Are "Pure" Tanks Obsolete?

I love playing tanks. I love playing them more than bruisers with the only exception being Jarvan since he's my favorite champion. However, I cannot deny that jungle tanks have been in a bad spot for a long time. In the Season 5 thoughts video I released a few days ago, I made a mention how, in League of Legends, the concept of pure tanks may be dead. Is the notion of a pure tank completely obsolete now?

There is one subject when it comes to tanks in which most of the playerbase will never agree with each other. The fact of the matter is, there is no one opinion as to what a tank is in League of Legends, let alone what a pure tank is. There is no denying that some champions are purely tanks and cannot deviate from that, Shen and Nautilus, while other champions cause more controversy as some players will herald them as tanks and others as simply just bruisers. There are players who are adamant that champions like Shyvana, Udyr and Nasus are pure tanks rather than simply bruisers. Honestly, arguing about who qualifies as a pure tank and not just someone that can be made to fill the roll of a tank can become pretty heated.

As far as I am concerned, my idea of a tank has long since been established from having played many tactics games in the past. Games such as Suikoden, Fire Emblem and Shining Force have sort of made a certain idea of what a tank is stick for me. Those games always featured a sort of character that was healthy (lots of health), had features that made them tough to kill (heavy armor, natural resistances) and could deal damage that was a bit high on the spectrum. However, these characters were usually inefficient in a lot of combat aspects as they tended to be difficult to redeploy in the middle of combat (move around map), they tended to miss or only be able to attack a fraction of the time thus rendering their high damage overall weaker or pointless, and utterly useless alone as it was very easy to simply surround and overpower them as they'd be unable to fight off anyone. In these games you usually just used these characters to soak up the damage and protect squishier teammates and slow down the enemy approach.

As to what that translates into League, my definition of a pure tank is a champion with a kit that grants them natural tankiness, as in they are tanky with just their kit regardless of items, focus on controlling the battlefield through presence, disruption and obstruction all while being very reliant on the team they have to defend. A pure tank in League could have high damage but it would often be conditional and unreliable which would increase the dependence they have of their team.

To make better sense of this, take Nautilus and remember his positive and negative qualities. Nautilus is very slow, clunky, has conditional damage, and is unable to function without teammates. However, he can be incredibly disruptive to the enemy team so much so that they might be forced to kill him before focusing on more important players. Nautilus can protect his valuable teammates, completely shutdown opponents to the point where, while they aren't dead, they are not able to participate in a fight all while being relatively difficult to kill. Tanks should, as far as I am concerned, be unable to slaughter opponents yet be so disruptive and frustrating to deal with that the enemy team has to make the decision to focus a target that is not easy to take down.

I try to establish this not because I want to say "Olaf is not a tank!" or "Shyvana has no pure tank qualities!" but because it is important to divide these champions into different groups or categories as different problems affect different types of champions. There are several tanky champions, such as Volibear and Xin Zhao, who are not having these issues and are currently being played in solo queue but the fact that they are more bruiser like and not "pure tanks" plays a large part on this.

I mentioned in a previous video that bruisers have pretty much replaced tanks for the same job. While bruisers tend to have less utility, they often make up for it with high amounts of damage. Absolutely killing your opponent tends to be far better than stunning them for a few seconds and hoping they are killed within that time span. In highly competitive environments, killing the enemy mvp usually snowballs into a team fight being won and while the tank can control the enemy team and open up a window of opportunity for their teammates to slay the enemy mvp, the bruiser/assassin/fighter can just beeline for the mvp and do it themselves thus removing all the unnecessary fluff. Hell, even some mages are capable of doing this too along with initiating fights as well. Why bother bringing a clunky tank when every other member can probably cover one aspect of the tank? The mage and support can initiate, the ranged carry doesn't need protection, the bruiser can control the fight, all while they can still provide truckloads of damage.

Riot has changed League into a game that, while it still rewards teamwork, allows a player to "be a hero" and immediately affect the difference of a fight. Champions can now enter a team fight and instantly destroy another target. While champions like this did existed in prior seasons, they weren't as numerous or as efficiently decisive. Many champions were, and still are, only capable of setting the stage for others to take the spotlight. They set up the fights, they control the flow, essentially they are maestros of combat. Few recognized or even understood the epicness of some of their plays and gave credit to those that these champions enabled. It would, unfortunately, make sense as to why Riot strayed from having champions that could utterly win team fights with subtle grace but received no love. Not many players want to continue playing a certain type of champion if their contributions are consistently downplayed.

This is why most of the tanks that are played are either bruisers being made to simulate the tank role or actual tanks being built more like a bruiser so they can gain more damage. The last pure tank to see competitive play was Zac but that was during a time where his damage was obscene for a tank or even a regular damage dealing champion. This is a trend that tends to repeat itself. Sejuani post rework was a bit too strong and was tweaked. Maokai was obscene after being changed and was nerfed. Malphite and Rammus get buffed and then Riot realizes that is a mistake because they can murder everyone and Riot reverts that.

Jokes aside, the majority of pure tanks are obsolete. Meta shifts can sometimes make some of them useful but there is no doubt that their kits have not kept up with the changes to the game. Either stronger champions that can fulfill the same purpose have cropped up, safer champions have been introduced that they cannot control, they no longer function as well in lane or in the jungle or they simply were nerfed too hard awhile back.

Riot cannot give tanks more strength as you cannot make champions with lots of effective utility be also able to slaughter opponents. That would immediately make bruisers useless. Riot cannot make changes to the jungle or to the lane to help tanks without potentially unbalancing something else or simply helping bruisers out even more. I honestly think the game has gone so far in a direction that does not favor pure tanks that it is silly to go back in an attempt to let tanks catch up.

I loved the changes to Maokai and Sejuani and believe this is the best way to increase the strength of these champions while preserving aspects of their former selves. While they may not have been the purest of tanks, they represent a smart way of increasing a champion's damage by switching the power of their abilities around. Honestly Riot took a chance on these champions and even though a few tweaks were still needed, they helped bring the champions out of obscurity if only for solo queue and a few stints in competitive. Riot needs to take risks and dismantle the tank's abilities and rebuild them with new potential. Imagine if Riot gave Cho'Gath bonus effects to his abilities depending on how many feast stacks he has? That could add so much more depth to his kit and give more things for Riot to tweak if he ever needs more balancing. Imagine if Riot gave Nautilus damage that persisted past his shield shattering? That simple change could solve a lot of issues (cough) and help him in the jungle too.

Like I said earlier, I do not blame Riot for making the decision to ignore tanks for the longest time. They are not the most exciting for the majority of players. The traditional definition of tanks is obsolete. Bruisers are basically the new tanks now or at least have been for the past couple seasons. At this point, it's silly to try to make the tanks work and it is smarter to try to make the individual champions work and this can only be done by taking risks and rehauling champions. This is not to say all tanks are currently not viable but that they could definitely receive some love as they have seen better days.

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