League Stuff Explained: How Cho’Gath Became a Monster Jungler

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Cho’Gath and His “Identity”

Historically, Cho’Gath has been considered mid/toplane flex champion. In Season 5, he was a particularly strong midlaner because a lot of people were playing assassins at the time. He has very good lane matchups into most assassins. At the dawn of Season 6, he started to struggle. That was odd to look into because Cho never really got nerfed at any point in Season 5.  The way a lot of the items worked did change though, and this is why I put “Identity” in quotes: Cho’Gath had an identity crisis. His staple item was Rod of Ages. People think this item is good on “AP tanks” because it gives you tank stats and gives you a little damage. Then you can build the rest tank. There are a lot of issues with it though.

First off, tank stats build off other tank stats. It makes them more efficient. More resistances means your health is harder to chip through, so if you have more health on top of that, it’s a bigger deal. On the other hand, damage becomes more efficient, when you build more damage.

You do see builds that mix 2 damage items with the rest tank on bruisers. Most of those bruisers, however, are AD. AD plus defensive stats naturally work together better than AP and defensive stats. When you build AD, you get damage on autos and abilities. On AP, you only get damage on abilities. Granted, you do get more. Especially on melee AD champs, living longer to auto more makes more sense than trying to live longer to spam abilities.

That’s why there are fewer “AP bruisers” in the game. It’s a lot harder to design a champion that can actually deliver on that concept. Riot has done it a few times: Rumble, Singed, Aurelion Sol come to mind.

Another major issue is the nature of RoA itself. In roles that could fulfill a tank role or a carry role, like top or jungle, the damage is the better for early. Top lane, having damage means you trade better, you push faster, you have more pressure on turrets. Jungle, it means you can clear faster, skirmishes are stronger, ganks are stronger. However, Rod of Ages doesn’t give all the damage stats it’s supposed to give right away. So that makes it counterintuitive.

Yet, people did it on Cho’Gath anyway. The chief reason being, his AP ratios were stupid. Rupture had, and still does, a 100% AP Ratio. Feral Scream, 70% AP ratio. His ult had the same AP ratio as Feral Scream, but it’s true damage. That was a major reason Cho’Gath was viable in the midlane. You had to respect his damage, but unlike other magic damage sources, he didn’t need to rely on Void Staff. Season 5, Mid Cho’Gath builds almost never included Void Staff. If he was ahead, it was pretty common to get a Deathcap after your RoA and then get Frozen Heart. Whereas if he was behind, he’d switch the Frozen Heart and Deathcap. With some of the AP item changes in Season 5. People would also sometimes get Abyssal Scepter or Luden’s Echo because they were cheaper damage options. Spirit Visage was pretty common lategame as well.

The more and more these items started to change, the more awkward Cho’Gath started to become. People generally like the idea that a champion can be part-carry, part-tank. To be fair, it is a cool concept, but it’s hard to balance. It often leaves with a situation where you’re just the best at either thing, and you’re not accomplishing much specifically with your build. You’re just ambiguous. Even though items were changing in ways that Cho’Gath could, in theory, be abusing them: Rylai’s Crystal Scepter, Hextech Protobelt-01. Not to mention Zhonya’s and Abyssal giving CDR as well. At what point does Cho’Gath stop building carry, and start building tank? It was a hard question to answer. On one hand, his damage was pretty respectable with just the RoA. On the other hand, you really want max CDR so you can be casting your spells frequently in extended teamfights. Most of his better options for that stat seemed to be the carry ones. Lategame, Cho’Gath could get away with that RoA because he gets free tank stats from his ult anyway.

Building RoA and Frozen Heart together was still pretty common, but it’s a very awkward item combination. Unless you have a tear item, doubling down on mana items is awkward because you often just end up buying more mana than you actually need. So I always like to put an asterisk when discussing the efficiency of mana items for that reason. It’s a concept I refer to as “false efficiency.” The definition is “A situation in which the stats you’ve purchased do have a gold value, but they’re not necessarily the stats you want to have”. Two items that give flat mana can very commonly create that “false efficiency” situation.

Riot’s Attempts to Fix Cho’Gath

The general way to summarize everything I’ve just explained was to say “Cho’Gath is just outdated”, which was common for champions as old as he was. For champions who have been in the game since beta, the only ones who haven’t changed in very significant ways since their releases are Dr. Mundo and Blitzcrank. Mundo arguably doesn’t even fit that ticket.

One of the first things they attempted to do was make Cho’Gath’s W a more potent max. It historically was what people went with, due to the infamous unreliability of Rupture. They made it so the Cooldown of Feral Scream actually goes down with rank. Then they made the free stats on his ult more potent. None of these changes managed to fix Cho’Gath.

In Patch 7.4, they made some large-scale changes to Cho’Gath’s ultimate. They made it so that he doesn’t lose half his ult stacks when he dies, he can stack infinitely, and now has a bonus health ratio. What they took away was the 50% CD refund if you killed a minion or monster, the facts that it heals you at 6 stacks, and champions kills granting two stacks. Although, they made it so that you can only get 6 stacks off minions or monters. This was the moment, where for some people, Cho’Gath started to re-enter the conversation of “actually not one of the worst champions in the game.”

A famous defender of Cho’Gath was Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, the toplaner for the NACS team eUnited who took 1st in the regular season, 2nd in playoffs, but ultimately failed to qualify for LCS. Licorice was a bit of a star player on this team because he just did everything you’d want your toplaner to do in a competitive environment. Around a month ago, Licorice also got to spend a brief tenure of around a week or two with the coveted title of “Rank 1” in soloqueue.

