Riot’s latest addition to its League roster has Nate scratching his head over the seemingly confused mechanics and itemization problems
There is a new champion in League of Legends and his name is Gnar, a prehistoric Yordle that was frozen in time only to recently re-emerge and take to the Rift and fight. He may look cute and cuddly, but just beneath the surface is his true animalistic form, which is unleashed when he is unable to contain his rage any longer.
It is an interesting story and mechanic that would seem like a surefire hit for League of Legends but, cuteness aside (and he is absolutely adorable, especially in the Dino skin), Gnar already seems to be struggling on the Rift. Both pro and casual players just can’t quite figure out how to play this little Yordle and his 41 percent win rate, lowest among all champions, is an indication of just how ineffective Gnar really is. So what’s the problem? Do people just need time to figure him out? Maybe, but I think there is a bigger issue at play – mainly, he just isn’t designed to win. Let’s take a look at his design and what makes Gnar so difficult to succeed with.
Gnar, as stated by Riot, was designed as a ranged top laner made to do battle with the likes of Renekton, Shyvana, Maokai and Gragas. Unfortunately for Gnar, he has some of the worst base stats of any top laner. Gnar’s initial attack damage and attack damage per level is the fourth lowest and his health regen and health per level are the lowest in the game. His base armor, magic resist and health are middle of the road at best. This is supposed to be counteracted by his range (which is the lowest of any ranged character) and ultimate, but with the amazing amount of gap closers in the top lane, it leaves him incredibly vulnerable when in his normal form. This type of scaling is usually employed for champions that are reliant on abilities that have great ratios but, unfortunately for Gnar, his abilities are where a lot of the problem lies.
Gnar has two forms, Mini and Mega, so each of his abilities also have two forms. His passive ability is that, while in combat, Gnar builds rage. When his rage bar fills, Gnar changes from his Mini to his Mega form by either using an ability or by waiting four seconds. The Mega form lasts 15 seconds and grants Gnar access to new abilities while also giving him a hefty stat boost.
The first ability is Boomerang Toss/Boulder Toss, which is Gnar’s main damage ability. In Mini form he tosses a boomerang that deals full damage to the first thing it hits and 50 percent less damage to any consecutive targets. It has a pretty good range and the cooldown is reduced 60 percent if you catch the boomerang when it comes back. In Mega form, Gnar chucks a boulder that deals damage and slows anything it hits. If he picks up the boulder the cooldown is reduced 60 percent as well.
The problem with this ability is that, as the main damage ability, it does very little damage. At first rank, the boomerang does 10 + 100 percent AD to the first target and half that to anything else. It poses very little threat to most other top laners and makes it so that Gnar has to position himself more offensively if he wants to get the full damage onto another champion, who will most likely be behind his own minions. Also, the cooldown is extremely high if you don’t catch the boomerang, which becomes increasingly difficult the closer you are to the target you hit. It makes not catching the boomerang feel like a severe punishment as opposed to a bonus for catching it.
Next is Hyper/Wallop. Hyper is a passive ability that deals bonus magic damage and grants a movement speed buff for every third consecutive attack or ability on a target. The damage is based on AP and a percentage of the target’s max health and increases with each rank. Wallop is an area of effect spell that deals physical damage to targets in front of Gnar while stunning them for 1.25 seconds.
The problem here is that Hyper scales off of AP and Wallop scales off of AD. This forces you to either itemize in a hybrid way or just disregard one half of the ability altogether. Luckily, Hyper has some percent health damage, but this is not terribly useful against squishier high threat targets like Marksmen, Assassins or Mages.
Gnar’s third ability is Hop/Crunch, which gives Mini Gnar some cool mobility by leaping to a target location. If Gnar lands on a unit, he deals damage and slow the target while also bouncing further before landing and receiving a three second attack speed increase.
The damage for both of these abilities scale with Gnar’s health (base damage + six percent of max health) which gives us yet another option for itemizing this champion. This ability works pretty well, but you have to decide immediately if it is going to be the focus of your play, because health scaling is a lengthy and pricey endeavour.
Finally there is his ultimate, which is just called GNAR!. When in Mini form, it gives a passive movement speed increase to Hyper’s already present movement speed increase. However, in Mega form, this ability deals area of effect damage and knocks all enemies back while slowing them. If enemies collide with terrain, they receive additional damage and are stunned for a duration.
This ability is where Gnar shines, if you can manage to get him to change at the right time in the right place you have a chance of doing huge damage to a lot of enemy champions. If you managed to stun a few targets, this ability alone can turn a teamfight around in a hurry. The problem is that the perfect setup to use this ability is often hard to find and well out of your control.
The root of all Gnar’s problems comes from his passive. The fact that you cannot control or delay his change makes him too easy to counter. Your opponents can see your rage bar building. Gnar even begins to flash before he changes. All you have to do is avoid him while he is in Mega form (which is easy because he is incredibly slow) and prepare to pounce as soon as he turns back. This uncontrollability means that Gnar is often ineffective in teamfights as his Mini form doesn’t provide a lot of damage and his Mega form is completely unreliable. You often see Gnar changing form while he farms a lane alone, only to have a teamfight break out moments later and Gnar has no rage at all. Add in the fact that he can’t even build rage for 13 seconds after changing back into Mini and it gives your opponent a huge window to wipe your team.
His other problem is the lack of a solid itemization strategy. Too many tanky items pigeon holes you into one ability, while straight AD items leave you terribly squishy when you inevitably return to your Mini form in the middle of a fight. The simple solution would be to build Trinity Force, which gives you bunch of stats that benefit Gnar. Unfortunately, Trinity is extremely expensive which forces you to delay any kind of power until deep into the mid game. Focusing on one itemization path exposes you and hybrid itemization feel weak overall.
A simple change, like normalizing all of his ability scaling around one or two stats, could make a huge difference. Even increasing the delay on his change from Mini to Mega could make him immediately more useful, but it might detract from the theme that makes Gnar unique; an uncontrollable rage. My hope is that Riot addresses these issues quickly and makes Gnar a champion that is not only amazing to look at, but unique to play.