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Rise of the River King: Tahm Kench on the World stage

LoL Dylan “ColourOutOfSpace” Garofalo


Photo by: League of Legends

Professional supports have “Unbenched the Kench” over the past three weeks of Worlds. Why is this champion making such a big splash all of a sudden?

When Tahm Kench first hit the scene, professional players seemed unsure of what to make of him. Seemingly a support, he was also touted as a top laner or a jungler. This initial confusion surrounding his release led to him having a very low playrate in the 2015 Summer Split.

As the first two days of the group stages came to a close, it seemed not much had changed for Tahm Kench; the toplane was awash with juggernauts who would crush him in lane (read: Darius), the jungle was dominated by its undisputed rulers (Elise, Rek’sai, and Gragas), and the support role had been filled by its traditional constituents (Thresh, Alistar, and Braum). The River King, however, was only lurking just beneath the surface, waiting for some intrepid player to lock him in and unlock his potential. This player, as it turns out, would be ahq e-Sports Club’s Chia-Wei “Albis” Kang, who helped his team shock Fnatic in the last game of Day 3.

Since his debut that game, Tahm Kench’s popularity has soared. On Day 1 of Week 2, KOO Tiger’s BeomHyeon “GorillA” Gang put on a master class for the champion, absolutely dismantling Counter Logic Gaming, going 1/1/20 in a 23-minute game:

By the end of week  three, he had an overall Pick/Ban rate of 40.9, above both Braum (36.4) and Alistar (39.4), which puts him solidly amongst the top tier of supports at worlds. The key difference amongst the supports of this tier, in terms of picks and bans, is that Thresh has been banned in six games and picked in 27. Braum and Alistar have been picked in 21 and 23 games, respectively, and have only been banned three times apiece. Tahm Kench has been banned in 15 games and picked in 12. This shows, in a way, that the threat of a Kench pick is viewed as greater than that of any of the more standard supports.

Tahm Kench

To understand why Tahm Kench is such a threatening pick, one needs a solid grasp of his strengths as a support. His Q, Tongue Lash, provides effective in-lane harass, slowing or stunning his opponents and dealing moderate damage. His E, Thick Skin, has both a passive and active component. Passively, all damage he takes is stored as “Grey Health” on his health bar. If he can avoid taking damage for a few seconds, he will consume his Grey Health and heal for a portion of it. Upon activating his E, he immediately converts all Grey Health into a shield that decays over time. Tahm Kench, for this reason, has been likened to a video game boss who, just as you think he’s defeated, gains a second health bar and forces you to fight him all over again. Finally, his Ultimate, Abyssal Voyage, not only passively amplifies his damage, it enables him to essentially teleport to a spot on the map (within range), bringing a partner along if they so choose.

You may have noticed the last paragraph neglected to mention Tahm Kench’s W, Devour/Regurgitate. This ability deserves a section all its own, as it is the key to his success as a support. In lane, he can use this ability, in tandem with his Q, to swallow enemy minions from afar and spit them back out at his opponents, providing decent harass. Additionally, if an enemy has three stacks of Kench’s passive, An Acquired Taste (a stack is applied on each of Kench’s basic attacks or damaging abilities), he can Devour them as well, and he's able to move around, albeit slowly, while carrying them in his belly for a few seconds before spitting them back out and dealing percent-health damage. However, the most important part of this ability, at least with regards to the meta, is his ability to Devour his teammates. When he does, he puts them into stasis (the same effect that Zhonya’s Hourglass has) and gains bonus movement speed. This enables him to save his allies from heavy burst damage, combos, or crowd control. He can also use it to reposition relatively immobile carries, like Jinx or Ashe, in teamfights if they get surrounded.


Photo by: Kotaku

The Meta of Worlds

Why is this important? The current meta of worlds is dominated by hypercarries. Team comps are being set up around the ability to protect/gank for a carry, get them free farm and experience and push them as quickly as possible towards their end-game carry potential. Global presence is very important; every top laner is using Teleport as a summoner, and mid laners who, in the past, would have likely taken Ignite for kill pressure or Barrier for safety, are now picking Teleport as their second summoner spell as well. Champions like Rek’sai and Twisted Fate are very popular for this reason, with pick//ban rates of 73 and 44.4 percent, respectively. It isn’t uncommon to watch four or even five man dives facilitated by these global abilities. Tahm Kench fits right in with this meta, as he can use Abyssal Voyage to bring himself (with a “plus one,” possibly) to a flanking position. As can be seen at this point of game one of KT Rolster vs. KOO Tigers (13:38):

While KOO did go on to lose that game, that particular clip goes to show how powerful Tahm Kench can be in these situations; using his Ultimate to bring both himself and Ashe in for an easy flank kill on Darius, before saving Fiora from LeBlanc’s burst damage.

