The concept of “overpowered” (OP) and “power creep” have been thrown around a lot lately. It seems that Riot’s new champions, possibly with the exception of Syndra, have been extremely strong. Most summoners feel that Rengar, Jayce, Darius or Diana are overpowered. Yet when evaluating the statistics behind the champion and their pro appearances, only very few of the new champions have actually proven to be statistically strong choices. In this double post, I’m going to go into what makes a champion feel overpowered and if win percentage is actually a valid measurement of strength.
The current standard for champions and being overpowered is looking at their win percentage on sites such as lolking (all of these charts are from Lolking) or elophant. I sat for a long while thinking about what a win percentage meant to a single character on a team game and trying to find ways to correlate it to the character’s strength. From community outcry, you can say that Evelynn, Ezreal and Rengar are overpowered. But when trying to pin it on win percentage, you get to a slippery slope. After many thoughts and hypothesis, I couldn’t find a reliable way to pin a character’s strength on a single statistic. Amumu isn’t overpowered. Zyra, Sona and Skarner have been nerfed hard over the course of time. MF was barely played two weeks prior. The issue with finding how often a champion wins is there is no control group or global answer.
No Global Answer/Control Group
Orianna was heralded by professionals as completely broken when she was released. Yet in the lower levels, she was a footnote and considered weak. Many of the new and old champions seem strong to players that do not know how to deal with them. Galio in the proper hands can and will completely carry and ruin a game for the opponents. Galio isn’t considered overpowered, but to a group of players that don’t know to save their CC for Idol of Durand and build Quicksilver Sash, he is broken. A level 15 friend of mine insisted that Master Yi was the best character in the game because you just turn on your ultimate and kill everyone. Trying to explain that you can exhaust or stun him until his ultimate wore off or his gap closer was burned fell on deaf ears because he hadn’t experienced an answer to that strategy. This makes defining a champion’s strength across the game extremely challenging.
The second part comes from characters that are harder to play or that don’t have visible impact. A support player can pick up Nunu and find him to be the worst support ever because he’s pretty hard to play properly. A newer jungler can play Lee Sin and find him completely useless (I did at first). Then, once you learn him, Lee Sin seems completely overpowered until you run into folks that know how to deal with him. Playing against a bad Cassiopeia or LeBlanc makes those characters feel underwhelming. To flip this on its head, playing against an amazing Veigar can make him seem literally unbeatable. There is no control group of players to experience and feel the strength of a champion.
Even in similar brackets there is a huge disparity between the skill levels and champion competency. Consider a platinum tier and finding a win rate there against other platinum players. Well some of those are smurfs, pros or trolls. Aside from the obvious, not everyone is the strongest in all roles. If a player is forced off of their main, they will get destroyed if they aren’t well versed enough against a strong champion. While someone like Xpecial can manage multiple roles, he still may not be as strong with dealing with InvertedComposer’s Singed or SpamHappy’s Poppy play on top lane. This is magnified in the lower brackets because most players of that skill level only have one or two main competencies, allowing them to lose for free by being forced into a role.
Defining the Perception of “OP”
So using a single statistic alone left me feeling unsatisfied. I don’t care if Darius has a 48% win rate, that guy is overpowered! LeBlanc has a 47% win rate that feels more like 90% win rate, I hate that stupid jerk too. Jayce is sitting at 50.2%. Clearly overpowered. Riot nerf pls. I sit at the loading screen staring at Katarina, Darius, Jayce, Blitzcrank or many others and just sigh – this is a ‘lost’ game. Even if I don’t lose the game, I lost the game. Well why do I have this feeling of dread and overpowered champion selection when I see these champions?
Difficulty to Play Against
Most OP characters that have very strong aspects to them are hard to play against. On some characters, these strengths feel balanced, but certain aspects of a character make them hard to deal with over others. Nautilus has a lot of CC with his snare, slow, knockup and hook, yet he doesn’t feel overpowered because he has a relatively weak early game damage output. Putting him in direct comparison to Alistar, they both have similar amounts of CC. Alistar, however, does a lot of damage at level 3 and after level 6 is nearly unkillable. Alistar is pretty much permanently banned while Nautilus only receives occasional bans.
Alistar is a perfect example of perceived overpowered characters due to difficulty to play against. He has awful mid and late game damage, high cooldowns, bad scaling, awful sustain and a slow jungle clear time. Yet his support, initiation and ganking abilities are so hard to deal with that people would rather ban him. Shaco shares a similar fate. Shaco isn’t an extremely strong character and has a fair share of weaknesses. He’s banned often, though, because he’s an absolute pain in the ass to deal with. Any time balancing comes up for these two characters, people go berserk if there are buffs because the last thing they want is buffs on these already overpowered ban-worthy champions.
Bias and/or Past Data
I’m going to go ahead and say it: I hate Blitzcrank and Shaco. I sometimes enjoy playing them, but I absolutely hate them. I think they ruin games, can get lucky and win a game and that they he just make life hard. This leads to a lot of feelings of him being overpowered. However, I know from playing those characters that they’re not overpowered. That doesn’t stop me from groaning when I see them against me, being happy when they’re nerfed and wishing they would accidentally get removed from the game.
