Currently, the ADC role feels pretty rough to play. A heavy item dependency alongside the preponderance of being blown up in fights before being able to output damage contributes to a general feeling of helplessness for most of the game.
The reason we have been seeing Ziggs bot lane show up as a replacement to ADC’s (and even other mages, albeit to a much lesser degree) is because they’re more impactful early on. Not every game is going to drag out to 40 minutes, so players want to have that feeling that they’re useful and relevant from the get go.
So is this a case of the class being too weak, or other roles becoming progressively stronger and harder for ADC’s to deal with?
1. The changes to Armor Penetration (Introduction of Lethality)
Throughout the second half of season 6, the change to Black Cleaver gave Lucian access to an Armor Penetration oriented build. This allowed him to have stronger power spikes at 1 and 2 items at the cost of a slightly weaker full build. Other champions followed, with Miss Fortune going for a similar build and with players realizing that Youmuu's Ghostblade allowed champions such as Jhin or Draven to be relevant earlier.
While these early game oriented carries (particularly Lucian and Jhin) dominated the meta, there was still space for others going for crit builds, namely Caitlyn (and the very occasional Tristana/Jinx).
With flat armor penetration being weaker early on, alongside changes to Youmuu’s Ghostblade aimed at reducing the effectiveness of the item for ADC’s, Riot effectively killed penetration builds for the most part (Miss Fortune being the only user currently).
Nowadays, almost every ADC goes for crit heavy builds, which take significantly more time to 'come online'.
Most AD Carries want to stack up Critical Chance, which means multiple items.
They want an armor penetration item to be able to shred through tanks.
They want a defensive item such as Mercurial Scimitar, Maw of Malmortius or Guardian Angel.
They want lifesteal so they can sustain themselves in prolonged fights (even though Warlord’s Bloodlust helps on its own).
In essence we are looking at full builds here and sometimes it isn’t even possible to fit it all. If you want to go triple crit items to ensure you crit frequently enough, you run into the issue of having to sacrifice your lifesteal item (and thus relying solely on Warlord’s Bloodlust) or your defensive item.
2. Fervor of Battle Changes
Added to this, there was the rework to Fervor of Battle. In theory, this was a good change as extra Attack Damage is excellent for the class, especially because it can crit. However, reduced stack duration and the removal of ability stacking makes it extremely hard for a lot of AD Carries to stack up Fervor and use it effectively.
Instead, only a small niche of melee carries are able to effectively use (and abuse) the mastery.
3. The Introduction of Courage of the Colossus
Finally, the introduction of Courage of the Colossus. If tanks weren’t hard enough for AD Carries to deal with before 4-5 items, a gigantic shield that scales with maximum health and number of enemies close by definitely doesn't make things easier.
ADC vs Other Roles
Dealing with Tanks
This is probably the role interaction that has declined the most and it’s the one where you will find most of the playerbase discussing and complaining about, let’s have a look at why this interaction feels so unjust for ADC’s.
The summary is that aided by their items and just with base damages from abilities, tanks are able to kill ADC's extremely fast while still being extremely tanky and barely taking any damage before later stages of the game.
1. Ninja Tabi buffs
You might not remember this one, but Ninja Tabi was actually buffed during season 6.
“Right now there’s only one thing Ninja Tabi have in common with actual Ninja: you can’t see them anywhere. While Mercury Treads are purchased situationally against heavy magic damage, Ninja Tabi aren’t hitting the mark against physical damage right now, so we’re giving them a bump.”
Basic Attack Reduction 10% ⇒ 12%
This change came in after Patch 6.9, which was when Armor Penetration builds on AD Carries were flavor of the month. With the removal of Armor Penetration builds for AD Carries, a revert to this buff wouldn’t be uncalled for.
2. Tank Items with damage passives
The fact that a lot of tank items have passives allowing them to output extra damage is one of the problems that makes tanks so oppressive against squishier carries that have no extra resistances.
Sunfire Cape - Grants periodic magic damage to targets close to the user
Iceborn Gauntlet - Besides giving a good chunk of armor and utility, Iceborn Gauntlet includes a Sheen proc, allowing tanks to deal extra damage when locking down a target.
Dead Man’s Plate - The extra movement speed from the passive that is used to closed the gap is then discharged in the next basic attack, up to 100 on hit physical damage if at maximum stacks.
