Li-Ming’s Stunning Design

I have an admission to make: I chose the wrong MOBA. Not recently, but 7 years ago, when I was taking part in both the Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends beta tests. After weighing both options for several weeks, I settled on HoN for its sleek graphics and darker fantasy. I played it for 2.5 years before putting it aside and realizing that I’d backed the wrong horse. It was HD Video vs. Blu-ray all over again. Or, for the oldschool, Betamax vs. VHS.

That said, there is one thing that HoN had absolutely right (at least while I played) — hero design. The flavor roots of each hero ran deep, and the level of mastery for each was enticing enough to draw you in but leave you floundering for more after hundreds of games. As a Demented Shaman main, I enjoyed nothing more than perverting my healing powers to obliterate the unsuspecting denizens of Newerth.

The reason I bring this up is because, seven months after the game’s live release, Heroes of the Storm has finally brought a spectacularly designed hero to the table. That’s not to disparage the rest of the HotS cast — I love this game and find enjoyment in playing many of the heroes. But I was never quite as infatuated with its individual heroes as I was in HoN, a phenomenon I chalked up to being jaded to the genre. Li-Ming has proved that theory wrong.

Li Ming Banner | HotSShot

A Glass Cannon Among Glass Cannons

Before I get into what makes Li-Ming stand out from the HotS roster, allow me to make clear a stark reality: Li-Ming players are going to die. A lot. Much like driving in the Daytona 500, piloting Li-Ming requires constant vigilance. Even that comparison isn’t quite apt, because the drivers in said Nascar event are generally not out to murder the other drivers. In any given HotS match, however, there are going to be five players anxious to see this arcane wizard dead. And they are often going to meet their goal.

Let me explain why I say this. Li-ming has the 3rd lowest health pool in the game (1232 + 4% per level) behind Abathur (685 + 4%) and Murky (634 + 4%). Given the identities of these other two outliers, this essentially makes Li-ming the squishiest hero in the game. She also has the second lowest HP regen, behind only Abathur. Remember a month ago when Lunara would get melted if hit by any CC? Li-ming suffers from the same syndrome, only hers is worse.

“But Brodoleo,” someone is undoubtedly protesting, “Li-Ming has a teleport in her base kit, and a low-cooldown one at that!” While my imaginary devil’s advocate is technically correct in that statement, he or she is misapprehending the value of Teleport. While it is certainly passable for escaping and closing gaps, the stunted range of this ability makes it far more viable for dodging skillshots. Because of this, Li-Ming’s skill cap is higher than just about any other hero.

In order to dodge most skillshots, Li-Ming is going to have to Teleport as the animation is happening. So, for example, she should be ready to blink as Thrall moves his left arm to cast Feral Spirit. This means that aspiring Li-Ming players will need to have a comprehensive understanding of all the CC in the game and when to avoid it. That also entails knowing cooldowns. While it’s entirely possible to have the twitch reflexes to jump out of something’s way after it’s cast, it’s not going to work consistently, and consistency is a basis for mastery.

A Stunning Design

Okay, now that I’ve had a chance to discourage the masses, I’m prepared to bring spirits back up. Li-Ming is, without a doubt, an incredible hero. Her extreme squishiness is necessary to offset her extreme power. Between her range, her damage, her low cooldowns, and her diverse build paths, Li-Ming is one of the scariest heroes  introduced to the Nexus to date.

Before I continue to laud Li-Ming, I do have to make something else clear. I have seen sentiments that she is clearly superior to the other mages in the game, namely Kael’thas and Jaina. While she has her advantages over these heroes, there is one area in which she is far inferior — fighting in lanes.

Given that her two main damage abilities do not pierce targets, a wall of minions is a very real impediment to Li-Ming’s damage output. There’s nothing more frustrating than hurling an Arcane Orb at a fleeing hero to have it explode at half-mass on a wayward archer.

