime cherry blossom festivals of Japan, with an East Asian feel to many of the champion skins picked for the set. Unlike the visual problems caused by the sci-fi nature of Set Three, the champion designs in Set Four mostly looked like their normal League of Legends costumes and were easy to tell apart from one another. I picked out some of the champions who were present in both Set Three (left) and Set Four (right) and pasted together a comparison of their shop portrait artwork above. In each case, the Set Four versions of the champions actually looked like these characters as opposed to some random cyberpunk artwork that could be from anywhere. (I have no idea what's going on in the Jarvan and Xin Zhao artwork from Set Three.) The champions were also clearly distinctive from one another and I almost never found myself getting confused as far as who was who. I used to get Set Three Jarvan and Set Three Mordekaiser mixed up all the time because they were both purple-colored blobs of armor without distinguishing features. This kind of stuff really does matter since it makes it easier both to learn the game and to avoid errors while re-rolling champions using quick visual queues. Set Four was a huge upgrade over Set Three in this regard.

Set Four also fixed many of the gameplay issues from Set Three. Most of the really obnoxious economic changes were slowly reverted over the course of patches that rolled out over the lifetime of the previous set. Player damage was gradually increased over time and tied back into how many enemy units survived the round. By the time that Set Four began, it was no longer possible to "open fort" for the first two stages of the game without bleeding out large amounts of health. The win/loss streaks were scaled back and required more consecutive rounds to gain the full benefit. At the time of this writing at the end of Set Four, it required five wins/losses in a row to get the maximum streak benefit which was far harder to achieve. Set Four also increased the experience requirements needed to reach Level 8 and Level 9, especially Level 9 which required a whopping 80 XP to achieve. This was far higher than in previous sets and it required real sacrifice to make it to Level 9 without running the danger of being knocked out of the game. The tradeoff was much better odds to find the legendary 5 cost units which could form the basis of the strongest endgame teams. These economic fixes restored the core balancing element of TFT gameplay: should the player invest gold in rolling to become stronger immediately, or invest in leveling to become stronger later on? This was often lacking in Set Three and its return in Set Four made the game playable for me once again.

There were other minor quality of life improvements added for Set Four, such as better visual indicators when a two star champ was available for purchase in the shop and numerical printouts of how much damage the losing player took at the end of each round. The best of these changes was the addition of "negative life": when two players are knocked out of the game in the same round, Set Four tracked how far below zero their health dropped and awarded the higher spot to the player with the higher life total. For example, if someone was just barely eliminated at -1 HP they would rank higher than someone who was blasted out of the game at -15 HP. This was a fantastic improvement over the previous system which broke tiebreakers by who died first in real time, a poor method of resolving ties that essentially boiled down to luck. You could narrowly lose a tight match and drop down to zero health only to get a lower spot than someone who happened to have a Guardian Angel animation drag out their fight 0.2 seconds longer. This gameplay improvement helped to emphasize the importance of preserving health as a means of getting an edge in same-turn knockout scenarios and removed one of the most exasperating features of earlier sets. It was one of those fixes that seems so obvious in retrospect that you can't believe it wasn't figured out sooner.

Click to enlage.

The designers similarly did a great job of removing randomness from their trait design and creating a more balanced overall experience. This is somewhat unfair since I'm comparing the beginning of Set Three to the end of Set Four (and there were some real rough patches in Set Four - who remembers "Warweek"?) but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the gameplay balance was simply much better in the later set. There were no more traits with random aspects in Set Four, no more Hextech/Phantom nonsense from Set One or even the "chance for Mages to cast twice" from Set Two. Mages in Set Four always cast twice but gained increasing spell power from adding more of them; instead of Rangers getting a percentage chance to double their attack speed, Sharpshooters fired bullets that richocheted while Hunters launched extra projectiles at the lowest health opponent. These traits were simply designed better than their earlier incarnations and stripped out their random aspects. Champion design functioned in the same fashion, without having Set Two/Three Yasuo annoyingly hit the unit with the most items on the enemy team or Set Three Gangplank/Miss Fortune wipe out the entire board at once with their ultimates. The top units in Set Four had all sorts of powerful abilities, between Sett dunking people or Yone shredding enemy resistances or Zilean bringing people back to life or Lee Sin kicking units off the board. However, crucially these units all had various forms of counterplay that mostly stopped them from being too overpowered. The champion designs in Set Four generally struck the right balance between being too strong and being too weak... better than in previous sets, at least.

