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The Rise and Fall of Tank Ekko

SaltMining

SaltMining

Mon 20th Mar 2017 - 6:52am

An Unlikely Jungler

Pros were eager to pick up Ekko.

On Week 3 of 2015 EULCS Summer, the first day he was enabled, Elements midlaner Henrik "Froggen" Hansen played him. He gained a strong early-game lead, but was unable to carry his team to victory. Other midlaners, expecting Ekko's mobile and overloaded kit to dominate the midlane, were surprised by less than stellar results. Ekko did not have the "broken" release-level power everyone expected from him.

AP Ekko's death sentence was his unreliability. His all-in burst combo is to (E) Phase Dive onto a single target, throw out his (Q) Timewinder, and autoattack for the (Passive) Z-Drive Resonance proc. However, as a squishy assassin, diving in to execute the combo runs the high risk of being CCed or being out-DPSed. In order to make a low-risk play, Ekko relies on the stun from (W) Parallel Convergence, which competent enemies can easily avoid. Another option is to poke with Timewinder, hoping to land both instances of damage and follow up with Phase Dive or (R) Chronobreak to pop the third stack on Z-Drive Resonance. But landing Timewinder twice is just as hard as landing Parallel Convergence, leaving Ekko with a few lackluster choices: either land a lucky stun, deal negligible poke, or jump in and die.

While AP Ekko was a dead end, Tank Ekko showed promise; Right after Froggen's game, Copenhagen Wolves jungler Karim "Aïrwaks" Benghalia picked Ekko as a jungler, building utility tank items like Cinderhulk and Frozen Heart. While his team lost, his strange build choice yet strong performance prompted more players across the world to try the same. While Ekko's jungle clear was slow, he proved to be a strong early ganker, with 3 slows, a stun, a dash, and 2 blinks to his disposal. In midgame teamfights, Tank Ekko could build even more slowing tools such as Iceborn Gauntlet, Randuin's Omen, and Dead Man's Plate, allowing him to proc Z-Drive Resonance on anyone nearby.

Tank Ekko's popularity soared in the LPL (Chinese LCS) and Solo Queue, quickly catching Riot's attention. If he could outduel a target, he could endlessly chase them down and kill them. On the other hand, if an enemy was too strong for Ekko to crack, he had unlimited escape tools: he could throw out a Timewinder backwards, set up Parallel Convergence along his escape route, or simply Chronobreak to safety. So, in Patch 5.15, Ekko took many hits to his reliability:

  • (Passive) Z-Drive Resonance - AP ratio and movement speed buffed. Slow reduced.
  • (W) Parallel Convergence - Shield base strength cut in half. Shield AP ratio doubled. 
  • (R) Chronobreak - Base heal % slightly decreased. Damage AP ratio increased.

Ekko quietly crawled out of Worlds 2015 with 0 bans and a 33% winrate. He lost in mid lane to stronger assassins and control mages, was crushed by newly reworked Darius and Gangplank in the top lane, and was easily outjungled by clear speed monsters Elise and Rek'Sai.

Shattering The Top Lane

Despite Ekko's sudden fall from dominance, he quietly ramped up throughout early Spring 2016. After Patch 6.6, Ekko's several bugfixes and buffs pushed him back into the meta. Suddenly, in Spring Playoffs and the Mid-Season Invitational, Ekko found a home in the top lane, standing toe-to-toe with its two strongest picks: Maokai and Poppy.

Draft statistics for the 3 strongest top laners at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational.

Jungle Ekko was limited by a slow clear speed and weak dueling power, but the newly buffed top lane Ekko had no such weaknesses. When laning against low kill pressure tanks, he had many advantages:

  • Easy farming with Parallel Convergence's on-hit passive
  • Ability to recall and return to lane with Chronobreak
  • Safety from ganks with Parallel Convergence stun and Phase Dive
  • High gank assistance and tower dive pressure

Though Ekko did not match pure tanks in durability, he had his own strengths such as unparalleled mobility and constant slows. Most importantly, he held power as a triple flex pick (able to be played Top, Mid and Jungle), as shown in Game 1 of the 2016 NALCS Spring Finals. CLG's excellent draft stole away both Poppy and Ekko after banning Maokai, forcing TSM to pick Gragas, a weaker top lane champion.

