I want to preface this entry with, yes, I’ll be talking about League of Legends. Yes, I will be talking about math. Yes, it will probably bore you to tears. Yes, I feel the necessity to write this.
In the Tampa FGC for anime fighting games (dubbed, “Tampa anime” for here on out), there’s a joke that’s passed around: “if you want to play competitively, pick top-tier.” It’s partly a truth, and partly a jest at the eSports scene. The interesting part lies in the former, obviously, and that’s what I’ll be nitpicking about today.
As with any good proof or analysis, let’s first define some variables. Top-tier can refer to a number of different things: colloquially, it describes the best character, whereas more intimately, it describes the most effective character at a specific task. There are always wrenches thrown into the cogs, mind you, as time goes on, and because of that, top-tier analysis is usually an empirical (that’s to say, “defined by experience moreso than by logic”) scale.
An example: Solomon Grundy in Injustice (I use this because everyone’s EXPECTING ME to do something anime HAH SUCK IT NERDS I’M EVERYWHERE). Day-1 top-tier. Second day, they found something close to a 60% combo that can be frame-trapped into a reset (or something–I forget, it’s been too long since anyone has talked about him). Third day, he won first place at several tournaments, to include some big ones. Fourth day, people found out about Death Stroke. Fifth day, people found out about Aquaman. Solomon Grundy died on the sixth day, and was buried on the seventh day. That was the end of Solomon Grundy. Props if you got the reference.
Let’s talk about why he was so good, though. Earlier, I used the word “efficiency,” which is (SUPERGENERALDEFINITIONSGO) a ratio of capital put in, versus the amount of capital put out. Note that this can be used to describe all sorts of things. Is it more efficient to invest four hours into a job to get $100, or one hour into a job and get $100? Now, what if, for that one hour, you had to scrub a hyperbolic time chamber, and it felt like years for you? WHAT NOW, HUH?! It’s a rhetorical example.
Ready for the next batch of terms? The first is “learning curve,” and the second is “skill ceiling.” A learning curve is how much you learn over a time (or experience), until mastery. That’s to say, if the learning curve is steep, then the beginning of your training, you’d learn a lot and how to do well with very little experience, but because mastery is set at the same point for all graphs, it’ll start out steep but then rapidly decrease and you’ll learn very little after that first spurt. The exact opposite goes for the converse of a “steep learning curve.”
A “skill ceiling,” on the other hand, is how well one can do with a set of skills given to them. It can be defined by the player’s capabilities (i.e., in Chess or Go), or a mixture of that and that which is given to her to work with. For the latter, the player’s performance can be taken out of the mix and determined through a variety of different quantification methods (Elo system, MMR system, etc., etc.), and those typically assume equal playing field for those in league. What I’d like to point out is this big-ass other part of that: “that which is given to her to work with.”
Solomon Grundy had both a steep learning curve and low skill ceiling, which equates out to players learning how to be decent with him quickly (while the other players who played a character with a more moderate learning curve caught up), and then petering out quickly because the people would top out with him, and better characters would beat him when the players finally caught up. Even played at the top of his game, against, say, a Superman or Aquaman at the top of their game, he doesn’t have tools to deal with their pressure or whatever.
WHERE THE FUCK AM I GOING WITH THIS.
I had the sheer delight of seeing two kids arguing over a character in League of Legends, Blitzcrank, and his lack of nerfs. If you don’t know, Blitzcrank is known for having a hook that pulls you into him, a knock-up that disallows you from doing anything, an AoE silence+DD, and a movement speed buff. It equates out to sounding like “holy fuck why” but remember: every champion has its strengths and weaknesses. The pull is on a high cooldown, for instance, and takes retarded amounts of mana. He starts out squishy. He’s melee. So on, so forth.
“But drunkaigis! What does that mean about that six-page essay you wrote earlier?!”
Note how I wrote about Solomon Grundy earlier; we took out the player performance to net a (rather conceptual) grasp on him in comparison at separate times to other characters in the game. For the lack of a better word off the top of my head, we’ll call this a “theoretical grasp,” as opposed to an “empirical grasp” that stems more from one player’s experience with the character (playing as, playing against, or playing with–it is a team game, after all).
In the end, how do we determine who was right (or has the bigger e-peen?!)? It’s a sticky situation, because both are valid points! However, even though they’re both arguing different ranges of performance on the overall spectrum of Blitzcrank-play, both of them are failing to see the dilemma that Riot is faced when they have to make the decision to buff or nerf a champion (as well as failing to see why I hate “balance discussions” between players in general)–how do they balance a champion in a game with so many moving parts, and who do we cater to? Do we cater to the lowly nubs who don’t understand team synergy yet, or do we cater to the professionals who make millions of dollars to know key points on how to wreck a Blitzcrank’s day?
Now, I don’t pretend to know the answers. I know my observations: Chie’s an asshole, Aigis needs buffs, Ragna needs corner-combo nerfs and less stupid overheads, Millia is fucking sexy–but I don’t expect anyone to change anything based off of my observations, and I sure as hell don’t think I’m qualified to bitch and moan about someone being OP (godihatethatterm). I don’t care if you’re god-damn super-platinum uranium -3, or have 4200 PSR, or are so in-tune with Awesomenauts that you can fucking read the secrets of the universe ONLY through a monitor with the game playing–you don’t get to decide who is nerfed and who is buffed, because in the end, “balance” is an arbitrary construct anyway. Trying to balance a MOBA is like getting a million seesaws and stacking them on top of each other, a mandatory four seesaws stacked on one seesaw until you run out, taking into consideration wind gusts and meteor attacks.
Moving parts. They’re hard to predict.
So stop fucking talking about something being overpowered and enjoy your fucking games.