The Shadow Assassin: State of Akali

Hey guys, this is DC941 with a look on one of my favorite champions back in season 2 – Akali. She was one of the first champions I took the time to learn. Akali is also a good example of a champion who was not changed much through direct balance changes but whose synergy with items such as Hextech Gunblade caused a rise in popularity.. Nowadays, Akali is literally invisible–both in respect to her kit and her under 6% pick rate.

Akali’s viability roller coaster

At the beginning of Season 1, Akali was known for being a mechanically intensive pick that could easily snowball games; but she was not picked often. Contrary to popular belief, Akali just needed some time for players to get used to her kit, but she was by no means a champion that was difficult to play as hard as Anivia or Lee Sin later. Over time, Akali rose in popularity. With nerfs to Kassadin, Akali was the next best mid assasin to snowball games, and people slowly started to realize that. This development reached its peak in eSports: competitive players like Voyboy started playing her even in tournaments, displaying her massive burst even when being built relatively tanky. At that time, people also discovered that Hextech Gunblade was massively overpowered in terms of cost efficiency -at the time many different champions bought it, sometimes even multiple times. Eventually, Riot nerfed both gunblade and Akali as seen in her patch history in response to the item’s power level and Akali’s synergy with it.

But that was not all: while Akali was also nerfed at the end of Season 1, there were also huge changes in the vision mechanics of the game. While pink wards were underused before, they now were used much more than Oracle’s. Additionally, vision wars and general vision control became increasingly important aspects of the game back in Season 2, severely hampering Akali as she relies on the lack of true vision to excel. For a long time, Akali completely disappeared from the competitive scene.

Intricacies of her assassin kit

With vision becoming one of the more defining aspects of the game in Season 3, Akali is still considered an overly risky pick. While she is actually quite similar in comparison to current bans like Kassadin, Zed, and Fizz, she still is only rarely even hovered over in champion selection. But why is that? I would like to show you why I think that Akali is underrated, but still not in a good spot for competitive play as long as other assassins remain as strong as they are right now.

Akalis passive, Twin Disciplines, has two parts that both benefit her greatly. The first one, Disciple of Force, grants her bonus magic damage on her autoattacks. It starts out on 6% and increases by 1% for every 6 ability power that Akali amasses. This serves various uses: Akali has an easier time last hitting from level 1 due to the additional damage and it synergizes well with her Q for immediate burst. The mechanic can be compared to Kassadins Nether Blade as it can be the deciding factor to 100-0 someone, even with its relative base damage on its own. The second part, Disciple of Might, grants Akali 6% spellvamp, which increases by 1% for every 6 bonus attack damage that Akali has. Prior to spellvamp’s rework, this game mechanic allowed Akali to sustain even better than Vladimir. The spellvamp does not only help her to stay in lane only based by her energy, it also grants her an often undervalued amount of in-fight sustain. When seasoned Akali players know limits of her kit and how sustain play a part in skirmishes, enemies often can be easily baited by Akali’s low health.

Akali’s passive is the top reason why Hextech Gunblade was known as the item for Akali. It brings her to 33.5% spellvamp without even taking runes and masteries into account, while boosting her on-hit damage as well. The Bilgewater Cutlass active also helps her sticking power even more, since Akali has no inbuilt crowd control but a small slow on her defensive Twilight Shroud. The passive in general helps a lot with staying in lane before level 6, when Akali is still vulnerable – she is very similar to Kassadin in that regard, but still has an easier time laning partially due to her passive.

Mark of the Assasin is Akali’s most important offensive skill. This is how it works: Akali throws her weapon at an enemy, applying a debuff and damaging him. This debuff is consumed when Akali autoattacks the enemy or hits him with her E, damaging the enemy again for the same amount. While the damage on either hit seems to mediocre, the fully used ability has an AP ratio of 0.9 – which is really good for such a short cooldown. But it gets even better: the debuff of Mark of the Assassin lasts longer than the abilities cooldown – that means that you can proc two marks right after each other when you wait for your second cooldown after marking the enemy. Another important point to mention is that the activation of the mark debuff replenishes a small amount of Akalis energy.

While this ability gives Akali incredible amounts of damage, it also helps her in lane tremendously. Against melee champions, Mark of the Assasin is constant harass which really hurts from rank 2 on. But it also helps her passive laning against ranged enemies since she can reach minions farther away with it; the only problem here is that she can run out of energy quite fast when she has to last hit multiple minions in rapid succession. Again, I would like to compare this to Kassadin’s Null Sphere: it can fill the same function before level 6 while Mark of the Assassin is far more resource-efficient.

Akalis second basic ability, Twilight Shroud, made her very strong in lower divisions, where people don’t invest in wards and vision is generally an overlooked concept. Akali creates a shrouded area for 8 seconds which grants her invisibility and bonus resistances when inside the area, also slowing enemies in the smoke. She is only revealed when she attacks or leaves the area. This is Akali’s only really defensive ability – she can use it to try and juke enemies when she is being ganked, and to sit on top of the enemies in a teamfight. As long as the enemy has no options to reveal her, this is incredibly strong – no other assasin can stay in a fight this safely.

The most recent quality-of-life change to Akali also makes Twilight Shroud reveal the target area. This gives her a nice edge when around brushes, but more importantly, it synergizes well with her ability to dash towards enemy targets, as explained later.