"Back before anyone notices."

Near the end of the 2016 Summer Split, Riot began dismantling the 'tank meta' powered by items like Iceborn Gauntlet, Sunfire Cape, and Titanic Hydra. Any champion who built these items was unkillable, yet did damage on par with a carry. Iceborn Gauntlet, Sunfire Cape, Spectre's Cowl, and Grasp of the Undying, all core parts to Tank Ekko, received nerfs in the form of cost efficiency or damage. Then, on Patch 6.11, Ekko himself took several more hits to his utility and base damages.

But Ekko did not leave the stage for long.

In Week 10 of 2016 LCK Summer, KT Rolster top laner Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho picked a supposedly outdated Ekko versus Longzhu Gaming. He made two changes: swapping out Iceborn Gauntlet and Grasp of the Undying for Trinity Force and Fervor of Battle. With his DPS build, he carried his team to victory, dealing the highest damage in the game. Without missing a beat, Ekko had soared back to the throne of the top lane.

Draft statistics for Weeks 10-11 of 2016 LCK Summer, starting from Triforce Ekko's first appearance.

Why was Triforce + Fervor effective on Ekko? In the same patch Ekko was nerfed, Triforce was reworked to suit bruisers and tanks. Several of the new Triforce's stats synergized with Ekko's kit:

  • 20% CDR, same as Iceborn Gauntlet
  • Phage passive provides even more movement speed
  • Spellblade + Phase Dive deal massive single-target damage
  • Attack speed to proc Fervor of Battle + Z-Drive Resonance + Parallel Convergence on-hit

In the NALCS Summer Split Finals, TSM toplaner Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell showed the abusive power of Triforce Ekko. In a mid-game teamfight around Baron, Hauntzer dove 1v5 into Cloud9's backline, killed their midlaner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen, and walked out scot-free. Unlike Iceborn Ekko, Triforce Ekko had strong burst and even stronger DPS by building items that were never meant for him.

Is Tank Ekko's Time Up?

In the 2017 Preseason, the Assassin update supposedly signaled the end of Tank Ekko. The slow on Z Drive Resonance, one of the strongest components of his kit, was completely removed. On top of that, the heal from R - Chronobreak was nerfed to become even more dependent on AP. Though Tank Ekko completely vanished from the game in Season 7, pros never forgot the comfort of playing such a powerful champion.

In Game 2 vs. H2K at the 2017 IEM Katowice Semifinals, Flash Wolves top laner Yau "MMD" Li-Hung counterpicked Maokai with his Ekko. Taking the traditional Iceborn Gauntlet build with Grasp of the Undying, he quietly farmed for 40 minutes.

MMD dives H2K's backline in the final teamfight of Game 2. Image courtesy of LoL Esports.

As a 40 minute teamfight broke out, MMD's performance would be pivotal to the outcome of the game. As H2K began to engage onto FW, MMD dove into H2K's backline, immediately drawing focus from 4 members of H2K and an Exhaust from H2K support Chei. This allowed his team to safely take H2K Odoamne's isolated Maokai to half health. MMD then used Chronobreak to return to safety and continued to pressure H2K towards the botside jungle. With Ekko's zoning strength alone, MMD allowed Maple's Syndra and Betty's Jhin to land pivotal skillshots, turning around the fight and winning the game.

Did this mean Tank Ekko had been revived once more? Most likely not; MMD simply chose Ekko as a comfort pick from Worlds 2016. At the beginning of the teamfight, he dealt trivial damage to Sivir and was immediately forced to burn his ultimate and Flash. However, MMD accomplished Ekko's role as a teamfight disruptor, not only drawing attention away from his team, but also surviving the enemy's focus. He did this not through the out-muscling of old Tank Ekko, but through his originally intended hit-and-run playstyle.

Has Tank Ekko fallen from his former dominance? Definitely.

But if others can demonstrate the same level of play as MMD, I hope he sticks around for just a while longer.

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