Samira, League of Legends’ latest champion, is a problem, and she’s only likely to get worse. She arrived in the game earlier this week and already boasts a winrate that belies the complexity of her abilities. Riot has acknowledged that she’s come out overpowered, and has rushed out hotfixes to try and balance her before players start to master her. But more than just another entry in a long list of overpowered champion releases, Samira is the latest reminder of one of League of Legends’ most enduring issues: power creep.
If you’ve never heard of that phrase before, power creep is a phenomenon in which new additions to a game tend to become more powerful over time to help keep the evolving experience fresh and exciting. It’s not new to games, nor is it limited to League of Legends—everything from D&D to TV series like Supernatural and even The Great British Bake Off have had to deal with the concept in some form. To keep competition fierce, the stakes always have to be raised. Magic: The Gathering helped coin the term in 2004, where it described it as “a phenomenon that occurs when we feel that we constantly have to outdo ourselves in terms of the power level of cards from set to set.” As a result, new content often becomes more complex, while older content can be rendered obsolete.
In the time since Samira’s release onto testing servers earlier this month, conversations about power creep have crept back into the League of Legends community. Posts like the one below, which compares the wall of text used to explain Samira’s passive ability to the single sentence granted to the passive of Dr. Mundo, who joined the game in 2009, have become an overnight meme on Twitter.
Samira is live pic.twitter.com/C4hYdpFOg6September 21, 2020
Samira is a classic example of power creep—her kit doesn’t just demand more skill, it’s also full of in-game utility and does plenty of damage—but it’s far from the first time the issue has reared its head. After oft-maligned samurai Yasuo’s release in 2013, players pointed out the power of his passive, which doubles his crit chance and grants him a shield just for moving, in comparison to the likes of the original Fiddlesticks, whose passive reduced nearby enemy magic resistance by a small, flat amount.
Yasuo’s passive remains relevant today, offering powerful stats throughout the early and mid-game, while Fiddlesticks’ had to be changed twice before the champion was eventually reworked entirely. It’s a shame because simple abilities can be central to a champion’s identity. Kassadin’s Void Stone passive ability, which causes him to take reduced magic damage, is part of the character’s lore and is integral to his important in-game role as an anti-mage. But over time, as champions have had to do more in order to find their niche in the game’s roster, Riot has been forced to move away from this kind of simplicity.
And Samira feels like a new apex of this steep increase in complicated champions over the past 18 months. Marksman Aphelios, who released last year, swaps between five different weapons, all of which act differently depending on which ones he’s holding. The recently-arrived Yone also wields multiple weapons, with the lengthy tooltips on two of his skills just as meme-worthy as Samira’s passive. Element-swapping Qiyana’s spells change depending on where on the map she’s standing. The likes of Lillia, Sett, and Yuumi, who have also made their way to the game in recent years, aren’t quite as complex, but their kits are still far more advanced than those of League of Legends’ veteran champions, like Annie, Jax, or Cho’Gath. It’s part of the reason why they became instant mainstays of the game’s competitive scene.
Samira, however, seems to be part of an imperfect storm, in which her complicated kit isn’t an obstacle to success. Aphelios’ arsenal could be unstoppable at the professional level, but its complexity means that the average player wins less than 46 percent of their games with him. Memorizing five different weapons is just too daunting, it seems. By contrast, Samira’s kit—a skillshot, a dash, some area of effect, and a flashy ultimate—isn’t actually that complicated on its own, but is so full of nuance and secondary effects that the champion starts to feel like a walking Swiss Army Knife.
As a result, Samira’s average winrate was just shy of 50 percent by her second day on the Rift. In a perfectly-balanced world, every champion would hover around that mark, but the reality is that the vast majority sit somewhere in the 45-55% range, with anything higher or lower considered dangerously unbalanced. According to LEC caster and former playtester Ender, any new release can expect to see their winrate rise by up to 10% over the course of their launch patch, a shift which would make Samira one of the best-performing champions in the history of the game.
When the inevitable hotfix came, it took aim at Samira’s health and damage, but when players discussed what they’d have liked Riot’s intervention to look like, her kit was in the firing line just as often as her stats. The nerfs were expected, and seem to have been well received on Reddit, but some players want some of the tools at her disposal to be removed outright. On Twitter, user VarsVerum calls for a change to the projectile-cancellation on her W, while monikar00 asks for the ability to be removed outright. The knock-up on her passive has also caught plenty of attention, with Excel academy top-laner Jorgen ‘Hatrixx’ Elgaen tweeting to ask why the tool has even been included in her kit. With mobility, movement speed, built-in lifesteal, and more available to Samira at no cost, the LoL subreddit is full of suggestions that something will have to go before the champion can be balanced. She simply has too many tools in her belt. But changing her abilities so soon after her launch would be significant. It’s a strategy usually reserved for a full rework like Fiddlesticks, and unheard of for a champion as new as Samira.
League of Legends’ problem with power creep won’t go away anytime soon. The game’s speed and complexity has changed too far over the past decade to revert to how it used to be. But the reaction to Samira and the essays required to explain every one of her abilities suggest that this is becoming more and more of a problem, one that the community isn’t prepared to deal with anymore, and that’s continuing to threaten the overall balance of the game. Riot needs to address the issue, and find a way to keep League of Legends’ ever expanding roster fresh without every new arrival becoming more complex than the last.