A while ago designers at Riot Games suggested that they didn’t intend to make the more mechanically difficult characters stronger. They viewed mechanical difficulty as an opt-in experience for those interested in that particular kind of challenge.
On the other hand, fighting games often make the harder-to-play characters the strongest ones. The Street Fighters series’ Yun and Guilty Gear’s Zato-1 are both top-tier characters–in some versions of those games, dominant characters–who are very difficult to pick up.
I’ve been struggling with which approach is better for a while, and I haven’t come to any firm conclusions. Certainly I find Riot’s position appealing; it’s not obvious that mechanical challenge directly equates to interesting decisions. Furthermore, when the mechanically difficult characters are better they inevitably rise to the top of the tier lists; players will practice as much as they need to to access their power. However, Jay has reminded me previously that getting the mechanics down is part of the fun for some players; they are attaining a kind of mastery that’s important to the game, and perhaps they should be rewarded for it.
Are games with a mechanical component inherently so focused on the physical requirements of playing that we should reward players who are the best at them? Or are mechanics just a buffer between a “real game” that plays out in decisions and a “physical game” that we want to reflect the real game as perfectly as possible?