Welcome to Masters Class!
Masters Class is an editorial series dedicated to examining topics of interest in competitive play using games from OGN Masters as case studies. This first Masters Class discusses the unique impact Evelynn has on a game and how specific strategies have been constructed around her.
Introducing Evelynn, The Widowmaker
No champion has seen such extraordinary highs and lows as Evelynn, who has spent time as both the most and least picked/banned champion. Her current place in competitive play in Season 4 can reasonably be considered a triumph for Riot’s balance team – she is often picked in Korea but only occasionally banned, and certain players in some regions have been maining her with success while others largely ignore her to no real detriment to their champion pool. Making her balance state all the more impressive is the unique stealth passive that is the core of her design. Many had predicted Evelynn to become hopelessly overpowered as a result of the Vision Ward change, but such a scenario never materialized as Evelynn was widely experimented with at the start of the season before quickly settling into her current place.
There are several key drivers for why Evelynn turned out as she did, by far the most important of which is that skilled teams quickly learned to adapt warding and laning patterns to her. Combined with her dueling weakness compared to other meta junglers, being able to track Evelynn in the early game empowered organized and aggressive teams to neutralize her rather than permitting her to control the tempo of the game. The loss of the key ‘submarine’ synergy with Shen as the Kinkou fell out of favor in the new season also hurt her, forcing teams to find less reliable methods of taking advantage of her unique flanking ability. However, it is precisely this vaunted flanking ability that is why Evelynn players have made such an effort to revise their play to suit any counters that arise; although Evelynn’s success in the early game is dependent on the enemy team’s failure to ward and otherwise respond properly, Evelynn players have adjusted by building her as a tanky teamfight initiator rather than the AP semicarry she was in Season 3. Evelynn is one of the most exciting champions of this season as a standout example of how a champion can wax and wane as strategies are alternatingly innovated and countered.
Shadow Game, Part 1 – Lane Swaps
One of the most important differences between high level solo queue and true organized play is lane arrangement flexibility, and nowhere is this trait more important than in games involving Evelynn. While any jungler is useful enough to make early 3v1 dives feasible in lane swap situations, Evelynn lacks the execute damage and mobility of Lee Sin and Elise. Furthermore, although she has good waveclear in Hate Spike, a tower push race between junglers is to her clear disadvantage, as her invisibility is being wasted. Thus, though tower armor changes have made this strategy much less appealing, it is still worth considering a lane swap against Evelynn to force a decision between exerting her presence early and falling behind in early towers. A textbook example of this play occurred in Ozone’s Week 4 game against Sword, where they sent Fiddlesticks and Sivir top to quickly push down the tower with Kha’Zix. Sword had no choice but to respond in kind, and the result of knowing exactly where Evelynn was in the early game was, for Ozone, well worth the marginal time deficit incurred by rushing down the tankier top turret.
In a close rush scenario such as this, the teams engage in a game of chicken after the first tower in which both will usually attempt to continue to the second. The mid laners of each team will rotate to a side lane, usually to defend, and each team will attempt to outplay the 3v2 in order to force a recall by the other side and seize the tempo advantage. In this particular case, both inner turrets were downed within seconds of each other – again an advantage for Sword, who managed to further delay Evelynn’s roam.
While the early creation of a long lane (in this game, inner turrets were down roughly 6 minutes in!) offers Evelynn a clear gank opportunity on targets farming those lanes, Ozone continued to display an excellent grasp of how to play against her by immediately pinking both dragon-side river entrances and not pushing past the river.
This highly technical, objective-based game let Ozone play safely into the mid game, with 0 kills on either side 20 minutes in. From that point, they were able to force ideal teamfights against a Sword with no real tank (Shyvana had built BotRK first, and as a jungler Evelynn’s build was naturally delayed) in order to ramp up to an insurmountable lead going into the late game. Evelynn has no reliable response to being forced into a fast pushing, tower-centric early game. It is important to note, however, that this strategy is one that aims to keep both teams even in the early game and thus counter lane-phase advantages such as certain bully laners and Evelynn’s invisibile ganks. Thus, it does nothing to negate Evelynn’s post-lane usefulness and needs to be used in conjunction with a mid game strategy in order to be effective.
Shadow Game, Part 2 – Warding and Invading
Compared to 2v1 fast pushing, Evelynn far prefers a standard lane setup where she can look to gank overextended lanes, particularly the 2v2 long lane. This is best responded to by having the jungler invade and place wards with vision of the ‘W’ (wraiths, wolves, wight) camps in order to track Evelynn when she becomes visible to farm. Jin Air employed this warding style against CJ Entus in their Week 1 Masters Match, having Nunu invade wolves early and drop off a ward in the process.
