In-depth interview with TFT players Xeno, Kiezo and Nutri on the current state of game and if it can succeed as an esport: ‘There is a lot of uncontrollable RNG in TFT, but there is definitely some potential there’

The birth of the mod Dota Auto Chess in 2019 sparked a huge interest from game developers across the globe, leading to many iterations of this genre such as Teamfight Tactics (TFT) from Riot Games.

While it hasn’t exploded to become the ‘next massive thing’ in esports, with TFT viewership on the decline, it’s certainly proven popular for a new game and shown that autobattlers are here to stay.

With Riot planning to release Set 3: Galaxies soon, Esports News UK writer Megalodontus spoke to some of the UK’s higher ranked players and streamers in Xeno from Barrage Esports, Kiezo from Lionscreed and Nutri from Phelan Gaming for an in-depth discussion. We asked them for their thoughts on the current state of the game, if autobattlers can succeed as an esport and what they want in the future.

Please tell us about your background in TFT and your thoughts on playing with your respective organisations?

Xeno (speaking to us at Barrage’s recent media day at Belong Manchester): I started playing TFT after Riot announced it. Before that I was playing Dota Autochess and League, so it made sense for me to play TFT having that League knowledge.

I’m currently Challenger for both Set 1 and 2. As for playing for Barrage, they’ve helped me as a player to grow bigger and grow my brand as well.

Kiezo: I started playing TFT pretty much from Day 1. It was a fresh new game and with the League Lore it was something I could really get behind. There were a lot of changes early on but once the game more or less settled, Ranked was released. I flew up the ranks and had 3 accounts across 3 continents that were D1 or higher. 

I spoke with Lionscreed and they were more than happy for me to represent them at the Insomnia 65 TFT tourney. I qualified 1st through 2 brackets and finished in 9th place overall. I also entered the Hyper X TFT Cup where I qualified for the finals and finished 6th.

Nutri: I got into the genre from playing Dota Autochess and fell in love with this genre. Being a full-time poker player, I very much enjoy any opportunity to engage in strategy and thought-based games without the pressure of playing for money every game.

I am happy to be playing under Phelan Gaming but I’m a bit sad that there hasn’t been much going on for TFT overall.

How are you liking Set 2 and Riot’s balance philosophy around it so far? 

Xeno: Currently, I think the more recent patches have definitely helped the game, but overall this Set still has some concerning issues. There are some units that are pretty strong and I feel like there’s still a lot of RNG that just wins you the fight, not much you can do to manipulate it. But in terms of balancing, Riot are on the right track in terms of nerfing and buffing appropriately.

Kiezo: I really got behind Set 1, and Set 2 was a big shake up in terms of champions and synergies. I found every addition they added to the game just increased the amount of uncontrollable RNG. An extra item is great, but now the chances of me hitting my build is reduced. An elemental square on the ground that buffs a champ is great but if it is in the wrong place, it could mess up your formation.

Overall though, Riot seem to be on top of the balancing. If anyone finds an issue they tend to turn ranked off and fix it quickly. However, it seems no matter what they do people will always find an ‘S’ tier build and you will always become a slave to the meta.

Nutri: It’s alright but I wish spatula and the carousel didn’t exist. I wish we could move away from the extreme RNG and party game mechanics too. It also feels like 1 or 2 units seem to slip through the cracks every patch and end up being far too strong compared to many other units.

What do you think of Set 2: Rise of the Elements compared to Set 1?

Xeno: I think Riot has learned a lot to improve Set 2 from Set 1. Some things in Set 1 like Phantom, Hextech, the synergies a lot of people didn’t like playing against. I think they did a better job in Set 2. They improved in that and making the game more fun.

Kiezo: I thought Set 1 was just about coming into its own where there was a variety of 4 or 5 good meta builds when they basically scrapped it and started again. For the first couple weeks of Set 2 for example, only a maximum of 2 or 3 builds actually mattered in order to climb.

Nutri: It was a considerable improvement and the board size increasing was extremely necessary. However, I’m not really enjoying Set 2 as a whole and it’s hard to comment too much on how balanced or unbalanced Set 1 was due to how heavily influenced this was by the board size, in my opinion.

“I want to see what happens to the balance of the game if there are no items, that it was just completely based on synergy and champion strengths. I just want to see how a fight and pace would go, and see what are the strongest comps and champions that emerge.”

Xeno

TFT’s viewership has been on the decline at the moment, do you think people are losing interest in the genre or are people not happy with the direction it’s going?

