Serious Thoughts About Assassins and Balance

**Why Riot (Unintentionally) Hates Assassins** **TL;DR – They are near impossible to balance around if you stick true to their core concept. Their concept isn't actually fun and lacks reactive counterplay, something that is a core component to the game.** First off, I want to say that I think the balance team is fundamentally good at their jobs. I think they do a great job almost all of the time in creating fun gameplay, and delivering statistical balance over all. If there are any Riot staff that I offend, I'm sorry, this is still just my opinion based on what I have observed about the game. So, balance. Who do you balance for, what do you balance around, how do you balance strong kits, new mechanics, old mechanics, etc. Well, the truth of it is, you do it by seeing things that people hate, or can't respond to, and changing them. And I'm not going to bring up things like Lee Sin's issues or how simply being a bruiser is comparably worse than being a ranged champ. Those topics are debatable, and while I do have many ideas about them, this isn't about that. This is about the assassin class in particular, and what it means to balance it in terms of the game. Now I'm a fan of assassins, I love the style of them both to play as and against. But I like every class in the game, and I think this game is by far one of the most fun to play and the most balanced among MOBAs and PVP in any sort of RPG style. I think it does the best job of creating a good viewer experience – it has little to no backwards or unreadable mechanics. And while I've thought of things that would be fun to have in the game, those things really aren't needed and are sort of just artificial depth. However assassins are a class that the idea of balance that is currently being adhered to does not allow for. Riot, I get you want clarity and counterplay, and a good experience for everyone in a match, but you can't combine that with the idea of an assassin and try to change them the way you are now. It just ends up with gutted champions that don't see a lot of play. Talon, as a prime example; he was OP, then he was gone, then he came back for a week, and now he's gone again. I can't remember the post, but I remember there being talk about wanting to change or rework Talon's “blow up a target or do nothing” playstyle. What I want to ask first is, why? Why would you want to change the way an assassin like that works? The answer: “It's not fun to play against.” Well, you're right. It's not. Playing against someone who can remove your health bar is not fun – regardless of how flashy it is. And it's not always fun to play, seeing that your target isn't alone, or that they are playing just a little too cautious for you to jump on them. That's the counterplay to an assassin, don't get caught. I've got an example. I asked my sister and my mother the same question, and got the same answer from both. Neither of them are gamers, and neither of them would think of it in terms of a game. Say you've got 5 guys on a team, one with a shield, one with a club, one with a bow and arrows, one with medical supplies, and one with a knife. Assume all of them know what to do with their items, of course. What's the role of each? **Shield:** to block enemies, and prevent allies from taking damage. **Club:** to try and break through and deal a lot of sustained damage to enemies when he gets close. **Bow:** to deal damage from a distance, staying safe by being out of harm's way. **Medical:** to restore or support teammates by restoring damage dealt to them. **Knife:** to kill enemies once he gets close. See where this is going? Obviously not every team is going to be like this, but those roles are pretty much how it works. Tanks soak damage and peel for those behind them; bruisers smack whatever they can if they can get in the fight; Archers use their range advantage to stay safe from whatever they can and try to pick off targets they can aim at; Medics heal their team once they do take damage, as long as they can stay safe themselves. But the guy with the knife, he doesn't charge your tank and try to dig it through the shield. He doesn't – always – jump into the middle of the fight and try to slash everyone's guts, that'd be dangerous, there's a crazy guy with a club in there. So what does he do? He waits. He sits somewhere close but out of sight, and he waits for them to be isolated or step just a little too far from their safe point. Then he uses his knife, and he takes out the enemy archer or medic, and he gets out. Or, he stalks one of them through the woods and kills them while they're alone. If he's smart, that's what he does. How else would he get through fights against bigger better weapons with a knife? The enemy knows that you are dangerous, and they don't want you getting to their high priority targets. That's how an assassin works. There's no counterplay once they get to you, the counterplay is making sure they don't get to you. You can't heal a knife in the throat, and a shield only blocks so much. And an archer isn't worth as much when a target surprises you in melee range – archers are not meant to defend themselves from knives, neither are medics. And if you had someone tossing molotovs instead of a guy with a club, he's also not equipped to deal with the assassin. This applies to any assassin. This is why I think Talon's playstyle is one of the best for an assassin. Same with Kha'Zix and Shaco. They don't attempt to brute force their way into a fight – and if they do they don't expect to survive every time, they really never should expect to in that situation. Assassins are supposed to kill a target before they can respond or defend themselves. They are this way because if they don't do that, they fail, and likely die themselves. That's how they work. Talon hops on one target, tosses out a bunch of blades, stabs the target a few times, and runs away if he can. Shaco pops out, sneaks up behind someone, stabs, tosses knives, slashes, and then runs away if he can. Kha''Zix waits for someone to be just a little too far from their allies, hops on them, slashes them, runs away. If they don't kill or mortally wound their target, they failed. If they get greedy, or caught, they die. So why does Riot hate them so much, without knowing (or publicly acknowledging) it? Because it's a not balanced. Not to say the champions are broken, but the actual concept of a proper assassin is not balanced. There is no active counterplay, you simply don't let yourself get caught. Ward, group, don't overextend. Every game, you accept what your role is and what you're playing against. Accept that you're not going to beat a bruiser in a duel, accept that you may die before you ever reach their marksman, accept that their tank will take a lot more effort and time to kill, accept that your damage may be healed up, accept that your minions might disappear before they help you do anything, and accept that you will be destroyed if you're available to be assassinated. Does that sound all that fun to be on the losing side of? No, and it never does. Losing sucks. Not being able to stop something feels terrible. But to keep the actual idea of what an assassin does alive, it would have to be more broken than it is now. I truly believe that the designers of the game and of every champion like the idea of flashy high damage dealers that use a lot of cool mechanics. The game isn't made in such a way that assassins will ever be “healthy” to have in it. Not with the current idea of health or balance or counterplay. You're not working together to fight baron in this game, you're working to defeat another team of people. The guy with the shield can't AOE taunt the whole other team for the entire fight, and it's not a case of a boss and his adds. You don't just give the archer and the assassin the same dps but give the assassin some cool utility and burst instead of safe reliable shots. These can happen, yes, but there's other things in the game that can be used for or against an enemy team. More strategic and tactical advantages than just numbers to raise. In my opinion, assassins should be either incredibly hard to play, or incredibly high risk. By this I mean, either it's really hard to use the champion in order to kill your target, or if you screw up (miss your spell, whatever) you're useless for a good while. But that's only IF assassins are ever going to be true to their concept.
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