Although this method allows for direct plays against Evelynn by taking advantage of her weak 1v1 to invade her, it is heavily dependent on keeping a constant net of ward coverage and can result in even a momentary lapse of vision being fatal. Precisely that happened to Captain Jack when the wolves ward expired moments before Evelynn came to clear the camp, leaving a fatally overextended Jin Air bot lane with no evidence that they were about to be ganked and chased down the entire lane.
Despite the heavy demands of aggressively warding and invading Evelynn, teams often opt to attempt this rather than default to a safer 2v1 fast push partly because of the potential to straight up win the game during the lane phase by setting her sufficiently far behind. Evelynn will often be low on mana when clearing camps, relying on her passive mana regen to restore just enough while traversing the map to be useful. Jin Air was able to abuse this to score a kill on DayDream by timing a two-man invade at his second red buff spawn, demonstrating how effective a straightforward invade can be against Evelynn.
KT also found success with timed invades in their Week 2 Masters game against NaJin, when LeBlanc and Vi caught Evelynn after taking red.
All in all, although the ward+invade style still leaves room for a skilled or lucky Evelynn player to execute successful ganks, the ability to shut her down during her vulnerable moments in the jungle is a tempting prize that many teams prefer to pursue over the more mundane 2v1 fast push. In treating her as a strong ganker who is vulnerable in the jungle, teams apply the approach previously used against slow starting champions such as Amumu to exploit her shared weaknesses of low mana, weak 1v1, and difficulty in fleeing ganks while countering her unique stealth.
All Too Easy – A New Standard of Play
Regardless of whether lane swaps or warding+invading is used against her, Evelynn’s early game strength is limited compared to the high mobility, high damage Lee Sin and Elise or even Vi,Kha’Zix, and Wukong. She can completely take over a game if allowed early kills, but this is hardly unique to her and any professional team should, at least in theory, be able to prevent this from happening. Given that her counters are both effective and common knowledge, it might be expected that Evelynn fall out of popularity entirely, but this has not been the case for one major reason – her stealth begins to show its true strength after the laning phase, when there is no reliable way to track her with Stealth wards. It is at this point that she settles into her niche of being the best flanker in game with Agony’s Embrace, and a good example of this can be seen in the Week 3 epic between Blaze and T1 S. H0R0 would consistently try to position himself to a right angle of approach to the rest of his team, opening up potential for teamfight initiates, counterinitiaties, and even picks should somebody straggle on a rotation. In the situation below, H0R0 is mindful of the potential for a fight while Easyhoon is taking blue, and his standard right angle positioning allows him to cut off any engage by Blaze with a mass Agony’s Embrace and run straight to Lucian or Orianna while Zyra further stalls with her root and ultimate. This threat of a surprise attack is a huge deterrent to compositions that might try to close big gaps to engage. Evelynn’s flank disruption is good at isolating carries and forcing defensive action, making her the bane of dive comps that count on their overwhelming engage to give their carries room to do damage unimpeded.
Whereas Season 3 Evelynns invested heavily in AP damage and relied on Zhonya’s Hourglass for survivability, the modern Widowmaker sets up fights for her team while dealing just enough damage to be unignorable. Spirit of the Elder Lizard is rushed as the sole damage item and gives her the early game power to gank and kill neutrals effectively. The remainder of the build is defensive, featuring a situational mix of Banshee’s Veil, Randuin’s Omen, Sunfire Cape, Spirit Visage, and either defensive boots. Thus armed, Evelynn has the bulk to run disruption and stick to priority targets after opening with Agony’s Embrace to set up follow ups by the dive comps that define the current meta. She whittles down carries in battles of attrition using her attack speed bonus from Ravage and can outmanoeuvre the opposition thanks to successive Dark Frenzies, giving her the ability to stay relevant even in drawn out teamfights that see targets spread over a large area.
Additional flexibility in her build due to being able to make good use of BotRK and Maw of Malmortius gives Evelynn the option of investing in more damage to fill gaps in her composition, and the AP items that were once so popular on her stand to make a return to popularity should the meta change such that she is more valuable when built for magic damage. With an exclusive strength in her stealth and fantastic build versatility, it’s no surprise that Evelynn remains a preferred and increasingly must-ban pick for such notable junglers as Watch and Bengi, but her vulnerable early game means that those who are more comfortable on more pedestrian champions such as Elise and Lee Sin can be confident of their chances going against her. That said, Evelynn is coming under increased attention in Korea – she was banned or picked in every one of the dozen Masters games of the past two weeks, and it will be interesting to see her story continue to develop as the meta diversifies away from tanky top laners.