ADC in 2017, the Lethality Arms Race, and Damage Supports
League of Legends Season 7 is in full swing. Hundreds of games have been played worldwide and a tidal wave of new memes flood League of Legends esports. Yet, one meme has stuck out from the rest, springing forth from real frustration with the current state of the game: ‘ADC in 2017.’
It’s no secret that League of Legends will always have a meta – a common set of plays, strategies, and team compositions that will be the most optimal way of playing the game. We have all seen the imbalances of the past – from unkillable tanks like Maokai and Poppy to oppressive siege and poke comps with Nidalee and Caitlyn – so why is it that these specific changes to the Attack Damage Carry role have pros, ex-pros and casual players alike shaking their heads?
ADC is so fucking useless what the fuck man, better luck in 2017
— Jesper Svenningsen (@G2Zven) December 31, 2016
legit the only fun I can have as ADC is Ghostblade into Edge of Night. I really really hope Riot doesn't nerf the build
— Yiliang Peng (@TLDoublelift) January 31, 2017
Please riot nerf letbality or jhin and varus im so tired of playing them/against them just let me play lucian kalista already…
— Michael Santana (@Imaqtpielol) February 7, 2017
This shift in the current pool of Attack Damage Carries has many contributing factors: the Lethality Item Changes, their overall comparison to other AD items, and the Caster Support Meta.
One of the most significant changes Riot introduced in Season 7 was the replacement of armor penetration with Lethality. Lethality was added to reduce the snowball power of early Armor Penetration items through two-part application: 60% of your Lethality becomes Flat Armor Penetration, while the remaining 40% of your Lethality becomes Armor Penetration based on the enemy champion’s level. As an example, let’s look at the core lethality item building block, Serrated Dirk; from it’s 10 Lethality 60% (6) will become your Flat Armor Penetration, the remaining 40% (4) will scale at .22 additional Armor Penetration per enemy level.
The introduction of Lethality alone is not responsible for turning the meta on its ear. These lethality items contain often overlooked power due to their build path, power spikes, comparative gold cost, and utility.
In past seasons, a quintessential marksman item path would consist of an Infinity Edge, a Tier 2 Zeal item, and would be rounded out with a Bloodthirster or Last Whisper. The double critical strike items synergize and increase the stat effectiveness of Critical Strike, and the following Armor Penetration or Lifesteal would help against tanks or poke, respectively.
The problem with this build in the current meta is its cost and build path. The amount of gold needed to complete these items is significantly more than 3 tank items providing armor and magic resistance. To make matters worse, the components of these ADC items usually consist of several expensive pieces that can clog your inventory very easily. The power of this build only spikes after the completion of all 3 items due to the multiplicative relationship between attack speed and critical strike. Furthermore, the percent Armor Penetration or Lifesteal will scale similarly against the increase in enemy armor and personal attack damage.
We mustn’t overlook the significant utility these new items bring. Youmuu’s Ghostblade retains its trademark “ghost” speed boost, giving otherwise vulnerable carries a low cooldown mobility tool. Edge of Night’s cheap mimic of the Banshee’s Veil shield is perfect for the carry that wants to spend its gold on damage rather than a defensive item. Duskblade of Draktharr’s Blackout Passive brings a free Oracle’s Sweeper along with its Nightstalker passive being a Lethality scaling Sheen-like effect that deals true damage. Finally, add up all of the free movement speed while out of combat and the draw backs seem non-existent… spoiler: that’s because there are none.
Champions with the ability to poke or pick off squishy targets are some of the best users of Lethality, and it’s no surprise they have popped up in every region. Many team comps even forgo drafting a tank simply to bring other champions that can benefit from the strong lethality items like Jayce, Graves, and even Varus Mid. Against what the ADC In 2017 meme would suggest, Marksman have had a very significant impact on this season’s competitive picks. When we further extend our gaze across Summoner’s Rift, Miss Fortune has still remained a staple support pick, but now is seeing more and more flex potential to ADC with a full Lethality build. As previously mentioned, Jayce also has been picked for top and mid flex picks, since he scales well with the new Lethality items and brings overwhelming burst potential in both poke and skirmishing.
Caster Supports: The Only Counter?
While the desire for more lethality building champions has taken over champion selects across the globe, this arms race has inadvertently affected the other member of the bot lane even more. Whether it’s the massive amount of physical damage being brought in most comps thanks to the strong Lethality items that has teams slipping in Magic Damage where-ever possible or teams looking for a way to deal with the strong burst ADCs in the early game, the answer has become the same – enter Caster Supports.
Zyra still retains her strong dominance over the years, from an oftentimes oppressive laning phase to strong teamfighting, with fragility as her biggest weakness. Karma remains as a strong lane poker that transitions into top-tier utility late game, while the new kid in the bottom lane, Malzahar, rivals even the lane bully power of Zyra. Ironically, the only ADCs that can fight these strong laning Caster Supports are the Caster ADCs to which they pressure the most.
It is only when the support pool gets pinched in the second round of bans that we start to see other supports pop up, and only ones that can deal with the insane amount of potential burst are seeing play. Thresh has some of the best peel in the game along with his lantern, Tahm Kench can swallow a teammate to keep them safe, and Taric brings team-wide invulnerability and sustain for the harass early on in lane. Having the option for more damage oriented supports has also opened up many unique team comps and pick and ban strategies we have not seen before. Ivern jungle and Shen top have risen in popularity due to their ability to make up for the loss of sustain and utility these heavy damage teams bring.
Unfortunately, the cry for Lethality items to be tuned down in terms of overall power has appeared to fall on Riot’s deaf ears. Perhaps the answer is to focus on buffing the other out of date and expensive AD items to the same level. Regardless of the how, until significant changes are made, we will be subjected to a meta dominated by the Lethality arms race.