The Rise of Tank Junglers

Many thought that Patch 7.14’s competitive environment would be the same lethality show that soloqueue is. Simple observations reveal otherwise.

Tanks are naturally the strong counters to lethality. While lethality is armor penetration, it’s more about getting the desired targets as close to 0 armor as you possibly can. Each point of armor provides a smaller percentage of damage reduction than the one before it. If you have 300 armor, you care a lot less about a 15 armor reduction than you do if you have 60 armor.

Other less-discussed item changes have further benefitted tank junglers. Cinderhulk now only gives 325 health on purchase, but the bonus health amplifier is now 20% instead of 15%. Tank junglers weren’t particularly strong early on the season. Usually, when you build full tank, you want some CDR to go with it. While tankiness and damage from abilities don’t mix as well as tankiness and damage from autos, it’s another level when you can survive for a laughably ridiculous amount of time in teamfight, so you get to cast those abilities upwards of 8 to 10 times over an entire teamfight. (If you’ve ever been confused about how a tank did more total damage than you, that would be the reason. Your potential DPS was still higher though. They just took a more slow and steady approach. You’re the hare, they’re the tortoise.)

While tank toplaners could get Sunfire and Iceborn (or Sunfire Frozen Heart), tank junglers wanted to get an item that gave health after Cinderhulk to improve the efficiency of that Cinderhulk as fast as possible. That creates a situation for many of them where you either have to give up on the CDR, the health, or the resistances.

Nowadays, that’s not quite the case. With a slew of new health + CDR options available, you can get your early CDR that you want. Knight’s Vow, Righteous Glory, Abyssal Mask, Spirit Visage, Adaptive Helm. Actually, even Warmog’s Armor has become a popular option for certain tank junglers, since the threshold to access that Warmog’s Heart passive where you get stupid high regen out of combat comes sooner.

On top of that, there’s Gargoyle Stoneplate. This item is generally used for a burst of tankiness when your damage dealing cooldowns are off the table. In conjunction with Cinderhulk, the active of this item creates a high amount of abusable interactions. For example, stronger shield from Courage of the Colossus, stronger shields from Locket of the Iron Solari, stronger heals from Stoneborn Pact. So, these tank junglers were already on the rise, and lethality being good just means that you’re more likely to actually want that Sejuani, that Zac, that Maokai, or that full tank Gragas on your team.

Monster From The Void

Patch 7.14 included some changes to Cho’Gath that pushed him truly over the edge. Rupture’s mana cost went down at the expense of a minscule amount of base damage and Feral Scream’s silence duration at early levels went up. Most importantly, Vorpal Spikes, Cho’Gath’s E was changed from a toggle to short cooldown autoattack reset that gave your next 3 autos more damage including a % maximum health damage. The % health damage gets stronger the more stats you’re able to build up.

The combination of Cho’Gath’s ultimate health stacking, Cinderhulk, and Gargoyle Stoneplate, is quite frankly, a combination that’s just stupid. Since Cho’Gath’s ultimate is true damage, and benefits in damage from bonus health, activating Gargoyle Stoneplate actually makes its damage even better. His scaling becomes a massive issue when he is able to easily have upwards of 6000 health and still oneshot your backline if granted access. The immense burst of that Stoneplate Feast also creates one of those “better than smite” secures for objectives, much like Nunu’s Consume + Smite combo. Cho’Gath’s takes longer to get to that point though.

That’s not to say Cho’Gath doesn’t have his weaknesses. The main weakness he has is that he is a weak engager. As mentioned earlier, Rupture is infamously one of the most unreliable skillshots in the game. This can also make him relatively a weak ganking champion. While he is good at ultimately securing those objectives, if the other team is the one to start up the objective, he has to flash or use a Blast Cone plant to actually get into the pit. Flash might not be available and smarter teams will clear that Blast Cone before starting the objective. Especially when you’re dealing with a jungler who has limited ways to access the pit.

A Flex Pick?

The immediate surge in Cho’Gath’s jungle winrate (1st place in the role with over 55%) to many, immediately solidfies him as the primary threat of the jungle. Generally, I urge people to consider the playrate as well, which in Cho’Gath’s case is 17th in the role. Normally he’d earn an asterisks for that one. You have to consider the facts that many junglers will be inherently resistant to the idea of playing a tank in soloqueue along with the spike in banrate as well. There should, at this point, be no question in anyone’s mind, that Cho’Gath Jungle is a legimate strategy, and it is super overpowered at the moment.

It does beg the question, though, is he viable in the toplane? In the competitive games on this patch, there was some prevalent flexing of the Cho’Gath pick. Cho’Gath has some noticeable weaknesses as a toplaner though. His early laning phase is pretty questionable due to his high-cooldown abilities and low engage power. Without any sort of potential escape like many other tank toplaners would have, he becomes a very easy target to gank. Itemization in the toplane also prevents Cho’Gath from being able to abuse Cinderhulk. The kit advantages are also harder to abuse, as he can’t be the one to reliably set up for jungle objectives when he has a lane to worry about.

I always like to remind people to not just think about what you do get for picking a champion, but also what you don’t get. When you pick Cho’Gath for your toplane, you can get a naturally stronger engager or ganking champion for your team. Item-wise, it can get to a point where you have the strengths of the champion regardless of what their starting position or source of gold income was.

If you’re looking for a definitive answer to “is Cho’Gath a top/jungle flex pick?”, the answer is yes. However, Cho’Gath jungle is significantly better than Cho’Gath top.