Hullbreaker has really broken into the meta. Once the Smite enchanter top meta came and went, going Hullbreaker and sidelaning became the new fad, going from a strat that revolves around ignoring top lane to a strat that revolves around making top lane an island. And like the Smite top meta before it, Hullbreaker affects the rest of the map in ways you might not expect.
Inven Global had the opportunity to ask LCS players across a wide variety of roles about their opinion on Hullbreaker, as well as how it affects top lane and beyond.
It’s hard to say whether or not Hullbreaker’s sidelane-focused playstyle is healthy for the meta, but pro players are often forced to play whatever the meta asks of them. A point Golden Guardians’ Eric “Licorice” Ritchie made clear when asked about his feelings on Hullbreaker.
“I have not thought about whether Hullbreaker is healthy or not," Licorice said. "I’ve mostly been trying to figure out whether it’s good or not... I don’t think it’s as simple as, you build the item and instantly sidelane and force the 1-3-1 really hard, but it’s definitely a strong item right now. I don’t know if I like that it’s in the game or not, but it is. So I have to deal with it. [laughs]"
Meanwhile, TSM’s Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon seems to be enjoying the Hullbreaker meta. “I like the meta right now because I'm pretty good at just sidelaning and playing for push," the TSM top laner explained in an interview with Inven Global.
"Those kind of things have always been part of the meta for top laners, but I don't think the Hullbreaker meta requires top laners to play like that," Huni continued. "It just gives you more opportunities to push, brings a lot of 1v1 pressure, and helps with overall pressure in the side lane.”
Huni seems to be positive on Hullbreaker, even saying that the item is worth buying whether you’re playing around the split push aspect of it or not. However, many other pros had differing opinions on Hullbreaker’s overall viability. But before getting into the nitty-gritty of when and why Hullbreaker is so effective, there’s a role other than top lane that has been heavily impacted by the meta shift toward Hullbreaker.
A jungler's perspective
The somewhat unexpected side-effect of Hullbreaker’s emergence as a top lane meta item has been the level of frustration junglers feel when it comes to ganking that lane. With the additional protections, health, and health regen that Hullbreaker grants alongside a hefty 50 attack damage, ganking a top laner with this item can be an absolute nightmare.
Both Kim “River” Dong-woo and Kacper “Inspired” Słoma expressed their frustration with how Hullbreaker changed the way they play as junglers.
“Because of the new meta with most of the top laners buying Hullbreaker, it’s really hard for me as a jungler to go top because the enemy top has a Hullbreaker," said River. "Hopefully this new meta is gone soon.”
While River simply wants the Hullbreaker meta to blow over, Inspired had a lot to share about how Hullbreaker affects his thought process as a jungler.
"The moment both top laners complete Hullbreaker, you can’t interact with them too much. It’s very hard to kill your top laner, and it’s very hard to kill the enemy top laner. So they’re both just trading waves, not much really happens," Inspired explained. "I think it just makes top lane a bit… boring, I guess? But I can imagine, if I would be a top laner and would be playing Graves or something with Hullbreaker and perma-splitting one lane, it would be quite fun.”
Inspired’s take rings true, especially with how much focus there is on bot lane in the current meta. If bot lane gets focused early on, and top laners are rushing Hullbreaker as their first item, then the window to have any amount of influence over top lane is almost non-existent. Not to mention the cost of focusing a top laner with Hullbreaker, as Inspired went on to explain:
“Most of the time, you need the mid laner and the top laner to collapse on the guy in order to kill him. With the jungler, you don’t really have that much damage and the [top laner] will usually just run away. It’s a very weird meta right now in the top lane.”
It seems especially irritating that, in order to have your top laner collapse on their opponent, they have to give up Hullbreaker’s passive bonuses in order to take down the opposing top laner that gets to keep the bonus. But that says nothing of Hullbreaker’s diminished value in teamfights.
