Challenger Approaching: Reviewing the Champions of 2016

Between seasons is the best time for players and enthusiasts to look back at the triumphs and struggles of the past year, not only on an individual level, but also for the game as a whole. Back in August, I reviewed the champion reworks of the season and how well they achieved their goals. With Ivern officially on the rift, it’s now time to take a look at how well the new champions of 2016 are shaping up. Once again, the reflection upon these champions will be three-fold:

  • How well does the new champion fare in its gameplay?
  • How well does the champion maintain a strong identity or fulfill a unique niche?
  • Do players generally have a unique and enjoyable experience with this champion?

Let’s get into it, starting from the beginning:

jhin

Jhin

It might be hard to remember Jhin’s release, since a lot has happened since that time. But we’ve all felt his presence since then, as few champions have cemented themselves in the meta-game as quickly. Of course, this wasn’t always the case, as Jhin was somewhat underwhelming on release. But with a few tweaks, he’s become nearly pick-or-ban in most divisions. Jhin puts out unbelieveable amounts of burst damage in the late game, which has set him apart from hypercarries who specialize in damage per second, but his range is really what puts him over the top. In a season where assassins didn’t exactly shine, his immobility became a non-factor. This unique ranged bursty playstyle, coupled with a perfectly executed “insane artist” persona, combine to make Jhin arguably the most impactful new champion of the year. In fact, the one-of-a-kind synergy with Deathfire Touch makes him operate almost like a mage (and has even prompted some stints in the mid lane).

The only problem with the Jhin takeover for this year is an issue that plagues many marksmen. With such a distinct playstyle, games played on Jhin can tend to blur together. There’s little variation in ways to play him, because deviation can often be the difference between feast or famine, and that can make things a bit tiring for the guy somewhere who I’m sure has over 1,500 games played on him. The player experience is left entirely to the circumstances of that particular game, which means on average, 50% of Jhin games might be considered boring. Nevertheless, Jhin has been an incredibly unique champion who has significantly changed the marksman role. Let’s just hope he can stay away from those assassins in 2017.

Overall Grade: A-

aurelion-sol

Aurelion Sol

According to the lore, this space dragon can crush stars and throw galaxies. Maybe he’s not that strong in-game, but Aurelion Sol fares pretty well as a niche pick, fulfilling the scarce role of the tank mid-laner. He saw a decent amount of pro attention (despite repetitive visual bugs). This success is due to a strong ability to roam, and a kit that (unlike Ryze’s) synergizes with and rewards timely roams. This strength is obviously lessened in solo queue, but makes for a powerful tool with many variables. A steep learning curve makes him a bit hard to pick up but rewards persistence with a high skill ceiling, as we’ve seen from pros who put up legendary performances on him at Worlds. Just don’t blind pick him too often.

His lore is pretty straightforward, but that’s because the bulk of his appeal is in his unique playstyle. After all, who else can you attack with simply by moving around? Players might really enjoy him, or feel intense frustration trying to do anything at all, but either way, at least the experience is something. Overall, Aurelion Sol is really well-rounded: complicated, but with much potential; simple lore, but with a unique role; and engaging; whether in a good way or bad.

Overall Grade: B+

taliyah

Taliyah

Taliyah has a lot of potential — she is versatile, has a decent skill ceiling, and has even seen pro play. Unfortunately, the timing of her release wasn’t fantastic. Released shortly after Aurelion Sol, Taliyah could almost come off as another mage with good roaming capability, but with less durability, and a kit that feels the same whether she roams or not. The first Shuriman champion released in two years, she seemed a lot less unique than she really was. Which is a shame, considering she saw early play not only in the mid lane, but also at support and even jungle at various levels. She had a lot of innate damage, much of which was easy to sustain, and some defensive capabilities (which could come in handy against the new assassins).

If we theorize for a minute, it’s reasonable to think that the early mechanical issues around her Seismic Shove may have warded some players off from picking her up. Or maybe it was the mid-year mage update that left her feeling obsolete only a month after her release, considering the tweaks made to her around the same time. Taliyah is a champion that could honestly become very strong sometime, but most of this season was not that time.

Overall Grade: B-

kled

Kled

The loud obscene yordle on a lizard could be described as interesting, but that would be a massive understatement. And early trailers and spotlights were very promising, considering his playstyle of “go in, and when that doesn’t work, go in again.” Unfortunately, the way Kled is designed has a lot of barriers. He has a lot of variables, including his health, his movement speed, and even the number of abilities he can use, that change depending on whether he has Skaarl with him or not. All of these factors make him a risky pick both at the amateur and professional levels. He’s strong of course, but not necessarily enough so to offset his unpredictability.

As for his identity, many champions function as skirmishers and aggressive initiators, without making the sacrifices Kled has to make to do so. Because of this, Kled offers little incentive to master, unless you simply enjoy his personality, since you have other options that can do what he does, except easier and better. Players do seem to have fun with Kled, but much like Jhin, this is usually only the case when they are ahead. Perhaps, with some number changes, Kled can be viable, but it stands to reason that his issues run deeper.

Overall Grade: C

ivern

Ivern

Being the most recently released champion, Ivern has yet to really reach his full potential. Featuring an insanely steep learning curve and an unprecedented role in League, the jolly talking tree is certainly the most unique of the year. He has turned the standard clear on its head, being that he doesn’t actually kill the jungle’s denizens. He will likely see some pro play at least early in the season, due to his ability to both take and share buffs, quickly counter-jungle, create brush wherever he pleases, and offer crazy utility in teamfights, especially to less mobile teammates (or himself).

Ivern is obviously unique enough, and only time will tell how he does in the hands of those more skilled, but players and analysts are already getting the full experience. As Sam “Kobe” Hartman put it, with Ivern, “even when you’re hard-carrying, you feel like you’re trolling your team.” Take this as you will, but make no mistake, this champion has pushed the idea of what a champion can provide to the game. He’s strong and fun, but complicated and unproven — the future will be very telling.

Overall Grade: B

It’s been a wild 2016. Are you looking forward to next season? If so, check out the newly released details about Camille, the Steel Shadow

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Mr Fidori

Obsesses over League of Legends a little too much. Writes for Break the Game. In that order.

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