Old guard vs. the new: Riot’s flawed releases have killed League’s traditional champion designs

League has come a long way with champion designs.

League of Legends champion Aphelios and his sister, Alune.
Screengrab via Riot Games

During the last 10 years of League of Legends, Riot Games has added a huge variety of champions. They vary from skirmishers, assassins, mages, warriors, bruisers, and supports. 

While the initial champions—such as Annie, Tryndamere, and Ashe—lacked major skill expression, champion designs started becoming more complex over time. The recent releases of Senna and Aphelios show a difference in Riot’s design philosophy with more aspects focused on innovation rather than balance.

In the past, Riot followed up a traditional kit that didn’t have multiple passives or actives with simple effects such as an auto-attack steroid or strong movement speed with a dash or blink. One of the first “new generation” champions that had multiple passives and resources was Yasuo. He was released in 2013 and was one of the freshest designs to hit the Rift, featuring a unique resource system alongside a double passive, which was rare at the time.

Veteran League players have expressed their disdain for these types of new releases or reworked kits due to the new design philosophy. While Riot followed a traditional approach in the past, this older ideology is no longer valid since the developer looks for new ways to keep the game fresh with every release. Some players might enjoy the innovative kits, but the latest releases seem to overshadow the old generation champions who have clear weaknesses and strengths. 

Riot’s teasers used to point out champions’ weaknesses. But nowadays, these videos usually don’t show any downsides of the reworked champion or release because they often rarely have any. This is a growing problem for the long term health of the game.

New champions are a double-edged sword

Riot’s latest champion releases are difficult to balance. Senna and Aphelios have been pick-or-ban status and dominated every lane. Wukong’s recent rework, which makes him feel like a new champion, was also pick-or-ban status and often picked in four different roles. Riot nerfed the recently-reworked Monkey King within 24 hours of release simply due to how strong he was. 

Every new or reworked champion seemingly follows a similar fate. Two of the biggest offenders are Senna and Aphelios. While they both feature unique gameplay, they’ve zoned out all other ADCs for a couple of patches and had instant pick-or-ban status in both solo queue and professional play. 

Even after multiple nerfs to their entire kits, both Aphelios and Senna are still highly-contested picks in the bottom lane due to how obnoxious their kits are to play against. Senna’s design relies on auto attacking opponents to gather souls from nearby minions, which boosts your stats, while Aphelios has an answer for every situation. He has lifesteal, crowd control, AoE, melee burst damage, and more with few weaknesses. Aphelios was nerfed in the majority of patches following his release and is still highly contested in professional and solo queue play. 

With every new release, players vent their frustrations with the seeming lack of limits in the designed kits. Earlier this year, Fnatic’s Rekkles joined in on the discussion, explaining how Kai’Sa and Xayah were completely zoned out of the meta by the latest champions. Older ADC champs that focus on traditional auto attacks are no match for the new generation ADCs. They fall far behind due to a lack of tools compared to their newer counterparts. If they get poked out, they usually have to head back to base. The new ADCs, on the other hand, can heal or use the lifesteal built into their kit to get their health back and continue laning as usual. 

In the top lane, there’s a similar situation with Ornn, Aatrox, and Sett dominating the meta due to their unbalanced kits. Ornn grants a lot of gold to his teammates with his Masterwork Items, with some items reaching more than 1,000 gold effectiveness if upgraded. Outside of that, his kit allows him to burst down carries from full health in seconds. Aatrox has been an issue due to his self-healing capabilities. When combined with Conqueror and Spirit Visage, he becomes unstoppable due to how much damage he can sustain before he can die. Sett greatly benefits from the true damage on his W, which makes him viable in multiple lanes without having to build any actual damaging items.

These champions were meta and are still meta in other roles as well, which results in a pro play issue due to their flexibility in drafts. Pyke is the most recent example and he got nerfed because of it in Patch 9.13. G2 Esports used Pyke in all five roles at one point in time and showed how strong this flexibility in the drafting phase can be.

Healing abilities are out of control

Former Riot champion designer Ryan “Morello” Scott kept healing abilities, runes, and items in check. He even has an item named after him, Morellonomicon, which counters healing effects. After his departure from the League department, though, more healing abilities were introduced alongside runes and items. The reworked or new champion kits started getting overloaded with healing abilities. These healing abilities zone out old champions who have no natural sustain and starve in the laning phase due to the new champions regenerating through poke without having to base. 

Four out of the five most recently-released champions feature some sort of self-healing or regeneration: Sett, Aphelios, Senna, and Yuumi. Only Qiyana is missing some sustain, but she still arguably has an overloaded kit with a dash, multiple crowd control options, invisibility, and hard-hitting damage outputs.

The latest champions to be released have some common features. They all have high priority in high-Elo solo queue and pro play. Qiyana used to be a highly-contested pick in the mid lane and jungle but fell short after several nerfs toned her down and brought her in line with older champions.

While, in theory, healing reduction is accessible quite easily via Executioner’s Calling for 800 gold, it can’t be used by mages or tanks that effectively need to invest in a Morellonomicon or Bramble Vest for the healing reduction effect. This puts mages in a situation with an inefficient build path due to the gold efficiency of a Morellonomicon compared to other items, such as Liandry’s Torment or Rabbadon’s Deathcap. Tanks are also falling behind due to how inefficient Bramble Vest is in the later stages of the game.

Returning power to the old guard

Focusing on creative aspects without overloading kits with multiple passives and actives should be a priority for Riot going forward. Most recent releases that have multiple passives or actives on abilities have been problematic. They’ve overshadowed the older generation of champions.

Sett’s passive, which gives him a unique flavor of hitting with both punches, is more than enough to be considered balanced. The extra health regeneration attached to it is reminiscent of the Yasuo release days, where double passives were considered obnoxious and hard to balance—a trend that continues up to this day.

There are 148 champions in the game, yet the same number of champions are always prioritized—and it’s usually the newer ones. Instead of focusing on how to one-up previous releases, Riot should return some of the power back to League‘s oldest and most accessible champions to create a more balanced and widespread meta.

About the author
Cristian Lupasco

Finance expert by the day, cooking enthusiast by the night. Found a passion for writing about video games last year.