Between the upsets, close games, and clown fiestas, Worlds this year was among the most engaging yet. Granted things petered out a bit once things hit semis, but overall I’d still rank this as one of the most enjoyable Worlds viewing experiences there’s been, particularly as a western fan.
Amongst all of this, there’ll no doubt a great deal of analysis being done on each of the teams, their strategies, and their shortcomings. One less showy thing which I myself noticed while watching the games was the prominence of Sterak’s Gage during the course of the tournament. Intuitively it’s an item that you build in tandem with other HP items so that you scale its shield up, but at Worlds it was often built even when it was the only source of bonus HP in a player’s entire build.
This was a little surprising to me, so I began looking into answers as to why this might’ve been the case.
To start with, let’s take a look at exactly what we’re talking about with Sterak’s Gage. Everybody knows the general gist of the item, but having the exact numbers allows us to better contextualise the item’s strength compared to other options.
(I’ve included the info from the LoL Wiki as well, which is functionally identical but probably easier to read if you’re used to that style of formatting.)
- Cost: 3200 Gold
- Stats: 450 HP
- Passive 1: gain bonus AD equal to 50% of base AD.
- Passive 2: upon taking 400-1800 damage (based on level) within 5 seconds, gain a shield for up to 3.75 seconds equal to 75% of your bonus HP (60 second cooldown; shield starts decaying after 0.75 seconds).
- Passive 3: when the shield is triggered, get 30% tenacity and increased size for 8 seconds.
- Can only be purchased on melee champions.
There’s a few variables here that are helpful to break down a little further so that we can start comparing the unique effects listed above to other similar items.
First, let’s take a look at how much AD bruisers (the champions actually buying the item) gain at a few different levels across a handful of champions. I’ve used champions with a fairly high pick rate at Worlds in this example.
|Champion||Level||AD from Sterak's|
Right out of the gate, we’re looking at around 1-1.5 BF Swords worth of AD, with gold value equivalent to around 1500-2500 during the typical window where Sterak’s has been purchased but before the game has ended.1
Since the shield is based on bonus HP, let’s also pin down a few numerical values for that so that we can figure out how valuable it really is.
|HP sources||Total bonus HP||Shield strength|
|Sterak's + Level 13 Resolve runes bonus||549.71||412.28|
|Sterak's + Black Cleaver||850||637.5|
|Sterak's + Cinderhulk||862.5||646.88|
|Sterak's + Black Cleaver + Titanic Hydra + Level 13 Resolve runes bonus||1399.71||1049.78|
The combination is a slightly optimistic example, but is certainly plausible – especially when you can swap either Titanic Hydra or Black Cleaver for a defensive item (such as Spirit Visage or Randuin’s) without really changing the result. It also doesn’t include any extra HP you might be getting from Grasp of the Undying (Resolve keystone), or Overgrowth (Resolve bottom row).
Getting your HP in the form of a shield has the upside of not being affected by %HP damage, effectively making a shield more valuable than the equivalent amount of actual health against that type of damage. On the flip side, you miss out on any health-scaling benefits such as damage from Grasp of the Undying, Triumph procs, and health scaling in your champion’s kit (such damage on Sion W and Cho’Gath ult).
Overall I think it’s fair to say that on average, a shield usually has roughly comparable value to actual health in this context. One last thing to note is that in the case of Sterak’s the shield does decay over a few seconds, meaning that as you increase the shield’s strength, you actually slightly reduce its efficiency (since it becomes increasingly unlikely that the entire shield will be bursted without some of it decaying first).
In some of the more easily attainable circumstances, the shield on Sterak’s offers approximately 2-4 Ruby Crystal’s worth of HP, equivalent to around 800-1600 gold’s worth of stats. Optimistically, the shield strength can reach 6-8 Ruby Crystal’s worth of HP (2400-3200 gold) using a plausible item build, although due to the shield decaying it would be somewhat less effective in reality than the numerical value would indicate.
Information in hand, here’s how Sterak’s compares with a few other similar items.
That looks generally quite favorable, particularly if you’re trying to reduce damage from %HP and/or if you’re after some Tenacity.2 Champions that both love extra AD and can also build other items that provide HP get a big win with Sterak’s.