As a result, Li-Mings everywhere will find themselves thwarted in lane as their opponent takes shelter behind a barricade of puny bodies, a problem Jaina and Kael’thas don’t suffer. Furthermore, this makes heroes like Anub’arak and Zagara a nightmare, since they summon their own units that eat skillshots.

li ming wizard | HotSShot

Okay, back to laying accolades at her feet. Li-Ming’s damage potential is sky-high, provided she can land her skillshots. Ess of Johan is an incredibly powerful talent available at level 7 that can change her playstyle. The talent causes Arcane Orb to pull enemies towards its center upon exploding, allowing for some strategic manipulation of the enemy team and making way for AoE powerplays. This talent is also great for hitting with Arcane Missiles. Firing your missiles at the center of the orb a moment after launching it can secure an easy burst of damage.

Speaking of Arcane Missiles, many wow, much ability. If you’ve wondered what they could do to make a skillshot novel, this is your answer. The triple vector of Arcane Missiles is intuitive enough, but hitting the missiles takes a fair bit of practice. That this ability can be concentrated at one point or spread in a sort of fan makes it versatile; that it outranges structures is a little scary. Left alone in lane, Li-Ming can pummel towers and forts alike with long range missiles and orbs. Arcane Missile‘s talent tree is well worth exploring — it allows Li-Ming to pump out some massive sustain damage, and at long range to boot.

I mentioned above that Teleport is primarily for dodging skill-shots, but that all changes when Li-Ming opts for the Teleport build. At level 7 she gains Calamity, adding massive AoE damage to Teleport; at 13 she gains Illusionist, giving Teleport longer range and a reset upon losing a 15%+ chunk of health; and at 16 Diamond Skin grants a shield upon every cast. This build is inherently risky because it takes you to the frontline, but by level 16 it’s a powerhouse, allowing for major outplays and a whole lot of fun.

Mana is an issue for Li-Ming, but it’s a necessary restraint for her insane kit. With Critical Mass resetting every cooldown (heroics included) upon a kill or assist, she’s capable of doing an insane amount of burst to an entire team, provided she can survive. A hero like Uther or Tyrael who can keep her alive through the deepest tempest pairs excellently with Li-Ming, and a Malfurion to keep her mana flowing isn’t something to be underestimated. With her low health- and mana-pools, Li-Ming will find herself returning to base fairly often. This is fine for experienced players who can time it right, but will drive newer players bonkers.

Li-Ming’s heroic split reminds of of Falstad’s, albeit with far-reduced cooldowns. Disintegrate does great damage in a piercing AoE line, making it favorable for picking up kills, while Wave of Force displaces enemies in an area, making it a solid teamfighting ability. Given Li-Ming’s DPS-centric nature, Disintegrate seems superior for her ranged builds. Teleport builds may find the displacement of Wave of Force useful for in-your-face engagements. It also works well with Teleport for thwarting heroes who dive her.

Speaking of heroics, Archon at level 20 is a supremely interesting talent. The teamfighting and siege potential of limitless Disintegrate is sky-high. However, it causes Li-Ming to temporarily lose her escape while painting a purple, starry target on her back. In Archon mode, Li-Ming is akin to a sieged up Sgt. Hammer in terms of threat level and kill priority. While not a clearcut talent-of-choice, Archon inhabits some very interesting design space.

Conclusions

Okay, this post has gone on for far too long. I can talk about Li-Ming all day, but it’s likely that you’re more interested in actually playing her. So let me close with a few succinct thoughts:

  • Li-Ming’s damage output is scary high, but she is very susceptible to crowd control and burst
  • Melee assassins (a la Thrall, The Butcher, and Zeratul) will have an easy time eliminating this hero if they can get close enough
  • Minions, summons, and structures are huge impediments to Li-Ming’s damage output

Despite all of this, Li-Ming looks poised to be a top tier hero. Poor positioning and lack of team coordination will doom her to many a death in the lower MMR tiers, but players who put in their time with Li-Ming will be a force to be reckoned with.

The release of Li-Ming is exciting for HotS players everywhere. The hero is well-designed, powerful, and, most importantly, a blast to play. I look forward to both donning her wizardly mantle and chasing her to her doom in the coming weeks. See you in the Nexus!

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