“League of Legends is easy, only unskilled noobs play League. DotA is the real game”.
Chances are you’ve heard the above phrase before. It’s hard to forge arguments that illegitimise a game that has been declared as the most played worldwide, but one weapon that the “non-Lolers” (also known as DotA players) wield fiercely is the claim that League of Legends is ‘easy’. The fact is, LoL and DotA are extremely similar games- both belong to the ‘MOBA’ genre and as such share multiple characteristics. Unfortunately for those frustrated DotA players who are irked by the fact that a ‘spinoff’ is more popular than their ‘original’, the difficulty of the two games is really not that different.
The reason people think LoL is so much easier than DotA is because of the initial difficulty level for new players. LoL is much easier to get started on and is much less punishing than DotA; it is also easier for a DotA player to adapt to LoL than it is for a LoL player to adapt to DotA (differences in game mechanics play a large part in this). But considering all of Riot’s in-game balancing is focused on the competitive level, shouldn’t the level of difficulty be judged similarly? If I told you that Trynd was OP because he stomped people in Bronze 5, you’d laugh at me. Why does it make sense to judge a game based off its lowest level of play?
It is only when taking the highest level of play in to account that we get a good understanding of a game, and this is true for all competitive games. The reason I say DotA and LoL are similar in difficulty is because of the way that high skill capped champions are balanced at the highest level. Basically, the harder elements of the two games are both treated in the exact same way and create a more or less mirrored level of skill.
So what is a skill cap?
I like to define skill caps as “the potential that each champion has when used to their fullest capabilities”. In other words, how good a champion is when you learn them inside and out. The ‘skill floor’ is the opposite; i.e how easy a champion is to pick up. Skill caps make games fun; they provide a challenge and a rewarding incentive to practice a champion over and over, to learn their intricacies, their ins and outs, their strengths and weaknesses. To be proud to be considered “a good X player”. To have that champion you can demolish with in style.
Unfortunately, skill caps pose a problem in the competitive environment. These problems spill over and punish the majority of the playerbase (that’s you and me) and create an environment that is far less enjoyable. I’ll explain this further later on, but first I want to mention more about the details of skill caps:
In my opinion there are two different types of skill caps in this game. There are mechanical skill caps and there are gameplay skill caps. A combination of these elements is what decides how difficult or how hard a champion is to play.
Mechanical skill caps
These focus around the difficulty of mastering a specific champion’s kit or abilities; this includes (but is not limited to) things such as skillshots, abilities that require certain combos to be effective, abilities with a small window of opportunity, correct use of displacements, and so on. An example of a mechanically high skill cap champion would be Lee Sin. His Q is a skillshot that sets up all of his other abilities, his W allows for some intricate positioning and his Ultimate can be extremely potent when used correctly. Probably the hardest part about Lee is the fact that in order to be truly effective with him you need learn how to link all of these abilities together and an inability to do so makes you a far less threatening Lee player (hence the skill cap). Other examples of Mechanically high skill capped champions would be Anivia, Nidalee, Shaco, most ADs (Vayne in particular) etc.
Gameplay skill caps
These highlight the importance of things such as gamesense and positioning to be effective. The best example of high Gameplay skill capped champions would be assassins. Contrary to popular belief, assassins are not easy to play. Take Akali for example. Mechanically there’s not much about her outside of smart use of your W and remembering to trigger Q in between combos, but it takes awareness to recognise opportunities where you can pick up kills and snowball the game. The best example of a low Mechanic-high Gameplay skill capped champion would be Twisted Fate. Picking Gold cards at the right time is about as challenging as his mechanics go (maybe Regi would say that TF is a mechanically demanding champion). Twisted Fate’s power completely lies in the use of his Ultimate; good awareness and knowledge of when to show up and where to put immense pressure on every enemy lane. Fiddlesticks would fall in to a similar low-Mechanical high-Gameplay skill capped champion. In addition, champions that rely on counterjungling often have high Gameplay skill caps, as counterjungling can be tricky to pull off effectively.
Examples of champions that have low skill caps in both Mechanics and Gameplay would be people like Annie, Warwick, Sion, etc. Pretty much all of the 450 IP champions. They are extremely simple, easy to learn, and can be pretty much ‘mastered’ within a week of playing them.
There are also those that have both high Mechanical and Gameplay skill caps; champions who fit this criteria include Lee Sin, Shaco, etc. You’ll never play these champions flawlessly and they require immense dedication in order to even beat the skill floor.
