There are many misconceptions surrounding the concept of scaling. As most people understand it, “scaling” is a concept which refers to a champion’s strength in the later stages of the game. How can we define what is good late game? Every champion has their own advantages and disadvantages, but how exactly does scaling work?
First Factor: Burst Damage VS. Sustained Damage
This is a concept that many can understand. Burst damage is damage that is designed to come out quickly, whereas sustained damage is more damage over time. Where burst damage is quicker and more punishing, sustained damage (often referred to as Damage per Second) is generally better lategame.
The main reason for this is that the late game revolves around teamfights. Being able to throw a lot of burst damage isn’t necessarily useless in these situations, but it requires you to to blow a lot of resources. Once you expend these major cooldowns, you are relegated to throwing down a single spammable basic ability, if that’s even an option.
Champions like ADCs who are naturally designed to do sustained damage will obviously be better scalers.
For mages, DPS means low cooldowns. This is a huge reason for the prevalence of 10% scaling CDR glyphs in mages’ rune pages.
Second Factor: Damage Reliability
You can’t just have the damage numbers. You need to be able to apply that damage in a realistic scenario. All the damage in the world doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t hit the targets that matter. There’s a lot of leeway with what you pass off as “realistic,” of course. So we have to be clear about what factors make consistent damage realistic in a game setting.
Range is number one. The more range you have the more realistic your damage is and the safer you are while you apply it. Many point and click abilities are generally thought of as reliable since they can’t miss, but point and click abilities tend to have lower range, meaning their reliability is actually generally lower. You might need to flash into range for a Nautilus or Annie ult, but Varus can almost always land a Q on someone.
Next, look at the way that the damage is applied. What targets is it going to hit, most likely? While you might think any sort of damage that is likely to land on carries is inherently better, the ability to deal with tanks is also very important. A form of damage is not necessarily worse if it’s more likely to land on a tank.
Let’s use Ezreal as an example. Mystic Shot is an ability that, in a teamfight, is extremely likely to be body blocked by a tank. However, it is a spammable ability which benefits from a variety of sources of damage scaling. Start from that natural base damage and AD ratio. Tack on the damage from Muramana, from Trinity Force, and Blade of the Ruined King. Throw some autoattacks in while it’s on cooldown, and it’s not a big deal that his damage is landing largely on tanks. As Phreak might say, it’s still Tons of Damage.
If you’re someone who absolutely needs to get onto the backline, it’s important to either have the range or mobility to make this possible. For melee champions, a gap closer boosts your effectiveness immensely. Having to commit your Flash just to get backline access means you only have opportunities to be effective every five minutes!
Crowd Control, depending on the nature of it, can be thought of as a strong tool for lategame as well. Obvious though it is, CC makes damage more reliable.
Third Factor: The Splitpush
As I mentioned in my article on Team Comp advantages, League of Legends is not just a 5v5 game. A champion can be a potent late game threat without being strong in teamfights at all. If a champion can beat anyone on the enemy team in a duel, the enemy has only two reasonable options to deal with them.
Their first option is to send multiple people to deal with the splitpusher. Doing this can be very risky. When you send two people to deal with one, you open up opportunities for the enemy team to force uneven fights. 2v1 in the top lane means 3v4 in the mid lane.
Not only that, but you force the enemy team to play reactively. The splitpusher has most likely forced the minion wave deep into enemy territory. Great, they killed the splitpusher. If they want to respond by taking turrets, however, they will have to push the wave all the way back in the other direction.
The other option is to not even attempt to fight the splitpusher. One member can simply stand under the tower being pushed and waveclear to defend it. This is called “matching” a splitpusher. Much like the other option, this is a very defensive response to the situation. It’s a small trade, but it still goes ultimately in the favor of the splitpusher. “I may not get the turret this time, but those minions are gonna get chip damage on the turret.” Waveclear can be a vital tool both offensively and defensively.
How does Scaling with Power Spikes Work?
While we generally think of scaling in the context of the late game, scaling is actually relevant all points in the game. Even champions who have a strong early game don’t necessarily have advantages from the moment they hit the rift. There are power spikes for any champion, and all champions “scale” in a sense.
Having more levels and more items will never make you weaker. It’s all about the comparisons. Different champion exhibit different scaling patterns. You can divide these into two different categories. The first is scaling with levels, and the second is scaling with items. All champions gain stats and power from both of these scalings. Some benefit more from one than the other—it’s a spectrum.
How does Scaling With Levels Work?
Scaling with levels is generally superior early game. Levels are easier to obtain than items, so champions who scale well with levels will almost always get to exhibit their strengths. I’ve prepared three champions to look at, and I’ll take you through how these each of these champions value levels. These three champions are Darius, Syndra, and Twitch.
