AD Kennen is something that has been rising in popularity in competitive play throughout the course of the season. I had planned to do an LSE about this before finals week, but I had to study really hard for finals. By the time they were over, I figured most people would understand it. More people do, but there’s still a lot who don’t.
What Happened to AP Kennen?
AP Kennen’s most recent surge (not intended as I wrote in my head) in popularity was at Worlds 2016. This teamfight is now a famous moment in e-Sports. It is the go-to example of AP Kennen’s strategic value. Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho earned a named for himself with this play. Now a Kennen ultimate+protobelt combo that stuns and deletes these many people is called a “Smeb”.
When playing against an AP Kennen, the “Smeb” is something you absolutely have to respect the potential of, but that doesn’t mean AP Kennen doesn’t have weaknesses. We were talking about Team Compositions and scaling with our last two LSE’s. In order to consider what AP Kennen can bring to a team, we must consider the kind of team comps he can participate in, and how his scaling works.
As an AP toplaner, Kennen often struggles in 1v1 duels he’s getting dived. Using a Kennen to match the sidelane pressure of a committed splitpusher is difficult. The difficulty is increased when you consider the relative lack of waveclear in Kennen’s kit. This weakness was somewhat covered with the released of “Hextech Protobelt-01”. Not only that, but it gives him some extra burst in combo, a mini-gap closer, and the stats that he wants. Its release set Kennen on the patch to become a meta champion by the time Worlds 2016 came around. While Kennen still wasn’t great in a sidelane, he could at least clear waves at a decent speed before looking for his opportunity to flank in.
In addition to these items, Kennen other staple items included Zhonya’s Hourglass, Rylai’s Crystal Scepter, and Void Staff. During Season 7’s preseason, Hextech Protobelt-01 and Rylai’s Crystal saw some nerfs. Neither one of these was a big deal by themselves with respect to Kennen’s ability to use them, but this modification to Kennen changed things completely.
As you can see, the damage of the first few bolts of Kennen’s ult was essentially halved. Instead of starting at its strongest point and then decreasing downwards to a point, the damage ramped up over the entire duration. With this change, Kennen’s ultimate didn’t actually do much damage unless you kept people in it for a quite a long time. The “Smeb” was now impossible. The largest potential strength was nerfed hard without any sort of compensation for his weaknesses. Kennen shines in teamfights where he can use his ultimate to flank and then kite back using his Q’s. What I’m trying to say, simply put, is that AP Kennen is pretty much just bad now. Generally, I don’t like to say things that way because it doesn’t teach people anything and it can sometimes be inadvertently confrontational.
The Rise of AD Kennen
As we saw buffs to Blade of the Ruined King and Fervor of Battle, we started seeing a trend of Korean toplaners situationally utilizing AD Kennen with a W max as a means to bully tanks in lane. Speaking generally, tanks are at a disadvantage laning against carries. Having damage means having waveclear and being able to trade better. However, when you make that carry a ranged carry, it becomes an entirely different monster. The trades go from “advantaged” to “free”. This is something that many have abused, but rarely as anything more than a cheese tactic. Having an ADC as your toplaner cuts off your teams’ access to most of the strengths they expect from their toplaner. That’s why in high elo and pro-play, you only see it done with certain Marksmen champions. With Kennen, this lane abuse via a ranged autoattacker goes onto a whole new level. You might be building AD, but Kennen’s abilities all deal magic damage. On basically any champion but Corki or Kog’Maw, you’ll probably end up doing more physical damage if you build AD. That doesn’t mean that the magic damage of Kennen’s kit can be discounted. Even the one interaction that Kennen has that scales off of AD is still “magic damage”. This makes the early itemization against a Kennen that’s building AD particularly frustrating.
