Tanks have been a major talking point of the League of Legends community over the past few years. People complain that they are too popular in the meta and that they box out other champion archetypes in their roles because they are too good. People say they make games slow and boring, and that their popularity is ruining the game. The question is, are these complaints justified? Are tanks actually as popular and overpowered as everyone claims they are?
The first major problem we run into when trying to analyze how powerful a tank is comes from how hard it is to define the archetype “tank”. Traditionally, in a PvE setting, tanks are the resilient characters capable of drawing the attention of the enemies and taking the enemie's attacks to protect their team. This very clear definition falls apart in a PvP setting though. In PvP tanks cannot simply take aggro because they are playing against real people who can choose who they want to attack. As such, tanks need to pull aggro by posing a legitimate threat. This can come in the form of crowd control or damage. The problem with trying to define a tank in a PvP game is that the balance of durability and threat that they need to maintain exists on a sliding scale that covers a few different archetypes.
In League, these three archetypes are called bruisers, juggernauts, and tanks. Bruisers are the most threatening and least durable, tanks are the inverse, with higher durability and lower threat. Juggernauts lie in the middle. Already, the definitions get blurry, and when the complexity of item builds is added in, it only makes it blurrier. If a champion is traditionally a bruiser but builds more defense, at what point do they become a juggernaut? Because of this haziness, a lot of the communitie's frustration directed toward tanks is often misguided. They tend to put the blame for the problems bruisers cause onto the tanks that they can look so similar to. This also leads in part to why the public thinks that tanks are over-represented because when a bruiser or juggernaut carries a game, they will often mentally label it as a tank.
When it comes to the ranked ladder, the overabundance of tanks is a complete myth. Statistically, according to leagueofgraphs.com tanks are incredibly underplayed and underperforming on the current patch, 8.8. In high-rank games (diamond and up), the best pick rate for a top or jungle tank, the two roles where tank is most frequently picked, is Sion at #27 overall; the next is Zac, all the way down at #41. As for tank win rates in ranked, they are almost all at or below 50%. The highest of them being Sion with a 50.2% win rate, absolutely average. Sadly, I can only get ranked statistics for the current patch, and tank stats definitely were better during Sion’s peak oppressiveness during the Banner of Command meta, but those patches were deviations from the norm.
The reason the community remembers the times in which tanks were so oppressive is because it was not what they were used to. Tanks spend most of their time not dominating, so when they do, we remember it better. Even anecdotally, while everyone complains about tanks, the most dominant rank one player in NA over the past year was TF Blade, a top laner who climbed with Akali and Irelia, two bruisers. Before him, it was Tarzaned, who played damage based junglers. Within the two roles that tanks are most popular, the most consistent methods of climbing were to play the damage dealers that compete for viability with the tanks.. The tank meta myth for ranked just comes from confirmation bias where people remember the boring games into tanks that reinforce their anti-tank beliefs but forget the matchups into bruisers that go against their beliefs. The stats do not at all back up the claims people make about how good tanks are, at least on the ranked ladder.
As for pro play, where safety and consistency are king, tanks are incredibly popular, but not actually for the reasons people think. In seasons six, seven, and eight, of the NALCS, EULCS, LPL, LCK, and LMS, tanks did consistently have some of the highest pick/ban rates for top and jungle. What makes these pick/ban rates deceiving, however, is that they are skewed very heavily toward tanks being picked after going unbanned. This means that professional teams did not see tanks as being powerful enough to warrant banning, and they were only being picked because the more powerful champions they are competing for viability with were banned away. In terms of total representation, in season six, there were only three tanks in the top 10 most picked or banned champions between top and jungle. It is the same in season seven. In season eight it is five out of the top 10, but that statistic is misleading of the incomplete sample size do to not having not done the summer split, as well as banner of command making tanks way too powerful for a short time during the season. Despite the safety and utility that they can bring to a team, tanks are outclassed by other characters in their roles and just happen to be in a sweet spot of not ban as ban worthy as others, but still, a desirable pick if available.
Along with being underbanned, tanks can come from two different roles, top and jungle. Teams will rarely pick a tank in both roles and risk not having enough damage come late game team fights, especially when many popular supports are pseudo tanks and can bring the utility and durability of the role while not sacrificing as much damage to do so. So, while tanks are picked significantly more in pro play than on the ranked ladder and make up an important part of high-level team compositions, they are still not nearly as over-represented as the community makes them out to be. Confirmation bias and incorrect memories drive the community opinion more than facts
So, is the League of Tanks a myth? As far as ranked is concerned, absolutely. They are not picked, and when they are, they are not winning any more than other average champions. In pro play, tanks are definitely played more often, but not nearly as much as the people complaining about tank vs tank top lanes every game would lead you to believe. Even then, much of their popularity comes from them being good, but not ban worthy, which is a byproduct of the format, and not necessarily revealing of a problem with the tanks themselves. If bans were removed from the game and teams just drafted five champions, tank play rates would go down by a wide margin as top laners and junglers pick the more game breaking champions in their roles. Overall, tanks and the consistency they provide to a team is obviously very valuable and will cause them to be popular in pro play, but in terms of their power level, they are not as good as the public thinks they are. It's only when the best options are gone that pros consistently turn to tanks.