A new view on Olaf, the Berserker

Hey guys, DC941 here with a basic analysis of our beloved top lane viking Olaf and what the rework changed about his playstyle. Olaf is known as the prime example of a champion being very strong based on his kit numbers – after his ultimate received a buff giving him free armor penetration, he was a highly contested pick in competetive gaming in season 2. But Olaf is an even better example for a champion that got nerfed very hard, resulting in almost no play time at all; people refer to hard nerfs for champions as “olafing” said champion on social media boards like reddit. In a recent patch, Riot finally brought the Olaf rework to the live servers – but Olaf is not back to his former glory. While his pick rate almost doubled – from 2% to 4% – he still seems to be in a bad spot with only 45% win rate. While this is clearly an improvement, Olaf still seems lacking. With this article, I would like to give an outlook on the things that made Olaf a very strong pick in season 2 and why I think that the rework changed his playstyle and role a lot – especially build-wise.

The good times – Olaf in season 2

A lot of players still remember Voyboys 2on1 play in the season 3 qualifiers – in this small clip you can see how Olaf was able to output insane amounts of damage while going for an extremely tanky build – the only item providing damage here is Hexdrinker, and indirectly, Kindlegem. A look at Olafs old kit shows what makes him so strong in comparable situations. His passive, Berserkers Rage, gives him a very strong and free attack speed steroid. This in connection with his W gave him very high in-fight sustain as well as growing damage output when in trouble. Olafs Q, Undertow, was originally intended as a slowing gap closer that helps him stick to people. It makes Olaf throw an axe at the enemy, dealing damage and slowing. The axe then stays at the target location and can be picked up to refresh a big part of Undertows cooldown. But the ability was abused in melee fights, too: in Voyboys play, you can see him constantly throwing axes out at low range to damage his enemies and refresh the cooldown again right away, causing insane damage per second; the damage was also amplified by additional attack damage. Vicious Strikes, Olafs W, gave him a high attack damage buff with additional AD based on his maximum hit points.

Additionally, he receives high lifesteal. This ability works really well together with Berserkers Rage and makes him hard to predict when low on health. It also buffed up Undertows damage due to its AD-scaling.  Reckless Swing is Olafs second ability which makes him hard to deal with. It dealt a set amount of true damage in exchange for a small health cost. This ability obviously worked really well with cooldown reduction – and together with Vicious Strikes, the health cost was neglegible since Olaf always built a lot of HP anyways. This all would just have been an “ok-damage-kit” if it wasn’t for Ragnarok, Olafs ultimate. It provided him with free armor penetration which worked really well with Undertow; the active effect made him immune against every kind of control ability for 6 seconds. This took out almost all options of counterplay – with a super tanky Olaf charging at you, there was no option but to kill him before he killed you – very hard due to his scaling with overall tankyness and his additional sticking power from Undertow. This kit created a very strong top laner and jungler.

Only dependent on cheaper tank- and CDR-items, Olafs was able to be a huge threat to a teams backline, with little counterplay when the Olaf player was skilled. Riot saw the problem in Olafs kit and decided to shut him down by overnerfing his numbers, announcing a rework at a later date. This rework hit live in a recent patch, and it changed quite a lot about how Olaf works.

The new viking and what the rework did

Olafs rework tried to shift away Olafs “unfair” offensive strength from his defensive capabilities – after all, increasing damage trough defensive stats is kind of unfair. Instead, the new Olaf has a load of scalings within his damaging abilities. Here is a summary of the changes: His passive, Berserkers Rage, was not changed. Undertow received a base damage nerf and got back his proper, untapering slow, which was nerfed heavily when Olaf was taken out of the viable champion pool. In addition, Undertow now has a minimum throw range which makes using it as a melee damage source much harder. Vicious Strikes no longer gives attack damage; instead, its now a heavy attack speed buff which grants buffed healing depending on Olafs %-hp. This takes away the heavy scaling with Undertow and Berserkers Rage.