But it is the other way around when the enemy knows how to use vision to his advantage. Pink wards are a really strong counter to her invisibility field – for 125 gold, it can guarantee a kill on Akali on lane and safe a carry in a teamfight. Therefore, Akali needs to be played just like the other assasins on higher rankings, diving into the fight when high damage threats and escapes are on cooldown –  and that is fine. Another threat to watch out for are revealing abilities like Lee Sins Tempest and Lulus Help, Pix! since they can counteract her defense without even paying gold.

Crescent Slash is a very straightforward ability. It deals AoE damage around Akali, scaling with both AP and bonus AD – another synergy with Gunblade. However, it is important to note that the ability deals in fact physical damage. This hurts Akalis burst heavily: since everything else in her kit is magic damage, Akalis tend to get void staff, but not Last Whisper. While this is not really a problem when fighting squishy enemies like marksmen and casters, it hurts her ability to damage tanky built champions – something that most other assassins can currently do. The ability also has a high energy cost at the early game and should not be used too much; it can even be advisable to wait with the usage of Crescent Slash when chasing enemies to get in another Mark of the Assassin instead. This reduces the ability’s main use to farming. It can also be used to activate the Mark of the Assassin debuff for even quicker burst (when you use Q-> autoattack ->Q but your autoattack timer is still on cooldown), but that will leave the Akali dangerously low on energy.

Akali’s ultimate, Shadow Dance, is what completes her kit. When the ability is leveled for the first time, Akali starts storing Essence of Shadow charges, up to three at the same time. The charges are built up over time as well as granted on kill and assist. This gives Akali the insane gap closing potential to full use her kit – Shadow Dance lets her charge to an enemy very fast while damaging him. The cooldown 0f the ability itself is very low, giving her a sticking power similar to Ahri in that she can charge (at least) three times in rapid succession. This creates huge kill potential as Akali can abuse every slight mis-position by the enemy once she has accumulated her full three charges.

But it also is the point that differentiates her from the current top assasins the most. What do Zed, Fizz, Kassadin and Ahri all have in common? They have at least one gap closing ability that can be used to escape without targeting an enemy. This is what makes Akali a really risky pick: while you have incredible potential to get your damage to the champion you want it to receive, it is very hard to react to countermeasures or unforeseen problems.  Therefore, she lacks an escape mechanism that the other assassins have.

Current State of the Fist of Shadow

So, where does this place Akali? She has a lot of strengths:

  • great assasination potential on single targets
  • good clean up after hard CC is blown due to her ultimate resets
  • laning mid: nice sustainability and defensive laning before level 6  /  laning top: mediocre trading and security, vulnerability to all-ins
  • if enemy does not invest in true vision, expect to snowball the game early

But she also has glaring weaknesses:

  • completely shutdown by true vision (Vision Wards and Oracle’s Elixir)
  • no escape when minions or jungle monsters aren’t in range

These weaknesses make Akali a champion that is heavily influenced by teamplay – both from her own team as well as from the enemy team. She is reliant on her own team to back her up or to do a good job before she enters the fight – to force the enemy to use their cooldowns before Akali can join. While this is true for all assassins, Akali needs to rely on her team since she has no way to snatch a kill and escape if certain conditions aren’t met. The enemy team can shut her down quite hard with good use of vision wards, but if they don’t pay attention to Akali’s roaming, she can get really fed really fast.

I think that Akali still has a chance to excel in higher divisions, especially when champions like Lee Sin and Lulu are not picked or picked by the players team so that the enemy at least needs to pay 125 gold to get a shot at killing her. She is very similar to Kassadin in terms of laning – low kill potential before level 6 since she can be kited heavily, and vision as well as knowledge of the enemy’s position on the map are necessary to use her potential to the limit. Therefore new Akali players should look to stay safe before 6.

Good teamplay is a double-edged sword for Akali but during full on 5v5 engagements communication is key: it is always easier to rely 0n your team rather than the mistakes of the opposing team. Akali is not picked at the moment is simply due to other safer assassins who perform her same job, however, the incoming changes to Zed, Ahri, and maybe Fizz too, will probably bring her back into competitive play once more. Incoming changes to vision could as well mean a lot: pricing changes for wards or mechanic changes to revealing vision in general can all change vision-impacted champions like Akali, Evelyn, or Talon. Changes to the champion herself are unlikely to happen- number tweaks are not needed in any direction, and any kit changes could make her ridiculously overpowered (imagine full 3 Shadow Dance charges at level 6!). However, balance changes aren’t necessary; even the relative small change of making her E deal magic damage could already be too much – this is a clear case of a champion falling out of favor due to changing meta and all it takes is a pro player to use her in competitive play for her usage to skyrocket. The Fist of Shadow should stay in the back of your head –  maybe she will appear in front of your eyes soon enough.

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I am a student from germany and I like the theorycrafting behind the game a lot - while I'm not into number crunching, I always try to find the best synergies in ability kits and items. I write to help people get into the crazy mass of knowledge that is buried behind the surface of League of Legends and to learn a thing or two while looking into certain themes. I mainly play assassins and carries because I really enjoy the concept of dodging enemy impact trough my movement and play. In a similar fashion, I play action-rich games with nice role-playing elements - my favorites aside of League of Legends are the Monster Hunter series and Terraria. I also got into Magic: the Gathering recently.

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