How Did This Happen: The balance disaster that was Worlds 2015

Sometimes, Riot makes mistakes.

Not little spaghetti code mistakes, not tiny glitches that don’t matter after a week. Sometimes they make huge, game-altering mistakes that affect League of Legends’ entire player base and competitive scene.

These aren’t bedtime stories about bad decisions. They’re epic tales of busted champions and broken mechanics.

Ahead of the 2015 League of Legends World Championships, Riot didn’t just write one of those epics. They wrote three, changing the meta of the tournament and causing what was one of the biggest messes in competitive LoL history.

How did it work?

There were a few big, important changes going into Worlds 2015. First was the Juggernaut rework, which took four champions and emphasized their tankiness and melee damage at the cost of mobility.

Garen, Skarner, Darius and Mordekaiser all received buffs and reworks that were so ridiculous, Skarner got a hotfix just six days after the patch dropped. A handful of the champions got nerfs and tweaks to make them less crazy, but by the time the 5.18 Worlds patch rolled around, Mordekaiser and Darius were still insanely powerful.

It wasn’t just the juggernauts who were overpowered either. The jungle was low on diversity, with only three champions that saw any serious play at a high level. Elise, Gragas and Rek’Sai were all incredibly strong, but due to a bug that cropped up partway through the tournament, Riot disabled Gragas, leaving the jungle in complete disarray. With only two good junglers, two OP juggernauts and six bans, things were getting tight.

If that wasn’t enough, Riot also reworked Gangplank, turning him into late-game monster with very safe laning. Gangplank could safely farm early, but once he had some items, he became a team fighting machine, one-shotting most enemies if they walked into his barrels or otherwise ripping them in half with his ultimate.

Oh, and hypercarry AD carries were in fashion. Lulu was able to be played in the top or mid lane, which effectively meant your glass cannons had two supports backing them up in any fight, turning that glass into steel.

WTF?

There were four champions with a pick/ban percentage higher than 90 percent at Worlds 2015. Gangplank and Mordekaiser were both banned more than 50 times each on red side. Lulu was banned more than 20 times on both the red and the blue side and Elise was picked more than 25 times on blue side.

The pick/ban phase had to go almost the same way every time. Red side was forced to ban Mordekaiser and Gangplank, as well as a jungler of their choice (usually Elise) out of fear that blue side would first-pick the hilariously broken champions.

Meanwhile, blue side essentially got their pick of the litter. If red side left up Elise, Rek’Sai, Mordekaiser or Lulu, they would be snatched up instantly. For example, the only two games where Gangplank was left up, blue side instantly picked him. Gangplank finished the tournament with a 100 percent win rate and a 100 percent pick/ban rate.

Teams were left with shockingly similar team compositions every game, with the rare flash of OP nonsense slipping into a game here or there. It was a careful peace, broken by the handful of games where a champion like Darius, Lulu or Mordekaiser was played.

In a game against Fnatic, Cloud9’s An “Balls” Le picked up a Pentakill on Darius without much effort. He just wandered through the enemy team and slaughtered everyone, instantly winning the game from a 4k gold deficit.

There was a certain kind of balance to Worlds 2015, though not the kind that encourages fair competition. Worlds 2015’s balance was more similar to the balance you’d employ while walking on a tightrope. You had to ban the same handful of champions every time, for fear of dropping into the overpowered abyss.

What happened?

It would take too long to go through every individual nerf these champions got, but do know that Riot eventually dealt with the nonsense that plagued their game throughout Worlds 2015. One could even say it didn’t even affect competitive integrity all that much, given that SK Telecom T1 still lifted the Summoner’s Cup at the end of the day.

The problem was that it really showed how little thought Riot gave to the competitive scene when making balance decisions. One of these things would be a problem, but all of them at once during the most important League of Legends tournament of the year is an unmitigated disaster. It made League look terrible, and Riot look event worse. Obviously, Riot has to focus on the average player when the make balance decisions, but not considering the pro scene just before Worlds is just asking for something busted to crop up.

All these things were individual terrors in solo queue. Those six days where Skarner was the most powerful champion in LoL history (by Riot’s own admission) were a disaster, but it wasn't quite as bad as the mess Riot made when they played LoL's most watched games of 2015 on one of their worst competitive patches ever.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

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