What is scaling?
You’ll often hear discussions about how “‘x’ champion scales hard” into the late game, or this “team comp scales well”. What does this mean? Scaling is sort of a tricky concept, especially for newer players. You have to be able to understand how the game’s dynamics change as time goes on, how the distribution of gold and experience can cause champion stats to inherently rise over others, and how champion move-sets and abilities enable them to have higher potential for late game effectiveness.
The goal of this article is to help you understand scaling, how to learn more about it, and how you can use this knowledge in playing as, or against a scaling champion. If you’re a veteran player who already knows the basics , feel free to skip ahead. If you don’t have a good grasp on scaling and how it works, stick around for a bit!
How it works
Scaling refers to the rate that a champion is able to get stronger as a match goes on. This is influenced by several things such as farm, items, and kit. Just as every champion has a unique batch of abilities, they also have their own unique starting stats and stat growth rates.
To best illustrate this, imagine that all ten players in the match had infinite gold at level 18 and the usual six slots for items. No matter how you arranged the ten builds, some champions would inherently have higher stats because of differences in their scaling. Likewise, when you start the game at level one, there will always be champions that have an early edge in stats in comparison to their peers.
The Stat Scaling Spectrum
Champion stats are impacted by their base numbers and their ratios of increase. Imagine base numbers as the floor, and the ratios as the potential for how high a ceiling can be. The way champions are designed, some are meant to be great in the early game, some spike in the mid game, and others become monsters the longer the game goes on.
The early game champs tend to have strong base stats – flat numbers that don’t scale well, but give them a head start over other champs. Champs that are powerful in the late game may start off weaker than others in the early game, but often have high ratio multipliers that cause them to grow exponentially as they gain experience and items.
Our analyst, prohibit, relates strong base stats versus highly scaling stats as such:
“It’s basically the Barbarian class versus the Wizard class in Dungeons and Dragons. The Barbarian gets a bunch of initial flat bonuses while the Wizard has low flat stats but highly multiplicative ratios. Barbarians get to start smashing from the get-go while the Wizard can’t very well protect himself in the beginning. Over time however, the Wizards learns powerful spells that can rip through armies while the Barbarian (although definitely improved) is still pretty much just hacking and slashing.”
Once you understand how scaling works, the next step is to learn how different champions and items scale. You can do this through the osmosis of simply playing more, or you can take the time to study (pace yourself, there’s a lot of info) through resources such as the LoL Wiki.
Two champs that demonstrate the two ends of the spectrum are Leona and Kassadin. They are both champions that can be terrifying in game, but at completely opposite times.
Leona is a massive threat in the early game laning phase – an especially dominant bully from levels 2-6. She has great base stats and quick access to high damaging abilities which synergize well with her passive in order to give her surprising burst damage. Her strong CC gives her a powerful all in and great set up for gank assists. Never underestimate Leona’s early game power or you may find yourself giving up First Blood.
As the game goes on however, Leona’s role becomes more dependent on her team. She’s still a potent engager and peeler, but she’ll likely struggle to duel/kill a champ solo and needs her team for follow up damage after she lands her CC.
This is because her scaling ratios are half of what a carry or assassin usually has. She has some scaling AP scaling sure, but Leonas want to build tanky so it really isn’t a practical or useful ratio. As the game goes on, her usefulness comes from her inherent CC disruption, and less so due to her damage presence. If you catch out a lone Leona in the late game, you can often out-duel her, even if she lands all her abilities.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kassadin is a champ that is built to have a weak early to mid game, but grows stronger as the match goes on. In terms of his base stats, he has decent early game damage, but it falls off quickly at later ranks. By the time his abilities are maxed, they have about 100 less base damage compared to other champs. The key is that ALL of Kassadin’s ratios are high so he scales incredibly well as he collects farm and builds his core items.
Before reaching his ultimate at level 6, Kassadin is immobile and prone to being shoved under tower due to weak waveclear, so he really isn’t a major threat during the lane phase. His kit eventually enables him to become a mobile monster that can roam the map much faster than most champions, making him a great roamer and a terrifying assassin that can take out most champs in 1v1.
Kassadin scales very well with items because AP is a core stat of his builds and has a AP high scaling ratio (at 70% for Q,W, and E). At full strength, he has a 90% slow, a beefy shield, and a spammable maneuvering tool that gives him high outplay potential. If Kass is unable to complete his core items according to a timely schedule, his opponents may be able to build an insurmountable lead or straight-up win before he hits his stride.
Other types of scaling
Outside of stat ratio scaling, champions also scale through their abilities and itemization. These are all different in terms of mechanics and potential of scaling, but they all tend to grow over time and hit the prime of their effectiveness in the mid to late game.
Let’s go through a few examples:
Nasus’s Q, Siphoning Strike, builds damage stacks as long as you use it to kill a target. This mechanic doesn’t have a limit and allows Nasus to grow infinitely stronger – by the time late game rolls around, Nasus can often reach “raid boss” levels of power. Don’t let him farm easily!
Tristana’s passive makes her one of the most formidable AD carries as the game goes on because it increases her auto-attack range as she gains levels. This is extremely valuable because it makes it easier for her to be protected, improves her siege ability, and allows her to dish out more consistent damage due to safer positioning.
Our experts describe this type of scaling as “effective range”. Late game scalers such as Tristana, Kog’maw, and Twitch (through his ultimate) are able to safely output consistent damage because they outrange their counterparts.
Rod of Ages
Rod of Ages literally gets stronger with time. Players that choose to buy RoA do so as a long term investment, knowing that although it won’t be that great starting off, it pays off in value in the long run. If you’re using RoA, play patiently – if you’re against a RoA, try to take advantage of the window of opportunity by playing aggressively before the item hits its max.
