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Gunmay - What is the difference between “good” and “bad” rng?

Hello I'm Gunmay, 6'4 gaming machine from Sweden. You might know me from such classics as being the current Rank 1 on EUNE, streaming once a month on Twitch and complaining about the game a lot on Twitter. This time instead of a guide I decided to do something different, I wanted to write about the differences between “good” and “bad” rng, how it ties into the set mechanics and how it impacts the highest levels of competition in TFT.

Let’s start with what I mean with “good” and “bad” rng. First of all, rng stands for Random Number Generator but in gaming it’s basically the term we use for different forms of variance in gameplay. For example in TFT it’s everything from the units you see in your shop each round to the items you get from Krugs. The game is designed around this rng and it would be completely different and arguably worse if it did not have it. But what do I mean when I say that there is good and bad rng, is it not just all the same?

What is "good" rng?

“Good” rng is the rng that you as the player can impact with the decisions you make throughout the game. A good example of this in TFT is your decision on what level you decide to roll when looking for a certain unit to give yourself the best odds of hitting the unit(s) you’re after. 
For example right now 1-cost reroll comps are very popular as of Patch 11.3 and you’ll see a lot of people “slowroll” on level 5 to hit their 3* 1-costs during Stage 3. This is because it gives them the best possible odds of hitting as many 1-costs as possible per gold spent which means they’ll eventually find the 1-cost they are after. Basically you’re giving yourself the best possible odds of hitting the units you’re after which in turn gives you the best odds of winning the game. Even if you might run into different outcomes from game to game, over a large sample size you’ll win more than you lose because you’re making the optimal play which in turn (should) reward you.

What is "bad" rng and how is it any different from "good" rng?

“Bad” rng is the rng that you as the player can’t impact with the decisions you make throughout the game. Basically just anything that is outside of your immediate control that you have very little or no impact on. There are a couple of examples of this but for the sake of keeping it simple let’s use the item system as an example as it let’s me segway into different ways you can offset the bad type of rng in a game. 
The item system is an example of bad rng, specifically the items you get from the PvE rounds. You basically have no real control over what items you get each game and try to play around them to the best of your ability. Which means that you have control on HOW to use the items, but no real control over WHAT items you get. Well kind of, since Riot gave us another crucial game mechanic with the carousel. 

The carousel is basically there to offset the worst cases of rng by letting you pick some item components over the course of the game and to allow yourself to pick your own direction a bit each game. Now this has seen a lot of changes over the games lifetime, most notably during Set 3 where the carousel was plagued with rng, everything from full item carousels, to just 9 of the same component, to all Force of Natures to you name it. It was probably one of the most frustrating changes to the game and I know I was really happy to see it removed later on as it had introduced a ton of rng into the game through a game mechanic that was supposed to offset rng (more on that later). 

Today we have less severe cases of the same issue where we’ll have carousels without certain components on them which causes some really annoying situations as it hinders your ability to play around the carousel items by sacrificing HP to gain carousel pick priority to ensure you get the items you need to spike later and make a comeback. This is another example of bad rng where you’re supposed to have a mechanic designed to be a comeback mechanic and to offset otherwise random item rng but you’ll get randomly punished for no other reason than bad luck that you could not control or know about ahead of time.

How does this tie into the set mechanics?

So now that I’ve gone over what I mean by good and bad rng, how does it impact competitive TFT at the highest level especially? Before I can completely get into that we have to go over the main culprit of this issue which is the set mechanics. 

Set 2 (Elemental Hexes)

Ever since Set 2 we’ve had something called a set mechanic in each set meant to make every set feel unique from each other and to make each game have some sort of niche that makes every game a bit different and exciting to play. In my personal opinion, I really liked how they did it in Set 2 with Elemental Hexes. It was a set mechanic that was not too high impact, it introduced some cool positioning tricks and mind games and overall made every game feel a little bit different. It also had very little issues when it came to balancing it as a direct result of it being lower impact. 

