The dozens of League of Legends champion reworks undertaken by Riot across the last half a decade have, for the most part, been successful. However, there’s one ugly duckling, and it’s Tahm Kench. Why did the River King’s overhaul fail, and how can Riot fix the mess?
Tahm Kench’s rework was hotly anticipated in League of Legends Season 11. The River King has always been problematic for Riot to balance so he’s viable in both pro and casual play, without being completely overpowered in the hands of the best.
Riot went for a controversial strategy ?— swap his Devour W and his Abyssal Voyage ultimate, and tune the rest of his kit around it.
On paper, it removed the anti-fun mechanic most players hated, while giving him a bit more flexibility. However, the launch has been a mess, with Tahm Kench losing his identity entirely.
So why did the rework fail? Well, there’s two major reasons.
Riot GamesTahm Kench’s rework has fallen flat early, and it’s unlikely to recover.
Before we dive into the reasoning, let’s look at the numbers. Tahm Kench’s playrate has jumped from 2.3% to 8.1% since LoL patch 11.13 dropped ?— tripling his popularity. However, it’s come with a sharp decrease in his already low win rate from 47% to 43.1%, according to stats site League of Graphs.
It’s alarming. His win rate was already woeful in solo queue, and the changes have only made it worse. There’s still the argument that players who’d otherwise not pick Tahm Kench are trying him post rework and failing and that even seasoned Kench players are still getting their heads around his new kit.
However, such a sharp fall is practically unheard of, even comparing other reworks.
Irelia’s 2018 rework saw her win rate spike from 47.5% to above 50% within a month, all while her playrate tripled. While she’s fallen out of the mix since, especially in higher elos, the rework was a success.
More recently, Fiddlesticks and Volibear’s reworks in 2020 were both successes. The former has seen his win rate increase from 50% to 52% on average while doubling his playrate from 3% to 6%, and the latter has seen their play rate triple to almost 10% without a huge impact on their 50% win rate.
Riot GamesWhile Fiddlesticks needed a couple of buffs to become relevant post-rework, he’s now happily found his place in the meta.
All of those reworks saw the same kind of spike in play rate and plummet in win rate within the patch of release — and maybe a hotfix or two — however they leveled out very quickly. The potential for that to happen to Kench is slim to none.
The Akali 2018 rework ended up panning out very similarly to the River King’s based on the data on hand. However, where the Akali rework differs from Kench’s is that it didn’t completely root the champion to one lane. That’s the first major problem with the River King’s rework.
Tahm Kench, for a time, was actually a pretty flexible pick. He could go top lane, using his Tongue Lash and passive to outtrade enemies thanks to the sustain from his grey health.
However, gating his Devour behind an ultimate has removed one of his strongest laning tools for top lane ?— it did an insane amount of damage early ?— and swapped it with one of the easiest to dodge skillshots in the game. If you can’t dodge, you can basically throw everything on Kench’s landing spot for the easiest trade of your life.
His four-second grey health healing delay is also huge, basically forcing Kench out of lane after a trade instead of quickly topping up. Finally, his scalings are noticeably weaker, making him less item dependent ?— which has entirely doomed Kench into the bot lane as a support.
Riot GamesTahm Kench is in a predicament where he can’t fit in either top lane or support.
His cheesy top lane strategy no longer has merit, and all he is now is an engage-slash-drain-tank in team fights that can give your carries a shield.
Even then though, he can hardly function in the duo lane. His Devour is gated behind such a large cooldown that he, much like top lane, only has two functional abilities for lane. His Abyssal Dive is basically useless and ultimately should have been cut from the rework entirely.
There’s practically no way of salvaging support Tahm Kench from this rework ?— it’s just strictly worse ?— and top lane Kench will suffer unless Riot buffs his scalings.
This then feeds into the second major reason behind Tahm Kench’s rework failure ?— basically no matter what Riot does with the River King, they’ll never be able to make him a pick that can be viable in casual play without being totally oppressive in pro play.
His scalings have to be low, else Tahm Kench top would be a must-ban in every league around the world. His abilities have to be gated behind unnecessarily high cooldowns.
Basically, if Riot buffs his scalings, he becomes an insane top lane threat or even a jungler. If Riot doesn’t, he becomes useless across the board.
Riot GamesKench can never be balanced between pro and casual play, and Riot needs to give up trying to accommodate both.
There is a potential fix, and that is just giving up on Tahm Kench support entirely. However, that’d remove more than half of the River King’s player base, and that notion alone basically handicaps Riot in what they can do in the future.
It might still be too early to call, but the Kench should still definitely be benched unless a hidden strategy comes up that no one expected.