League of Legends

Why I think Zac’s rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot’s more recent tank designs

LeagueofLegends11 - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs


It's been nearly 2 years now since the tank update from patch 7.9. With the upcoming 2. anniversary I wanted to use this time to writeup some of my thoughts on current Zac and why I feel Riot missed the mark with many of their more recent tank designs.



1. Loss of build and role diversity


Along with the Midseason update in patch 7.9 came changes to Zac's kit and his playstyle, from a dive tank/fighter to more of a full tank/support role. Before the update you'd be able to play him effectivly in jgl, top and sometimes mid or even support – compared to the current situation only allowing Zac to be played optimally in the jgl and, to a lesser extent, the support role. Itemization wise old Zac was able to be played as a bruiser-style AP fighter or a full tank, sometimes even full AP.


Quote from Riot Shrieve (design lead on the rework team):

"AP and Top Lane will certainly have to modify their playstyle to account for the major changes to Q and R. Tank Jungle will continue to be his primary role, however we're not intending to nerf his other position and alternative build out of existence"


Sadly that's exactly what ended up happening. With the update, all alternative builds became obsolete and you are left with only a handful of items being worth purchasing, all of them being tank or support items. My favourite and (imo) most effective buildpath were flat penetration items like haunting guise and sorcerer's shoes into abyssal scepter/mask, followed by tank items come mid/lategame. His old flexibility enabled you to fill many roles and positions during a game and fit the champion around one's personal playstyle. Other champions with similar levels of build variety include Gragas or Sion, of whom both can be played either full-tank, bruiser-style or full-ap or ad respectivly.


A rework should always try to capture the essence of the old champion and build upon it, trying to stay true to the original without alienating the old playerbase. New Zac did not manage to do that, since his rework – at least on EUW – drove away literally all the old high elo Zac mains, who have since quit playing him or stopped playing altogether shortly after the rework dropped. That's only an acceptable result when trying to tweak a problematic champion design like old Poppy, where drastic kit changes are necessary, but not for a champion like Zac. I played over 5000 games with this champion between his release and patch 7.9. The reason why i never stopped maining him in all this time was the flexibility of his kit, combined with the fluidness of his gameplay and the sheer amount of fun I derived from his playstle. When I initially tried out the rework in a custom game, it was the very first time since his release that I did not enjoy playing Zac. No amount of trolls or flamers could bring me from playing Zac, but the rework managed to do it in a single game. Old Zac's playstyle died with the introduction of patch 7.9, and with him all the old Zac mains left since there's no champion like his former self, no replacement that does exactly what he could do. From my experience, the rework is currently mostly played by support mains, autofilled players and those who didn't get to experience old Zac, which is kinda sad considering he used to have a hardcore fanbase of OTPs.


iron - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

According to leagueofgraphs, he's now sitting at roughly 2 to 3% pickrate overall, which is the same as it used to be back in 2014.


Considering popularity does not refect on the overall healthiness of a champion's design for the game, we need to have a closer look at what exactly the underlying problems in Zac's new kit are.



2. Competitive vs solo q experience –OR– the problem with riots new tank design


Because of the high baseline-efficiency present in his kit, new Zac doesn't scale off money nearly as well as other junglers; not allowing the player to become stronger as the game progresses, there's no possible deviation from the intended build and power level. You possess close to the same lvl of impact, whether you dominate for 30mins straight or reconnect into a game after 20mins have passed, you are always going to be useful. Those rubberband-like designs are awful designs from a balance standpoint because of the nature of their kits.


Since LoL as a game is balanced around 4 roles receiving money and one role which doesn't (support), a problem arises when one of the non-support roles doesn't rely on it's gold income in order to stay relevant throughout the game. Being able to function on low-income is way more valuable in competitive play than it is in solo queue. We all know how many seasons tank junglers dominated the meta despite heavy nerfs to their itemization and runes. Riot did a ton of work in the last 2 years to finally force the low-income jungle champions out of their dominant position in pro play, nerfing cinderhulk multiple times to the point of it being the least gold-efficient finished item in the game. Functioning without resources creates a rubberband-like effect that allows a champion to be useful at any stage of the game without relying on gold. If we take a champion like this and move it out of it's competitive environment and into solo queue, it creates frustration for both player and enemy. Due to the nature of its design, the tank isn't allowed to carry games without his team, he's only allowed to become increasingly annoying and difficult to take down. Whereas the opposing players might become frustrated by the fact that they are unable to shut down a tanks high baseline-efficiency.


