I felt this topic was dated, then people brought it up again. Then I thought it was dated, then people brought it up. So lets be honest, people still are a little bit annoyed at this and STILL bring it up and STILL don't understand it. Alright, okay. That's fine, really it is. When you don't understand something it's okay to keep asking for explanations. Riot true to form is terrified to explain this since it'll just come down to "community you're dumb" but I have no qualms with insulting the community! Without further ado then, I will take the time to explain WHY Ahri (shouldn't be able to atleast, but still can) shouldn't be able to build tanky, yet Ryze/Darius/Etc. can.
Attempt #1, try to explain it logically with statsheets!
Okay, we've all played an RPG right? When you start the game you have to choose your stats. Think of league a lot like this. When Ahri started she chose sluttiness and whor- she chose mobility, CC, and massive burst. She put so many points in to this (some would say she got too many points) that she did not get to put any in to tankiness. There are also other factors here like early game, late game, and etc. but lets ignore those for now. (BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER FOR LATER, class.) Ryze on the other hand chose damage, tankiness, aaaand that's about it. I mean yeah he's got a root but it's just a root, and not a particularly long duration one. (But not a particularly hard to land one either. SOME WOULD SAY.)
It'd simply be unfair to Ryze to say Ahri can do massive burst, have massive mobility, have phenominal CC (the best type in the game) and build tanky to boot. Now ignore that Ahri DOES build tanky (but it's stupid and Riot knows its stupid.) Can Ryze ignore pretty much every gank the entire game? Can Ryze chase down a target that uses both an escape move AND flash? No. Therefore, with all these advantages Ahri has would it be fair to slow champions if she could build as tanky? Consider Darius. 24 second CD 550 range gap closer on a slow champion with no way to get in range beyond it. What's more, once IN range it takes him several seconds to get his ult and he only has a slow to keep people in range, a single escape move and they're safe. Ahri jumps, jumps, jumps, charms, and does her kill in like 2 seconds, escape move + flash = not enough.
So lets put it this way. Each champion has strengths and weaknesses. With items these become less apparent (especially with tanky AP itemization being so damn amazing) but they're still there. Ahri does NOT have the advantage of being able to build super tanky and still 100-0 people. Likewise, Darius does NOT have the advantage of being able to escape any gank, and being able to chase down any target. What's more, there are a lot more things going on here too. Ahri has true damage, she has massed AoEs, and she has the best CC type in the game. She has a LOT of advantages that slower tankier champions simply can not access, even with itemization. Therefore, her itemization needs to be pinched a bit such that abyssal/hourglass Ahri is not more effective than abyssal/hourglass Mordekaiser. (Though, again, it IS so lets just ignore that balance issue.)
You know how you can often take a drawback in an RPG? Like, you can be really ugly or have low intelligence to get more stats or abilities? Well somebody asked Ahri what negatives she was going to take and she just stood there silently until they just didn't mark any drawbacks down. Somebody asked Nasus what negatives he was going to take and he said "hold I wrote them down let me go get my books!" Basically when designing champions most of the time somebody goes "So what does your champion give up for all of that?" Xin Zhao's designer was like "I guess we'll make him really squishy for a bruiser," Ahri's designer was like "I don't understand the question."
Attempt #2. Okay well I think I explained it, lets talk about this a little more! Early/late game.
Going on to Mordekaiser and Darius lets analyze the big beefy dude. I see too often that these types of champions get hate for being tanky and damaging. Well, I mean, lets be fair... that's their thing. That's what they DO. Yes Ryze can build tanky but that's what he DOES. What's more, remember that whole late game thing I brought up earlier? Ryze/Mord are pretty damned effective in team fights late game (some say unstoppable!) but Darius not so much. This is me trying to tell you about the perils of complaining about champions late game who are good late game, and vice versa with early game. Now sometimes they are simply TOO effective (like old "I'll just 1v5 them" Jax) but you have to consider everything here. Mord and Ryze get SHAT on during the laning phase. Easy to harass, easy to gank, so them getting farmed is sort of a challenge.
