There was a time when the simple act of running across Summoner’s Rift didn’t go unpunished. If you held the title of “carry,” every second you spent unattended could leave you behind the wrong end of a sharp blade. One well-timed combo, even amidst heated combat, from a lurking Zed or Fizz and it’s lights out for anyone on the hit list.
The past were the days assassins reigned supreme and carries quivered in fear at the sight of them. Now you have tanks in more positions on the map and with it, a greater amount of crowd control to consider when going for a kill. With the recent changes to the game’s meta--bruisers taking Smite top and Cinderhulk popularizing tank junglers--silent, burst killers have to climb too many walls before fatally wounding any target. Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen agrees assassins have seen better days.
“I think assassins are in a kind of weird place right now,” Incarnati0n says. “They are not the strongest champions because there are too many tanks. The point of an assassin is to, well, assassinate someone, obviously. But you can't really do that anymore.”
The added protection popular champions like Sion and Sejuani have to offer make the life of an assassin far too difficult in 5v5 scenarios. Many go in deep to take out the VIP, few come out alive. Often, they are just laced with crowd control and picked off before accomplishing their mission.
A LEAGUE WITHOUT SHADOWS
Assassins have one goal: burst down a high-priority carry before they can react. In the past, this tactic was fully viable as it became a matter of which team’s assassin snowballed harder after laning and roamed more efficiently. But now, tanks that have enough cc to shutdown the average assassin are going into the midlane more often, usually joined together by a top lane and jungler equally tanky. It’s still feasible to run an assassin, but you’d be hard-pressed to nail your target before being cc’d to death by three tanks in a teamfight.
Even Heo "PawN" Won-seok, a player known for his assassin play, acknowledges the current meta doesn’t entirely favor his style.
“Based on the current patch and meta, I think for mid lane champions, those who are better at farming are better when you get into team fights,” PawN says. Incarnati0n shares PawN’s sentiments, “If [assassins] don't win lane, they're kind of going to fall off and get out scaled by the other champions. Especially in this tank meta, you can't really kill anyone. You don't really have much of a job to do.”
Currently, the meta favors a strong 5v5 team fighting composition. With a strong Teleport presence from a tanky top lane bruiser and a reliance on extended fights to secure objectives, reliable mid-game/late-game power spikes to gain control during certain points of a match are much more valuable. Taking a chance on the possibility of a laning phase snowball is just too much of a gamble if the flow of the game doesn’t go according to plan.
Placing a mage like Ziggs or Orianna, whom provide sustained poke and additional crowd control, in the middle lane secures a decent mid-game through safe farming. Assassins in-lane must go for the kill when able, even to their own detriment, and use that pressure to strike fear into their opponents. A high risk, high reward plan when played out well is great, but when there’s a lot on the line in a pro level match, the “better safe than sorry” option is just too hard to pass-up.
With Cinderhulk in the mix, the jungle is typically reserved for beefy, cc-orientated tanks; most of which can apply early pressure to a lane and thwart an assassin's plans to get ahead early. At the moment, there isn’t a place to properly fit an assassin without first building around them. “I think in the current patch assassin champions are not good in team fights. They can only play with full on split pushing or 1-3-1 split pushing,” PawN says.
“YOU JUST HAVE TO BE PATIENT…”
Despite the resurgence of tanks and strong, early game control from junglers like Nunu and Gragas, Incarnati0n claims there’s still hope for those who lurk in shadows. If an assassin does manage to snowball even against a team looking to shut them down, they still play a vital role. The opposition won’t want to push out as far due to fear, leaving the assassin to choose his next victim in other parts of the map. Essentially, the kill pressure gives your team map control.
“You just have to be patient,” Incarnati0n says. “You just need to not go in instantly, and wait for your teammates to go in first. Then you can try to go in. You should not engage with your ultimate, either. If you're Zed, you should try to go in with your W first and get some damage in. Use your spells. Get your full rotation off before you use your ultimate to kill someone. You just need to be patient because you can't really kill the tanks.”
Simply being patient is the key to playing an assassin effectively. Using what poke you do have is vital to ensure you can 100 to 0 someone in the blink of an eye when the time comes to strike. With that, Incarnati0n does favor particular assassins over others likely due to their ability to easily escape a sticky situation.
“Zed is fine,” Incarnti0n says. “Once you get your items, he's actually alright. I [also] think Fizz right now is in a fight spot, actually. You just need to overcome his weaker laning phase. If you build full cooldown reduction, then I think he's fine because he's very mobile and can't really die. You just need to go for the squishy targets.”
Still, even with viable assassin picks in the current meta, it’s difficult for Cloud 9’s new midlaner to justify picking an assassin into some of the popular solo lane picks. “I would not pick an assassin into Cho'Gath or Urgot, for sure,” he says. Both picks are just too tanky to cut through and have kits that stop a full on dive in its tracks. Going in for the kill? There’s nothing like a tasty, silenced assassin Feast.
As new patches are released and the Cinderhulk meta slowly drifts away, do you think assassins will make a big come back in matches to come? For those who enjoy the feeling of annihilating a carry into extinction in one fowl swoop, who are you favorite assassins and how do you overcome the wall of tanks that plagues the Rift in this day and age?