Why Olaf Needs a Rework (Season 3)

Olaf is one of my favorite champions in the game. He’s this awesome berserker that throws axes and smashes people with lightning, but Riot (not so recently) saw fit to nerf him into what is now known as ‘Olaf Tier.’ Why did he need the nerfs? Was his win rate too high? Was he dominating competitive play? If so, why? What made him too strong and why did it justify the nerfs he received? I believe that it comes from an issue of counter play.

Counter play is a phrase that gets tossed around constantly, whether from people begging for help in a lane, people crying for nerfs or Riot designers trying to fix ‘broken’ champions. The idea behind counter play is that as a player placed in a certain matchup, the player will have the ability to do something in some skillful manner that will allow them to successfully win the matchup. For instance, a ranged champion can safely auto attack a melee champion without fear of reprisal. This is an example of counter play to a melee champion – simply staying out of their range of influence will allow them to effectively be negated. There are, however, instances where oversights in the design of a champion can lead to a lack of counter play for an opponent, something witnessed with the evolution of Olaf in the top lane towards the end of season 2 and beginning of season 3.

To begin, let’s consider what Olaf’s weaknesses are, as a melee champion with no gap closers. As we stated earlier, a melee champion is innately weaker against a ranged champion because the ranged champion has the ability to auto attack without fear of reprisal. In addition, without having a gap closer, he ends up being a highly kite-able champion. This was, of course, solved in a number of ways – the ability to negate any crowd control from being applied to him for a duration of six seconds, and the ability to permanently slow someone at range. Combined with ghost, Olaf could potentially negate any counter play (the ability to kite him away) as he could simply chase down and attack whatever he deemed a threat. No amount of crowd control or blinks could prevent him from getting to his target, and the only possible options were to blink over a wall (making the team fight a 4v5) or straight up outdueling him (which can be highly difficult to do due to the nature of the rest of his kit, which will be discussed next). At the highest level of play, this could easily be abused and, although the majority of the community was unable to unlock this potential, his lack of counter play forced him to be nerfed to keep him out of competitive play.

Now we’ve discussed why Olaf is a ghosting un-crowd controllable behemoth, but this doesn’t go into the rest of his kit – the true damage, armour penetration, permanent slow and free health, lifesteal and spellvamp gained from his reckless swing, ragnarok, undertow and vicious strikes. As stated, the only way to prevent him from coming at a player is to either run away in an inventive way (aka flash over a wall) or to outfight him. Fighting him, however, is an exercise in futility. A player that builds pure armour against an Olaf will only run into problems with his reckless swing smashing through the armour with true damage – a player that attempts to build health, will only have their minimal armour penetrated and, now that his auto attacks and axes essentially deal true damage, his damage and lifesteal skyrocket. The player that builds pure damage against an Olaf also runs into a problem – all his attacks will continue to deal true damage and Olaf, due to the nature of his scaling on his vicious strikes, will gain free damage, lifesteal and spellvamp (significantly increasing his survivability as lifesteal snowballs on itself) by building pure health, meaning Olaf can keep up in the damage department while also being significantly tankier. Regardless of what is built against an Olaf, he will come out ahead in nearly every department – throw in his unstoppable rampage ghost+ragnarok mode, and he becomes a complete detriment to the game of League of Legends.

Riot, of course, chose to increase the cooldown of his massive steroid, remove the passive amour penetration from his ultimate and remove his permanent slow, allowing for better dueling, better itemization and the ability to better kite away from an Olaf. Were the nerfs overboard? Arguably, but regardless he had to receive some nerfs and although he’s now ‘Olaf Tier’ he is no longer breaking competitive play.