Scaling with Levels: Darius
Let’s start with Darius and take a look at his base stats. Even from a perspective of pure base stats, you can see that this is a champion who values those levels. Look at the stat gain per level. 100 Health, 5 AD, 4 Armor. Even that Health Regen per 5 seconds is pretty absurd. The only stat that doesn’t grow much per level is Attack Speed. I think we can all agree that Darius should not be able to get large amounts of Attack Speed from leveling up. That would pretty silly.
But it’s more than just the base stats. Every single level up for Darius increases the damage of his Bleed, which can stack up to five times. Not only that, but the AD bonus he gets from hitting five stacks goes up as well.
This is the first ability Darius will max. Basically everything about this ability gets better with additional ranks in it. Each rank increases not only the base damage, but the ratio as well. The cooldown goes down too.
Scaling with Levels: Twitch
Moving onto Twitch, compare his base stats to those of Darius.
The more you compare the two, the more you will realize that there is no comparison. The only stat Twitch gets a decent amount of for leveling up is Attack Speed. But then take a look at Twitch’s abilities, which are not very strong laning tools to begin with.
Twitch’s passive, like Darius, scales with level, but when you look at the numbers, they’re pretty laughable early game. 1 true damage per second is essentially a joke. Look at the ability he maxes first as well.
This ability starts from a pretty high base, and doesn’t even do much damage. Sure, a fully stacked Contaminate (or Expunge for you OG players) can be pretty scary. But in lane, this is unlikely to occur. Trades early in botlane tend to pretty short. Definitely not as impressive as what we saw out of the leveling of Decimate.
Scaling with Levels: Syndra
And for our final example, let’s look at Syndra.
Right off the bat, we notice that Syndra’s base stats are a lot closer to the Twitch level than they are to Darius. Ranged champions in general don’t have very good base stats, but before you label Syndra as a bad scaler with levels, take a level at the first ability she maxes:
For an ability with a 4 second cooldown and a fairly high cast range, the fact it gains 45 base damage with every rank up is something you have to respect.
A downside to level-based scaling is that it generally tends to reach its peak around mid-game. Most champions have one ability which doesn’t benefit much from ranking up. Go back to Darius for a second. This is the last ability people tend to max on Darius:
One look at it, and you can tell why. Literally the only benefit you get out of maxing this ability is that the cooldown goes down. The slow doesn’t get longer, the damage doesn’t even go up. This is actually very uncommon for an ability that does damage. Usually abilities that do damage will get some kind of damage increase for maxing it.
There are of course, exceptions to this trend. With Syndra, the benefit of maxing her abilities isn’t bad at all.
Scaling with Items
As scaling with levels is generally the superior route to early game, scaling with items is a bigger deal in the later stages of the game. Those base stats generally mean less and less when you consider how massive the stat gains are from your items. So let’s go back to our examples and take a look at how their item scaling is.
Item Scaling: Darius
Generally, you can think of item spikes in terms of the milestones that champions tend to reach with their first three core items. As with before, we’ll start with Darius:
The Black Cleaver gives Darius so much of what he wants: Health, AD, CDR, the Armor shred passive, and Rage for movespeed. The power spike that Darius gets when he completes this is pretty insane. Sure, Darius could get some damage benefits off something like Titanic Hydra or Sterak’s Gage, but we have to consider the kind of champion that Darius is.
Darius is what we all know Riot likes to call a “Juggernaut.” what that means is that he’s a strange hybrid of a carry and a tank. He has elements of both, but isn’t necessarily a prime example of either one.
As a carry, this champion lacks good damage choices after his first item, has no gap closer, and is very kiteable. As a tank, Darius is lacking big tools to engage for his team or peel for them. Sure, he has his Apprehend, but that’s a short range ability and is telegraphed to boot. Darius’s tank items are largely focused on his own survivability, rather than that of absorbing damage for his team. It’s not like he won’t ever soak some DPS for the squad, but largely, the expectation is quite different. He’ll probably be coming in from a flank in an attempt to get onto a squishy target.
Item Scaling: Syndra
Let’s move to Syndra. Syndra is pretty flexible with her first item. Generally, we see Morellonomicon, but in lanes where she’s struggling we often see something that focuses more on the lane matchup, like double Doran’s Rings into Banshee’s Veil, or double Doran’s into a Zhonya’s. Some players will go for this build even in a situation they aren’t struggling in.
You can also go for a balance between the two. First back, you get a second Doran’s Ring plus a Null-Magic Mantle or a Negatron Cloak depending on the gold. Then you might just sit on that Null-Magic Mantle and go straight into the Morellonomicon.
