Prior to NRG eSports’ annihilation of Team SoloMid at the hands of Zilean and Poppy, mid laner Lee “GBM” Changseok had joked that Zilean was a comfortable champion for him, thanks to hours put in with Xerath who has a similar mechanic. While Zilean had been played in other regions — most notably Taiwan’s LoL Masters Series and Japan’s LoL Japan League — the Chronokeeper hadn’t been used in quite the same way, paired with a reworked Poppy for engage and crowd control.
Since her rework, there are several factors that make Poppy extremely strong, precipitating her rise towards the top of the pick/ban charts. Poppy is currently at a 48.3 percent pick/ban rate in Korea, 51.8 in North America, and a whopping 71.6 percent in China this Spring — which correlates with the perception that China is generally more willing to pick up newer or reworked champions. Heroic Charge is the most important part of the reworked Poppy’s kit, giving her a targeted form of crowd control plus a stun and additional damage should she careen them into the terrain. Her ultimate also provides either a knock up or a knock back, depending on whether she chooses to release the ability during channel or at the end of its duration.
As for the Chronokeeper, Zilean’s kit has previously been prized in competitive play for his ultimate, Chronoshift, which revives a dead teammate. This is a key factor in the Zilean-plus-Poppy combination, as the team is relying on Poppy — or a similar melee choice in a different composition — to go in during a dive with most or all of her team following suit. Zilean’s ultimate allows his team a do-over, bringing an allied champion back to life during the middle of a team fight or turret dive. Additionally, Zilean in his current form has Time Bomb, which scales for 75/115/165/230/300 plus 90 percent AP. Land two Time Bombs on a target and they’re stunned for up to 1.5 seconds.
Paired with Poppy or an engage support like Alistar, this creates a deadly combination allowing a long crowd control chain on enemies, even under their own structures. The Zilean ultimate gives insurance to the initiators, and allows them to press their advantages or engages further.
China: Energy Pacemaker.All vs Qiao Gu Reapers
The first team in a major region to pair Poppy with Zilean mid was China’s Energy Pacemaker.All in their series against the Qiao Gu Reapers. Presumably knowing that they couldn’t beat Qiao Gu at their own game of teamfighting — no team has yet to do so as QG is currently 5-0 in their series, and remains undefeated — EP.A put together an engage composition that ensured their carries’ safety as much as possible. They ran Zilean mid and Poppy top along with an Alistar support, Kindred jungle, and Miss Fortune AD carry. Coupling Zilean with Kindred is an intelligent move that permits frequent diving with the Alistar and Poppy, keeping opponents alive and revived for even longer durations thanks to Kindred’s ultimate, Lamb’s Respite.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to be gleaned from this series regarding the Zilean-plus-Poppy combination, as several other factors affected EP.A’s early game. Qiao Gu’s jungler Baek “Swift” Dahoon on Rek’Sai inexplicably tried to solo the Kindred and died for his hubris. EP.A top laner Kim “GimGoon” Hansaem also bested Bao “V” Bo in the top lane with no jungle help, initially putting his Poppy ahead of V’s Tahm Kench. Energy Pacemaker.All's mid laner Bong “Republic” Geuntae chose to build a full Seraph’s Embrace first on Zilean, which additionally delayed his effectiveness. Qiao Gu easily made up their early deficits through team fighting — as is their modus operandi — and EP.A quickly found themselves outclassed in spite of their smart team composition.
Korea: KT Rolster vs e-mFire
A more recent example of Zilean and Poppy working together on the Rift came in this week’s League of Legends Champions Korea Spring 2016 in the hands of KT Rolster in their match against e-mFire. Picked last, Zilean supplemented what was presumed by e-mFire to be a hard poke composition around Nidalee and Corki. With both Poppy and Alistar again, this selection of champions is meant to keep opponents locked down with crowd control while the rest of the team dives. As always, Zilean is there for both his Time Bomb stuns and his ultimate, which allows KT mid laner Song “Fly” Yongjun to give new life to either Kim “Ssumday” Chanho on Poppy or Ha “Hachani” Seungchan on Alistar.