The trait design in Set Four also promoted flexibility over rigidly sticking to a single team comp. There were a number of different traits that could be splashed into a team setup at a lower level or made the focus of a strategy at a higher level. Adept, Cultist, Dusk, and Keeper all fell into this category and could appear in all sorts of different teams depending on which units were being emphasized. Set Four certainly had its meta comps but did a better job of avoiding rigid team setups that often dominated prior sets (e.g. "me mech" that always played the same units). The legendary units reflected this as well, without anything like Ekko/Cybernetics where a team composition absolutely had to find a single unit or else become crippled in the lategame. Instead the legendary units tended to be flexible in nature and could be splashed into a variety of different teams. Units like Lillia and Ezreal were certainly better in Dusk and Elderwood comps respectively but were good enough to be used in other situations as well. Players could always grab another Keeper to pair with Azir or another Mystic to pair with Zilean and get great value out of these units. Set Four reinforced the keystone concept of "playing what you get" as opposed to forcing the same team compositions in game after game.

I hadn't planned on playing more TFT games and if anything I had been predisposed to dislike Set Four after having such a bad experience with the previous set. I was simply looking for another game to play and happened to catch some TFT gameplay on Livestream, then found myself impressed at how a simple addition to the gameplay like the Chosen mechanic could have so many positive results. As a result, I ended up getting pulled back into the wider TFT community and went on to have a pretty good run of success over the final three months of the TFT season. Therefore I'm going to conclude this article by taking a look at my specific experience in Season Four of TFT before passing on some closing thoughts.

Not A Challenger Smurf: The Set Four TFT Experience

Longtime readers will remember the bizarre experience that I had in Set Two where I somehow came in first place in my initial six ranked games, then managed a further trio of first/second/third place finishes in my next four games. The net result was TFT's matchmaking algorithm deciding that I was a Challenger smurf account and placing me into ranked games accordingly. By the time that I had finished my placement games at Bronze I, my matches were full of mostly Gold rated players. I was hitting Diamond players while I was still in Silver and I even found myself matched into a game with a Grandmaster and a Challenger player while I still had a Silver rating. Needless to say, once I was promoted to Gold status I was facing all-Diamond opposition in my ranked lobbies in every game, consistently competing against the top 1-2% of the ladder rankings. All of this felt incredibly unfair and it was a frustrating slog to reach Platinum status after 42 matches in total. Obviously I was gaining far more League Points (LP) for winning than I was dropping for losing but should someone have to compete against Diamond players while they're in Gold III? The whole thing was ridiculous since my hidden MMR was so much higher than my official rating. This was one of my biggest gripes about Set Two and it was something that I hoped would be improved upon for future sets.

I've been highly critical of Set Three on this page but I have to give the designers credit for fixing this issue in Galaxies. They removed the previous cap that limited LP gain to 100 points in a single match and allowed the official ranking to match a player's hidden MMR much more closely. I only played seven ranked games in Set Three before quitting the set but that was enough to reach Gold status thanks to having finishes of 4th, 1st, 1st, 3rd, 1st, 5th, and 2nd. My first place finishes resulted in 308 LP, 267 LP, and 224 LP which zoomed me through Bronze and Silver status in record time. This was vastly better than my Set Two experience where I was hitting Gold and Platinum players throughout my Silver games since my MMR was widly out of sync with my formal rating. There were a lot of things that Set Three did incorrectly but these fixes to LP gain were a giant success that addressed a real problem.

So what happened when I sat down to play some ranked games in Set Four? The unexciting answer is that I ended up with an experience that fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, more or less playing out as you would expect. I didn't have the crazy winning streak from my Set Two days and I didn't have a run of terrible results either. Instead I had a steady climb that inched upwards on the graphs with only minimal setbacks along the way. I'll include a link here to the Excel spreadsheet that I created tracking my progress for anyone who might be interested. I had two placement matches in Iron, only a single game in Bronze, then ten games in Silver and nine games in Gold. That's only 24 ranked games in total which will sound like a paucity to many TFT players but I don't particularly enjoy grinding out matches for ladder ranking. I have more fun with the Normal TFT games, especially when we can get a bunch of friends together from the Livestream and queue up together. I think there's good evidence here that I could climb to a higher rating if I had the desire to invest more time; I had a Top Four ranking in 62% of my games and an average finish of 3.38. I was particularly good at minimizing losses by avoiding any eighth place finishes and squeezing out a series of fifth and sixth places from losing matches. Over my last eleven games, I didn't finish worse than fifth a single time which is fantastic for climbing. In the alternate reality where TFT came out when I was in my early 20s instead of my late 30s, I think I'd have a decent chance to make Diamond status. But as it is, I'm quite happy with a Platinum rating that puts me in the top 10-12% of players and grants those spiffy green borders.

Very happy with this result!

