When lethality, League’s replacement stat for armor penetration, was introduced back in November, players had no idea what they would be dealing with in the following months. Lethality has gone from OP to laughably weak and back to OP in a matter of months, and the meta has paid the price for it.
The goals for the introduction of lethality were noble— to decrease snowballing in either direction for attack damage champions but maintain the ability to blow up squishy targets when built properly. So what happened?
At the time of lethality’s release, armor penetration was running rampant through the meta. Marksman champs were building armor pen items for almost their entire builds, assassins were useless without it, and even champions that didn’t typically build high damage, like Jarvan and Vi, were building armor pen and crushing squishy opponents with their newfound damage. It was clear that it needed to be knocked down a few pegs, and replacing armor pen with lethality aimed to do just that.
Champions with weak early games were given an even weaker early game
The problem with lethality’s release, however, is that it nerfed armor penetration too much. The weakness of most assassins and marksmen is that their early game is a bit too weak, so cheaper items with good power but weak scaling (like armor penetration items) helped them round out their poor performance in that stage of the game. They would usually build an armor penetration item early on and then build some late-game scaling items like the Infinity Edge afterwards to find some decent power in all stages of the game.
Lethality’s introduction was so underwhelming that marksmen and assassins couldn’t justify building it in the early game, causing their early game to fall so dramatically that champions fell completely out of meta and only champs with inherently strong early games rose to the top of the ladder. Attack damage assassins like the newly-updated Talon and Zed were made so weak that no one played them and only hyper-passive and long-range marksmen like Caitlyn, Jhin, and yes, even Ziggs rose to the meta. Champs like this could sit back, harass from range, and stall until they were extremely powerful in the later stages of the game.
Champs like Lucian, Miss Fortune, and Draven, however, were then so weak that players could be flamed in solo queue just for thinking about picking them (unless it was Miss Fortune support, which is a whole different issue).
The armor penetration stat was just a direct proportion to how much armor is ignored when the wielder deals physical damage. Lethality, on the other hand, granted 40 percent of the amount of lethality immediately as armor penetration, and the other 60 percent was given to the wielder as their targets level up. For example, if Youmuu’s Ghostblade gave Lucian 20 lethality, that meant that Lucian immediately gained 8 armor penetration, but only gained the remaining 12 depending on what level his targets are (capping out at the full 20 if the target is level 18).
This meant that ADCs that built a Youmuu’s for their first item were just shifted from having 20 armor penetration right away to having 8, and it was just too much to handle for many ADC champions. Armor penetration definitely needed to be nerfed, but this was way too much.
Overcompensation, thy name is lethality
So what did Riot’s design team do to fix this dilemma? They buffed the s**t out of it.
To be specific, they took the ratio for determining how much armor penetration is granted from lethality and just reversed it. Instead of a 40/60 ratio, it was now a 60/40. Since this change was implemented back in patch 7.2, the new lethality system has been dominating the meta yet again.
Not only did lethality receive this giant buff, but popular lethality items such as the Duskblade of Draktharr and the Edge of Night were buffed as well. Duskblade’s bonus damage on its proc was increased, and Edge of Night’s active cooldown was lowered by 15 seconds.
With lethality running amoc once more, the same problems from before the introduction of lethality arose. Champions not meant to deal assassin-like damage can now build cheap, reliable damage to snowball extremely hard and AD assassins like Kha’zix and Rengar could now treat squishies as their playthings, offering much less counterplay for engages.
Miss Fortune, Jhin, and Varus rose to the top of the meta with their long-range armor-shredding burst that was now much more efficient as well. Jhin was already in-meta, which is a testament to how strong of a champion he is. Don’t worry though, he’ll be nerfed soon.
So what can be done?
Well, that’s a tricky question to answer on Riot’s end. The most obvious option would be to bring the armor penetration ratio of lethality to an even 50/50 since 40/60 was too weak and 60/40 is too strong.
Another quick and simple option would be to nerf the lethality items individually. Lower attack damage amounts, raise cooldowns, and an increase in store costs are all viable options for bringing lethality to heel.
If that doesn’t work, however, we’re in for some bigger problems, because Riot’s just about out of options for fixing lethality. That may mean that, yet again, the armor penetration system as a whole will have to be shifted to something else. As a result, players would see huge changes to a meta that has already undergone too many drastic shifts in a very short amount of time.