Set 3 & Set 3.5 (Galaxies)

Then in Set 3 we got Galaxies and this introduced a huge jump in impact that the set mechanic could have. We went from having this niche thing in every game that made the game feel fresh and that introduced some things that were overall I’d say good for the game in terms of skill expression (positioning mainly) to basically having every game be under a completely different set of rules. This was very frustrating for a multitude of reasons and largely stemmed from which galaxy it was as they were all very differently balanced, had different impact on the game and honestly we're just different levels of fun. Things like Lilac Galaxy made some people have insane advantages right away just from winning the first carousel (Kayle with Bow anyone?), things like Superdense (before rework) that would just force everyone to rush level 5 mindlessly because if you did not do it you’d take 12 damage every round Stage 2 or even just some seriously unfun galaxies like Dwarf Planet or Binary Star that would literally remove elements of the game. The redeeming thing about galaxies was that at least they eventually phased out galaxies that were not well received in favor of the ones that were and don’t get me wrong I think some very really fun and some even increased the amount of decision you’d make on average each game (Trade Sector, outside of the 1-cost meta) and some even increased the skill ceiling a bit (Salvage World). That together with the balancing being a lot better in Set 3.5 basically saved the set from being a clusterfuck of frustration. But little did we know that it was about to be turned up to eleven in Set 4.

Set 4 (Chosen)

In Set 4 we got Chosens, the new set mechanic in TFT. This time instead of adding a whole new layer to the game like with Galaxies, this time they added another layer to an already existing core mechanic with rolling. Basically now you can roll a Chosen unit which is a unit that is empowered with extra stats and comes as a 2* unit and gives 2x of any given trait they have. This has its own rules and roll odds to set itself apart from normal rolls but in theory it works the same way as normal rolls. That should be good right? Earlier I said rolling was an example of good rng, and in theory it should have been. Just like with rolling normally, you have optimal levels where you can hit these units and give yourself the best odds to find them, the issues the Chosen mechanic (and later Lucky Lantern in Set 4.5) introduced was just HOW impactful they were. The outright power of the Chosen units made it so impactful that not hitting the Chosen you need handicapped you heavily in terms of board strength and widened the gap between high rolling (getting lucky) and low rolling (getting unlucky) further than it already was. Basically increasing the variance in any given game and thus increasing the sample size you need to know if you’re a winning or losing player and because of all that increasing the levels of frustration across the board. It made high rolling feel even more like a high roll and low rolling feeling even more like a low roll. It increased the amount of games where you felt hopeless and also games where you felt like you just got a free first without much effort. Basically lowering the skill cap of the game, which was the opposite outcome they probably expected from Chosens since the idea on paper should reward flexible play and thinking outside of the box. Sadly it just did not play out that way in practice because of how powerful the chosen units were. It also had another issue of where it would literally highlight any unbalanced metas further because if a comp was out of line, the best chosen for that comp would also be even more out of line and hitting that one chosen would basically just be a power increase not much else could compete with. 

Set 4.5 (Chosen + Lucky Lantern)

That brings us to Set 4.5 and Lucky Lanterns. Basically the “small” addition to the already existing set mechanic that did not end up being so small after all. This is largely just due to 3 things: Loaded Dice, the item components and the timing of when they appear. 

Loaded Dice is the biggest issue in the current meta as it’s filled with 1-cost rerolls and getting an early Loaded dice on Stage 2 or 3 basically makes everyone rerolling spike earlier meaning if you don’t, you get heavily punished. It’s basically double dipping into what is already happening with Chosens and just making it even faster thanks to Loaded Dice. Now I want to point out that I actually think Loaded Dice in THEORY is one of the best things they have added to the game. It checks every box on the “good” type of rng, but just like Chosens they have such a huge impact that it increases the variance of each game so much that it ends up feeling frustrating regardless. This is especially apparent in the situations where you have 2x Loaded Dice, as it can literally just swing the power of the whole lobby in one turn. Now outside of Loaded Dice, I think all the other consumables are fairly even in power which is good, they are small consumables with not too much impact but have some neat uses that give you some more options, no issues there. 

Moving on to the items you get from it. Everyone in the same lobby gets the same Lucky Lantern, meaning if you get 1x Loaded Dice, 2x BF Swords and 1x Cloak that means everyone else did too. So in THEORY this should not be rng right? Everyone got the same things after all. The issue is that due to how the lucky lantern appears it actually means that depending on when it shows up, it’ll affect all the players differently. If you get Lucky Lantern Stage 4 most people already have fairly established comps, so if you have one guy playing Slayers he’s beside himself getting 2x BF Swords in that spot, meanwhile the Mage player might just have 2 dead components with very little use to him. That means two different players just had completely different outcomes even though they both did nothing at all to affect the outcome. So that makes it go straight into the bad rng category. 

