Li-Ming: Redefining the Archetype

Apr 10, 2016

The Hero every die-hard Diablo fan had been waiting for: Li-Ming the D3 Wizard. The hype was especially high for this iconic character, and her high octane “reset mage” playstyle offered even more excitement. Up until her release, Kael’Thas and Jaina held the monopoly on burst mages, but Li-Ming offered a new style that would completely reinvent how players approached the game and ultimately create a new standard for the way mages were designed.

Burst and Resets

When Li-Ming first appeared in Heroes of the Storm in early February, she was obviously overtuned a bit. In contrast to her last three predecessors—Artanis, Lunara, and Greymane—she was borderline broken upon release and required some targeted nerfs in order to bring her insane damage back down to earth.

Between incredibly high base damage and a plethora of talents that allowed her to increase her overall damage by up to 45%, she could easily land a combo for over 3500 damage in the late game, enough to one-shot a third of the Heroes in the game. Her trait Critical Mass also allowed her to reset all of her abilities upon a takedown, so she would snowball extraordinarily hard in team fights and easily clean up. All of this tacked onto her low mana costs and short cooldowns made her next to impossible to deal with.

Mrglgrlgrl!" -Murky's last words
“Mrglgrlgrl!” -Murky’s last words

Naturally, she got some nerfs so she didn’t deal quite as much damage, but her steady stream of damage and fast-paced style remained, allowing her to single-handedly change the metagame. Previously, teams would contend for one of the two mages—Jaina or Kael’Thas—and build their team around that, but after Li-Ming’s release, neither of the mages could stand toe-to-toe against her. As a result, teams had to get creative.

The Dividing Line: Scaling Changes

Ironically, the buffed Greymane took the place of the other mages. Like Li-Ming, he boasted high and consistent damage complete with the potential for resets on his Heroic Go For the Throat. This is a minor detail, but it’s important when noting the dividing line between the “old generation” of Heroes and the new. Simply put, Jaina and Kael were born of a previous era and not designed for the game they were living in now.

Back in early November, Blizzard introduced scaling changes to the game. Essentially, this change was designed to smooth out the power curves of Heroes and create more of a linear progression of power rather than multiplicative. The subject itself is complicated and would require an entire post of its own. Suffice it to say that this was a huge change for the game.

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The important part of this is that Jaina and Kael were introduced before the scaling changes came into effect. Their power curve was designed to be strong in the early game and downright brutal in the late game. During a time when having a lead of a level or two meant that your team could have an almost 10% increase in stats, these mages posed a real threat.

After scaling changes, many Heroes saw huge swings in power, including Falstad, E.T.C, and Thrall, while some previous standards like Nazeebo and Rehgar fell by the wayside. It was a huge upheaval, but it set the stage for a new standard of more consistent power curves and sustained damage.

Ushering in The New Era

Enter Li-Ming. Up until now, players held onto their mages and archaic playstyles simply because they had no other options, but a new wind was blowing. Li-Ming took the Nexus by storm (pun intended) and quickly established herself as the new queen bee, boasting a near 100% pick/ban rate in professional games and ranking as the highest win rate Hero of all time on Hotslogs. She was not only a straight up powerful Hero with huge potential for outplays, she was also the poster child for a new era of sustained damage.

Following behind her, subsequent buffs to Lunara and Greymane pushed them into relevance and allowed them to take their place in the sustained damage meta. Although Kael’Thas saw a few nerfs during this time, his fall from professional play is equally mirrored by his counterpart, Jaina. There were a few special burst compositions that still favored the old mages, but they were often played in lieu of Li-Ming rather than the go-to strategy. During much of February and March, most professional players agreed that the mages were simply “bad” because their burst was easy to dodge and left them with huge openings where they were useless. Compared to Li-Ming, they just didn’t bring enough to the table.

If this weren’t enough evidence to clearly nail down what Li-Ming did to the game, we can also look to the recent rework for Kael’Thas. The most notable change is making Chain Bomb, previously a level 13 talent, baseline for him and providing damage options for his auto attacks; this means that his initial damage output at the beginning of the game is more consistent with his late game damage and allows him to dish out a lot of damage with relatively little down time while his abilities are on cooldown.

"I sense something...elusive."
“I sense something…elusive.” -Kael’Thas on his power curve.

Judging by the direction Blizzard appears to be going, it’s obvious that Li-Ming has had a huge impact on how we look at the game: less down time and more sustained damage naturally leads to constant action around the map. With this in mind, we’re likely to see some changes to Jaina in the near future to smooth out her power as well as more of these sustained damage dealers introduced into the game. In the end, the real Hero of this story is Li-Ming for ushering in the new era.

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Christopher Meek
Chris is an esports aficionado who has followed and written about several different games, including StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm. He has served notable time at Team Liquid, among others, in the pursuit of becoming a freelance writer and editor. He’s sometimes been known in the MOBA community as “that feeder” but continues to improve and remains optimistic for the future.
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