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Zilean is an unpopular League of Legends champion, with a 0.6% pick rate in North America for Patch 12.1, making him one of the ten least played champions during the patch. Yet, at the same time, the Chronokeeper has always been the ace up Team Liquid mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg’s sleeve. The League Championship Series veteran boasts a 73% win rate with Zilean across 37 games played, and he proved why that’s the case last weekend during a Lock In game against Immortals.
Every League of Legends player has a champion they can pull out when they need to perform well, and pros are no different. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s is Leblanc and Song “Rookie” Eui-jin’s is Syndra — but few pros make such an obscure selection. So, how exactly has Bjergsen created such unique strength with such an underrated champion?
The right place at the right time
While Zilean seems more like a support character due to his single, damage-dealing ability and the ease with which more popular mages can push him out of lane, he gets by in the end. Time Bomb has an impressive range, after all, and Rewind lets him use the ability twice and clear out minion waves very fast — all without interacting with the opposing mid laner.
This frees Zilean up to do what he does best: support his teammates with nigh-unparalleled utility with his ultimate, Chronoshift. This applies a status to an ally that brings them back to life if they are killed during the ability’s duration. As such, it is imperative that Zilean stays with his team and make plays as much as possible.
Bjergsen showed his understanding of that responsibility 8:20 when Team Liquid prepared to capture the Rift Herald. With the minion wave about to arrive in the middle of the lane, Bjergsen could have played the standard procedure of contesting mid-priority against Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage. However, he chose to abandon the wave completely and path toward Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau and Lucas “Santorin” Larsen at the Rift Herald pit.
This play is laudable in three ways. First, he spotted Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir on a ward quite close to his lane. If he had used his Time Bombs on the wave to obtain mid-priority, he would have left himself vulnerable to ganks that would put him out of that Herald sequence.
Second, upon observing Mohamed “Revenge” Kaddoura and PowerOfEvil’s position, he realized that they couldn’t zone him away from his teammates since Santorin and Bwipo had complete control of the Herald Pit. In fact, by joining at that moment, he would likely evict Xerxe from the river completely.
Finally, the gold and experience loss he would suffer from abandoning the wave was negligible compared to his team’s acquisition of Herald. With superior positioning, Bjergsen made the decision to be confident for the upcoming fight while Immortals had to make a decision about their odds of success.
Yet Bjergsen’s true prowess with Zilean does not come from his ability to recognize where he should and shouldn’t be. Instead, Bjergsen is terrifying for the way his position can feign vulnerability.
For example, when it came time to fight, Immortals’ team composition didn’t have the champions to poke down Zilean’s HP from outside his range. With the primary method of dealing with the Chronokeeper off the table, they attempted the other option — to dive Zilean and eliminate him before he can use his ultimate. But Bjergsen was simply dangling himself out as bait.
In the first fight, Bjergsen took both Xerxe’s Onslaught of Shadows and PowerofEvil’s Shockwave out of the fight by using Chronoshift to revive himself after his death. With Immortals’ key ultimates nullified, they swiftly lost the fight.
During the second Rift Herald fight, Bjergsen yet again left himself in a seemingly vulnerable position. Immortals expended three ultimates in hopes of bursting Bjergsen down, only for him to flash away from danger. With him well out harm’s way, Bjergsen used Chronoshift on Santorin to revive him from Immortal’s barrage. Once more, Immortals wasted their ultimates and Team Liquid won the fight.
Winning time and time again
— LoL Esports (@lolesports) October 4, 2020
Despite his massive impact during teamfights, Zilean is by no means an invincible champion. He is, inevitably, a supportive mage that provides minuscule damage in comparison to traditional mages. As such, Team Liquid had to finish the game before PowerOfEvil had enough items to out-damage Team Liquid in late-game teamfights. Bjergsen and Team Liquid had to consider how best to play the map.
A traditional 1-3-1 deployment maximizes gold and experience for the entire team, but one champion is often alienated from the team as the three champions in mid-lane converge to the other side lane. This is an acceptable risk because playing in only two lanes sacrifices an entire lane of experience and spreads it thinner among the team. It also puts them behind in experience when compared to their opponent.
In many games, this deployment would have been best for Team Liquid, but not with Bjergsen on Zilean.
Players saw Team Liquid’s decision the moment Bjergsen stuck with his team following the second Rift Herald fight. At the time, Immortals’ Jason “WildTurtle” Tran was attempting to take TL’s top side out tower with his teammates, and Bjergsen left him to it. Instead of maintaining a mentality that prioritized minimizing losses, Team Liquid committed to the mid lane and took down all three towers there.
Afterward, Bjergsen used Zilean’s high mobility to deny a bot wave from Immortals so they couldn’t even attempt a counter play. When the Immortals players attempted to catch him, he escaped with ease while his teammates got additional leads on the top side.
If Team Liquid hadn’t ceded control of the top side, the game could have stalled out long enough for WildTurtle and PowerOfEvil to build up the items they needed to out damage them. However, TL could only make this play without falling behind in levels thanks to Zilean’s passive ability, Time in a Bottle.
Aside from being an amazing homage to either a Jim Croce classic or a Quicksilver scene from an unimpressive superhero movie, Zilean can use his passive to level up an ally champion near him while also getting the same amount of experience himself. While this does not completely make up for the lost experience, it reduces the said loss while obtaining major leads through the two-lane strategy. So, with Bjergsen on Zilean, Team Liquid were not constrained to the normal cost of forgoing a 1-3-1 strategy and could continue setting the pace of the game until they eventually won.
With both mechanical prowess and a high understanding of his role in the game, Bjergsen’s Zilean has been, and will remain, a major threat to any team opposing him. With Team Liquid making it to the knockout stage of the Lock In tournament, the remaining LCS teams should beware a visit from the Chronokeeper when the time is right for Bjergsen.
League of Legends and Overwatch coach and tactician. I will never stop talking about movies and literature.