After a cute and friendly chameleon, we weren’t sure where the chain champion would take League of Legends. Would he be a malicious warden like Thresh, or a really nice guy who just happened to get wrapped up in an incident with some chains? The answer ended up somewhere in the middle.
Sylas is one of the most interesting characters to come to Demacia in quite some time, as he’s looking to topple the entire structure and begin anew. We had the opportunity to conduct an interview over email with Blake “Squad5” Smith, the designer of Sylas, and covered everything from early iterations of his Hijack (which were terrifying), to the Twitter fans who have fallen in love with his extremely cut abs.
The Rift Herald: What was the original inspiration for Sylas? Did he begin with a lore concept like “Demacian rebel” or “Spellthief”, or did you build his kit first and develop a story around the mechanics?
Blake “Squad5” Smith: Sylas started out with the idea of stealing spells. I had wanted to do that for a long time, but always brushed the idea aside because it seemed like it wouldn’t be possible for us to manage. Once I got the go-ahead, we starting concepting what the character who steals spells would look like, and I started figuring out what kind of character class they should be. We went through several iterations until we had a pitch of a character who was locked up because of the sheer power of being able to use anyone’s spells, and over time iterated on that to get to the Sylas we have today.
Sylas’s kit seems to suit him well in the jungle. Was he meant to be a jungler, or is there another role you expect players to employ him in?
While Sylas isn’t meant to primarily jungle, we definitely wanted to tailor his kit to allow the possibility. Where we landed, I think he can play in any of the solo lanes or the jungle, but we really wanted to focus on Mid/Jungle, as those positions really highlight the power of his ultimate and allow the player to come into contact with more enemies to steal from.
Sylas’s Hijack is a powerful and unprecedented ability. Are you concerned about how his strength will vary depending on who his opponents are, and what their ultimates are? Is he intended to serve as a counter pick or a deterrent, or do you expect him to perform well in different team comps?
I’m hoping that the type of player Sylas will resonate with will enjoy the variance game to game in terms of enemy team comps and the power they offer. This kind of variance is something we’re willing to accept as part of Sylas’ identity. Part of the skill in maximizing Sylas’ success is knowing when to pick and not to pick him, which means that he can easily act as both counter and deterrent - making his opponents think a little bit harder about their choice of champion but also making the Sylas player think about if they will succeed based on what they could be up against.
Are there any interesting bugs or prototypes you can share from Sylas’ development? Were there any unforeseen difficulties with Hijack?
So many bugs! As you can imagine there were tons of different categories and types of bugs with Hijack. Some of them were hilarious visual bugs, like Sylas riding on top of Valor sliding around after taking Quinn ult or Sylas running super speed on top of a Taliyah wall he created. Some were really strange interactions that could only happen when combined with other champions. We had a bug where if Sylas stole Fizz ultimate, then later stole and used Sivir’s ultimate he would fire out a Fizz ult at all of his allies around them.
A lot of the unforeseen difficulties came from the visual and sound side of using enemy ultimates. We wanted to use the enemy’s skin’s vfx from Sylas as well, but there was a pretty big challenge in making sure that the spells always knew the right skin to use, since most of the time they would just default to Sylas’ skin. Our engineers ended up doing a ton of amazing work to overcome the limitations we had, so much of the credit for making Sylas work goes to them.
What do you think the biggest “surprise” of Sylas’s launch might be once he hits live and players start experimenting with him? Do you anticipate any part of his kit shining more than it seems from the reveal reaction? Are there any big plays or combos you think might come out of nowhere to surprise people?
I think right now players are mainly focused on the flashier ultimates and high damage combos which is understandable. I imagine the biggest surprises are going to be around the way his kit functions with more utilitarian ultimates. His mobility offers a lot of options for him to position himself for something like a powerful team splitting Janna ultimate or a high impact Lulu self ultimate. I tried to make the base kit versatile enough to offer a lot of options for various ultimates, so that combined with the fact that he builds more AP than most champions do are probably going to show some stuff that I didn’t anticipate.
I can’t wait to see the videos of all the cool plays people make with him!
Sylas taps into a new thematic design space, where he’s Demacian but against order. Can you talk about some of the challenges of designing a champion who clearly belongs to Demacia, but is meant to oppose the faction? How did that come across in visuals and gameplay?
One of the big draws for making Sylas was exposing that different side of Demacia. Since pretty much all of the other Demacian champions are heroic, most of Demacia’s thematic aspects reflect that - the colors they use, the sounds, their music etc. We had a lot of discussions about how we could make Sylas still feel Demacian while showing that he doesn’t fall in line with the rest of them. To that end we decided to make Sylas have a sort of corruption of the traditional Demacian themes - he almost is there, but there’s always something off about it. His colors are either washed out Demacian colors or colors that are close to but not quite the traditional ones. His effects have a more violent design to them rather than the more regal, noble designs of other Demacians. His symbols are signs of what’s been done to him rather than what he stands for in a lot of ways.
Are there any champions you anticipate doing well against Sylas, thanks to their kit? What do you think his biggest weaknesses are, and how can players exploit them?
Champions that don’t have amazing ultimates for Sylas to steal are always going to feel good to play against him, examples being things like Udyr or Zoe. Beyond that though Sylas is fairly range constrained, and relies a lot of what ultimates are available for him to steal to really succeed in the mid and late game. If his opponents can keep him from roaming around and maximizing the potential of his ultimate by pushing him in or forcing him to stay and waveclear or lose his towers I think they will find a lot of success.
Sylas is a handsome character who’s seeing a big reaction among female and LGBT fans. Was it a deliberate design choice to make him appealing in that way to tie into his rebel leader aesthetic, or are you surprised at this reaction?
I’m definitely not surprised at the reaction. Early on when we figured out who we wanted Sylas to be (and that he would be Demacia’s villain) we knew that part of his identity would be tied to his leadership ability, and in asking the questions of how he could build an army of rebels and manipulate Lux into helping his escape we knew being attractive and charismatic would be a big part of that.