These are typically the core items of AD Kennen, with some alternating situational differences. I myself am not a professional player or even close, nor do I play much toplane. All I can tell you is what I’ve seen. From what I can see, BorK is the most popular rush. Against carry matchups you have to be a little bit more respectful of the all-in potential. In this situation it’s not uncommon to see Jaurim’s Fist into Blade of the Ruined King. This does of course, delay your first major power spike. Many consider it worth it for the survivability. The boots are usually either Ninja Tabi or Mercury’s Treads. Berserker’s Greaves aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just a little greedy. I would advise caution with that purchase, but not to avoid it altogether. Once Kennen has Blade of the Ruined King, he’s already a strong duelist. Having Runaan’s Hurricane adds to his sidelane threat and duel potential as well. Frozen Mallet allows Kennen to chase down his target in long lanes if they attempt to escape from him. In matchups against magic damage-dealing toplaners, it’s also not uncommon for Kennen to pick up a Wit’s End. While you have to delay BoRK’s waveclear spike, it’s easy to see how this could be worth it.
AD VS. AP
We begin to see the strategic comparison. AD Kennen has highly increased wave pushing and dueling potential. Now you might be saying “isn’t AP Kennen better in teamfights though?”, and to that I would answer “yes.”. His ult does more damage and is on a lower cooldown, but I wouldn’t say that AD Kennen is bad in teamfights. It basically adds another marksman to your team, which means more sustained damage to kite away the enemy teams tanks. If Kennen get enough targets grouped together, he can slow them with his Runaan’s + Frozen Mallet combo and keep them all in his ult. Blade of the Ruined King’s movement speed steal helps with this as well, but only a single target. Still, that adds to his pick potential.
One More Strength To Cover
Of course, there’s one more strength to cover from AD Kennen, and my boss was particularly excited when he heard I’d be covering this. It’s the fact that AD Kennen is a flex pick to the botlane. Not as popular to see this, but Kennen has been used in the ADC role. This was most famously done by Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, ADC for Fnatic. Kennen’s auto range is big enough to follow normal trading patterns for the botlane, and once he hits level 6, the 2 v 2 power becomes quite terrifying, and the 3v3 even more so. Another particular advantage of AD Kennen is sustain. Besides him, there are no manaless marksmen champions in the game at all.
The flex itself is a strength of AD Kennen. Most of us haven’t experience the 5 ban draft, so there’s one key difference to consider here. The last two bans are done after three champions have already been picked. Say you and the other team both picked your Jungler in the first round. There’s no reason to ban any more Junglers. You only want to ban roles with unpicked champions for them. That’s why a flex is such a useful drafting tool to take in your first round. They may be able to guess that you’re using him in the toplane. Ultimately though, that’s the most they can do: guess. There’s no absolute certainty that you’re actually doing that though. To be honest, your team might not even know themselves. You might planning the Kennen to go toplane. Worst case scenario, the enemy team counterpicks, and your toplaner hands off Kennen to the ADC. Similar tactics have been utilized with Fizz’s top/mid flex potential. Comparatively, the Kennen flex to ADC is less likely because there aren’t many ADCs committed to mastering the pick. Rekkless may very well be the best ADC Kennen in the world just due to having not much competition.
Like with any pick, you can’t just consider the strengths, you have to look at weaknesses as well. We talked about Item Scaling VS. Level Scaling. AP Kennen is like most AP Mages, falling somewhere in between the two. On the contrary, AD Kennen is further leaning towards the item-scaling side of the spectrum. He’s very reliant on the power spikes he gets off of his items. If AD Kennen ever falls behind the curve item-wise, he could be in some serious trouble. Another issue is his teamfighting. I know I said it wasn’t that bad, but there are still much better options. When Kennen is taken as an ADC, some additional weaknesses show up. He has pretty weak waveclear in lane and is looking to trade pretty heavily. He’s especially looking for a chance to use his ult in the 2 v 2 which can be very dangerous. It’s also important to recognize that AD Kennen is no hyper carry. Not even close. Most other ADCs that one would pick on a professional stage are likely to outscale him.
AD Kennen started off as an anti-tank pick but has steadily been growing more and more strength, arguably as a potential priority pick since he doesn’t have that many awful matchups in the toplane. In competitive, AD Kennen is clearly superior to AP Kennen. While I haven’t generally been looking at as much soloqueue as some of my HOWLA colleagues, I would imagine that it’s better in soloqueue as well.
Find out where AD Kennen stacks up against the competition in our Patch 7.10 Tierlist!