Defrosting Time: a history of Ashe in competitive Europe

by theScore Staff Jun 3 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

It has been historically difficult to strike a balance with Ashe. As one of League of Legends' oldest champions, her kit made her both unique and challenging to play. Having a hard engage ability as strong as Enchanted Crystal Arrow on a ranged carry is indispensable, but her lack of damage-dealing abilities made her too reliant on auto-attacks considering that she's a champion without any escapes or movement speed modifiers.

The new Ashe rework has officially reached the LCS. With many still unsure what to make of her, there's an opportunity to take a look back at the Frost Archer and where we can expect to find her in the future.

A few will remember when mid lane Ashe was a must-have. Some of the game's first players started out maining mid lane Ashe. One of the best tricks was to send Enchanted Crystal Arrow down the lane at spawn to hit your opponent, use Teleport, and follow up with Volley for heavy chunking.

Fnatic at the Season 1 World Championship

A switch to bruiser top, mid lane mage, and duo AD Carry and support in the bottom lane spelled the end of Ashe’s mid lane reign, but she still saw a lot of play. Ashe was a favorite of the Season 1 World Championship Fnatic AD Carry, LaMiaZeaLot as well as CLG’s Chauster from North America. During the Season 1 World Championship, Ashe was played in 18 of 26 games with 15 total wins.

Early Ashe mid builds included Madred’s Bloodrazor, but the item was eventually ignored for poor gold efficiency. Once Ashe transitioned to the bottom lane, more emphasis was put upon itemization scaling without solo experience. Infinity Edge rush followed by Phantom Dancer became the tested and true Ashe build path for a long time. The synergy of critical strike chance and increased critical strike damage with Ashe’s kit made it nearly impossible to drift from the build until the introduction of Statikk Shiv.

Unless your name happened to be Genja.

Sampling of significant Season 2 tournaments featuring European teams

Event Total Games Ashe Banned Ashe Picked Ashe Win Rate (%)
IEM VI Cologne 23 4 11 45.45%
IEM VI Guangzhou 24 0 3 66.67%
IEM VI New York 21 0 1 100%
IEM VI Kiev 22 0 0 NA
IEM VI World Championship 30 2 9 77.78%
IPL 4 34 5 3 66.67%
MLG Spring Championship 89 2 20 45%
Dreamhack Summer 21 0 3 0%
ECC Poland 22 0 4 100%
Azubu Champions Summer 55 0 1 100%
Gamescom 2012 17 0 2 50%
Season 2 World Championship 31 0 0 NA
IPL 5 72 0 6 66.67%
IEM VII Cologne 0 0 NA

During Season 2, Ashe continued to enjoy niche relevance. During the IEM circuit, teams like Alternate and SK Gaming picked up Ashe bans. Fnatic’s LaMiaZeaLot also continued to favor her.

Because of the strengths of the AD Carry position in Season 2, most teams favored playing their ADCs for damage. Ashe was often classified as more of a supportive champion. Expensive Infinity Edge and Phantom Dancer builds and a lack of synergy with lifesteal made her less safe.

Other factors that negatively impacted Ashe’s viability included the introduction of Graves, who is easily able to burst down his opposition. At the time, there was a build for going against Graves in lane colloquially referred to as the “Graves respect build.” Starting Cloth Armor and three potions allowed AD Carries to survive laning phase against Graves.

Perhaps coincidentally, the strength of Wriggle's Lantern — then built from Cloth Armor — also increased the viability of laning AD carries. Ashe’s high cost itemization meant she fell off after level one, and champions like Miss Fortune could build Wriggle's to take advantage of its early game power.

The choice often came down to hyper carry Vayne and Tristana or lane bullies like Caitlyn, Graves, Urgot, and Miss Fortune, but Ashe continue to find her niche. When group jungle invasions became popular, Ashe could be chosen as a counter. The level one burst from Volley and a guaranteed ciritical strike proved beneficial.

One of the most significant Ashe tournaments of Season 2 was IPL 4. Despite only being played three games, Ashe saw five bans, meaning teams were prepared for her use. In the Grand Finals of the tournament, Team SoloMid’s Chaox picked her both games against Counter-Logic Gaming. In the first game, the level one counter invade proved useful.

But what really helped Ashe’s viability was the power of Will of the Ancients. Building double WotA meant more teams were encouraged to run double Ability Power mages in top and mid lane. The sustain from Will of the Ancients could give teams double carry threats, allowing for utility AD carries. Ashe’s long range engagement proved invaluable for teams like Curse EU and Moscow 5.

Despite these niches, Ashe still wasn’t used widespread in Europe after the Season 1 World Championship. At IEM Guangzhou and the Azubu Champions Summer, Chinese and Korean AD carries used Ashe over western ones. This is a trend that would reverse in Season 3.