Reckless Swing now deals less damage, but it has an AD-ratio instead. What is more, its cooldown is reduced every time Olaf autoattacks. This change feels a lot like Master Yis new Alpha Strike; it adds a huge synergy between Olafs Passive, W and ultimate. Ragnarok now gives resistances instead of armor penetration. When Olaf activates the unchanged anti-cc effect, he loses the resistances for a very high AD-increase. This AD adds another big synergy between Undertow, Vicious Strikes and Reckless Swing. All these changes sound good; but Olafs feels really, really different from before. Undertow was straight-up nerfed: the minimum throwing range takes away a lot of its use as melee DPS; at least his former sticking power was restored with the new slowing mechanic. Vicious Strikes no longer scales with HP; it works well together with Reckless Swings new CDR-effect though.

The new Ragnarok sounds good on paper, but feels wrong when playing: at the moment you decide to dive the enemy team to get to their carry, you lose all your innate tankyness. Sure, you receive a great AD-buff, but help towards the squishies on the enemy side (shields, speed boosts) make it easy to get away from you before you get to apply your huge damage; and without the resistance bonus, Olaf dies quite fast. I always had the feeling that Olafs needs so many different stats now. For comparable damage to his former self, he needs:

  • HP/Resistances. Olafs role is to dive the enemy team, there is no alternative here. You need to be tanky to survive the crossfire to do your job. HP is still okay on him due to the free resistances, but Olaf needs armor and magic resistance now as well since his bonuses are lost when he frees himself from crowd control. Items like Randuins Omen and Spirit Visage work well here.
  • Attack Speed: the new scaling trough Reckless Swing almost feels like a hyperscaling comparable to Yi; with more attack speed, you can use your attack damage more, not only in autoattacks, but also in Reckless Swing. It is difficult to buy a lot of it though due to the fact that Olaf needs so much tankyness. Items like Blade of the Ruined King and Trinity Force work well on Olaf because they scale with his abilities and give him movement speed to chase his targets in fights.

With that being said, I feel that AD is actually a huge trap for Olaf players. While Undertow and Reckless Swing still scale with attack damage, they are not scaling really well. Reckless Swing only has a 0.4 AD ratio. While this is the case, Ragnarok also gives a huge attack damage boost (40/60/80) which works well enough with his kit; Olaf should in theory be able to rely on this without additionall AD-items.

Olafs completely new troubles

In conclusion, the rework makes you feel like you need more than six item slots to really use Olafs kit. He needs a lot more gold to become really efficient compared to before; that not only makes him easy to shutdown, but also eliminates him as a jungler.  It also is a complete turnaround to his old build-style: you were a tanky threat to all enemies since you got damage from your kit and tankyness from items. The new scaling and sinergies are so many that its hard to get a good feeling of him. At the same time, none of these scalings really stand out.

Olaf just does not really feel satisfying at the moment. I do not think that the rework changed how Olaf works in SoloQ: he doesn’t, really. The problem is that he is mainly causing disruption: a lot of damage and defensive escaping abilities need to be used to defend squishies from him, so Olafs team should try to abuse these cooldowns. This makes it increasingly hard due to the fact that split pushing is a really popular strategy at the moment; Olafs new damage kit makes it a lot harder for him to dive, pulling him more towards teamfighting compositions than before. In organized, competetive 5on5, Olaf still could work due to the communicative advantages; however, he is really easy to shutdown due to his need for gold.

Additionally, other champions fill a similar, disruptive role while they can still focus on being tanky and using their base damages. I am wary with saying that Olaf is weak right now, though. While he has a lot of problems, he also has strong points in his kit. The competetive scene was more than once able to surprise us in the past, and I am pretty sure that at least a few player swill look into Olaf as a viable choice. However, I am sure that Olafs win rate in solo-q will stay below 50% for this patch and most likely for some patches to come.    His change in role means that players may have trouble adapting to his new playstyle, and this means he may stay under the radar for months to come.

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I am a student from germany and I like the theorycrafting behind the game a lot - while I'm not into number crunching, I always try to find the best synergies in ability kits and items. I write to help people get into the crazy mass of knowledge that is buried behind the surface of League of Legends and to learn a thing or two while looking into certain themes. I mainly play assassins and carries because I really enjoy the concept of dodging enemy impact trough my movement and play. In a similar fashion, I play action-rich games with nice role-playing elements - my favorites aside of League of Legends are the Monster Hunter series and Terraria. I also got into Magic: the Gathering recently.

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