Tear of the Goddess
Tear is a stacking item that increases your mana pool every time you spend mana. It builds into either Manamune (for AD) or Archangel’s Staff (for AP), which are both items that scale in power according to the amount of mana you have. The better you’re able to spend your mana and build your pool, the more powerful these items become. In the late game, these items hit like a truck and basically allow you to spam your abilities as much as you want.
Item combination synergies
ADC’s in general, tend to scale slower than other roles because the effectiveness of their core items rely on synergistic combinations to really be used to their full potential. For example, Infinity Edge is a nice item on its own, but has a huge impact when paired with a Zeal item such as Rapid Firecannon, Statikk Shiv, or Runaan’s Hurricane.
With every additional synergistic item, ADC’s power levels increase multiplicatively because they compliment each other very well. This is because ADC’s have three stats that buff each other in order to increase their DPS output (Attack Damage, Attack Speed, and Crit Chance). Mages in comparison only have two stats that buff each other (Ability Power and Cooldown Reduction).
Tanks on the other hand, have many items, such as Dead Man’s Plate that work efficiently as standalone items. The stats they need (Health and resistances) are cheaper to buy, but their scaling tends to be more linear. Carries can eventually outscale these items due to penetration and damage multipliers.
How to play with a scaling champ
When you’re playing as a scaling champ or have one on your team, your mentality should change and adapt in order to properly enable a smooth transition to hitting that sweet, scaled power. Here are some tips from our experts.
Maintaining a cautious leaning risk/reward mentality will help you maintain a safe transition throughout the game. Our Challenger Coach, Morïarty, explains :
“In general, a scaling champ or team should adopt a “when ahead” style of decision making. This means that you DO NOT take high to medium risk plays – you should stick to low to medium-high risk plays, and avoid trading objectives or kills if you end up ahead.”
If you know you’re a champion that becomes stronger as the match goes on, remember that you’re sacrificing early game strength in order to be a monster later. You are making a long term investment – think of the late game scaling champion as a ticking time-bomb, after a certain amount of time, they can explode and often carry the late game.
Be reluctant to surrender
If you fall a little behind, don’t panic – stay the course! You and your team should understand that your late scaling champ won’t really hit their stride until later on in the match. If you surrender early, you aren’t giving the champ a real chance to do their thing.
If your scaling carry falls behind schedule
So what happens if things don’t work out? Sometimes things just go poorly no matter what you do. Is there a point that that you should give up on farming and just group? Or should you always look to keep farming until you hit your items? Here are a few backup plans:
Head to mid lane
If the enemy team has a big threat that makes it scary for your hyper carry to farm solo, your hyper carry may have to be forced to change plans to leaching from from mid lane (with the rest of your team adjusting accordingly).
Another option to enable farm is by sending support to the sidelane. This option has your team babysitting until they hit their two/three item spikes. Use this one sparingly and when your carry isn’t super behind because you may be compromising map control by committing resources.
The hyper carry should consider grouping and fighting if the rest of their team is already way ahead and theycan win fights without big contributions from the carry.
In this case, the hyper carry is just around to help take down objectives pick up gold by KS’ing kills during the fight. This mentality holds true for any champ that is behind – if you are the only one who is behind and your team can win team fights just join and do what you can – forget the farm.
How to play against one
Now that you understand how you can enable a late scaler, you should be able to make life harder for them if you were against them. In general you’d want to end the game before they hit their power peaks, and starve them from farm as long as possible. Here are a few more techniques and mentalities from our experts.
If you’re against a harder scaling comp, your team should have stronger early/mid games. This allows you to play a bit riskier during the window of opportunity where your enemy hasn’t hit their full strength. Once the 25 minute mark hits, the lesser scaling comp better be making moves – otherwise, their window is about to close. Morïarty explains:
“While playing against a scaling comp, you need to increase your risk factor, but in a safe fashion. From early to mid game, stick to low to mid risk plays that yield medium to high reward. Once the 25 min mark hits, a lower scaling comp should adopt the “when behind” style of decision making. Basically this means that you look to make trades whenever possible and playing medium to high risk if it means medium to high reward.”
Pressure with split push
If the enemy team only has one major carry they’re investing in, you may be able to defeat them with split push. The carry can only be at one place at one time, so they won’t be able to react to pushes in multiple lanes.
Catch the help
Hyper carries need to be protected in order to farm, so you can predict that the team will have to invest personnel to group with them. If you establish enopugh vision control, you may be able to rotate to catch a stray opponent en route to supporting their carry.
When the enemy late scaler gets an early lead
Sometimes the enemy hyper carry will be able to get an early lead through First Blood or early kills. This sucks, but there’s no need to panic yet. Here’s a few contingency plans to shift to when this happens.
Create a monster of your own
If you see an enemy carry gaining momentum, your team should try to create a formidable threat who can rival that carry in mid game and stifle their growth. For example, if the enemy Kog’maw wins lane super early and creates a situation where your Jungler can’t gank bot, the Jungler should camp for your Zed Mid to make sure he gets ahead. The Zed can then focus on hunting down the Kog through the mid game and dilute the Kog’s momentum.
Take advantage of overconfidence
If a hyper carry gets early momentum, they may be overconfident and overestimate the real impact of their unexpected lead. Look for chances to kill them if they’re over aggressive in lane or out of position in skirmishes.
Make sure the other lanes win
Taking turrets in other lanes will allow your team to better help keep the scaling champ under control by allowing your allies to roam down and kill them. If other parts of the map are under control, your team can lean their presence toward the hyper carry.