League of Legends: Top 10 interesting facts about Season 9 balance

League of Legends. Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Courtesy of Riot Games. /
Riot Games.
Rakan and Xayah. League of Legends. /

League of Legends Season 9 is in the rearview window, but there are still plenty of lessons that we can learn from Riot’s balance philosophy last season.

Season 9 was an interesting year to play League of Legends. We had reworks of Mordekaiser, Kayle, Pantheon, and Morgana along with new releases like Qiyana, Neeko, Sylas, and Yuumi.  There were also perpetual balance nightmares like Aatrox and Akali.

Many players were, understandably, frustrated at their champions being buffed or nerfed so frequently, watching their power level swing from “OP” to “trash tier.” Other players felt neglected, going the entire season without their champion receiving a single buff or nerf regardless of their champion’s state of the game.

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I have therefore charted every single buff or nerf given out by Riot during the official patch notes (not counting mid-patch updates, bug fixes, or hotfixes) to see how Riot tended to do with their structured patches. Looking at these markers, along with our tier list rating of each champion and their corresponding win rate reveals some extremely fascinating information. Here are 10 interesting facts revealed by looking at the trends of Riot’s balance patches.

1. The best champions didn’t always get nerfed

Looking at the top five champions in each role across Season 9, one thing that stood out was how few nerfs those champions received. These 25 champions, collectively, received 22 buffs and 17 nerfs over the course of Season 9. Of those 25 champions, only six of them – Riven, Zed, Nunu & Willump, Kai’Sa, Thresh, and Morgana – received more nerfs than buffs.

On the other hand, there were eleven champions who received more buffs than nerfs despite being one of the strongest champions in the role – Janna, Vayne, Jinx, Lucian, Ahri, Katarina, Kha’Zix, Lee Sin, Kled, Darius, and Jax. 13 out of the 25 best champions in Season 9 received no nerfs whatsoever.

2. The worst champions, though, did tend to get buffed

While it is more likely that a champion at the top of their role will get a buff than a nerf, it is definitely not the case that champions that are rated at the bottom in their position will get nerfed or won’t get buffed. In fact, there were only eight champions that are rated bottom five in their position during Season 9 that got any nerfs at all – Ryze, Sylas, Azir, Jayce, Karma, Yasuo, Neeko, and Tahm Kench. Only two of those champions – Azir and Tahm Kench – were rated in the bottom five of their main positions (for instance, Yasuo is only rated bottom five in the ADC position and Sylas is bottom five in jungle).

Riot did have a very strong track record of buffing champions that were weak in their main roles. 13 of the 25 weakest champions got multiple buffs and zero nerfs during their life cycle of Season 9.

3. The most-nerfed champions won’t surprise anyone

Two champions were nerfed seven times during Season 9: Akali and Aatrox. To no one’s surprise, these two champions were balance nightmares during the last season. Akali only got two buffs during the season, while Aatrox took only one.

This is in spite of the fact that these two spent considerable periods in the C, D, or F tiers during Season 9. From Patch 9.3 to 9.9, Aatrox was considered to be a terrible pick in the top lane. Akali also fell off a cliff in Patch 9.3 but remained below-average until Patch 9.14.

4. But the most-buffed champions might

Three champions received five buffs during Season 9. Two of those received five buffs and zero nerfs as Riot attempted to boost their strength throughout the year: Ornn and Caitlyn. Caitlyn, of course, does end up becoming a strong ADC, but unfortunately, Ornn languished at the bottom of the top lane tier list.

If you’re confused as to why I mentioned there were three champions who got buffed five times but only discussed Ornn and Caitlyn, well, that has to do with our next subject…

5. Sylas was the biggest balance nightmare

Aatrox and Akali may have gotten the most nerfs of any champion in Season 9 but at least they weren’t yanked around like Sylas. Despite the fact that he was released midway through the season, the Unshackled was buffed or nerfed eleven times. Riot clearly didn’t know how to balance their new creation, as he vacillated between S and F tier as a mid laner.

6. There were many champions that got repeated buffs

14 champions got buffed at least three times and never got nerfed in Season 9 – Fiora, Singed, Dr. Mundo, Ornn, Graves, Warwick, Ivern, Trundle, Ekko, Syndra, Aurelion Sol, Caitlyn, Leona, and Shen. What is interesting is that some of these champions did become quite strong as a result of the repeated nerfs, like Fiora, Mundo, Ekko, Caitlyn, and Leona, while others remained quite weak (Ornn, Ivern, Warwick, and Trundle).

7. Riot constantly overshot on their changes

There were 17 different instances where Riot needed to follow up a nerf with a buff the very next patch, or vice versa. Some of the champions who got those frequent changes that were immediately walked back won’t surprise you – Karma, Sylas, Aatrox, and Akali – but there were a few others like Soraka, Zyra, and Diana that might be a bit shocking.

Karma holds the record for most consecutive patches receiving alternating buffs and nerfs with four (from Patch 9.12 to Patch 9.15). Unsurprisingly, Sylas received the most consecutive nerfs, with three, as he got nerfed from Patch 9.5 to 9.7.

8. Strong champions went untouched

Would it shock you to know that Vladimir went untouched during Season 9? Probably, given how strong many people complained he was, but other highly-rated champions like Elise, Malzahar, Draven, Nami, and Talon were all unmentioned in the proper patch notes during Season 9. Part of the reason for this may have been that these champions all tended to stay quite strong, never dipping below B tier.

9. While some weak champions were forgotten

If you had an axe to grind with Riot, feeling like your champion was neglected in Season 9, you might actually be right. Three champions never peaked above B tier, ended with an average rating in the C/D range, and didn’t get a single buff during the season: Wukong, Fiddlesticks, and Braum.

10. Riot tended to give out buffs more than nerfs

Even though LS might complain that Riot is too overeager with the nerf bat, Riot was actually surprisingly generous with giving out buffs. Only one lane received more nerfs overall than buffs, and that was the mid lane which had all of the most-nerfed champions (Aatrox, Akali, and Sylas).

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One interesting note that did stand out is that ADC was the least-nerfed position in Season 9, even accounting for the fact that ADC had the fewest unique champions in the role. The role had an almost 2:1 ratio of buffs to nerfs and the most-nerfed ADCs were Kai’Sa, Sivir, and Xayah, who were nerfed only twice each.