The Slow, Sad Death of Melee Auto-Attackers
It has been happening for a long time and other authors on this site have talked about it before, but I want to focus on what changes have come about to really put the nail in the coffin for them. They just do not have a place in competitive play anymore. What can be done to help them, if any?
Hold still while I beat you with my cardboard tube!
Nail 1: Mechanics
One of the hardest parts about being melee is mechanics. Auto-attacks require you to hold still for a small amount of time while they complete their animation. Some animations are faster than others but there is always a part that requires you to hold still for a split second. Basically, you cannot move full speed and attack at the same time. Now, you can reduce this by mastering animation cancelling and orb walking, but it is there.
As a result, should you chase someone and they move at the same speed, they will escape. If I had 1 HP and 350 move speed and you had 1 HP and 350 move speed, I can run away and not get hurt so long as I stay out of your much smaller range. But If I am ranged and you’re not, the moment you disengage, I can turn around and kill you. For this reason, most melee champions have SOMETHING that lets you close the gap. It is basic game design for melee in league of legends. However, Ranged characters have disengages and they are rather common.
Zoning is another simple reason melee struggle. To work at all, melee need to enter the ability and attack range of other champions, which subjects them to the whims of their opponents skills. This includes the vast number of CC and disengage skills. These skills hurt melee more than any other due to their limited range.
Finally, auto-attacks are about sustained damage. You not only have to be in range, you must stay in range to kill people. Assassins have a lot of upfront burst in their abilities and it helps them get around the "please stand still so I can kill you" effect. To get the most out of melee auto-attacks, you need CC to hold them in place. But team-fights are not what they used to be.
Nail 2: Rise of the Skirmish or "How Disengage got better"
When I watch team-fights in LCS, I rarely seem the same kind of 5 on 5 we used to see in season 2. Powerful team fight compositions are still possible, but they are similar to a one-shot rifle, you have one chance with your AOE's to win. But if you look into a lot of team comps, mobility assassins are very common and champions with good disengage are also normal picks. How do you lock down and destroy a team if they can run away when they want?
Think of champions that have come out, many have mobility or CC that help them to escape from bad situations. If these are common, then AOE is much more difficult to land and as such it is even harder for melee champions to get in and do their job. Too often have I seen very strong CC AOE compositions just do nothing due to simply falling back, and then re-engage for the kill. Champions like Kennen do not have the same power they used to have and champions like Jayce, Nidalee and Diana, who are strong at all points with no big ultimate become extremely popular. When teams want more damage, they look to assassins who do not need the same time to kill as attacking melee. So I can get good disengage/escape, good engage and good damage on an assassin and not take something that requires the enemy team to comply or build my team around? Assassins just sound better.
Finally consider the prominence of split pushing. Here is something that auto attack champions can do well, but is their wave clear anywhere near the level of ability based champions? By and large, no. Zed especially can push lanes faster than almost anyone. And they have the AD to kill turrets too.
Nail 3: Ability based champions work just fine for the same role
Champions whose damage comes from abilities simply work. Their damage is not sustained and would not crack a tank, but who cares? You rarely go after a tank anyway. Assassins have a large enough burst to win team fights and are much harder to shut down in lane with their mobility. So why take someone like Jax or Udyr? Nasus and Renekton have strong AOE ults and fantastic abilities. Jax and Udyr need to auto-attack to win fights. But who holds still to let that happen? Zed does all the damage needed, in way less time.
Another thing to mention is laning. By and large, there are a lot more champions that can go top lane and make melee's lives difficult. Elise, Zed, Kha'zix and Diana, all have decent laning phases and do not suffer in team fights. Plus, they are highly flexible picks with the ability to go mid or top. Even better in a highly competitive environment. Elise is such a B**** against a lot of melee with her poke and disengage. We saw this happening long before now, but the coffin just was not nearly as tight as it is now. As much as I love Jax, he just cannot stand up to Elise, Vlad or Kayle in general use. In fact, Kayle scales up like he does!
Nail 4: Players are getting better
While there are ELO's where melee auto attacking is still enough to get the job done, the community's better than it used to be. As we go forward, the same tricks will not always work at the same level of play. Melee requires players to be reachable and the community as a whole is simply becoming harder to reach. As a result, melee are needing more to get and stay in. Irelia is one of the best at getting in and staying in, but even she isn't the most competitive pick right now.
The skill ceiling on melee champions is getting lower, as opponents are getting better and have more options to deal with melee.
Nail-Removers: Can Melee auto attacking be made better again?
Auto-Attack champions have a lot against them. But the same things that make it hard for them to work are the same things that keep them in check. If you leave AD Yi alone in a team fight, he will wreck your team. The damage steroids on melee are much higher and this makes sense due to the riskier nature of melee. If we were to introduce something that made them all become CC immune for a time, they would destroy teams. What can be done?
Remakes are one possibility. Some of the older champions like Yi, could really use a kit remake. His kit has not done well for a long time and only has a gimmicky AP build. Something rather silly for a master swordsman. But do we really want to see Jax, Fiora and other champions remade to be more like Zed/Kha'Zix? Isn't the fact that they are reliant on right-clicking the entire appeal?
Adding more baseline defensiveness is one way. Basically you make them pseudo-tanks with the understanding that they will take a lot more damage than other champions to do their job. The problem here is that they could easily start to replace tanks. Some of them do have CC after-all. The reverse is true too, give them more offense and they have no reason to build anything but tank items. See season 2 Irelia for what happens then.
Higher tenacity to make CC less effective? But does every one of them need to have built in tenacity to keep going? Doesn't this create a sort of arms race where each melee champion must have a steroid/slow/gap-closer/tenacity before they can be useful?
How about combating some basic mechanics like letting a melee attack and move at the same time? But that would require either a sweeping system change to allow melee to do that. And would we allow only heavy auto attacking champions or all melee?
I feel like I am trying to solve a physics equation but did not do the reading for the last month. It looks so hard, but there has to be a solution right?
The environment has changed so much from when the game came out. Each season changes the entire dynamics of the game but as some rise, some fall. Sadly, melee attackers have been in a bad place for a long time. Burst mages are in a similar boat, utility mages and assassins take their job. What do these champions do to make themselves more interesting and useful? Riot, I do not envy you on this one, but I really look forward to your solution because I really do not know.