Mord especially works pretty damned hard to get to that late game. Ever tried to fight a late game Mord? No, probably not, because he'd kill you. Ahri on the other hand gets a pretty easy breeze through the laning phase. Long range last hitting skills. Charm to make ganking difficult, and after 6 ult to make ganking impossible. Mord and Ryze are fighting the odds to get to that point where they are both tanky and damaging. Darius... doesn't really struggle to late game. As such, Darius is notably weaker than Ryze/Mord come late game, ESPECIALLY in team fights/. Mord McLolTryToKillMe has somewhat of an advantage on Garius style chamions. (Now don't get me wrong, Mord is several tiers more difficult to survive with than Ryze because he runs in to melee to last hit and immediately gets ganked. Ryze even gets a root.)
If early game champions were able to be great late game we'de still be shooting Ballista at each other and proclaiming that YOUR interpretation of the Bible is different and heretical and we must kill you. Lets focus on the Ballista here though! A fantastic weapon, but somebody put a lot of money in to researching and developing a Cannon. Of course a freaking gunpowder using weapon that shoots explosive booms is better than a giant crossbow, but we put time and effort in to designing it while people using Ballistas were shooting up all our freaking castles and taking all our land. GET THE ANALOGY HERE?
So you're saying some champions do some things well, and simply will not be allowed to do others well?
Yes you got it! The greatest example of this is when Phreak had to break it down to Twisted Fate players that Twisted Fate simply would not be allowed to be a super strong mage because his global teleport + stuns are just such an amazing mid game presence. If your champion does something incredibly well they simply must do everything else weaker. TF is squishy, not too damaging, has no escapes, and is short range beyond his poke. In return he gets a spammable massive duration stun, a global teleport, a pretty good poke, and the ability to kite anything with no gap closer. That's what makes him interesting, his weaknesses cover up for his strengths. He gets MASSIVE strengths because of MASSIVE weaknesses.
This is probably what causes the frustration in Ahri player. Where is her massive weakness? Anyone want to name it? Oh you can't, because it doesn't exist! That's your problem. You have no massive weakness that allows you to get a massive strength. Darius gives up any amount of mobility and has the longest CD "gap closer" in the game. In return he gets multiple damage types, fairly good base stats, a good laning phase, and some more things. In return for THAT though he gets a fairly average/weak late game. Mord is gankable as hell, gets no mobility, has a fairly challenging early game, and no CC whatsoever. In return he gets to be an ironclad AoE deathball of doom. He's just a really slow AoE deathball of doom. Kind of like if you tried to weaponize vacuum cleaners to fight the great Cat Empire, they'd probably eventually learn they can out run them.
Ever wondered why Irelia is so OP? Lets compare Irelia to another assassin, Talon. Talon is squishy, has a massive CD gap closer, a horrible level 1-5, an extremely weak mana pool, and a mediocre late game. What's Irelia's weakness? That she isn't very strong levels 1 and 2? Well spank my bottom and call me Susy, a weak levels 1+2 clearly means Irelia gets to have all those advantages!... okay you probably can start to see the issue here. Irelia's strengths and weaknesses are sort of just a straight line up on strengths, and a run down western bar on weaknesses.
So in conclusion.
I hope you can start to see where Riot is coming from when they say "strong weaknesses make champions more interesting." Now of course Riot too often makes the weakness "they have low base HP" but you know they ... I got nothing they're really dumb sometimes. They've gotten better at it though. Rengar is kinda tanky for an assassin, and pretty mobile with a decent amount of chasing power. In return though he does practically no damage without ferocity (which he will often be left without) and has no hard CC whatsoever. Hell Rengar makes Talon look like a CC king. What's more, Rengar has a unique disadvantage of having to fight near/in brush to gap close on to enemies.
So basically what I'm saying is that you have to stop comparing down the line "THEY CAN DO THIS SO WHY CAN'T I?" and start saying "THEY CAN DO XYZ AND I CAN DO ABC- oh I see." Please note I'm not trying to disprove balance issues, I'm merely trying to state that Riot has intentionally gone out of their way to ensure different champions are different. Why does Xin Zhao love ghostblade yet Darius couldn't really care about the item? Riot uniqueness!
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