Changes I would love to see for Olaf:

Undertow (Q):
-Return the permaslow on his Q (full effect, the reducing slow feels awful)
-Picking up an axe no longer reduces the cooldown by a flat amount. I wouldn’t mind providing some sort of buff like increased movespeed or bonus attack speed or attack damage for a small amount of time, but I hate the cooldown instantly refreshing. I know it’s necessary for jungling Olaf, so we might try reducing the cooldown by half and reducing the maximum cooldown – instead of being 8 seconds with a 4.5 second cd return, we could drop it to a 6 second cooldown with a 50% refresh on the cd if it gets picked up – at level one this is slightly more beneficial, while at max cooldown reduction it drops the cooldown to 1.8 seconds, essentially removing the absurd axe spam abuse case. The nice case is that an Olaf that can’t pick up their axe isn’t screwed and it lessens the need to build cooldown reduction on Olaf (although it’s still beneficial). It would hurt his jungle slightly after blue buff (about a 1.5 second difference between axe pickups) but removes the abuse case when dueling another champion. This also lessens the dependence on axe pickups and cooldown reduction. It also still keeps the same fun ability to chase someone down while throwing axes like a mad man, one of the most enjoyable parts of playing Olaf.

Vicious Strikes (W):
-Vicious Strikes is an extremely strong ability, and I like that it increases his dueling power (in that it strengthens both his survivability through lifesteal/spellvamp and his damage through the bonus ad with health scaling), but I’d prefer there to be some sort of tradeoff (much like what I’d love to do with his ult, giving it some sort of tradeoff). I might try something where he gains increased damage when above 50% health or gains lifesteal when below 50% health, which I think defines him as a champion more clearly – he likes to dive into fights at the beginning and attempt to assassinate a priority target, but after his ultimate wears off he can then turn to trying to keep himself alive with the now heavy lifesteal bonus he would gain. This also means he can have higher values of both as neither would activate at the same time – when he wants to kill someone he gets more damage and when he wants to just survive he gets more lifesteal

Reckless Swing (E):
-His Reckless Swing is an interesting thing to mess with and can be somewhat constricting in lane due to the power is provides him in a melee one on one duel. I wouldn’t mind seeing the ability scale with health, but the base damage would have to be lowered. In an ideal world, I’d prefer to see him normally max his axe first, his Reckless Swing second and Vicious Strikes last and I think removing a lot of the base damage and instead giving it a decent scaling would be more beneficial.

Ragnarok (R):
-Along the same sort of idea, I’d like his ultimate to have a tradeoff as well. Right now, when Olaf presses R he runs around in god mode, unable to be killed, kited or stopped in any meaningful way. By providing a tradeoff, such as giving him free defensive statistics that he loses upon using Ragnarok, he becomes more of a ‘focus him to get rid of this champion.’ When his ultimate runs out, he regains the defensive statistics and can attempt to keep himself alive with the now increased lifesteal amounts from his Vicious Strikes. I think I would reduce the duration, but also reduce the cooldown to a much lower value – potentially even something like 40 seconds. He shouldn’t be able to ignore crowd control completely, but it should be up often enough that he does get to make decisions about when to use it.

The aspects that I love about Olaf are kept true – building health is still the most beneficial statistic, he still maintains a permanent slow ability, and he can still charge down a carry without there being too much to prevent him from doing so, and he can still smash people with axe lightning for true damage. However, build paths against him are more clearly defined (health is now the best statistic to use against him), he can actually be focused down when he charges for a priority target (either tanking the crowd control or losing his defensive statistics) and because he no longer instantly refreshes axe pickups, the permanent slow has a little wiggle room. All around it allows him to have a little more counter play and more clearly defines his role, while still maintaining a lot of the enjoyable aspects of the berserker Viking.

I do not want to claim that my changes would be perfect or even viable – I simply want to explain the problems I see with the champion in question and how I feel it might be benefit the champion. I want to maintain the feel of the original champion, but I would also like to give the champion increased counter play in whatever way it is currently lacking. I want the champion to better fit the game it is in, and I want people to enjoy the champion, whether playing as the champion or playing against it.

Ben Burkhardt
8/8/2013