I have been seeing a pattern in the games I have been playing lately. To sum it up the only real champion I use is my Sov. You always get the first level 1 champion but it's not very useful. It's so weak to actually level it up you have to support it with an army. Early game I find it better to just let it sit in my city as I don't have time to build troops for it. After awhile you get enough fame for the level 3 champion but I always grab a Governor if possible. A level 3 champion is still not nearly as good as a basic unit. Then it usually takes quite a while to get a level 5 or 7 champion. I don't exactly rush for them but then why would you? The most useful part of them is the items they have I can give my Sov.
When you get right down to it I find that champions in LH just aren't useful in combat. They aren't tough enough to beat normal units unless you spend the time to give them the support of an army and send them out to level up and quest. However I never have the time or resources to do this for more then just my Sovereign. If I where to try and level a champion it would decrease the level of my Sovereign though direct XP split, or because my Sov can't kill as many tough monsters because it has less support. Even the AI rarely has effective or dangerous champions. They are pretty much free kills.
Even if you somehow manage to level up a champion how are they useful? I have tried several builds. Early on a warrior with lethal and endurance can be a heavy hitter but by midgame the damage they do is negligible compared to groups of 4. Not to mention the cost of equipping champions. Items cost a ridiculous amount of gold. A mage can be very powerful if you get them to a very high level but you don't always get a good mage pick. Almost all the early game champions make horrible mages as they have only 1 element if any.
Are other players finding the same thing? Does a champion with firebolt do more damage then units with staffs? Do you have multiple tough combat champions that are better then normal units?
If there is an issue here I would like to suggest some possible options for fixes...
-Decrease the cost of basic champion gear so in general champions are better equipped.
-Make the magic tech tree unlock some basic magical only champion items. These can be expensive. This would make it easier to equip multiple champions with better weapons and items then normal units. Some existing items could be split between champion and normal unit versions. Fire staffs are great example of this. The version champions buy should have greater damage and not decrease initiative by so much.
-Boost some of the weaker champion traits. Like Bully on the warrior tree. More on this later.
-Increase the equipment and traits of all champions. Especially early ones. 1-2 elements and a minor magical weapon like a sharp axe should be the norm even on level 1 champions.
-Is there any reason champions can't spawn with a honour guard like a group of axemen to help them level? Your sovereign starts with 2.
-And finally a basic stat boost like a boost to hp and +25% to attack.