The Preseason 3 patch changes proved more damaging to Ashe. An increase in the general cost of attack speed and a slight decrease in the cost of attack damage made Ashe even more expensive to build while players went for The Bloodthirster over Infinity Edge more and more. Her critical strike-based build fell out of favor with almost every AD carry rushing lifesteal to sustain, and attack damage to chunk turrets. Critical strike doesn't proc on turrets.

Ashe’s decline stemmed from changes to the jungle and armor penetration and reduction. More aggressive junglers became popular as experience increased on jungle camps and champions like Jarvan IV, Vi, and Xin Zhao could make strong use of armor reduction abilities. Ashe had one of the most hazardous laning phases available if she couldn’t abuse her level one advantage.

Despite the odds, Ashe made appearances in the 2013 European LCS in Spring. Giants AD carry, Jimbownz, favored her in particular. He famously acquired a quadrakill and triple kill against the Copenhagen Wolves with Ashe.

Gambit Gaming’s Genja went back to the champion, and even Copenhagen Wolves’ TheTess won a game against the infamously terrible Dragon Borns with Ashe. As always, SK Gaming’s CandyPanda gravitated toward her when he could.

Part of what gave Ashe a slight survivability factor was the introduction of Statikk Shiv. The item provided attack speed, critical strike chance, and movement speed, but also gave Ashe reliable wave clear without having to use Volley. She could use Volley to trade in lane. In addition, it let her build Avarice Blade for a period of time, making her expensive build a bit cheaper (in addition to just not costing as much as Phantom Dancer itself).

New items weren’t all Ashe’s friends. Mikael’s Crucible provided a low cost means for supports to cleanse a stun. Ashe’s main strength, her stunning ultimate, could be easily negated by an item instead of a summoner spell, making Ashe less attractive to play.

Then came Varus. On release, Varus was a powerful champion, but as sometimes happened, the competitive scene didn’t immediately integrate him. A couple buffs in a row made him a monster with a Bloodthirster and Last Whisper "Legolas" build. The biggest boon for Varus against Ashe was that he could do what she could do; his ult, though not global, snared multiple members of the enemy team from long range.

Why would anyone want to play Ashe when they could simply play Varus? In cases where Varus was banned, Ashe enjoyed play, but she lost nearly every matchup where a professional player in Europe picked her into him. He benefitted greatly from a Bloodthirster and could do absurdly safe poke damage while still providing the initiation utility that made Ashe mildly relevant.

One European AD carry had an answer to the conundrum. Gambit Gaming’s Genja all-ined on Ashe’s utility by picking up Muramana. What became commonly known as “blue Ashe” was nowhere near as successful as her “blue Ezreal” counterpart. Genja rushed Tear of the Goddess and stack it into Muramana.

Genja then rushed The Bloodthirster to give Ashe lifesteal and turret-taking attack damage. He popped the active and did increased damage with each autoattack on top of being able to leave Ashe’s Frost Shot ability active and continuously zone and slow.

Like so many other builds Genja has fashioned in the past, blue Ashe didn’t really catch on. It completely ignored the core critical strike component of Ashe’s kit, and if teams looked to their AD carry to actually deal damage, it fell short. It was a valiant effort.

But after the inevitable Varus nerfs, a would-be mid lane pick increased Ashe's popularity: Zyra. With long range poke, crowd control, and a massive area of effect knockup ultimate, Zyra became the 2013 support of choice. In July 2013, North America’s Cloud9 debuted an Ashe and Zyra bottom lane that spread to Europe.

At the time, Meteos made a statement along the lines of “we just bring as much long range engage as possible to our compositions.” One couldn’t get more long range engage than Ashe and Zyra. Zyra’s auto attack poke damage, ability to push, and crowd control made her a perfect laning partner for Ashe. The slows and zoning that came out of the pair were nearly unmanageable. During team fight phase, a squad running Ashe and Zyra could easily pick whichever fight they wanted.

Zyra worked with Varus as well, but the relentless slows from Ashe made it easy to land snares. Ashe brought 25 more autoattack range to the table as well.

Two teams in particular latched onto Ashe and Zyra in Europe. Fnatic with Puszu, who had heavily favored Varus during his prime, and SK Gaming’s Candypanda—again. If Ashe was picked first, enemy teams began taking Zyra away to deny the combination. SK Gaming had three wins in four games in EU LCS with Ashe and Zyra, and Fnatic used Ashe to smash through their Summer finals. When Zyra disappeared in the draft, Fnatic still felt confident enough to pick Sona, who provided poke and hard engage from shorter range.

Puszu, Fnatic's 2013 interim AD carry in the European LCS

Despite Fnatic’s success with Ashe in the European finals of 2013 Summer, a buff to Trinity Force put Corki and Ezreal center stage in time for the World Championship. Ashe and Zyra appeared four times in the World Championship Group Stage, played by Vulcun and Fnatic. Cloud9 ran Ashe and Sona in their quarterfinals against Fnatic, but lost the game. No eastern teams played Ashe throughout the course of the event.