Every strategy has its weaknesses
To get the outlook of someone who spends a ton of time crunching numbers and crafting new strategies, Inven Global spoke to Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. The Immortals coach certainly had his own opinion on Hullbreaker, as well as some numbers to share that shed some light on why Hullbreaker is so prominent in the current meta.
“I think it’s a good item, and I think the concept itself is healthy. What’s unhealthy about the item is how efficient it is without even proccing the bonus you’re only supposed to get when you’re isolated," Dardoch explained.
"So, the downside of this item isn’t actually a downside because it is still, I think, 114% gold-efficient even when you’re not proccing the passive. And it goes all the way up to 194% gold-efficient when the [passive] is on. [Hullbreaker] is just a broken item because of how cheap it is. It needs to be nerfed.”
While gold efficiency is a little hard to calculate for Hullbreaker due to its unique minion buffing passive, there’s no way to dispute that its base stats are insanely good for 2800 gold. If we compare Hullbreaker to the recently nerfed Sterak’s Gage, Hullbreaker’s efficiency for the gold is impossible to ignore.
For 3100 gold, you get the same amount of health, less AD, no health regen, none of the prots Hullbreaker provides, and a shield passive that’s useful but ultimately situational. At worst, Hullbreaker’s base stats make it comparable to Sterak’s for less gold. When isolated, Hullbreaker’s value over an item like Sterak’s is insanely high.
One of the first players to take advantage of Hullbreaker’s efficiency was Team Liquid’s Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau, and, while we didn’t get the chance to ask him about it, Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg had a few things to say about Bwipo’s usage of the item.
“Bwipo was actually one of the early adopters of Hullbreaker, and I'm not going to lie, I was not convinced at the time when he was first telling me about it," Bjergsen admitted to Inven Global. "However, he walked me through exactly how it works, and he showed me some games where he wasn't just sinking gold into this item.
He was building it and consistently getting more gold, more turret plates, and out-farming the enemy top laner to that point that he would come into team fights stronger than the enemy top laner. Because you have more gold due to buying Hullbreaker, it's not actually a money sink at all.”
However, Bjergsen’s take on Hullbreaker wasn’t solely positive. It may be a good item, but not an item that’s being well-utilized by every player.
“I think a lot of players just build it and don't really get any advantages with it. They just farm and sometimes even still lose their lane. In that case, I think they kind of missed the point of Hullbreaker, but Bwipo is one of the few players who actually understand its purpose and knows how to push his advantages around the item. I'm happy to see it in the meta because Bwipo really knows what to do with that item since he was an early adopter of it."
C9’s Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami had some additional insight on Hullbreaker as a former top laner.
“I would say that Hullbreaker, as an item, is strong in certain scenarios. I think that, right now, it’s bought too often," Fudge said. "I think that people buy it on champions that need [other items] to function. For example, I don’t think buying Hullbreaker on Graves every single game is correct.”
Hullbreaker is more about snowballing and maintaining a lead in pro play than it is winning the game through split push, and top laners can only stay in top for so long.
Rather than taking towers, Hullbreaker seems to be about drawing attention. Taking jungle camps, proxying waves, forcing a 1v3, and living because of the bonus protections; the best top laners in the world build leads with presence and pressure rather than just blindly splitting towers. Fudge and Bjerg seem to have a similar opinion on Hullbreaker, and, if the success of a player like Bwipo is anything to go by, this item has a lot of power when used correctly.
However, Hullbreaker is having a bit of its strength taken away in patch 12.5:
This nerf will directly hit pro play champs like Graves and Gnar, as well as ranged solo queue picks like Urgot as well as a select few ADCs in top lane. But, considering the number of melee champions that utilize Hullbreaker, it’s very likely we’ll see a move toward melee champions that can get the most out of Hullbreaker rather than a move away from the item itself.
The overall consensus seems to be that Hullbreaker is pretty overpowered. Even after nerfing the item’s viability on ranged champions, the item will still reign supreme as a gold-efficient sidelane option for top laners.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.