Health is also more versatile than armor or MR as a defensive stat since it’s effective against all types of damage. This can make it more valuable than other mixed offensive/defensive items which index towards armor or MR (e.g. Sunfire Cape and Hexdrinker / Maw), meaning you don’t get punished as much if you encounter the “wrong” damage type. Unlike Gargoyle Stoneplate, the full effect of Sterak’s will also still apply in skirmishes where you might not be able to trigger the 3-nearby-enemies requirement of Stoneplate.
In a few cases I do wonder if some less assassin-y champions could also consider Sunfire Cape as a viable alternative though. Unless the enemy team is overwhelmingly magic damage, 60 armor is typically as or more valuable than the ~350 HP shield of a “naked” Sterak’s (which has been shown to be a real-world use case even at the highest levels of play).
In terms of offensive capability, magic damage is generally more valuable than physical damage on champions not building any penetration because the average champion’s MR is lower than average champion’s armor. Between that and the only middling AD ratios which some AD fighters posses, I posit that there are some instances where Sterak’s was bought during Worlds when Sunfire Cape might’ve actually been a better option. Single target damage would be slightly lower for sure, but it’s also a cheaper item and its damage is AoE.
While Tenacity is a hard stat to replace, it’s also not always needed. Take for example <this game where xin built sterak’s>, where the enemy team had very little reduceable CC. Given how poor junglers usually are compared to laners, saving some cash and grabbing a Sunfire Cape will sometimes be the better play than splurging on Sterak’s.
Another much more important note about the tenacity of Sterak’s is that it only applies once the shield is activated. Often you’re most worried about CC at the very start of a potential fight – reducing that first CC is often the difference between getting caught but surviving, and getting caught and dying.
Although there are a few cases where Sterak’s is perhaps being slightly overvalued, it is to me one of the standout items of Worlds this year, being built even in situations where there is no additional HP scaling on its shield.
Broadly speaking, there are three reasons why this may be the case:
- The item is overtuned.
- The item is overvalued by players.
- A niche exists which is currently underserved by other items, forcing players to get “the closest available thing” (Sterak’s) even in situations where it doesn’t quite fit what they actually want.
From where I see it, all three points have varying amounts of validity.
With regards to the first point: Patch 8.12 was a meaningful buff to the item in many cases,3 and was likely a catalyst for its increased purchase rate.
Given that it’s being bought “naked” (no other bonus HP sources) with some frequency in pro play, some amount of overtuning seems like a given.
To the second point: statistical breakdown of the item suggests that now and then Sterak’s is being bought even when it’s not necessarily the best available choice, but most of the time the item purchase makes sense in its game’s context.
Finally, although the infamous 5.16 patch was when Sterak’s Gage and other “juggernaut items” were introduced, there usually seems to be a few favorites pool of itemisation whenever the whole set is considered to be roughly balanced overall. It’s happened in the past with Black Cleaver, Titanic Hydra, Dead Man’s Plate, and others.
Right now Sterak’s Gage might be the one that’s a smidge better than the rest (excluding the more versatile and therefore likely more popular Black Cleaver), and pro players have caught onto that. In addition to perhaps being on the strong side, feeling as though alternatives are a little weak often makes players gravitate to using the same set of items – even if those items aren’t necessarily the best ones available in that specific game.
The current situation is certainly looks like a mix of all three points. Given that the post-Worlds balance patches have left Sterak’s untouched, it’s likely that the item will end up in a different spot — whether due to direct or indirect changes — in the preseason patch(es). In the meantime you should consider adding Sterak’s into your item build the next time you’re playing an AD fighter. It often works great as a 2nd/3rd item and is Pro Player Approved™.
Note for Patrons: I’ve given you access to the spreadsheet I put together for my own reference while I was writing this article – check Patreon for the link if you’re interested in taking a look (available to all tiers)!
- Which is also why I sampled level 10/14/18; Sterak’s isn’t usually a first item, so 11~17 or thereabouts is where you get most of its usage when you factor in that and games often ending before everyone hits level 18.
- I just wanted to make note of the fact that often times hard-divers like Nocturne were buying GA instead of Sterak’s – this is because 4 seconds of stasis lets you avoid thousands of damage in a situation where no durability-based item would provide enough survivability.
- Although it did also negatively affect TriForce users.