There's a reason why these low-income champions historically worked best in the support role. When they were viable in other roles (mostly jgl and top, sometimes mid) they were creating a weird power shift that didn't allow normal champions (those that could actually fall behind when played poorly) to become viable picks. Tanks in general need to be able to make mistakes and be less reliable to actually become fun to play again.


If you play League, chances are high that you are a competitive person and are playing to win. But when it's other people that you have to rely on in order to change the outcome of the game, the game tends to become more stressful.


There are other ways to create a satisfying tank experience – adding more cc to them is the wrong one and only creates frustration on both sides. The player is not allowed to function optimally without his team, while the enemy is unable to prevent the tank from rubberbanding his way back into the game at any stage of the game. A champion inhabitating any role but support should never be overly team-reliant or possess overbearing amounts of utility and cc.


The best example for a tank design done right is Sion. He can be build in many different ways, ranging from full tank over bruiser-ish to glass cannon ad builds. He also has the luxury of being able to be flexed into multiple roles because of said build variety. On top of that, his gameplay is way more rewarding than the most recent tank designs, for both player and the enemy trying to outplay you. As a result, Sion is allowed to have way higher potential reward patterns.


Designs like Sion should be the standard for all other tanks to strive after, but instead all we get are different versions of Maokai, adding more champions into the game that cannot be shut down, yet have to be played in the same roles as the rest of the cast. There's no way the game can reliably allow 2 fundamentally different playstyles to coexist in the jgl or solo lane position. When one champion can't be shut down due to his high baseline-efficiency, why bother picking anything else? Mistakes become trivial since they do not hurt your scaling abilities. Riot's answer to this dilemma was to completely remove the ability to carry games from those champions, so that even when you get ahead you won't get to feel powerful. Both, the tank player aswell as the player facing him, get frustrated by this design as the enemy isn't able to shut you down in the same way as other champions, and the tank player can't actually carry the game becuase of the restrictions laid upon his champion in order to preserve the utility of his abilities/kit.


While we can currently again observe how champions like Ornn and Galio, designed to be solo laners, are emigrating into the botlane – we should really take a closer look at what exactly those champions should be allowed to have in their kits. Riot's approach at nerfing these champions out of their intended roles only drives them to the support role since they still retain their high amounts of baseline-efficiency.



3. How the update was handled


Apart from the design choices I spoke before, one additional part of the whole thing that irks me has been the communication (or the lack thereof) surrounding it. When the update first hit the PBE, Riot Shrieve came to the Zac subreddit and had a small chat with the players and, when the changes finally got revealed, we were kept in touch for a bit longer. No feedback apart from the early stages after the rework got shipped. People were promised to retain some sort of discussion but ultimately it never happened.


See this comment from Riot Shrieve for context:

"I'll be sure to pop into the subreddit here and there in the future"


We were also told that offensive builds and his solo lane would stay relevant options:

vLEjALxZ mid season tanks update zac?comment=001b0002 - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

"With these tanks updates we're shuffling a lot of their burst into either more sustained or less reliable damage patterns so I'd expect some playstyle changes. We're focused on tuning and supporting tank builds but we aren't going out of our way to remove AP Zac."


Notice that reliable damage is a problem but reliable cc apparently isn't. Anything reliable can create a problem when counterplay gets removed. Changing some mechanics of Zac's kit , especially the ultimate, into a more skill-reliant version with less base damage wouldn't have been a difficult task.