The options aside, let’s take a look at how strong Syndra becomes once she gets to two items. I provide several examples of popular two item combos on the champion.
When we take a look at these two builds, we can already see a very scary champion. This Syndra either has 200 AP, 15 extra flat magic pen, or 180 AP, 30 extra flat magic pen, with an extra little current health burh. Either way, this a champ that is pretty frightening for a squishy target.
By contrast, with these two builds, you see a little less of that burst potential. She’s opted for a more defensive route, but it’s not like something like this will feel bad on her. With both of these builds she still has a fair amount of Ability Power, but she’s also already got 30% CDR. Well on her way to that 40% once you factor in those Scaling CDR blues we’ve been seeing on so many midlaners.
But Syndra is a champion who can very much benefit from building even more damage. After blowing up a carry with “The Outplay Button” as my friend likes to sarcastically call it when he’s making fun of me for this being my premier midlane pick. This champion can still provide good damage from just her basic abilities while kiting back. More damage will also make that initial burst combo all the more frightening. Although with a burst-focused mage like this, you generally reach a point where you can’t really one-shot people harder.
What are you gonna do? Double one-shot someone with your burst combo? That’s not a thing. My general point is, although it still comes with some drawbacks, Syndra’s scaling with items is much better than that of Darius. While the 1 item spike of Darius might be more impressive, 2 items and beyond really favors the Syndra. At least, if you think of it in terms of how much more damage she could potentially be putting out.
Item Scaling: Twitch
Finally, let’s look at Twitch. Twitch, at the moment is more popularly going for this Blade of the Ruined King rush, but before we do that, I wanna dial back a bit to around the start of Season 7, when we saw Twitch going with a much more conventional build path. One we might think of as sort of the ADC default:
Twitch is one of the ADCs who would have gone for this sort of build path. Critical Strike Chance, as a stat, is essentially the weakest stat by itself. When you have only one item that gives you Critical Strike Chance, you’re still more likely to not crit than you are to crit. With Infinity Edge, this is a very big spike. When you spend 3,400 gold (formerly 3,600) on an item, you would think that the power spike would be pretty big. Unfortunately, that is very much not the case. BF + Runaan’s Hurricane is less of a DPS spike than the straight up Infinity Edge. However, still isn’t a massive DPS spike. The thought process behind this approach is that you go for early utility. Prioritize the waveclear from that Runaan’s Hurricane.
Moving on, Twitch’s two item spike:
Now, Twitch feels a lot better than he would have with just the Infinity Edge or just the Runaan’s Hurricane, but this is still not quite at the level of Syndra’s 2 item spike. Once you throw a third zeal item into the mix, THEN Twitch is pretty strong. Problem with that is that this makes your build path no flexible. By this point in the game, Twitch might need to think about getting a QSS, a Hexdrinker, a Last whisper, an Executioner’s Calling, depending on the situation. Even if he’s just buying that component, it means that the real turn-on point is further away.
Compared to Infinity Edge. BoRK is much stronger as a single item spike. It’s still not quite at the same level of Darius with that Black Cleaver or even Syndra with that Morellonomicion. The first item spike with BorK is much better, and the second item spike is pretty good. Generally you go for a zeal item second. Even though you only have that 1 crit item, Runaan’s does have great synergy with BoRK. More attack speed just makes BoRK even better. Runaan’s bolts even apply on-hit effects.
Twitch has three potential sources that he can look to as sources to scale his damage: Attack Damage, Attack Speed, and Crit Chance. The attack speed and crit chance act as multipliers, increasing the value of the Attack Damage even further. It takes a while to amass a good amount of all three. If you can reach that point, though, the reward is definitely there. While almost all ADCs can exhibit this scaling pattern, Twitch is an example of an especially good scaler. In teamfights, he’s not just kiting out the backline. Once he turns on that ultimate, his autos have absurd range and can fly through entire teams.
“Guys, we outscale”
As a concept, I think scaling is vital to understand. “Guys, we scale” can be a good pep talk, but you have to think. “Do we actually scale?”. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Still, don’t trick yourself into thinking you’ll have that huge window when you really don’t. It’ll also help you have a better sense of respect for what champion are capable of at different points. The entire game is built around these scaling patterns. ADC scaling with experience generally not as good, but he needs his farm. Throw him in a sidelane with a support to keep him safe while he farms up. Whereas the Darius and Syndra go in solo lanes. They’re more reliant on that experience.
I know I only really covered scaling on these sort of carry-type champions. There are of course, different scaling patterns for tanks and supports. In the interest of not making this article too long, I’m going to cut it off here. At some point in the future, I might do something on tank/support scaling. Ultimately, I hope this article taught you how scaling works and cleared up your misconceptions!