Although Viktor’s release was more than three years ago, the Machine Herald has never really emerged as a competitive pick. Played only by the most dedicated of mid lane hipsters, Viktor’s role as a zone-controlling poke mage found him in poor favor when compared to reliable picks like Xerath and Ziggs. Even after Viktor was reworked last year, he still didn't find a place in the meta. However, a few months on, mid laners around the world began selecting him as their mage of choice. How did this come to be?
THE FIRST OF MANY
The GE Tigers have quite the reputation for innovation. In Week 7 of Champions Spring 2015, rather than showing off a fun new uniform, they decided to debut mid laner Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng’s Viktor against Incredible Miracle. To any viewer, Viktor seemed to be a classic GE pick -- a wacky champion picked against a considerably weaker opponent with the intent of showboating a little.
The match that followed would not do much to dissuade this assumption, as Kuro stormed to two consecutive leads against IM’s Kim “Frozen” Tae-il’s Xerath and Lissandra. The world looked poised to react to Viktor like it had before -- with mild amusement and instant dismissal. Yet, nearly a month later, Viktor has become a mid lane staple.
The champion's meteoric rise to the top was a result of his solo queue traction, according to Gravity mid laner Jang “Keane” Lae-young. Interestingly, Gravity had plans to debut Viktor themselves, but Keane’s day in the spotlight was snatched away at the last minute. “I just randomly tried out Viktor in solo queue, and he felt good, so we tried him in scrims. The next day, the GE Tigers pulled out Viktor in LCK -- right before our LCS game!”
Since then, Viktor picks started emerging almost simultaneously, with Meet Your Makers’ Marcin “Kori” Wolski, Taipei Assasins’ Wong “Chawy” Xing-Lei, Energy Pacemaker’s Ko “Raphael” Jae-hyun and LGD Gaming’s Wei “We1less” Lian all picking him within a week of Kuro’s pick. Therefore, it could be a little erroneous to suggest that Kuro was the driving factor behind Viktor’s popularity. Keane believes that his current popularity is the inevitable product of the continuous nerfs to his competitors. “Viktor’s one of the champions that got into the metagame after all the top-tier champions like Ahri, LeBlanc, and Zed got nerfed," he says.
It’s all well and good to look at how Viktor became popular, but given how unique he is as a champion, it’s hard to describe exactly how he fits in the meta. Gravity Field (W) is great at zoning opponents or chaining crowd controlling in a team fight, but Orianna’s Command: Shockwave is far superior. Death Ray (E) is certainly a strong poke spell, but it lacks in range compared to Xerath’s Arcanopulse. His ultimate Chaos Storm (R) is a great team fight threat, but Lissandra’s Frozen Tomb is way more impactful.
It might be that Viktor’s niche stems from his versatility as an AP carry. Although he cannot hope to match the strengths of other, more specialized, champions, teams looking for an all-purpose mid pick may find what they want in Viktor. Apart from his relative lack of mobility (alleviated somewhat by upgrading his Siphon Power (Q)), Viktor really does offer a lot, and can fit into just about any team composition.
Raphael’s performance on the Machine Herald against Star Horn Royal Club exemplified Viktor’s versatility. Using Gravity Field to trap Lei “Corn” Wen’s Lissandra, he turns on the rest of SHRC with his long-range abilities, weaving in autoattacks in between spell casts (a bonus due to all his spells’ being made the same range).
Viktor’s greatest strength, however, is his upfront AoE burst damage with an upgraded Death Ray and Chaos Storm. Observe Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s play on Viktor in this clip as he turns around a dire team fight, massacring Incredible Miracle over the Dragon wall.
Faker’s play came off a magic penetration power spike, having completed his Sorcerer's Shoes and Abyssal Scepter. Viktor’s damage is incredibly high when building these two items together, as they combine to remove 35 Magic Resistance from opponents -- often dealing true damage to some champions.
That said, Abyssal Scepter is still not an item built universally. Some players like Kori will opt to go straight for the Rabadon’s Deathcap after completing Morellonomicon, and the timing of Hex Core upgrades is still widely debated. Keane urges players not overthink it, and just go with the flow -- as Viktor was intended to be played. “You usually get the first upgrade as soon as possible for the wave clear on Death Ray, then you can upgrade it again whenever you want. It doesn’t really matter.”
While there’s still a lot of room to debate the various aspects of Viktor’s build such as Hex Core upgrades, there’s one thing all the pros agree on: Viktor is a pure damage dealer, and should be built like one. And since you’ll be a laser-shooting, gravity-altering glass cannon, don’t think that you’ll also be able to survive a dive from a Rengar or Zed, even with the shield on Siphon Power. “The best build is to get at least 20% Cooldown Reduction with Morellonomicon or scaling CDR runes, then full AP,” says Keane.
It’s unclear just how long Viktor will continue to be a force for, but at the moment he's representative of some sweeping changes that have occurred in the competitive meta since the start of 2015. Six months ago, you may have been called crazy for picking champions like Cho’Gath, Urgot, Viktor, Vladimir, or Yorick. Now, the meta accommodates all kinds of previously unseen champions.
Don’t be afraid to experiment (with the permission of your teammates). Who knows, you could be the next player to start a solo queue trend that makes it into the LCS! In the meantime, give Viktor a shot, and let us know how it goes for you in the comments below.