"AP and Top Lane will certainly have to modify their playstyle to account for the major changes to Q and R. Tank Jungle will continue to be his primary role, however we're not intending to nerf his other position and alternative build out of existence"


Well as you obviously know that's exactly what happend in Zac's case. Since then there's never again been any hints or discussion about his current or past iterations. Seeing as he is currently in roughly the same spot as before his rework, just with the added bonus of being a worse experience for both player and enemy, I'd really love to know the reasoning behind the changes. The descriptions from the 7.9 patch notes + midseason introduction state the following:


"Zac’s already got some cool stuff going for him, particularly when it comes to diving in with Elastic Slingshot. The thing is, he uses most of his gooey flair to make his way into a fight, leaving him without anything remarkable to do once he’s there. This is a narrower problem than what our other tank updates aim to address, but bringing more of Zac’s kit up to Elastic Slingshot’s bar is a goal we feel is well worth pursuing."


"In terms of unique skillset and a rewarding path to mastery, Zac was in the best spot to start with. Elastic Slingshot affords Zac the ability to engage from great distances and unexpected angles, and Cell Division’s blob pickups are a form of combat regen unlike any other in League. That said, Zac runs out of cool stuff to do once he’s used the exciting parts of his kit to make his entrance. We want to bring other parts of Zac’s kit up to Elastic Slingshot’s standard, and we’re giving him two new forms of crowd control to do so. "


If we follow this logic, half of the cast doesn't have anything remarkable to do after using their "exciting" abilities. That's exactly how main abilities work; they are strong because the rest of the kit functions around them, allowing them to shine. Players are drawn to champions such as Blitzcrank or Zac exactly because of their impactful signature abilities. Some champions have well-rounded kits, while other have powerful signature abilities. The reason why LoL as a game is so popular is exactly because of this diversity; being able to offer a champion for nearly every playstyle is one of LoL's strongest points.


Compared to most non auto-attacking champs, old Zac actually had some stuff to do outside of using his abilities via the blob-pickup pattern. Where other tanks just wait for their cds, Zac had an interesting mechanic that involved both player and enemy and could be very revarding if pulled off correctly. Now Zac lacks the mobility needed + is locked in place way too many times in oder to successfully use his passive for clutch plays. His passive is currently mostly used after fights are over, when you already expended all of your abilities; rarely you get to use your bloblets to outplay like you did before. You are simply too busy channeling your slingshot, using your q animation, locating another target to attach it to, channeling your ultimate and finally looking for a place to ult the enemy to. There's simply too many long casting animations and too much positioning involved with Zac's new kit to allow for a clutch usage of the passive regeneration. With old Zac you could just weave in and out inbetween animations and pickup some blobs to enhance your healing and damage. It was more fun, fluid and, above all, less reliable, more risky and more rewarding.



4. Suggestions


I'd like to take this part and reply to a quote from Riot Shrieve about old Zac's problematic aspects and give some insight from my perspective about what could have been done:

"Here’s what is likely to change with Zac:

vLEjALxZ mid season tanks update zac?show=rundown - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

* Zac’s current kit encourages him to activate all his abilities in a single burst for maximum damage, instead of spreading them out to disrupt and bounce around the enemy team

vLEjALxZ mid season tanks update zac?show=rundown - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

* After initiation, there is very little variance or mastery to his combat pattern, consisting of primarily sitting on one target and spamming his Q and W

vLEjALxZ mid season tanks update zac?show=rundown - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

* Keeping in line with our overall Tank update goals, we’d like to shift some his reliable damage into additional forms of CC (we already felt that his two passives provide unique forms of defenses)"



vLEjALxZ mid season tanks update zac?show=rundown - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

"Although some of his abilities hit the mark, we feel that his kit could further stretch the blob man fantasy and give him a more distinct sticky feel in the Vanguard space.

vLEjALxZ mid season tanks update zac?show=rundown - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

* Stretching Strike does little to explore the stretching punch idea and ends up having a very similar output to Unstable Matter (AoE damage when you’re right next to someone)

vLEjALxZ mid season tanks update zac?show=rundown - Why I think Zac's rework has been handled poorly, and the underlying issues with Riot's more recent tank designs

* Let’s Bounce! is a more chaotic version of Wukong’s Ultimate (Cyclone) rather than the potential teamfight-defining moment that Zac’s unique, sticky, bouncy nature promise"


I agree, Stretching Strike could have easily been improved, maybe by granting it a mechanic like Pyke q or Vladimir e, where you channel, become slowed and trade more hp for more range and damage. Leave the snapcast variant intact to keep his flexibility, since having too many long animations in the kit defeats the purpose of his blob passive. Make the bloblet appear somewhere between the last enemy hit and Zac to avoid giving him too powerful lane poke.