KT Rolster started slowly in this game thanks to a botched laneswap, but made up ground quickly when e-mFire was unable to capitalize on their early advantages. They subsequently broke the game open just after 21 minutes with a team fight that was orchestrated by Fly’s Zilean, Hachani’s Alistar and Ssumday’s Poppy. This is all done under e-mFire’s tier-two mid turret with hardly any fear for AD carry No “Arrow” Donghyeon’s Corki, kept safe thanks to Chronoshift.
Hachani initiated with Alistar onto e-mFire mid laner Lee “Edge” Hoseong applying Fly’s Time Bomb damage for an easy kill. Afterwards, Fly landed a double bomb onto jungler Kim “Crush” Junseo and Arrow Valkyried in on Corki, knowing that Fly still had the Zilean ultimate to save him. Meanwhile, when other members of e-mFire arrived, KT Rolster was ready with continued crowd control from Ssumday’s Poppy resulting in three total kills and two towers taken.
Fly, who later played Zilean in the second game of this series as well, built Rod of Ages and Morellonomicon first, with the latter having received a recent cost decrease. Morello’s takes care of Zilean’s mana issues, while additionally being cost-effective and quick. Morello’s offered a quick, early item spike to tide him over while the Rod of Ages stacked — augmented by a secondary RoA from Go “Score” Dongbin’s Nidalee — throughout the game as he built into Deathcap. This is in contrast to the slow Seraph’s Embrace of Republic, or NRG eSports’ Lee “GBM” Changseok, who had gone for a more utility-oriented build that past Sunday with Banner of Command. After the initial laneswap bungle, KT Rolster played out their Zilean engage composition perfectly, and e-mFire was unable to take any additional turrets or kill a single member of KT Rolster once.
North America: NRG eSports vs. Team SoloMid
In perhaps the most well-known example of Zilean paired with Poppy, NRG eSports used the aforementioned couple to stomp Team SoloMid this past week in the North American League Championship Series Spring 2016. They allowed zero kills and lost only three turrets in a 31:38-minute, 12.6K rout, displaying a surprising amount of team coordination and knowledge of how to use their composition.
Unlike KT Rolster, who bungled their laneswap and had to play from behind for a bit, NRG eSports started diving turrets as soon as TSM permitted them. The first was a full five-man dive onto TSM’s Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the top lane, once NRG spotted jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen in their lower jungle, stealing the red buff.
Again, the game broke open just past the 20-minute mark for the Zilean and Poppy combination. As NRG was sieging the mid turret, GBM landed a double Time Bomb stun onto Doublelift while Impact followed up with Poppy. An extended series of skirmishes ensued over the next few minutes, netting NRG three turrets and six more kills. What’s most impressive about this series of events was NRG’s overall coordination and juggling of turret aggro, in addition to GBM’s Zilean itself. The NRG mid laner landed the most double-stuns of any of the Zileans mentioned, even Fly, whose Zilean came after GBM’s impressive display.
More interesting was GBM’s Zilean build. He opted for Banner of Command after a Rod of Ages first and Seraph’s Embrace second. The Banner provided additional utility in pushing waves and sieging turrets along with a surprising amount of tankiness for GBM. Combined with Chronoshift and support Kevin "KonKwon" Kwon Janna ultimates, Team SoloMid found themselves unable to do enough damage to any member of NRG, including squishier AD carry Johnny “Altec” Ru, whose Lucian was wholly protected.
A well-played Zilean game leads to far fewer deaths — none, in the case of both KT Rolster and NRG eSports — and intricate, extended turret dives. Since turrets are the most valuable objective on the Rift currently, Zilean allows for drawn-out skirmishes with his crowd control, ultimate and scaling ability power. All it takes is a tanky initiator, like Poppy, and a bit of coordination.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.