Throughout the League of Legends World Championships thus far, a hard-fought battle raged on in picks and bans when it came to the a simple choice in the jungle pick as teams from across the globe have conformed to one simple conditional: “If not Lee Sin, then Kha’Zix.”
Lee Sin and Kha’Zix have been picked and banned more than any other jungler thus far in the tournament. Lee Sin — for good reason — is by far and away the most contested pick and has seen more bans than Kha’Zix; the versatility and dynamism the champion brings to the competitive seen is unparalleled, and continues to be the staple pick for any jungler since his introduction.
But then there’s Kha’Zix.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s definitely strong in his own right with a set of skills that are effectively utilized in top-tier, competitive play: his damage is absurd, his late game team fighting is deadly, he brings utility in his Void Spikes (W), and he offers versatility in his evolutions (even if most junglers conform to a particular order).
Despite those strengths, Kha’Zix has a less than 50% win rate at Worlds. While it isn’t bad, considering there seem to be only two favored jungle picks, it’s worth questioning how valuable Kha’Zix might be. Should he really be a pick priority?
In a game-by-game basis, for all that he brings to the team, Kha’Zix has proven to be a very volatile champion pick that suffers from two major, easily exploitable weaknesses.
Zone Coverage and Kha’Zix’s Farm
Evolving Void Spikes on Kha’Zix is the standard practice when playing the jungler (albeit there are some deviations like Alliance’s Shook who evolved Leap first in his team’s first match against Najin White Shield) as it offers more utility in slow, vision, and a faster clear speed.
Naturally, being able to reliably find farm in the match is important for Kha’Zix, as his damage output is vital (and arguably paramount) to his contribution to the team as one of two junglers who doesn’t currently buy a Sight Stone.
If this sounds pretty basic, you’re not wrong for thinking that. For the most part, it’s everything that a good jungler should know, and certainly these world-class junglers. But in a competition as difficult as the World Championships, the jungler is one of the most vulnerable to excellent team coordination.
To accomplish the goal of reliably finding farm on Kha’Zix, Samsung White’s Dandy highlighted a strategy to marking a zone in Samsung White’s first match against EDG to kickoff Worlds. In a favorable matchup against Jarvan (one that allows him to cross the river into the enemy’s jungle, counterjungle, and duel if need be) Dandy focused his attention on the top side of the map — his red-side jungle and ClearLove’s blue-side jungle.
On his first clear, Dandy started red, moved to his wraith camp, cleared blue buff, and immediately looked for a gank in the mid lane from both sides. Finding nothing, he set his attention to the top lane and found a first blood onto EDG’s Koro1 (Maokai) and then followed it up with a return kill for Looper’s Rumble.
In the bottom right, you can see Samsung White’s “vision pentagon” on the mini-map.
With those two early kills top, Samsung White set up a sort of “vision pentagon” for top lane that both provided Looper all the information he needed for potential Jarvan ganks, but also completely dominated the control in the top-side of the map. ClearLove could not make any approach top-side without Samsung White knowing it, which provided Dandy the safety and reliability to farm his red-side jungle with ease — knowing he wasn’t vulnerable to any invade or contest at his red buff — while also allowing him (with the relatively same degree of safety) to constantly invade ClearLove’s blue-side jungle, farming his wight and wolf camps, and gank bot knowing top was secure.
Once top lane was in Samsung White’s full control, the team set up the same sort of zone coverage in bot lane, with penetrating deep wards in ClearLove’s red-side jungle and throughout Dandy’s own blue-side jungle.
In the end, Dandy found his farm by utilizing the already standard practice of deep ward coverage. Dandy knew his jungle was safe and that his farm was there, so in between objective control, team fights, and teammates basing to purchase items, Dandy consistently found time to weave in a camp or two — small numbers that eventually added up to a particularly potent Kha’Zix that could get his damage out and reset with Imp’s Tristana into a Samsung White victory.
But while this zone coverage may be effective in getting Kha’Zix the momentum he needs to perform his duties in a team comp, it’s also an exploitable weakness in shutting the Voidreaver down. Like any other champion, constantly killing him is one way to shut him down, but by forcing him out of regions of the jungle, he falls behind on farm. And that’s what Dandy on Jarvan did to ClearLove’s Kha’Zix when the two teams swapped jungle picks from their first meeting in the final match of the Taipei group stage.
More than any lane, Kha’Zix is likely best at ganking top lane (especially if he can find the counter gank); with EDG picking Ryze for Koro1, those early ganks from ClearLove’s Kha’Zix are even more potent after a Rune Prison and necessary to get the Ryze snowballing.
But because his ganking preferences are pretty linear, especially given EDG picking Ziggs (who just wants to farm safely against Fizz), Samsung White could easily read ClearLove’s focus. And to counter it, they completely subsumed top-side with constant ganks from Jarvan and roams from Fizz to make Ryze a non-factor throughout the entire match.
While Ryze fell to the pressure, it doubly destroyed ClearLove on Kha’Zix. His red-side jungle was out of his control, evidenced by the fact that he was only able to get a single red buff the entire game.
ClearLove was left with only half of his jungle to farm as going into Dandy’s red-side jungle was not as easy as Dandy’s constant blue-side invasions when the teams previously met up; a potential bot lane collapse (with Twitch, no less) is much more deadly than enemy solo laners who were losing their lanes.