However, I do not agree with the second part of the quote; Let's Bounce, when used correctly, was way more than a chaotic Wukong ultimate. It's probably due to the designers inexperience with the champion, but between being able to carefully split apart enemy groups, bumping enemies into walls to cc lock them, and the proper usage of the 4 bloblets to make clutch plays in 1v1's, Zac's ultimate was one of the more rewarding abilities when mastered. The only problem with it might have been the high base damage combined with Unstable Matter's guaranteed base damage due to the %-damage part. Lowering the ultimate's base damage and w %-damage and granting him an AP-ratio for Unstable Matter's base dmg instead of the %-damage would be better suited imo. I completely agree that mowing down squishy targets with only the use of his r + w did not require much skill.


In turn you could give Unstable Matter a charge mechanic which increases the damage of your next w cast based on the number of blobs picked up. Make it a maximum of 3 to 4 stacks which would fall off after leaving battle. Show off the number of charges below the hp bar, similar to Vladimir's q ability, to allow for more clarity and counterplay. This solves Zac's dependence on the formely high ultimate and w base damages by giving him access to a more skill-reliant version to enhance his damage output. This way, killing enemies with only the use of Let's Bounce would require more input from the Zac player, especially when used against fleeing opponents.


On top of that you could reduce Zac's Slingshot cd and base damage on early levels aswell as give his range a lvl scaling. This would remove the need for always having to level his e first. Everyone who plays Zac knows about the pain when you just used it to clear a camp (since it's your highest damaging ability cause it's always level'd up first) and you suddenly see a fight break out near you, unable to help out since your main damage early game is coupled with your mobility. Solo lane Zac would also profit from this change since he usually levels up q first, so having more range on Elastic Slingshot without leveling the ability would be a plus. Maybe tie the range to the ultimate's level and improve lvl 1 range a bit to compensate. I'd also love to have the 1 second snapcast cc duration back since it helped you greatly in fighting off enemies in 1v1 situations, especially in toplane, and was perfect to setup your ultimate's knockup direction. The time window to pick up his passive blobs was also greatly enhanced, allowing you to outplay more effectivly.


There you have it, multiple of Zac's problems solved without much of a playstyle shift or breaking the character's core concept. On top of that, he would possess the ability to charge up all 3 of his basic abilities, further enhancing the "flexible" part of the champion's premise.


I feel like with new Zac's kit you are only allowed to play him in a very specific way the designer wants you to play. Since his q ability only really works vs multiple enemies, using it in any 1v1 situation heavily penalizes you, further enhancing your teamfighting prowess. Elastic Slingshot is kinda similar because of the smaller cc duration if used in close range; meaning you are adviced to use it to engage only and not for fighting enemies heads-on. New R also now only grants you more bloblets if you hit multiple enemies, compared to the old Let's Bounce, giving you access to 4 blobs regardless of situation. Furthermore, the slower animations on q and r and the positioning involved when properly using them doesn't allow the Zac player to actually make use of his passive regen until after a fight is over. Compared to old Zac who'd weave in and out during the use of his abilities to pickup some extra hp.




  • Zac lost his build and role diversity after the rework, forcing him to only be played as a support style jungler.

  • Champions that function on low-income should be exclusive to the support role since the other 4 roles are balanced around receiving money over the course of a game.

  • Riot's more recent tank designs (Zac/Sejuani/Maokai reworks, Ornn, Alistar, Galio) suffer from a "rubberband" effect due to their low gold-scaling and high amounts of baseline-efficiency (reliable cc and utility), meaning they cannot carry without their team, nor fall out of relevance when played badly, which makes them perfrom vastly better on support roles than on carry roles. This leads to frustration not only for the tank player, but also for the enemy facing them. Further emphasized by the big performance difference between solo q and competitive play. Tanks in general should be more rewarding to play and less frustrating to play against (see: Sion). Removing reliable abilities and adding back risk into their kits would greatly improve the experience for both player and enemy.

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