I felt as though I gained a better understanding of TFT's gameplay in this set as compared to my time spent back in Set Two. I spent a lot of time forcing my favorite team comp of Ocean/Mage back in Set Two, and I was good enough at understanding the TFT economics engine and item build paths to find my way to that Platinum rating / Diamond MMR standing. But now that I look back, my mindset was fundamentally misguided in terms of ideal TFT gameplay. I was still thinking way too much in terms of "team comps", picking from a limited set of units in each game based on pregenerated lists of what each team was "supposed" to look like. While I did grasp that there was some flexibility to each team comp depending on what champs were appearing in each game, the whole idea of "comps" in the first place was the wrong way to be thinking about the game. I've gone back and watched many of my Set Two games on YouTube and there were innumerable times where I could have made myself stronger by pivoting into different units. I almost never ran Summoners even when I was getting early Zeds handed to me and I tunneled incredibly hard on finding Brand for my Ocean/Mage comps. Way too many games were won or lost based on having the correct units for my premeditated team composition show up in the shop. You can have plenty of success in this fashion and there are always some folks who can one-trick a single team into Challenger but it's not the ideal way to play Teamfight Tactics.

The big mental breakthrough for me in Set Four came from realizing that this game isn't about certain team comps at all. It's about building strong teams, full stop, no "comps" required. I've found it much more useful to think in terms of having units for frontline protection, units for some kind of crowd control, and - most importantly - some kind of carry unit to play through. It doesn't really matter what traits or units are being played so long as the player is constantly thinking about how they can upgrade their board to get stronger. This is particularly helpful in the later stages of the gameplay where it's important to move out of early game units and into higher tier options. A huge mistake that newer players tend to make (myself included) is holding onto an early game Chosen for way too long. Yes, that Brawler Maokai was great for Stage 2 and Stage 3, but if you're still running it in Stage 5 then you've got a real problem. Our Discord group talked a lot about how it could feel wrong to drop certain traits at the end of the game in favor of playing more two star legendary units. But again, that's thinking in terms of "comps" rather than thinking in terms of what makes for a stronger overall team. Is Warlord 6 really that great if you're forced to keep units like Nidalee, Garen, and Vi around at the end of the game? You're probably better off dropping to Warlord 3 and replacing them with two star versions of Yone, Sett, and Zilean even if they don't make any particular traits. Play strong boards, not team comps!

Do you think that's enough patches?!

Part of the reason why I was able to develop a better feeling for TFT's gameplay is that it actually stopped changing for a while at the end of the calendar year 2020. One of my biggest complaints about TFT is that the designers can never stop tinkering with the gameplay through endless patches. They release a patch every two weeks and then often release hotfix patches in between the formal patches. There were six different patch versions of TFT in effect at some point during the month of October 2020 - SIX of them! Riot released patches on September 29, October 6, October 13, October 20, October 27, and October 31. There were three "B" patches along with two hotfix patches on top of the normal biweekly patches in Set Four. That's completely nuts and it makes the gameplay nearly impossible for anyone but the diehards to sort out before yet another patch drops and shakes things up again. However, the designers were off for the holidays or working on Set 4.5 for the last few weeks of the calendar year, and there was a blessed period where TFT lasted for about five weeks without any significant changes. I could finally play enough games to get a real feeling for the strength of each champ and each trait, and I don't think it's a coincidence that I had a run of significantly better results in both normal and ranked games. This is my single biggest issue with TFT at the moment: way too many freaking patches. It's not fun having to relearn the game over and over again constantly and I think the gameplay would be stronger if the designers would allow more space and time for players to develop counterstrategies rather than instantly jumping to make hotfix changes. While it's great that the design team has passion for the game and wants to be hands-on for TFT development, they're doing more harm than good by keeping the gameplay in a constant state of flux.

Unfortunately, this is where the Free To Play nature of League of Legends becomes a factor. Riot Games has to keep generating more content endlessly in order to create revenue for the company since their software is given away for free. That means more season passes, more skins, more loot boxes, more Little Legends for TFT, and so on. The revenue from these games is also created in highly uneven fashion, with a small number of "whales" shelling out enormous sums that make up a disproportionate amount of the company's bottom line. These high end users invest huge amounts of time and money into games like League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics, and they burn through new content at a rapid pace. Therefore it's perfectly logical for TFT to race through new patches as quickly as possible: they need to accomodate the tiny minority of users who play eight hours per day and buy up all the new skins as soon as they release. This might be bad for your typical user but they aren't the ones paying the bills. It stinks that this is the business model that TFT uses and I would genuinely prefer to pay a flat $30 upfront to avoid these shenanigans but there's not much that can be done. It is what it is and we have to live with it.


While it was far from perfect, Set Four of Teamfight Tactics was a major improvement over Set Three and I would argue that it was the best set to date. Hopefully this will be carried over into the upcoming Set 4.5 without losing the innovations that made Set Four so enjoyable. There's a tendency to overload gameplay systems with feature bloat by trying to cram in more and more stuff and I'm a bit skeptical about some of the announced champion/trait designs. Let's hope that this launch goes off more smoothly than the beginning of Set Three. As always, thanks for reading along and good luck with your own games of Teamfight Tactics!