Hello everyone! I'm Bertboxer and I'll be doing this little series for the next few months. I'll be looking more in depth at some of the things that League of Legends design does well (and other aspects that aren't quite up to snuff). I have my eye on the associate gameplay analyst position at Riot and I'm hoping some of these prove beneficial. If this is your thing, pull up a chair and enjoy!
Week one post: (making champions play like their personality) http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/...1#post29525721
Week two post: (a look at why Trundle is underplayed) http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/....php?t=2613613
Week three post: (understanding how Nunu has changed over time) http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/...3#post29754713
This week, I'll be looking at how Sion was originally designed and where he stands now. (incoming giant wall of text)
When I wrote about Nunu last week, it got me thinking about champions who were never designed for the roles they may find themselves in now. Nunu was probably never envisioned as a 0 cs support like he is so often seen nowadays. I started wondering 'who else has had a role change over time'? I looked through some champions' patch notes for who has had their recommended items changed the most drastically and this eventually led me to Sion. As he stands now, he is seen primarily in two roles that he was never really intended for. Most of the time he is played as a burst caster but also periodically sees play as a melee carry of sorts. This is partly due to the odd nature of his kit and is a relic of what he was originally designed for.
When you look at Sion's abilities, they don't appear to mesh together very well for either of the roles you typically see him fill. Depending on how you build him, several of his abilities don't really serve much purpose. When you go ap heavy, his ultimate doesn't do much and so on. Sion was originally designed to be a pure tank in the same sense as Alistar with maybe a bit more damage. While the definition of 'tank' has changed greatly over the years, I'll work under this definition. A tank is a champion who doesn't provide much damage output, can take quite a bit of damage themselves, has the ability to force a fight, and makes the enemies attack them in some fashion or suffer consequences.
Let's take some traditional 'tanks' as a baseline. Leona is, by all accounts, a tank. She doesn't provide much damage herself but her passive allows her allies to do significantly more. Her eclipse ability gives her a means of survival when she jumps into a fight. Most importantly, she provides a direct downside to ignoring her if you're on the enemy team. If you do absolutely nothing to peel her off or cc a Leona, she was stunlock quite a bit of your team. In a similar manner, Alistar's ultimate and heal make him very resilient to incoming damage and, with free reign, can wreak havoc on a team's positioning. Shen can have some decent damage output but can't compete with more dedicated dps. His feint allows him to soak up an alpha strike as he dives in and literally forces people to attack him. He also provides some level of support to his team through the lifetap on his vorpal blade and the shield/teleport on his ultimate.
Ignoring all itemization, let's look at how Sion can stack up to this definition. At level 18, Sion has the third highest base health in the game behind only Alistar and Nunu. This is deceiving, however, as the passive on his enrage will usually give him significantly more than the others without investing in any health items. For all intents and purposes, Sion has the highest base health in the game at max level. His passive, while often ignored, grants a fairly decent resistance to physical damage as well. Sion is difficult to kill.
His stun may not be aoe or particularly potent but it is ranged and targeted. If an enemy is caught slightly out of position, a 1.5 second stun can be enough to force a fight. His shield ability has a very interesting mechanic associated with it that I believe makes it intended for tanking purposes. When faced with a Sion charging at you with his shield ready to blow, you are given several gameplay choices. You can either damage him enough to break the shield and negate his attack or ignore him and continue fighting his allies. If you ignore him, you directly take the damage you would have needed to do to him to pop it. In a sense, this is incentive to smack Sion in an effort to avoid that damage. It is basically a soft taunt. Speaking of ignoring Sion, there is one particular ability that should make him a target to enemy teams.
Cannibalism, Sion's ultimate, is often misunderstood as to its purpose. People typically only think of it as an attack speed buff with lifesteal attached and is therefore a purely offensive ability. I argue that this is much more supportive in nature due to the allied healing portion of the ability that so many forget. Let's do a bit of math here.
At level 18, Sion will have about 178 attack damage just through the use of enrage. Also at level 18, Sion has one of the slowest base attack speeds at .7981. If you factor in absolutely no items but add in the attack speed bonus from his ultimate, you will come to 1.11 attack speed for a total of 197 dps (if my math is correct). Let's say that you're in a teamfight and are smacking some fool who has exactly 100 armor. You have no items so you do about 100 damage per second. The max rank of cannibalism will heal you for about 100 health per second and all nearby allies for 50 health per second. In the course of a 10 second teamfight, you have the ability to heal your allies for 2000 health not including yourself. This is, of course, neglecting all manner of crowd control and assuming the target of said smacking has 100 armor. This also assumes that all of your allies are relatively nearby and can make use of the healing. This leads to tank Sion's downfall.
The reason why Sion had to adapt to other roles that he wasn't necessarily designed for was the fact that the average skill of players started going up. It sounds strange but hear me out. When the game was relatively new, people still had trouble focusing targets in teamfight and aoe damage was very popular as a result. As the damage was less likely to all be focused on one person, Sion's healing was much more potent as it actually healed the damage being taken. Nowadays, players are much better coordinated and know to burst vulnerable targets individually rather than just do damage to the enemy team as a whole. Sion's healing abilities sound impressive on paper but mean nothing when an ally can get dropped before you can swing twice. Combine this with the fact that the meta changed to have tanks either jungle or top lane (two roles that Sion doesn't do particularly well) and you have a tank that was left in the dust.
For Sion, the high ability power scaling on his Q and W were done in the same vein as Master Yi's alpha strike. It was stat that was not particularly suited to his role and, therefore, could be given a high ratio for the sake of things like Baron buff and blue elixirs for late game. When people started taking notice of how strong these ratios were, they just built straight ap and could still remain somewhat tanky due to Sion's passive and base stats. Time went on and this build became the expected build for him and Riot simply changed his recommended items to follow suit.
What would bring back tank Sion into vogue? I think the only way that would be possible is if the 0 cs support meta was somehow done away with or at least done in a manner that made less traditional supports...support. Sion would work reasonably well for kill lanes in a manner similar to Taric or Leona but without the utility that either offers. He could also synergize very well with someone like Maokai in teamfights as the combination of ults would allow Sion's heal to go that much further. Things may definitely change before season three though and my conjecture may be way off for what's in store.
Wow, that was a super long post and I'm sorry if I lost many of you with it. Hope this proved helpful! As always, feel free to leave feedback and suggestions for what I should do for next week.