Zeri’s release has been a strange one. Her win rate started fairly low, but she quickly rose to be one of the best ADCs in the game once players figured out how to play and build her. She got nerfed before getting the chance to hit the Rift in pro play, yet she’s still had a ton of staying power in pro play. In fact, Zeri had a 100% pick/ban rate in both the LCS and LEC. But is she worth all the attention?
When everything goes well…
Zeri’s ceiling is incredibly high. If she can get her items and drag out a fight long enough to stack the movement speed on her ultimate, Zeri can legitimately 1v5. Even in pro play.
Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki gave us a pentakill on the champion on the very first day of the LCS season, and it showed us that Danny’s explosive Summer 2021 performance wasn’t a one-time thing. Zeri’s ability to glide over walls and clean up messy teamfights allowed Danny to take out the entirety of TSM with relative ease.
What’s more, Danny is the only player so far that deviated from Zeri’s standard Trinity Force build path. Instead, he went all-in on his damage and decided to go with Kraken Slayer in a full crit build with Essence Reaver. He had full faith in himself to be able to kite and stay alive in teamfights and proved Zeri doesn’t need a tanky build to stay alive for extended fights. Her identity as a late-game mobile carry fits perfectly with Danny’s role on EG, and it’s sure to make Evil Geniuses a team that prioritizes the Zeri pick... if she ever gets through the first set of bans.
Additionally, we saw C9 Academy’s Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya rip through EG Academy with Zeri in the top lane. While this was a minor league game, Darshan’s strong performance as C9’s top laner for the Lock-In tournament puts him on the radar as a strong player.
Darshan’s Zeri top game hasn’t been the only example of her being played outside of bot lane, either. Outside of some other minor league games, XL’s Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm found a win with Zeri mid as well, showing just how strong her potential can be as a flex pick. If Zeri wasn’t one of the best ADCs in the game, we’d probably see more of her in other roles.
The rough path to late game
Simply put, Zeri’s early game is abysmal and her power spikes depend on completed items. Other ADCs like Aphelios and Jinx can feel smaller power spikes with component items like Noonquiver and Pickaxe, whereas Zeri desperately needs completed items like Trinity Force, Kraken Slayer, or Runaan’s Hurricane to have a chance at outtrading the opposing ADC. And, even if Zeri gets to late game, she can be very easily burst down if the player piloting her makes a single positional mistake.
TSM’s Edward “Tactical” Ra was dealing a ton of damage on Zeri despite being put behind in lane. Yet that damage didn’t matter when Tactical died before he could get close to the Baron pit. Zeri’s mobility and versatility as a teamfighter can be very empowering, but it’s easy to forget how fragile she can be. Her lack of self-peel and CC makes her a deceptively easy target and a champion whose early game can be exploited.
Anyone’s Legend, a very middle-of-the-road LPL team, decided to let Rare Atom’s Hu “iBoy” Xian-Zhao get his hands on Zeri in all three games of their best-of-3 set. Contrary to Zeri’s overall high win rate, AL won despite being at a fairly similar skill level to Rare Atom. What happened here?
Often, the answer to Zeri is to focus her down early on. AL did just that, getting an early kill on iBoy every game of the series.
It’s easy to flame iBoy for his game 3 decision where he dashed back into the lane rather than toward his tower, but Zeri’s E doesn’t have a whole lot of range if you’re far away from a wall. He was dead either way if he didn’t do something. Patience from AL combined with iBoy overstepping just a little allowed for first blood. And AL continued to stomp iBoy out of the game.
Even when he went mid to get farm after having his lane dived and camped over and over again, iBoy was 0/3 at level 4 despite having RA’s Chen “Strive” Liang teleport onto bot tower from mid lane to counter a gank. Seeing a team so unafraid to punish Zeri’s weaknesses is refreshing. Zeri’s situational mobility and lackluster early game made her a liability for Rare Atom in all three games of this set despite the high priority RA put on picking Zeri.
At the end of the day, Zeri is a very strong champion in the right circumstances. However, even with how new Zeri is to LoL, teams are already finding ways to shut her out of the game. Stacked on top of specific lane counters and hard matchups like Akshan, Vayne, and Camille, Zeri has plenty of counterplay if the team facing her knows how to deal with her properly.
With the prominence of other ADCs like Aphelios and Jinx in the current meta, Zeri has some steep competition to keep up with long-term. It’s impossible to deny that Zeri is a strong champion, but she isn’t unbeatable. Her first weeks of play have shown us what she can look like at her peak, but also how hard it can be to reach that peak in a pro game.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.