There are a long list of champions that are actually really strong. In fact, top lane has tons of really good champions right now. Mid and bot see a decent rotation, too. The jungle is still kind of underwhelming but that has little to do with champion balance: the jungle just isn’t fun. And the state of the jungle is interesting because it’s endemic of the game right now: all things considered, balanced, but yet it feels like it isn’t at all.
So the question becomes: why does the game feel so unbalanced when you have a decent amount of champions in a strong state?
To me, this comes down to a few things: overall meta and inherent game tendencies, item choice (or lack thereof), and keystone choice (again, kind of lack thereof).
With the overall meta and game tendencies, your objective is usually to pick something that gives you the optimal chance of carrying. One of the things we see in top right now is the counterpick meta, but this exists in every lane. And it’s incredibly toxic. If you’re counterpicked, you are totally invalidated for lane phase without significant help. This is further perpetuated by plates because you get shoved in and play safe, only for the enemy to grab an extra 160 gold for each plate. So sure, tons of champions are strong but it feels like total shit because you get rocked with little retort. It’s balanced on the surface because tons of champions are good, but it’s really rather turbulent in selection because the contrasting picks are so volatile.
Item choices are really stale. You buy the same items in pretty much every situation save for a few champions and 5th-6th item slots, which games really go that long. The problem here is that item passives and actives aren’t really important: if it doesn’t optimize damage and have good stats, the passives and actives don’t mean anything. Bruiser itemization is the one exception, and funnily enough I think their itemization is the best in the game in terms of balance and health: everything else sucks or is overtuned (AP items for example) in comparison.
Then you have keystones. This is really balanced around what optimizes your damage or ability to get gold to get items quicker to do more damage. Nothing else matters, so alternative playstyles are not really viable. It’s damage or bust. And that very dichotomy isn’t really stable: it’s explosive. It shows in gameplay with big swings, which can result in stomps or total 180 turn-arounds that leave the losing team saying “wait did we just lose? We were literally just stomping.” And that happens because of how fast you can erase someone from the game. If you have a setup (keystones), item path (items) and a strong champion in a scenario that optimizes them (counter picks), then you have a supreme advantage and can stomp or come back very easily. If you don’t have these things, even with the long list of strong champions, the game feels entirely unreasonable.
And now, finally, you have random buffs to champions that are already good (katarina and Renekton for example). Now people are really scratching their heads because you’re just breaking shit because you can, and it feels like the balance team has no direction. This is the last aspect that makes the game seem unbalanced: public perception. People think the game is in complete disarray because of above mentioned circumstances and then they see you give kled a 5 second gracious wound tag and to them, it confirms that riot is a bunch of pranksters just yanking our chains. In reality, the funny thing is that it’s really hard to say the game is or isnt balanced because there’s so much evidence you could use to support either argument.
Right now, the best thing you can say about league is that it is a paradox. And it’s got me scratching my head, that’s for sure.