Xeno: I think a lot of people play the game for sure, but maybe there are a few casual players that don’t like the change of meta and the balancing. People have to relearn and therefore don’t want to watch since they stop playing themselves.

But I don’t think the genre is dying. Some other games that are still doing fine in the genre, but perhaps people are finding it a bit stale. I’m not quite sure honestly.

Kiezo: I think there is too much uncontrollable RNG in the game. I get it’s an auto battler but from the very first second, where you spawn almost determines what starting items you can and cannot go for.

With all this RNG, the LP points you gain and lose for ranked are a bit harsh. You start in Iron/Bronze where you get like 100+LP a game and a loss is -20lp or so. But when you are Diamond and for example you get 1st, 6th, 1st, 1st, and 8th in a 5-game sample, you end up losing more points in total than you gained with a 60% win ratio. 

Also, the buzz for the game is gone as it’s no longer new. It’s very hard to create new builds and be free to do what you want because if you want to win you become a slave to the meta builds.

Without a massive shake-up to the game with the way it plays, I don’t think it will ever become a proper esport and it will slowly be in decline. There will always be a place to create some crazy builds or play normals with friends, but I don’t see much past that.

Nutri: The genre and game itself is very young. The mobile release and regular tournaments is what this game needs to flourish. I am worried about Riot’s ability to balance this game in a way that the audience appreciates and enjoys, but time will tell. I do think that game balance will have a huge impact on player retention and really hope they get it right.

Are you excited for the launch of TFT on mobile platforms? Why/why not?

Xeno: It will be good for TFT itself. A lot more casual players will enjoy playing TFT on the go when they are commuting on a train or bus, whenever they can, so I think that will help the playerbase. But personally I don’t think I’ll be playing it. I’ll play on PC.

Kiezo: If this interview was last year and I was playing 8 hours a day, then yes, 100%. I could play a quick game in my lunch breaks or even just out and about, or even just be able to play it when chilling and watching TV.

Nutri: I am extremely excited for the mobile release. I think once Set 3 and the mobile release arrives we can really start to measure how successful the game is. The playerbase should boom, active player numbers should boom and overall interest should skyrocket. It is very important that Riot get this right and that it is as easy to interact with the interface, like AutoChess.

“Without a massive shake-up to the game with the way it plays, I don’t think it will ever become a proper esport and it will slowly be in decline. There will always be a place to create some crazy builds or play normals with friends, but I don’t see much past that.”

Kiezo

There’s not been a major esports tournament for TFT yet. Do you think as a genre, autobattlers can succeed as an esport? 

Xeno: I think… yes. But the problem right now is that they are not doing it correctly with the esports tournaments. It’s better to see how a few players play the game instead of 8 players, because it’s hard to watch 8 players roll down their gold to find units and whatnot.

People might be more interested on the journey of how a person gets from the start to end, so I think that’s a better way to have an esport, but I do believe that there will be a scene in the future.

Kiezo: I think autobattlers can succeed as an esport. I mean Clash of Clans is sort of an autobattler and that has blown up pretty big with huge cash esports payouts. Will TFT be like that? They have a huge fanbase with League and its lore, but the way the game is heading at the moment, I don’t think so.

From a caster point of view it must be a nightmare to cast as so much happening all at once. At other times in the early rounds, sometimes no input is needed with just 1 or 2 champs.

Nutri: Probably an unpopular answer here but I’d say only to an extent – I think it can become a minor esport that will do well from a community interaction perspective, but I can imagine viewership struggling unless streamers and influencers carry it. Time will tell but there is definitely some potential there.

Riot seems pretty switched on with regards to how you can use streamers to push a game’s popularity. It’s not too difficult to just copy what Hearthstone did on release.

Riot Games have openly announced they will be releasing Set 3 in the near future. What aspects would you like to see improved and which elements from Set 2 do you hope they will carry over?

Xeno: Oh this is a tough question. Some of the problems from Set 2 they have to change are some of the abilities that have huge impacts have less of an RNG base. A good example of this is Azir. When he spawns a soldier right, you don’t know where or how he spawns the soldier. So if he does happen to get that one soldier on your backline carry and he just deletes them, it feels like you just lost the fight from being a bit ‘unlucky’. I think something like that would have to change. 

Personally I am a fan of them removing spatula in the current path, it will help with future balancing, so Blender or Blademaster Azir won’t happen again. I think if they want to reintroduce spatula for Set 3 it would have to be done in a different way instead of the carousel.

