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The Teamfight Tactics: Gizmos and Gadgets expansion has created a spike of players and Twitch viewers thanks to its innovative design. But, while creators like Cloud9’s Micheal “k3Soju” Zhang and Jeffrey “Milk” Pan have been streaming their preparation for a world championship, the game they’re playing isn’t traditional TFT. Instead, it’s the game’s newest mode, Double Up.

Ever since TFT’s release in 2019, players asked for a team-based experience in the free-for-all auto battler. And, thanks to Ananda Gupta, a principal game designer at Riot Games, players finally got what they wanted in Set 6.

Reinforcing the army in TFT Double Up

Gupta is not just in charge of designing Double Up, but all the “TFT Labs” —  additional game modes that try to reinvent how TFT is played. The first one was Hyperoll, which did well enough during Set 5 to get renewed and revamped for Set 6. Yet players still clamored for a social experience after Hyperoll’s release, pushing Gupta to craft a philosophy which explored what that meant for TFT.

“The core assumption that we made was that it wouldn’t feel like you’re playing with a partner unless you’re playing on the same board,” Gupta said. “If you have separate boards, then it would feel like toddlers in parallel play.”

Gupta used the analogy of children playing in the same room but doing different tasks because that was his first assumption of how not to approach Double Up. But as development went on, Gupta’s assumption turned out to be false.

In truth, the solution to making TFT a more social experience turned out to be somewhere in the middle. To make it work, players needed separate boards — but their partner’s choices had to matter for the overall game. Bringing Double Up to life was all about figuring out how to make that second part work.

Back at the drawing board, Gupta and the team looked at the initial brainstorm idea bin and one thing stood out more than all the others: The reinforcement mechanic. This would bring in your partner’s board to help you out after they won a fight.

“In the very first playtest with the reinforcements mechanic, we realized we had solved the problem,” Gupta said. “We had introduced an area of shared play that didn’t demand too much brain space.”

An allegiance of two teams to bring players closer together

Outside of the reinforcement mechanic, Double Up also features the Rune of Allegiance, another mechanic that makes it stand out as a social mode. However, that idea didn’t initially come from Gupta’s team.

Previously, Tencent Games had released Battle of Golden Spatula in mid-2021 to give Chinese players a social game mode very similar to traditional TFT. Gupta and the team at Riot brainstormed with the team at Tencent on how to make a duo experience.

“We did collaborate on the design with them, absolutely,” Gupta said. “In particular, they were the ones to sort of fire the first pitch bullet on the idea of ‘what if there’s a consumable resource that you use to give champions to your partner?’”

After getting Fight for the Golden Spatula up and running, Gupta and his team worked the consumable into Double Up. Gupta said the consumable idea is one that the team had originally thought of, but seeing it work well in a similar title gave them the confidence to implement it.

Despite some similarities between Double Up and Fight for the Golden Spatula, they don’t have the reinforcement mechanic. Gupta said the team over at Tencent Games was OK with that because they just wanted some way for players to play together. The focus at Riot Games is to make an optimal way to play together.

“The reinforcements mechanic not only gives you like high moments, it also makes those high moments social,” Gupta said. “I hope Fight for the Golden Spatula sees that and decides to adopt it.”

Deuces

Many kinds of players have enjoyed Double Up so far, but Gupta had three types of players in mind when designing it. There are casuals, those who play to learn from others or do the teaching and players who naturally prefer team sports. In many ways, Gupta likened the way players approach Double Up to the way players approach a very popular sport.

“If you look at the top rankings of tennis players, it’s actually pretty rare that the top players in singles and doubles are the same,” Gupta said. “There are just people who prefer to play doubles tennis and who want to reach maximum mastery at that and have no interest in playing singles.”

TFT isn’t the first esport that capitalizes on that concept, since Super Smash Bros. has a rich history of different top players in doubles and singles. In many ways, doubles creates an entirely parallel game with different metas. Gupta even said he envisions a perfect world where TFT esports has thriving standard and Double Up scenes at the same time.

“I would love it if that happened, I would love that.” Gupta said. “But it won’t surprise me if it doesn’t happen until we do some work.”

The next serving

Gupta outlined that Double Up is just in beta and that there are a lot of things that can make the mode better. Gupta said things like the ranking system need work, and that a way to play custom Double Up lobbies is on the list of things the mode needs to address. However, with that said, Gupta knows a winner when he sees one.

“I would say that Double Up has exceeded my expectations,” Gupta said. “I knew it would be popular and I’m optimistic about most things, but it’s definitely done really well even relative to my optimism.”

Riot Games announced Double Up will come down sometime during the Set 6 cycle so the TFT team can do some extensive work to push the mode closer to that perfect goal. There is no date or timeline yet, but in the meantime, players can get a glimpse at what high-level Double Up gameplay looks like when its first international tournament, Hextech Havoc, kicks later this year.