Everyone has their little bias towards certain characters, often built upon skewed data. You might feel AP Teemo is overpowered because you always die to mushrooms. Or you may feel Katarina is overpowered because it only takes a “single kill” for her to snowball out of control. Master Yi is clearly the worst character in the game because of how many bad Master Yi players you have seen. There are plenty of these examples that are often based on remembering matches wrong, chalking too much up to that character, disliking them for past performances or hearsay from other people.
Square Peg in a Round Hole
Another issue that arises with feeling a champion is too strong is trying to fit them into what you’re used to playing. Riot doesn’t have a binding contract to the meta and sometimes they release champions that don’t abide by it. I find that the top lane destroying characters such as Darius are overpowered if you keep trying the same tactics. I wrote an article about the 2v1 top lane previously and I feel that he really fails in that scenario. However, if you’re trying to run your bruiser top against him, you’ll be destroyed. Is he overpowered because the normal picks don’t work on him and you have to pick differently or change the lanes around?
That is probably the most clear cut example, but I can do the same for other roles. Is Shyvana overpowered because you can’t play junglers weak to invasion such as Nautilus against her? Is LeBlanc overpowered because you can’t play fragile assassins with no sustain against her? While some may argue that these may be true, they simply alter the things you have to do in order to deal with them. Rengar is extremely strong against low to mid life characters that don’t stand up to his burst. That doesn’t mean when you lose your lane as Akali that he’s overpowered. Trying to play into someone’s strengths is the easiest way to feel they’re much to strong.
Type of Character
The type of character goes a long way in perceived strength. A snowball assassin character will always seem overpowered because they’re supposed to get ahead early and dominate. Rengar and Diana are both assassin style snowball characters. They’re both seen as extremely strong overpowered champs that required nerfs. Rengar’s story is probably the most telling in this regard. On release he boasted an awful win rate and was regarded as useless because people were trying him AP top. Then he made the mainstream switch over to AD and now (after a minor buff and bug fixes), he is the new OP. There are many reasons he’s considered overpowered such as being hard to lane against, a bias that he gets 1 kill and all of a sudden you’ve lost and that he beats up a good amount of the standard top lane picks. Aside from those, he is still a snowball assassin and is typically built like one.
The character type, in Rengar’s case, is what drives all of the other concerns. Since he does very well with a level or item above the opponent, he seems like every game he gets out of control. Rarely or never does a single kill mean that the game is lost. However, playing against Rengar like he’s a typical laner and that he’s not that far ahead is where people make the biggest mistake. That one kill and level may give him a slight edge and careful play means that edge continues to build. On a character meant for that to happen, being surprised it does and calling it overpowered is hardly fair. I’ve lost a ranked game to Riven getting fed 1-0 at level 1 on top lane, but I don’t feel Riven is overpowered. She’s doing her job as a burst snowballer. Just because a character getting ahead keeps them ahead doesn’t mean they’re overpowered, just that extra lengths need to be taken to prevent it.
Putting it Together
So let’s take a look at Talon. Talon is a fine example of how to alleviate feelings of OP while maintaining the core essence of the character. Talon was released and is still pretty much an assassin character, you don’t play bruiser on him thanks to his scaling and such. So let’s run the gambit I’ve set up with him as the star of the show. First off, he’s a snowball assassin. That’s automatically setting up for the cries, and cry they did.
When he was released, his mana regeneration and health regeneration were among the highest in the game. Combined with his poking ability having a silence to stop counter attacks and his long range rake ability, he was hard to lane against. He simply never ran out of mana and has so much health regen that trading with him never really turned in your favor. He was considered overpowered because he was hard to deal with and Riot stepped in to nerf his mana and health regeneration rate. A couple weeks later, his mana costs were increased and the cooldown on his ultimate was also increased. He was still too hard to deal with in lane and people always remember him stepping all over their team.
The bias that he was overpowered still existed past that point, and Talon stuck around for a little while. Then people stopped trying to play against his strengths and tankier laners (mid or top) starting being played against him. As most characters tend to go, he was forgotten for the new percieved overpowered such as Rengar or Diana. Talon went from being the most broken thing to hit the League in a while to a strong character to never played (picked a massive 2% of the time). There are more factors than just his perception such as slight meta shifts, the role of assassins in League and such, but he was thought to be far too strong and now is just a standard, good character. He can still do really well, but no longer feels completely overpowered.
Avoid the Trap
So the next time you feel someone is overpowered or not, don’t simply look at their win rate. Don’t think back on games you’ve had against them or with them on your team failing. Try the character out, look at a guide or watch a video of them and truly get a feel for their weaknesses. This can give you insight needed to counter them or, at worst, a new character you can play and enjoy. All characters have weaknesses and truly overpowered characters do not. While certain pieces may be strong or too strong, being undefeatable isn’t something that exists in League of Legends…yet.