The desert soldier Azir has been a powerful presence for much of League of Legends’ current season, with the mage being picked or banned in practically every major tournament game. Now little more than a month away from the World Championship, Riot is finally knocking the guy down a peg.
To those unfamiliar: Azir is a mage who’s normally played as a solo mid-laner on League of Legends’ main three-lane map. A chief source of his power comes from three sand soldiers that he can summon out of thin air to fight by his side by pressing “W”:
Once Azir has his sand soldiers up and ready to fight, he can also point them towards a specific target by pressing Q—a move called “Conquering Sands.” This deals magic damage to all the enemies that the soldiers pass through on the way to their target, and also temporarily slows their movement speed. The sand soldiers also continue to auto-attack once they’ve reached their new destination.
Being able to summon three extra bodies into the fight, and then semi-directly control those summons once they’ve been conjured, has made Azir an absolute terror to deal with thanks to the way he can continuously zone out enemies and pick away at them from a safe distance. The fact that his sand soldiers can’t be targeted also means that you can’t even try to burst them down the same way you can with other summons in the game (like Annie’s iconic teddy bear, Tibbers, which turns into a big scary man-eating bear once she gets her ult move). The only way to deal with them is to avoid them for the nine seconds they’re alive.
In the 5.17 patch today, Riot said that it’s changing the way Azir’s Q (the attack order function) works in a small but meaningful way. Going forward, enemies won’t “take additional damage for being hit by soldiers beyond the first.”
Riot explained the decision in its patch notes by saying they wanted to establishing clearer “weaknesses” for the champion—i.e. making it so his soldiers don’t just let you play a match on autopilot:
The emperor’s great at a few things, but chief among them are the persistent zones of threat he can manipulate from long range, often deciding fights on foreign fronts from behind the safety of his line of soldiers. Instead of trading off his safety for lack of mobility or sustained damage for a lack of burst, Azir’s having his cake and eating it too. In an effort to preserve his reach and damage output, we’re going harder on establishing weaknesses, making it easier to close on him or avoid his damage without proper command of his forces.
This is the sort of League of Legends character nerf that sounds slight in theory, but could drastically reduce Azir’s power over the course of the game. Cutting out two of the three soldiers diminishes the champion’s potential burst damage against a single choice target, to name one major effect. It’s also all the more notable considering just how popular the guy is in League right now. The well-known League-focused YouTuber Blakinola described Azir as “the poster child of the LCS” in his latest patch rundown thanks to the fact that he’s been “so fucking strong” as of late:
And that’s just in pro games. A number of my League playing friends also breathed a sigh of relief today upon seeing the Azir nerf, saying that he’s been too popular, and too powerful, for a while now.
Other League players responded more strongly than Blakino did to the Azir nerfs, suggesting that Riot’s taken almost all the wind out of his sails:
Patrick Scarborough, one of Riot’s main designers for League of Legends’ gameplay balance, stood by the changes on Twitter, saying that he doesn’t think cutting out the additional soldiers will have that dramatic an impact on Azir’s performance:
Scarizard (as Scarborough is known in the League community) makes a good point. And League of Legends players do have a tendency to be a teensy bit melodramatic whenever the latest batch of patch notes arrive. But it’s not like Riot’s balance team is infallible either—see the terror of “Runeglaive Ezreal” that suddenly appeared earlier this year thanks to a seemingly minor change to in-game items in League. As always, time will ultimately determine where and how Azir fits into the current meta—and if he keeps being such a monster force for the rest of the season.
And speaking of nerfs to powerful champions, the 5.17 patch also increased the cooldown on the Ent-like tree monster Maokai:
...and applied a series of small-ish nerfs to the notoriously infuriating fish assassin Fizz:
But nobody’s really sad to see the cancer fish lose some power...right?