Kiezo: Personally I would roll back to Set 1.

Nutri: I would like it if we could move a bit away from insanely strong singular units like Nocturne and  Zed for example, and have more power spread across an entire comp. I don’t know how easy this is to achieve but this would personally make me very happy.

What are your initial impressions on the newly announced TFT: Galaxies?

Xeno: Firstly, I do love the aesthetics of the galaxy theme and a lot of the skin lines that will be involved, so that’s something I’m looking forward to. Seeing the mechanics of Galaxies, I believe it will create some interesting games.

I think it will be better and more fun than the Elemental Hexes that were in Set 2 as I felt a lot of the time the hexes weren’t super good, besides the ocean/fire hexes, and people didn’t really play around them especially in the late game as positioning was just a bigger priority. 

It’s a good approach from Riot to try and keep games different and constantly making players adapt, but I think what I’ll be looking at most are mainly the champions and synergies as they are pretty much the core part of the game.

Kiezo: In terms of the competitive side of things, I do not think it is anything groundbreaking. In terms of appealing to the normal games and the casual side of things, it’s an interesting way to make every game you play a little different.

Who is your favourite champion in TFT and why?

Xeno: It will have to be Ashe. I really like playing Rangers in Set 1 and Ashe was like the hard carry of Set 1. Right now Ashe, Crystals and Rangers in general are really good in Set 2 so it will have to be her.

Kiezo: Rengar – nothing better than Rengar leaping round the map and taking key targets out and really turning a round around for you.

Nutri: I like Ashe a lot, clean animations and it feels very rewarding to make work.

If you could wave a magic wand, what changes would you like to see made to the game?

Xeno: This is another tough one, let’s see… I want to see what happens to the balance of the game if there are no items, that it was just completely based on synergy and champion strengths. I just want to see how a fight and pace would go, and see what the strongest comps and champions would be.

Kiezo: I would like everyone to have their own deck so to speak. At the moment there is only a set number of copies of 5-cost units in the game. It would be interesting to see if everyone had their own set or own 9 copies in their personal deck. It’s a little hard to explain, but it would be interesting to me if everyone built the same meta deck then it would come down more to positioning and tactics.

Nutri: I would just flat out remove items entirely. They personally take a lot away from the experience for me and I would rather solely be rewarded for my decisions regarding my champions and comp rather than juggling my RNG items. If items are to be in the game, then the AutoChess system should be mimicked and an item can be selected after each minion round.

“I am extremely excited for the mobile release. I think once Set 3 and the mobile release arrives, we can really start to measure how successful the game is. The playerbase should boom, active player numbers should boom and overall interest should skyrocket. It is very important that Riot get this right and that it’s as easy to interact with the interface, like AutoChess.”

Nutri

As TFT is the first game after League that Riot has made, how would you reflect on it and compare it to League? Do you think Riot can do the same with its other upcoming games and turn them into titles with good esports ecosystems?

Xeno: I think Riot has proven that they can make good games with the like the success of LoL itself and obviously its esports scene. TFT is generally a big success for them, so I have full faith in the future that most of the games they create there will be people playing and loving it.

Kiezo: I honestly think they have more of a chance with Legends of Runeterra. LoR doesn’t force you to buy packs like other bigger titles so there is an appeal there. Technically with the league fanbase, lore and Riot money, I am sure they could make anything work. I’d personally like to see an MMO or ARPG like Path of Exile but with League champions instead.

Nutri: I am extremely agnostic. I think Riot can do it but they are certainly putting a lot on their plate and I can see a lot of things flopping. But they have amazing concepts in general though.

Read more: A League of Legends turn-based RPG and platform game are in development

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Xeno: I’d like to personally thank my fans and viewers on Twitch that support me. I’d also like to thank Barrage for getting into esports and starting my journey here. Also thanks to Riot for making TFT and making a game I enjoy playing. 

Kiezo: You can find me streaming at www.twitch.tv/KiezoTV. Fear the pride!

Nutri: Currently I prefer playing Autochess to TFT. This doesn’t mean I hate Set 2, but I do hope more will be done when Set 3 comes around.

[We’ve added Nutri’s Twitch here too]

Along with the recent Galaxies announcement, we can expect Set 3 to be dropping some time around March or April, along with the mobile release. To keep up with all the updates remember to keep an eye on ENUK and TFT’s official Twitter.

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