In a variety of competitive games, such as League of Legends, Hearthstone, DotA 2, and others, there are many players who are constantly hoping for a “balanced” meta. It’s time to dispel that myth once and for all, and explain why the balance so many seek would actually be a very bad idea.
Let’s start by quickly defining what a meta is; short for “metagame”, it describes the current state of the game, with different characters, classes, decks, etc. being stronger than others. Typically, in games like these, the meta changes periodically, as new content is introduced, or certain characters are nerfed or buffed.
This guy went from unplayable to over-powered in the blink of an eye
As mentioned above, at any given time, there are going to be certain characters (which we’ll use as a general term to apply to all games) that are going to be stronger than others. That will simply always be the case. However, no matter what characters happen to be strong at any given time, there are always going to be players who are complaining about the current state of the game, believing these characters to be too strong, or “overpowered.” This leads us into the crux of the issue.
If these players’ comments were to be taken at face value, we’d believe that the only way they’d be satisfied is if every character in the game were at an equal power level, with any character able to defeat any other on a level playing field. At first, that might sound great. No matter what character you personally enjoy playing the most, you’ll always have an equal chance of taking down your opponent, since there is no inherent advantage in picking one character over another. You have complete freedom to express yourself by your choices in-game!
However, there’s a very good reason this doesn’t happen, and it’s not because every single developer is terrible at balance: it’s because a game with “perfect balance” as described above would quickly become very uninteresting to play, and would be one of the quickest ways to absolutely demolish a game’s player-base.
The elephant has more complete balance than these games ever will
What game developers strive for is a term that’s thrown around from time to time, which is “perfect imbalance.” With a constantly evolving metagame, it means there are always new things to learn, and to try. The game state is always changing, which prevents things from getting stale. One character may be incredibly strong right now, but in a month or two, you might need to learn a different one you’d never even thought about playing before. This is what keeps veteran players engaged in a game, and also lowers the barrier of entry for new players, since they only need to know what’s happened recently to understand the current state of the game.
In the end, take what you read from other players with a grain of salt. The fact is, no matter what the state of any game, no matter which characters are strong, there are always going to be players who are very vocal about what a terrible state the game is in. The fact is, there are plenty of players out there for whom the only way they wouldn’t complain about the meta is if they maintained a 100% win rate for all time.
This isn’t to state that all games are balanced completely correctly at all times. That’s not the case, but especially for very successful games, it’s usually much closer to the truth than the vocal portion of the community would have you believe.
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