Was the Akali rework a failure?

The Rogue Assassin has been terrorizing solo queue and pro play.

Image via Riot Games

It’s been two years since Akali’s rework happened. She’s been problematic since then for multiple reasons: powerful ratios, overloaded kit, no glaring weaknesses. Even before she was released on the live servers, League of Legends pros foresaw the problems that were going to arise with her rework.

Riot Games’ designer Bradford “CertainlyT” Wenban received a lot of backlash from this rework. It generated a lot of frustration in the community because the champion was so overturned that it was close to impossible to play an immobile champion against her.

CertainlyT was in charge of multiple champion designs that are despised by the community, such as Yasuo, Kalista, Zoe, and Aphelios. When the community found out that he was in charge of the Akali rework, the initial feedback was quite negative. So what went wrong?

Issues with old Akali

The old version of Akali had a much simpler kit with a targeted Q, a shroud that could be revealed by pink wards, a melee range AoE spell for wave clear, and a targeted R. Due to the simplicity of the kit, she became a stat check champion. There was no expression of skill by pressing Q on your target, pressing R to dash to them, and repeating this until one of you died.

She was rarely a meta champion pick, and as a result, her win rate never reached a high mark due to the simplicity of her kit.

Rework problems

Patch v8.15, which was released two years ago, brought out the new version of Akali. It introduced a much more overloaded Akali than the current version in Patch 10.3. Her new kit removed some weaknesses that she had and added a clear display of skill. But in addition to the clear display of skill, it added an unwelcome mechanic to League: “true” stealth.

The changes below became more problematic over time. Many mechanics from the rework were removed as the champion gained pick/ban status in both solo que and pro play.

  • Ranged Q, which dealt a lot of damage, healed and one-shot minion waves when maxed out at rank five.
  • “True” stealth, which allowed Akali to dive champions under turrets with no penalty by using the shroud and maneuvering inside and out to extend the duration of this “true” stealth mechanic.
  • Insane mobility from the new E (Shuriken Flip) and ultimate, three dashes that didn’t require a target and could go over walls.
  • Brief stun on ultimate, alongside slow on her Q made her unpeelable and hard to deal with during the laning phase and teamfights.

Over time, many mechanics were removed, such as the healing on Q, “true” stealth from W, micro stun on R1, and the “free target” from R1 as a result of Riot realizing that the champion was overloaded with mechanics.

Competitive play

Akali was pick/ban status for many patches, but in the current 2020 season, she hasn’t seen play yet in a single game in either the LCS or LEC. Out of the 20 matches in each region, she’s been banned in every one of them.

The main reason is that she invalidates immobile champions with her dashes, which is especially prominent against ADCs. Even after multiple nerfs and the removal of mechanics, she’s been problematic since the rework.

A champion should have clearly defined strengths and weaknesses to make them balanced. CertainlyT went above and beyond with Akali’s rework and gave her tools that didn’t exist before, such as the “true stealth,” which allowed her to bypass tower aggro and dive enemy champions without hassle. The amount of tools Akali received were highly exploited by pros by setting up early dives with a jungler and juggling tower aggro to secure easy kills. Her insane mobility up to this day is still a big issue, even after many mechanics were removed, such as the “true stealth,” micro stun, and damage from abilities that were nerfed. 

Possible solutions

While the old version of Akali was far from perfect, she had visible weaknesses. She couldn’t kill entire teams with a couple of casts from Q, she couldn’t freely avoid ganks with her “free target” abilities, and she could be revealed by pink wards.

While Riot stands by its philosophy, sometimes it does go back to the drawing board and revert champions. Recent examples of Rengar and Le’Blanc show that Riot isn’t stubborn about maintaining a reworked version of the champion if it’s problematic.

Akali needs to have visible weaknesses. She should be revealed by pink wards like her old version was. Her E should have a lower “back-out” range as well to make her gankable during the laning phase. While the recent nerf of Q energy cost and making R1 a targeted ability cast will make her a bit more manageable, she needs an overhaul to be balanced for both pro play and solo que. A good start would be to revert to her old kit and adjust from there. While her old kit could be seen as bland and lacking expression of skill, it was much more balanced and had clearly defined strengths and weaknesses.

Future of Akali

Riot tries to change Akali on a constant basis by tuning damage numbers, removing mechanics, or changing her cooldowns. These changes seem to put Akali in either an unplayable state or a pick/ban state, which she’s been in for the last patch in both competitive and solo que play. 

If Riot doesn’t want the champion to keep being problematic, the company should return to a point where Akali was considered healthy (pre-rework) and start from there.