Like I mentioned previously, there is a conflict between skill caps and competitive play. Riot’s balancing is focused solely towards the competitive play- what’s strong/weak in the current Pro games. This is the best way to go about things in order to keep an interesting and fair meta game.
But this is where it starts to get slightly ugly for you and me.
The problems arise when the players at the very top of the game start using champions with very high skill caps. They play these champions to their fullest potential, and these high skill capped champions start to rise above the rest. It makes sense, right?
What follows is an unpleasant visit by Mr.Morello and his unforgiving nerf bat.
The high skill capped champions will, in time, outshine those with lower skill caps. The more people get used to them and practice them, the more of an impact they will have on games. It reaches a point where that champion has to be toned down in order to stay in line with the others. Regrettably, this also raises the skill floor of that champion and makes them harder to get in to- the nerfs make it so that inexperienced summoners who play these high skill capped champions will find very limited success and only be satisfyingly decent after solid time investment. For example, a rookie Lee Sin player (high skill cap, high skill floor) would be useless compared to a rookie Annie player (low skill cap, low skill floor) who could still find relative success.
So what’s the point in us amateur players learning high skill capped champions? Where’s the incentive when every champion is (in an ideal world) equal in effectiveness? Not only this but the easier options are actually more enticing to play because there is no skill floor- there is no chance of you messing up. This leave people feeling extremely frustrated and they direct a lot of hatred towards Riot for ‘over nerfing’ their favourite champions.
The higher the skill cap the higher potential for greatness, which means more distinct nerfs in order to prevent a domination of the Pro scene. Unfortunately, the more you nerf a high skill capped champion, the higher the skill floor. We are currently seeing a relevant and scary situation brought to light by InSec’s Lee Sin: Lee has been nerfed for a very long time now to the extent that all professional junglers (even Diamondprox, one of the greatest Lee Sins in the world) considered him not worth playing. InSec has recently showcased some of the most impressive Lee skills that demonstrate the power this champion still possesses. If all the Western junglers considered him bad, was it just because they weren’t good enough? Is the skill cap so ridiculously high than only ONE GUY in the world can play him? If that’s the case, or something similar, how does this bode for the overwhelming majority of the Human race that are not InSec? Is this really fair? What happens next?
That was a rather extreme example, and Froggen’s Anivia is a good example of how to tame high skill capped champions without it getting out of control. Anivia has received minor nerfs and remains a highly banned/picked champion for EG’s games- she is still good and enjoyable to those that have spent the time to learn her, but people have also learned how to play versus her. EG specifically are rewarded for Froggen’s dedication and hard work put in to that champion. This is what skill caps should be, but I realise it’s hard to do that.
It’s not all doom and gloom for these harder-to-play champions, though.
It is worth remembering that the majority of us are not competing versus LCS-level players and can get away with a lot more than those who sit in front of the cameras and are lucky enough to get interviewed by Sjokz and Riv (I may or may not have a small crush on them). The nerfs that hit champions may render them bad picks at the highest level, but they may also still be timid enough to afford continued success in your friendly neighbourhood solo queue games.
The point still stands that by nerfing these high skill capped champions you also deter newer players- not only is it hard to get to grips of these champions, but the looming question remains: “what’s the point of learning this champion when I could just play this other guy who is ten times easier but yields the same results?”
To that question I reply: you have to search deeper. You have to enjoy the game on a level that goes beyond simply winning. You have to have a reason to put in the extra effort in to a champion; whether that’s because a champion is fun, looks cool, is badass, is unique, etc. Each person will find different qualities appealing, and what is fun for you may not be fun for me.
The onus is partially on Riot , but also on you.
Riot has to keep churning out fun and unique champions. That is the only way to keep champions with high skill caps relevant, because as long as a champion is fun they will continue to be played at the amateur level. So far Riot has done a good job of this and they are transitioning from the stale, clunky, and boring champions of old (the Sions and Annies) to more fresh and appealing characters. However, it’s also up to you to search for those elements of fun in order to have an overall more fulfilling and enjoyable experience with League of Legends as a whole. If winning is all you care about, don’t expect to keep up with the high skill caps. Learning how to enjoy the game beyond winning, however, is a skill that will unlock the true beauty of this game and have a direct influence on your performance. Those that enjoy this game are more likely to succeed and stay committed as opposed to those that tunnel in for the ‘Victory’ screen. More enjoyment also means less frustration, which will directly lead to more success. But that’s another topic.
Finding enjoyment in the finer arts of this game will lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling game experience. I strongly recommend you try to do this in order to break the otherwise disappointing realities that high skill cap champions have.