The 2014 Preseason was even worse for Ashe than 2013. Changes to resistance items like Sunfire Cape and Spirit Visage made almost every top lane matchup a pick two between Shyvana, Renekton, Trundle, and Dr. Mundo. With increased tanky stats, AD carries with less escapes suffered.

In addition, the introduction of the lane dominant Lucian meant Ashe struggled in laning phase again. The final nail in her coffin was the decrease in the cost of Mikael's Crucible from 2500 gold to 1600. Benefits of the item changed, but the cleanse effect was retained.

Massive support changes removed both Zyra and Sona from the support rotation, leaving Ashe without her best allies. No one in Europe saw the benefit to playing Ashe that Spring.

In 2014 Summer, Ashe was played three games in the European LCS. After Patch 4.10, Copenhagen Wolves’ Woolite and SK Gaming’s Candypanda gambled on Ashe. Changes to Mikael’s Crucible increased the item cost back to around 2500 gold, and fewer supports went for the build at first, making Ashe’s stun more reliable. Both teams lost their Ashe games.

The single victory for Ashe that summer was in the hands of Alliance’s Shook. In the final game of the EU LCS Summer, Shook built jungle Ashe with The Brutalizer and Spirit of the Elder Lizard. It’s not something anyone would recommend under normal circumstances, but those Crystal Arrows flew by with high frequency.

More champions have entered the meta over time. Almost every new champion came with a gap close or some kind of crowd control. More and more options came up to give teams the area of effect stun that Ashe provided. Fewer and fewer reasons existed to play her.

With two exceptions. Changes to lifesteal and, in particular, The Bloodthirster, made building Infinity Edge attractive on a variety of AD carries again. Ashe no longer is singled out as the only Infinity Edge must-rush bottom laner.

More significantly, Kalista, the terror of the two item power spike, can be shut down by continuous slows, losing attack speed with an inability to move as quickly as she would like. Her advantage of being able to control objectives and out-damage almost any opposing carry with just two items made Urgot a strong counter option. The problem is that Urgot isn’t so much an AD carry as an anti-AD carry. His introduction lead to poorly contrived compositions with low damage.

Sjokz interviews CandyPanda, Europe's most persistent Ashe player

With Kalista rising to power, Ashe and her continuous slows have been primed for a return. Unfortunately, her lower damage early game and the mana cost on her slows made her seem unsafe, and the risk was not worth the reward.

A rework of the interaction between Ashe’s passive and her Q allows her to slow targets more reliably and critically damage targets more frequently without itemization. In addition, she gained an additional damage ability besides Volley when her Focus is fully stacked. This gives Ashe more trade and burst potential and abilities that synergize more with Attack Damage. Increased attack speed steroids also give Ashe more benefit from lifesteal, and her area damage from fully stacked Focus procs lifesteal.

Ashe now has more build options, though the standard Infinity Edge, then Statikk Shiv route still seems most common. She won’t benefit from increased critical strike chance the way other AD carries do, since she can only get a critical strike if Frost is applied. This means that the rework is an early to mid game buff, making Ashe still very much a utility-oriented champion. While other champions will gain critical strike chance, Ashe’s damage will scale from increased critical damage from Infinity Edge and critical strike chance, but she will not gain increased chance to critically strike.

As a result, Ashe is still a niche pick. She won't be chosen by teams that require a late game carry performance from their AD, but more as a utility player. In every LCS game since Ashe’s rework where she has been selected, it has been as a counter to Kalista. This is true of both the North American and European LCS.

All of these things make Ashe perfect for Europe. The number of teams that use their AD carries for cleanup and turret taking while relying on carry performances from their solo laners is high. Ashe’s kit lets her help zone tanks, initiate fights, and shut down the enemy hyper carry while still dealing more damage than Urgot. Ashe’s 600 range autoattacks allow her to stand safely outside fights and siege even when Urgot struggles to do so.

It’s no coincidence Fnatic has played Ashe in both their games so far. Rekkles has always excelled as mainly a cleanup AD carry for powerful solo laners. Fnatic has been one of the teams most likely to play Ashe in the past. Even as their AD carry player has changed, she’s remained a favorite.

Ashe might also appear for Origen. xPeke and sOAZ love to split push. A long range initiation from Ashe makes dueling easy.

The biggest question is whether CandyPanda will play Ashe, and that practically answers itself. Even when no one else would touch the champion, Candypanda has been Europe's most prominent Ashe player. Genjas, Puszus, Jimbownzes, and LaMia's have come and gone, but CandyPana remains.

In the words of Froggen, “candypandas ashe is so fking good o.o.” SK Gaming’s Candypanda acquisition this summer has seemed incredibly questionable so far. He is a mechanical downgrade from the team’s previous AD carry, Forg1ven, but with the reintroduction of Ashe, the timing is right. If there’s one thing that will save SK this split, it’s Ashe.

A word of caution to European squads: don't first pick Kalista against SK Gaming. Even if CandyPanda isn't in his prime, it's not worth the risk.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter for terrible Ashe puns during the European LCS.