Mordekaiser, currently considered the most broken carry in the game (besides Gangplank, who functions differently due to being a top/mid laner), sits at a pick/ban rate of 98.5 percent. As he has been banned nearly every game, players have turned to the two other popular carries: Jinx and Kalista. Jinx is one of the strongest late game carries, who combines strong tower-pushing ability with amazing aoe damage, but she has a critical weakness in that she’s very immobile, making her easy to catch out and pick off. Kalista has similar strengths, trading some tower pushing strength for some extra mobility in teamfights, in the form of her passive, Martial Poise, but again, she is squishy and not impossible to gank and catch out later on, as her mobility is largely based off of her ability to autoattack.

Tahm Kench largely removes the weaknesses of these champions. It is incredibly difficult to gank a Kench-supported botlane, as he’ll Devour his carry and run out before any meaningful damage can be done. This negates some of the early game pressure the popular junglers like Elise can exert on his lane. In the midgame, he can use Abyssal Voyage to create gank opportunities or even bring his carry deep into a lane for a quick tower push. Using Devour, he can create easy picks; swallowing an enemy hero before dropping them into Jinx’s Flame Chompers or a waiting Volley from Ashe. For style points, he can swallow an enemy champion, have Kalista activate Fate’s Call, and throw both himself and the enemy back towards his team for a quick kill. This can be seen in this highlight from Game 2 of Origen vs Flash Wolves (42:42):

Tahm Kench flourishes in fights where his allies outnumber his enemies, making his true strength the midgame. He can facilitate numbers advantages through clever uses of his ult, making a 2 vs 2 engagement into a 3 vs 2 or a 4 vs 2. Devouring enemy champions makes it easy for the rest of his team to collapse on the remainder. When his carries are in danger he can walk them safely to the outskirts of the fight where they can go back to dealing damage, able to tank effectively due to the massive shield he gets from his E. He starts to struggle as the game gets later and later, and engagements that aren’t 5v5’s are rare. His ability to save an endangered carry is amazing but it prevents that carry from dealing any type of damage, which can put the rest of his team at risk of getting obliterated while their primary source of damage dawdles around in Kench’s belly. Origen’s support player, Alfonso “Mithy” Rodriguez, explains in the quote below.

“If we're playing protect the AD carry and they're doing the same with another champion, like Morgana or Thresh, I feel that the Thresh or the Morgana have more room to do stuff than the Tahm Kench does. The only thing I can do is eat my AD carry and my AD can't even auto-attack while I'm eating him.”

The first day of the semifinals has ended, and only three teams remain. As we bid "adieu" to Origen, having lost to SKT T1 0-3, we can reflect upon the impact Tahm Kench had on the series. Out of the three games today, he was banned in two. In Game 2 of the day, he was picked up by JaeWan "Wolf" Lee of SKT. While it wasn't a typical "protect the carry" composition, as he was paired with JunSik "Bang" Bae's Sivir, his presence utterly nullified the Fiora pick from Paul "sOAZ" Boyer; denying him combo damage in several fights and in general making kills, and life in general, impossible for the members of the opposing team. And really, that's what Tahm Kench does best as a support. 

Conclusion

Should we expect to see more of Tahm Kench in the coming days? All of the remaining support players, GorillA, Wolf, and Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim of Fnatic, have played at least one game on the champion at Worlds. As the meta has settled into a heavy “protect the AD” style of play, and given that Tahm Kench sits at a respectable winrate of 75 percent, it seems likely that Tahm Kench will be banned more often than not. When he does slip through, expect some crazy dives and carries to live when they shouldn’t. There’s a lot of potential for fun, exciting play with this champ, and while he spent a long time on the sidelines, players and professionals alike are realizing one thing: it’s time to Unbench the Kench.

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