When it comes to lanes, there are really three ways a champion can be strong (OP is the often-used word):
In this post, I’ll be talking about each of these three types of strength, with appeal to champions who fit that mold.
First, let’s talk overtuned. What does it mean for a champion to be overtuned? It means that the champion’s kit simply gives them more utility/damage/whatever compared to other champions that fill a similar role. Let’s take the hypothetical, perfectly balanced champion. Now add 10% to all of their numbers. It’s pretty clear that this champion will be strong. Take 10% off of their numbers and it’s pretty clear that they’ll be weak. This is tuning. It’s easiest to tell if a champion is simply overtuned after the fact. Why? Because an overtuned champion, when nerfed, becomes weak. A pretty good example Shyvana. Shyvana doesn’t actually do much that’s particularly exciting. Her main strengths are:
- Clears really fast
- Gets really tanky
So balancing Shyvana (on paper, at least) would be really easy, given a few patches to tweak her. Just bring the damage on her various abilities up and down!
A unique champion does something that no other champion can come close to doing. They may be weak in other ways, but if you build around them, they’re extremely strong.
Remember when Karthus stayed extremely strong despite several nerfs? Or for that matter, Vayne? That’s because those champions are so strong late game that if they have the right team to get them there, they’re suddenly a threat despite their weaknesses (low range and no poke for Vayne).
Balancing a unique champion is pretty easy: you just bring down the power of everything else they do until you are picking them solely for their unique strengths and nothing else.
Most interestingly, in my opinion, are champions that are defined by their consistency. These champions may not be the strongest champions, but they have almost no bad matchups and plenty of slightly strong ones.
Setting the Bar
However a champion is strong, strong champions define the meta. Often, a champion becomes so strong that they define the meta in a lane.
Renekton towards the end of Season 3 is a good example of a safe champion. Many champions had better mid-late games than Renekton did (Jax) or better mid-game utility (Shen) or better teamfights (Rumble), but those champions all had bad lane matchups (in Jax’s case, vs Renekton, even!). Renekton rose to dominance by having almost no lane counters: you could first-pick him risk free. Why?
Manaless/natural sustain – no worries about being pushed out of lane over time
Many safe builds – damage and tankiness viable.
Flexible – can split-push or join teamfights
This is the least noticeable type of OP champ, because you never really see it being dominant.
On the other hand, Irelia through Season 2 is a good example of an overtuned champion. She didn’t have all good lane matchups, but all top laners had to pick around her because of her dominant mid-late game. You either had to be able to beat her — and decisively so — early game, or you had to outscale her late game. Few champions could actually handle that, and so she was an extremely dominant pick.
Finally, you have unique champions. Karthus and Shen and Twisted Fate are all great example of champions who have a specific niche which they dominate, namely global pressure. As a result, they have remained strong for long periods of competitive play, despite nerfs. If you want global pressure, you will pick them.
Now of course, few champions simply fit into one of these. Kassadin, for example, fits the late-game niche, but is probably also a bit overtuned. Vayne fit a niche and was overtuned, but once she was tuned down, she stopped being a common pick. Same goes for Blue Ezreal.
This is the most visible type of power. Sure, you can force it out of the game early on, but once it gets going, it’s very hard to beat, and so you remember the extreme power of it once it gets to that point.
But what do all of these champions do?
They force all picks to revolve around them. Is Vayne dominant at the moment? You’d better pick an ADC who can beat her in lane enough to beat out her scaling in the mid-game, and a champion who can 1v1 her if she split-pushes. Is Renekton dominant? You’d better not have a weak laning phase.
What champions set the bar for the current meta?
Top – Renekton/Mundo/Rengar
- If you can’t beat tanky manaless sustain top (or you aren’t one yourself), you probably don’t belong up there
ADC – Jinx/Lucian
- If you can’t handle their lane bullying while still bringing a little late-game scaling, you may as well be them.
Support – Annie/Thresh/Leona
- There are other support mages/tanks, but none that have the tools that these three do.
Mattias “Gentleman Gustaf” Lehman is a big time nerd-gamer who has been involved in both SC2 and LoL. He has ranked as high as Diamond 1 in solo queue and Diamond 3 in arranged 5s.
You can see his other work here:
Reign of Gaming LoL articles