When Aatrox first released in 2013, he was this badass demon the likes of which we’d never seen before. A mysterious new race called Darkin that influenced the mind of Tryndamere and embodied the very idea of war. He was metal as hell and players latched onto him immediately. Aatrox became the best selling champion ever at the time of his release, but his play rate died after his first year.
Why? Because he wasn’t fun or unique to play. With his rework, Riot aimed to fix that.
Aatrox’s rework designer, Jeevun “Jag” Sidhu, sat down with The Rift Herald to discuss what it was like to rebuild a champion owned by so many, and loved by so few.
“He didn't’ really have a die-hard fan-base,” said Sidhu. “He had people who played him, but even the people we tended to ask who played him weren’t super attached to the character. I’m not saying there weren’t die-hard fans, I’m saying his fan base wasn’t like Rengar. Pre-rework Rengar was like a million people saying, ‘All I want to do is play this character.’ Aatrox play-rate was anemic for years despite having a healthy win rate.”
Weeks before Aatrox’s rework released, he started seeing a lot of play in both high level solo queue and professional play. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Riot, as they had spent years trying to find a way to make him interesting, only for Aatrox to finally make it back into the meta weeks before the rework was set to release.
The increase in Aatrox play has lead to more players feeling an attachment to the first Darkin, which makes Sidhu’s job a bit tougher.
“This is my first major rework, but I was told by a lot of people that you’re going to disappoint players,” said Sidhu. “The goal for this character was a pretty dramatic table-flip. That doesn’t make me feel any better about the collateral damage. There are a ton of players coming up to me and saying, ‘This is nothing like my old character, you obviously didn’t pay attention when you were doing your work.’
“I understand why they would feel that way. We had to accept that the one percent of people who owned Aatrox and were actually playing him who will be disappointed to some extent with dramatic change will be offset by the 99 percent of people who own Aatrox and just weren’t playing him.”
However, the influx of Aatrox players hasn’t changed Riot’s mind on the importance of Aatrox’s rework. There are some situations where a champion needs to be rebuilt to help create a better game.
Regardless of those that loved him, Aatrox needed to become the champion that he was always promised to be, not the crappy one that everyone already paid for. Aatrox needed to be better for all of us, for the health of League of Legends as a whole. Like all reworks, that’s going to hurt some players.
However, Sidhu is fairly skeptical about how many players are crying out to him about being an Aatrox main. Players like Patrick “Scarizard” Scarborough have voiced some hesitancy at the first sight of the rework, but he’s also always admitted to stretching the meta as far as he can. But Sidhu isn’t buying all the other recent “Aatrox main” cries.
“I’m somewhat disinclined to believe a lot of them because we asked them last year,” said Sidhu. “That being said, there were people who were attached to him. I don’t want to reject that part of it. I tried to match the emotional appeal of the character to what he used to have. If you played against an Aatrox main, that guy was willing to fight you to the death level two. They knew their limits and they pushed them. This was a calculated, aggressive and almost reckless set of players, and we wanted to speak to the state that they were in when they were playing Aatrox before and after.”
The rework of Aatrox is a fascinating example of what happens when everyone clearly loves a character’s identity — a reckless monster that lives by dying — but nobody actually wants to play it.
The team rebuilt Aatrox with the feedback they’d heard from fans. Players loved his revive and his lifesteal-tank identity, but no individual ability truly stuck out. The result is a champion that doesn’t feel like Aatrox felt, but still reminds us of him all the same.