This trifecta of tank items is very commonly seen in tanks, they also all grant armor, making it extremely hard for AD Carries to kill them at this point.
3. Build Costs in the early/mid game
Another argument that can be made is that tank itemization is cheaper than an ADC’s itemization, they become too tanky for AD Carries to deal with too early, and unless an AD Carry is significantly ahead, he won't be able to kill the tank fast enough before late game.
At 3 items, this looks like a typical tank build. 9500 gold and a ton of health, resistances and cooldown reduction and also two damage passives.
AD carries this patch mostly look to stack up crit early on. Champions such as Caitlyn, Jinx and Tristana will usually have Infinity Edge with double Zeal items, a build that costs 9900g.
Lucian and Jhin on the other hand will usually go for both Infinity Edge and Essence Reaver. Build total is 10900 gold (10700 gold if Jhin goes for Boots of Swiftness).
This showcases another problem with ADC’s in the mid game and why they are so item dependant. You can argue that they could finish their Last Whisper upgrades earlier on, but then you will lack the Attack Damage and Attack Speed to back up the Armor Penetration purchased.
Dealing with Mages
Apart from Syndra consistently one shotting AD carries with her ultimate after missing all her skillshots, the interactions with mages are mostly fair, but there is one factor to point out that makes an ADC's life hell against mages.
Morellonomicon is the staple item in a mages build. It has almost everything. Ability Power, Mana, Cooldown Reduction and two extremely strong passives:
Unique: Kills and assists restore 20% of your maximum mana
Unique: Dealing magic damage to an enemy champion below 35% health inflicts Grievous Wounds to them for 8 seconds.
Let's focus on the second passive here.
Currently, most champions run Warlord’s Bloodlust and don’t get to finish a lifesteal item until much later into the game (if they even get one at all) because they need their Attack Damage, Crit and Attack Speed, their armor penetration item and depending on the match, a defensive item.
The way Warlord’s Bloodlust works is that it gives increasingly more lifesteal the lower health you are, capping at 20% Lifesteal at 80% missing health.
If an ADC is missing 65% of their health or more, chances are you they won’t be getting 15-20% lifesteal. They will only be getting 60% of that. 8 seconds is a lot of time in League of Legends, and once an ADC is debuffed, it’s unlikely the teamfight will last long enough for the debuff to wear out so he can heal back up.
Dealing with Bruisers/Fighters
This class has always given ADC’s trouble and season 7 is no different. They usually purchase one or two offensive items and then go for tank stats, making them hard for ADC’s to kill while still being able to output enough damage to quickly dispatch a target that has little defensive itemization.
There isn’t much to add here as this is recurrent from past seasons, but the introduction of Courage of the Colossus has allowed certain picks such as Vi and Hecarim to be even more effective at what they do:
Going in recklessly to kill a target (or multiple targets) and being able to survive long enough to do so.
Unfortunately for ADC's, even the way the map is set up doesn't favor bot lane.
Back in Patch 6.15, the introduction of the First Blood Turret alongside the removal of fortification of bot lane towers means the game is going to be centered around the bottom half of the map more often than not. The best way to get this first blood is in bot lane, so roaming and ganking that lane is incentivized.
In addition, Dragon has a lot of relevance in the early stages, and killing the enemy bot lane means you can move to Dragon and pick up extra buffs for your team. In contrast, while Rift Herald is good, the reward isn't nearly as high as getting Dragon buffs, so there isn't as much of a reason to play towards your top lane, unless you have a carry matchup that can snowball, split push and take over the game.
The problem with the ADC role was already present in Season 6. At the time Fervor of Battle was stronger and Courage of the Colossus didn't exist, but crit based AD carries would still struggle to take down tanks before reaching late game.
The armor penetration builds were huge at the time they were popularized because they allowed ADC’s to shred through fighters, bruisers and tanks in the early/mid game stages and take them down.
The preseason changes were the final nail in the coffin and in conjunction with past changes from Season 6, it has snowballed into a situation where the role feels weaker than it has been for a long time (if it has ever been this weak).
For an Attack Damage Carry, Mages, Tanks and Bruisers all feel overbearing to deal with currently, and to fix the issue and make the role more rewarding to play it will probably require fine tuning on both sides.