There's a lot going on in League of Legends lately, and through it all, Riot managed to sneak in a new champion reveal. Meet Azir, Emperor of the Sands, a new mage with a rather unique "minion-mancer" design.
Lore-wise, Azir ia apparently an ancient emperor whose name lingers in Shuriman history. He's back now, and commands the sands of the desert, along with a magical army that he seems capable of conjuring at will. These warriors do their master's bidding in the Fields of Justice, acting as a means of controlling the field and attacking his enemies. His spells go toward manipulating these soldiers, moving them around on the offensive or defensive. It all sounds really freaking cool.
Passive: Will of the Emperor
Cooldown reduction increases Azir’s attack speed.
Disc of the Sun: Azir raises a Sun Disc on the base of a destroyed turret (enemy inhibitor and nexus turrets are immune to this effect). Azir’s Sun Disc behaves like a turret, except that it deals increased damage and grants Azir gold on minion or champion kills. The Sun Disc lasts for a short while and if Azir is killed or moves too far away, it loses armor.
Q: Conquering Sands
Azir orders all Sand Soldiers to rush at target position. The soldiers damage and slow all enemies they smash through as they rush into the fray.
Azir summons an untargettable Sand Soldier—a memory of a Shuriman warrior—from the ground. Azir uses his basic attack as a command, ordering soldiers to attack for him, piercing through their target and dealing damage in a line. Sand Soldiers attack even if Azir himself isn’t in basic attack range. The soldiers fade back to sand after a short while or when their emperor leaves them behind.
E: Shifting Sands
Azir feints, rushing to target Sand Soldier. If Azir collides with an enemy champion, he stops, knocking them up and gaining a shield.
R: Emperor's Divide
Azir calls forth a phalanx of shield-wielding soldiers who press forward, knocking back and damaging enemies. When the soldiers finish their charge, they stand as a wall, blocking enemy champion movement and dashes. Allies can pass through the wall and gain a speed boost when they do. These soldiers cannot be ordered to move or attack.
Obviously, soldier placement is a key component to Azir's gameplay. By moving these troops around, he effectively creates "shifting zones of power" for superior lane and zone control. In a teamfight, he will likely be in a fixed position and command his troops from a distance. His ult, in particular, sounds very handy for protecting his allies.
Riot also named Yasuo, Sejuani and Sivir as decent partners for Azir. Ziggs, Kassasin and Maokai might prove problematic for the timeless emperor, however. You can real a little more about the character's concept below; it's actually very interesting.
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:
Heimer 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.