Some heroes just flat out out-class others according to some LoL players. I cannot easily source this as the sources are too many and opinions too varied. That being said, is there any way to clarify what heroes are definitly underclassed somehow? Is the concept even somewhat true? If so should these heroes be avoided in ranked play so as to minimize any possible champion induced handicap?
I do not believe it is possible to give a set list of champions that shouldn't be used in ranked as this will invariably be changed patch to patch. Many champions receive nerfs/buffs each and every patch as Riot tries to balance the game and many of those champions which tend to become overpowered are due to this process. There were and most likely still are champions within the game that for whatever reason have been nerfed to the point where most if not all of their match ups in lane will result in a loss. These are the champions that most people tend to shy away from and trolls are commonly found picking in ranked matches.
As an example, for a long time before Evelynn's rework, she was considered by many as a worthless champion, often inducing queue dodges by players that simply did not want one on their team. Now, after the rework, she is considered viable again and can quite easily become a dangerous force to be reckoned with if fed even remotely.
A simple rule of thumb which I try to follow (when I'm thinking coherently) is to play several non-ranked games with the champions I prefer playing after a recent patch, to figure out if they still feel as strong as they were prior to the patch. Items can quite easily change this as well as champion changes - they are modified in patches just as often to address the same kind of issues.
If they feel the same and I haven't noticed any specific champions that I would ordinarily have no problem against doing far better than they had previously, I will play ranked (if i feel like playing ranked, of course).
Again, as champions/items are balanced and reworked, the champions that were "overpowered" and "underpowered" will change over time, sometimes very drastically. In other words, any answer to this question will not be lasting, and is better suited to other sites.
Contrary to what most people are saying here, and I'm ready to get downvoted, Yes, There are champs that you should be avoiding during ranked. Some champions are just in a horrible spot at certain times, either due to itemization changes, jungle changes, champion balance changes, etc.
The people who are saying no here, probably do not follow the LCS or watch pro streams or higher Elo games. The higher you rise in ELO, the smaller the champion pool will be. If you watch an entire week of LCS, you'll notice about the same 20-25 champs are being picked EVERY GAME. These are professionals, this is their job, they know the math behind the champions and their base stats and skills, this is why they make these picks.
Before blindly downvoting me and saying "All champions are viable", please do some research either on lolking or go youtube the last 20 LCS matches, and watch their picks. (J4, Xin, Xerath, Nidalee, Rumble, Singed, Kayle, etc... In every game.) There are some champs that are just in a good spot, and some are in a terrible spot, and have 0% pick rates in LCS.
Certain champs have 0% win/pick rate in LCS, and some have over 90% pick/ban rate in LCS. That should be enough evidence for you to make in informed decision on this topic.
To answer your question, Champs that I personally think are in a bad spot right now (3/25/2013), also backed up by pro pick %s are here (keep in mind this can change with any new balancing/itemization changes):
Veigar, Nami, Sion, Rengar, Gangplank, Urgot, Heimerdinger, Ziggs, Trundle, Poppy, Fiora, Karma, Warwick, Galio, Viktor, Quinn, Zilean
Now, start downvoting me because your "main" appears on the list of baddies! ;)
Champions in a great spot right now (3/25/2013):
Rumble, Twisted Fate, Taric, Amumu, Jarvan IV, Hecarim, Miss Fortune, Elise, Nidalee, Xin Zhao, Shen, Garen, Vi, Cho'gath, Singed, Lee Sin, Malphite, Draven, Ezreal, Kayle, Lux, Akali, Kha'Zix, Nasus, Volibear, Thresh, Xerath
Is there a set of heroes I shouldn't be using in ranked play?
The only champions that you should play are the champions that you feel comfortable in playing against the champions the enemy team has selected.
I think that is the most important bit of information for anyone considering to play LoL competitively. A lot of people fall into a trap of champion x is strong against champion y so they pick champion x but don't know how to play champion x or don't know how to play champion x against champion y. They then proceed to lose their lane and set their team back.
is there any way to clarify what heroes are definitely under-classed somehow?
The only real way to say champion x is better than champion y is to look at their skills and stats and see if one does more damage, or one has better stats (armor, hp, attack, etc). Some champions do have some numbers problems, their abilities do too much damage compared to other similar abilities or they have too many stats. Some examples of this in the past season are Jax, Jayce and Urgot. Some popular high elo people have gone and created something called "tier" lists. You may have heard of Elementz's tier list for Summoners Rift or Sauron's tier list for dominion.
Should I blindly follow these tier lists and just play the champions they say are the best and avoid/queue dodge if someone picks a champion they say are bad?
NO! And here is why.
Something I have found interesting is that different League of Legends regions have varying opinions on which champions are over powered and under powered (this changes patch to patch). Even different game modes have different opinions on which champions are stronger or weaker than others. As an example, there was a time when a lot of people in the North American region thought Mordekaiser was a bad champion where as the Brazil region thought he was very good.
What does this mean and why does this happen you may ask? Well the answer is: There is more than one strategy (or meta as some people call it) and each champion fills a role differently.
As an example, there was a time when a lot of people thought Urgot was a bad champion to play. And then at the IEM Hanover championship (Dignitas vs Moscow 5) Moscow 5 played Urgot bottom against Corki and Janna. Meanwhile, Moscow 5 had Alistar and Lee Sin Jungle/Counter Jungle/Roam. This was a strategy that had not really been seen before and the current "meta tier lists" didn't account for them. Another example would be sending two top instead of two bottom.To sum it all up:
- Only play champions that you are comfortable playing.
- All champions can be effective as long as they are playing a role that suits them.
With that many champions there will allways be balance issues, Riot does try to keep this to a minimum though. I don't think it's possible to give a list, because of 2 reasons. 1. There is simply too much subjective about it, it would lead to discussions and that is not what this site is for. 2. Because Riot tries to balance the game as much as possible, the answer given here would not be future proof at all (all could change within one week).
On a side note, if you have to ask what kind of champion might be better or worse than others, perhaps you should play a bit more normal. Get a bit more experience before trying ranked, You don't want to end up in bronze V if you can play a few normals first and learn more about the game and get placed in silver II as soon as you start ranked. (examples)
There are a lot of sites that show you who is "good" against certain champs such as http://smartp1ck.com/champions or http://www.lolcounter.com/champions, a lot of who to pick goes into knowing this information, what the enemy abilities are, and how to play against them.
Take time to learn your opponents strengths, and weaknesses. Exploit the latter, be wary of the former, us sites like the above to learn how to counter champs or abilities, maybe they countered you first, well you can lane switch and/or build counter items.
A lot of who to play depends on where you are in the ladders, champs that stomp over the entire team in low ranked, can be pretty useless in higher ratings, because people know what they do and play to that characters weakness.
Finally it comes down to play style and what you're comfortable with, take time to learn to play defensively, learn to CS as best you can, and most of all never try a new char out for the first time in ranked, people will hate you for it, a few bot games, a few normals, goes a long way!