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It is OK for champions to be hard

Please don’t break Azir!

When I was first learning how to jungle, way back in 2013, a Platinum friend told me to try out Lee Sin. I had only been playing League for a few weeks, but I decided to buy in anyway and spend my precious IP on this blind monk.

Needless to say, I hated him.

He was too hard and too confusing, so only a day or so after purchase, I used one of my precious refunds on Lee. A few months later, I re-bought Lee Sin and spent days grinding out games on him. After more losses than I can remember, I started being able to perform on him reliably. He was hard, but I put in the work to learn him. At this point, I am by no means a good Lee Sin. However, I have put in the time to perform well enough for my elo.

In Riot’s recent League of Legends Nexus piece, Origins: Azir, developers lament the fact that Azir is hard. This forces balance problems, where Azir is either garbage across the board or too strong in competitive. The article goes on to link a Q&A that talks about a update to Azir’s mechanics coming sometime in the future. This begs the question, why must a champion be accessible to all skill levels?

The Origins piece is so fascinating, but I find the lamentations about Azir’s difficulty to be mildly upsetting. Azir is the hardest champion that Riot has ever released. He is also one of the most interesting.

Drawn to Azir on his release, I followed the same practice that I had with Lee Sin a little over a year prior. I lost a lot and spent weeks and weeks playing only Azir. Because of my dedication to him, I became comfortable. Eventually, I became a decent Azir player. Dancing across the Rift, doing the Shurima Shuffle, it felt incredible. I had payed the price in loses, I devoted my time and I was rewarded.

Many pro players have told similar stories to mine, although they are obviously at a much higher level. We have heard narratives since Season 3 about players trying to learn Lee Sin. He was so difficult that there was a long period where even players like Meteos were too afraid to pick him in professional matches.

As players have continued to grow, this narrative has gone away. We expect our pros to be able to play Lee Sin. That is why they are professionals and we are not. In a game with 136 unique champions, not all of them need to be accessible to the general population.

Let some champions be hard and others be easy. Garen appears often in Solo Queue and is known for being frustratingly easy. As of Patch 7.11 he has almost a 48% win rate, which is pretty good. And yet, if Garen showed up in the LCS this weekend, everyone would, understandably, go apeshit.

Trying to tell a developer how to balance is dangerous. However, I do wonder why Azir cannot be balanced in the opposite direction of Garen? Why not allow him to be strong in the hands of great players and weak with the general population? That would force players like myself who love Azir to get better before we bring the bird into our solo queue games while also allowing us to watch Jensen dumpster some fools in the LCS.

Allowing for that diversity, ease and difficulty, is part of what makes League of Legends so beautiful and diverse. The possibility of lowering Azir’s skill ceiling is scary to a lot of people who love to play him and watch him.

As I sit here, staring at the Azir lanyard that I have tied to my car keys, I can’t help but feel a little afraid for his future. My time spent learning Azir gave me a real affection for him and his overly sassy attitude. As the game evolves, so too must our favorite champions. The only desire that I have is that when it comes time to clip Azir’s wings, we get a better reason than the difficulty of his playstyle.