I already talked about it a little but the third issue is the timing of when they appear. The Lucky Lantern can appear on either 2-5, 3-5 or 4-5 or not at all. There is no way to play around them as of right now because there is no indicator of when they’ll appear or even if they’ll appear at all. At least with Galaxies we were told we were playing in a Galaxy and did not just have to randomly find out. It’s just another layer of rng that is so unnecessary.

Why does this impact high level gameplay and tournament play specifically?

So back to how this impacts competitive play at the highest level especially. At the highest level of play, edges are small between players. Someone that is Rank 1 on EUW is gonna be better on average than someone that is Rank 100. But if you now put the Rank 1 player against a Rank 10 player, you’ll see the gap quickly close. Meaning that when you put together 8 of the best players in a tournament lobby a lot of the outcome will be decided by rng. Obviously not all, but a lot of it will be decided by rng simply because the level of all the players is fairly close and there is only so much you can do if everyone is playing perfectly (realistically most of the time this does not happen, but in theory) so when you take that and introduce more elements of rng, good or bad, it’ll make that issue even worse. 

I feel like in the current meta especially, where 1-cost reroll comps are running rampant and people are deciding their comp on 2-1 without changing their boards much at all throughout the game and never considering pivoting during the later stages of the game has just made the skill expression in the game go down a lot to a point where that Rank 100 player might actually be able to consistently beat the Rank 1 if this keeps happening and as someone that loves to compete in this game it’s something that is really sad and frustrating to see. So what can be changed for this to be fixed? (Assuming that’s in the best interest of the game, it probably isn't).

So what can be done to adress these issues?

Personally I’d like to see the set mechanic to be removed altogether for future sets, but I also understand that that’s probably never gonna happen. So I’d settle for it to go back to what it was in Set 2, where it was something neatly implemented and had low impact on the overall game but made every game feel a bit different and that you actually play around a bit but without it being all you play around. 

As for Chosens right now in Set 4.5 I would love for the Chosens to become weaker, but for the odds of hitting your Chosens to go up. I think the Chosen mechanic is actually great in theory, the 2x trait is super cool that allows for some awesome builds that you would not be able to do otherwise and it rewards flexible play. But the chosen unit itself needs to lose the bonus stats and in my opinion it should lose the 2* as well but at this point I don’t see both happening and I think the bonus stats is a lot more problematic than the 2* even if I don’t like how fast the Chosens thin out the pool of any given meta unit. 

When it comes Lucky Lantern, I’d like some sort of indicator telling me that we’ll get a lucky lantern and preferably when. To add to that I’d also prefer the Lucky Lantern to appear BEFORE the carousel instead of AFTER (so on 2-3, 3-3 and 4-3) to let you play around it easier if the items are not optimal for you so you don’t go into the carousel “blind”. But preferably I’d like to see the item components be switched out for raw gold as you have a lot more of a fair decision making for everyone if it’s gold because everyone can use that no matter what stage of the game. And as a last change to Lucky Lantern I’d like to see the consumables be unique and that you can only get a maximum of 1 of any given consumables you get from it. That would remove the extreme situations that come from 2x Loaded Dice and it barely matters for the other consumables so it would probably be a good and easy change to make to nerf Loaded Dice indirectly.

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Thank you all for reading this.. rant? I don’t really know what to call it but I hope you enjoyed it. Next post will be another guide like the Olaf and Friends one I released recently. Make sure to follow me on Twitter if you want to vote on what comp I should make a guide for next, I always make a poll before making one so if you have one you’d like to see make sure to let me know! Also make sure to follow me on my socials down below.

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Great read! I remember when Galaxies was announced, they said in the blog post that the Elemental Hexes didn't have enough of an impact on the game. I completely disagreed. Especially with units like Qiyana who would change based on the map, it was a really cool way to introduce a mechanic to the set without introducing an overbearing amount of RNG. I'd love to see interesting and unique mechanics that make the sets feel interesting but also don't take away from having strong fundamentals in the game at a high level.
I liked the explanation between good and bad rng, and how the issues are amplified for high elo players. Of all the suggestions, I think the ones Gunmay suggested for Lucky Lantern are the most realistic and making those would reduce a fair bit of unnecessary variance e.g., seeing the Lantern contents before carousel, having a maximum of one type of each item.
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