So EDG’s jungler could either farm whatever he could on his blue-side or attempt ganks in lanes that were already winning because of Dandy’s map-wide pressure, free from the constraints of farming on a champion like Jarvan.
Much like the conceit of the champion’s kit, Kha’Zix in competitive play has to — with the help of his team — isolate areas of the map to farm and put himself in a strong position to win. These zones are so important to Kha’Zix that it’s also one of his glaring weakness.
Sure, the zone coverage is just a by-product of well-coordinated vision control — an absolute must for any team who wants to win the World Championships. And yes, any jungler can fall to the ever-tightening stranglehold of deep wards.
But when that jungler also needs to consistently put up farm numbers, isn’t it even more of a problem and an obvious point of contention for the enemy team?
Kha’Zix vs. The Mid-Game Power Spike
In the first meeting between Samsung Blue and OMG in Singapore,
Part of the reason why the mid-game is poor for Kha’Zix isn’t because his damage falls off, but because he still has one evolution (likely Void Spikes). In the late game he has two or three — definitely Leap — and can play the assassin role perfectly, but until he has that reset in his Leap, his team fight presence is lacking, especially if the enemy invades with numbers and forces engages.
Samsung Blue not only continued to force Loveling’s Kha’Zix to his red-side jungle early by double jungling with Spirit (Lee Sin) and Acorn (Rumble) on their red-side and OMG’s blue-side jungle.
Because OMG’s San was freezing top lane, it was inefficient for Acorn to go top and try to farm. Instead, controlling OMG’s blue-side jungle with counterjungling and deep wards provided by Mata (and then Spirit once he got his sight stone), Kha’Zix was not only restricted to his red-side of the jungle to find farm, but also put in an inefficient spot in terms of ganking . Not one Samsung Blue member was top in the early game, which meant he could only immediately gank mid lane without having to traverse the entire map to get to bottom side.
It also meant that any time Loveling spent on the top half of the map, his team would have to forego dragon pressure. With that control of dragon, Samsung Blue moved their zone coverage to the top side of the map in the mid-game to regain the map advantage they had given up by letting Tristana farm and push top.
All in all, Loveling fell behind in experience to Lee Sin throughout the entire game, peaking at nearly two levels worth at 11 minutes. OMG had lost control of the game in the early game, but the mid-game power spike of Rumble, while Samsung Blue consistently pressured the jungle and looked for fights in the tight corridors of the jungle perfect for a Rumble ultimate didn’t help either.
When the teams next met up, it was OMG who managed to get Lee Sin into Kha’Zix with a heavily favored matchup looking to exploit Kha’Zix’s mid game struggles in Irelia.
But it wasn’t the same Irelia play from Wickd against Najin White Shield’s Kha’Zix — where Wickd’s overwhelming presence in top lane and across the map kept Najin White Shield (and Kha’Zix) on their heels (and out of their jungle) in a flawless victory from Alliance.
Instead, full aware of the potency that the mid-game power spike has on Kha’Zix’s ability to get where he needs to be late game, Samsung Blue forced a 2v1. The swap was likely in large part to OMG’s bottom lane securing Nami and Tristana, a combo Samsung Blue’s bot lane (Janna and Twitch) didn’t want to face.
Irelia can certainly farm under turret with her Bladesurge (Q) so the 2v1 wasn’t too disastrous for OMG in theory. But because they reacted so poorly to the swap — sending both Lee Sin and Nami top to stop the push — Irelia lost a slight amount of experience and, most importantly for the context of this piece, Kha’Zix’s jungle was relatively unscathed by wards.
With complete ward control over OMG’s map, Spirit on Kha’Zix could farm and focus where he wanted. Note that he continued to pressure where Irelia was heading to keep her out of the game.
Spirit on Kha’Zix had free range of the map and could safely farm his entire jungle quickly with his first evolution. Unlike Samsung Blue who put pressure on Loveling’s Kha’Zix in the teams’ first meeting, often finding and fighting him with only his Evolved Void Spikes, Spirit could make full use of his kit and relative strengths at those early levels: farming and looking for picks.
So Is Kha’Zix Worth It?
Despite those two vulnerabilities in Kha’Zix’s kit, of course he’s worth picking. Samsung Blue and Samsung White have both shown how to utilize Kha’Zix and safely transition him throughout the game, whilst showing how to completely shut him down.
But those are the Samsung organizations, the teams heavily favored to take the entire event barring an upset. Every other team, Najin White Shield included, has definitely struggled with the pick.
The problem with Kha’Zix is that’s he’s not bad, but he’s no Lee Sin and not as good as we might think given the insistence of teams picking him up early in a draft because Lee Sin is gone.
See, the fact that he’s the de facto “second best” jungle pick is more telling of a stale competitive jungle meta than Kha’Zix’s actual strengths and weaknesses. Lee Sin is the overwhelming favorite — the champion that every jungler needs to have perfected and ready in case he isn’t banned. That’s just the meta we play in.
But Kha’Zix is like a younger brother in primogeniture-like meta that favors and flourishes the eldest brother, the “strongest” brother, Lee Sin. He’s a stronger champion than the likes of Jarvan, Elise, Rengar, Nunu , and Evelynn, so he’s a favored pick. But he’s not a favored pick because he’s as objectively valuable as Lee Sin.
Teams are picking Kha’Zix because they have to — because Lee Sin is off the table — and less because of his own merits.