Should the tank meta return?

The tank meta is one of the most universally hated states of League of Legends, but could there be reasons why it's actually good for the game?

(Image Credit: Riot Games)

Ah, tank meta. Whenever people hear this phrase, they think of Malphite and Maokai. They think of top laners locking themselves in wet noodle skirmishes and frontliners soaking ridiculous amounts of damage only to get away with a sliver of health and teleport back into the teamfight. These thoughts are certainly unsettling, yet could it be that the tank meta is the best way to play competitive League of Legends?

To answer this question, we have to decide what the tank meta stands for in the first place. 

Champions officially classified as tanks are still common in the current LoL esports scene and, depending on the teams and regions, you can find three to four sturdy frontliners in a single pro game. But the mere fact that tanks are viable doesn’t mean that a tank meta is in place. No, the tank meta describes a situation where frontline champions aren’t simply present, but they bring so much value to the table that picking them becomes the optimal way of playing the game. 

It’s easy to think of this playstyle as uninspiring. League of Legends veterans will point to the tank Fizz/Ekko era where these champions single-handedly took over games with their potent combinations of damage and durability. Or, perhaps, they will turn to the infamous season 7 highlight where a Draven kites the enemy Poppy for 20 seconds only to barely get past 50% of her health pool. 

The bad side of tank meta, as evidenced by a season 7 highlight.

However, any meta can seem broken if you put too much power into a single class. This happened with the juggernauts at Worlds 2015 and it happened with Ardent Censer enchanters at Worlds 2017. But if you don’t go overboard, the tank meta is a great tool for highlighting some of the best aspects of professional League of Legends.

The first one is structure. Whenever a game is filled with carries and squishy champions, the margin for error becomes incredibly slim. Everyone dies so fast that teams either turtle up to minimize the risks or embrace the variance by dragging their enemies into a string of never-ending skirmishes. In either case, things tend to get hectic, and a single split-second play can decide the outcome of the game.

The tank meta facilitates a healthy balance of risk-taking and playing around your win conditions. Sure, invading the enemy blue buff or setting up a bot lane dive is a great way of seizing momentum, but you’re not automatically out of the game if these plays fall short. Losing the early game isn’t a death sentence either, and you have plenty of room to outmaneuver your opponents around the map, or make use of your tanks in front-to-back teamfights.

Another advantage of the tank meta is the natural distribution of resources. There’s only so much gold on Summoner’s Rift, and if everyone’s playing a carry, clashes for jungle camps and side lane farm are almost unavoidable. In the tank meta, roles are well-defined. The mid laner and the ADC are the focal points of the team, so most of the gold goes into their pockets. 

However, that doesn’t make the other roles obsolete. Other champions can still influence the game bysplitpushing, exerting early game pressure, creating space for their carries, setting up flanks, and initiating teamfights. Carries don’t power spike at one or two items either, so other champions have clear windows to make their presence known on the Rift. Synergy and strategy become more important than ever, and teams that have a good grasp of both can seamlessly tear through their opponents, or claw their way back from monumental gold deficits. 

SKT find a comeback window at Worlds 2017.

One of the lesser-knownside-effects of the tank meta is that it highlights the carries. This doesn’t just apply to mid laners and ADCs, who naturally get all the tools they need to take over teamfights, but also to anyone willing to go against the grain. 

Players like Khan and Huni wouldn’t shine as bright if they didn’t find a way to establish themselves as carry threats in positions dominated by tanks and utility picks. And while this isn’t the defining trait of a healthy tank meta, it’s still great that the door is open for players thinking outside of the box. 

In the end, there’s a lot to be gained from a proper tank meta. 

Whether it’s structured gameplay, natural resource distribution, or standout carry performance, the tank meta does a good job of emphasizing teamplay while leaving enough room for individuals to express their skill. There’s a delicate balance to be maintained, of course, and if Riot takes a few steps too far, League of Legends can easily go back to the dark days of wet noodle fights and tank Ekko splitpush. But with the right ideas behind it, tank meta could bring back some of the brightest spots of competitive League of Legends.

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Daniil Volkov

I craft League of Legends narratives and cover LCK, NA & EU LCS.