Cho’Gath – the Meta Eater
The legendary Hotshotgg is commonly associated with three champions: Nidalee, Leblanc, and Cho’gath. While the first two thrived in the competitive scene, Cho’gath remained dormant through countless Meta changes. At first glance, this larger than life monstrosity seems unimpressive; his poor mobility, long skill cooldowns, and unreliable crowd controls stunted his popularity amongst pro teams.
In China, Cho’gath is known as the “giant insect”. The giant insect first crawled onto LPL as the mid laner for Team WE. What started off as an experimental pick, however, quickly became a pocket pick for Team King and LGD as more unsuspecting LPL teams fell to Cho’s might. In a Meta ruled by flashy, high-mobility assassins in the mid lane, Cho’gath stood unwavered, continuing to farm and consume at his leisure. The Terror of the Void has awakened from his years of hibernation—and so has his hunger for power.
Consuming to Dominance
When asked about Cho’gath, Tabe explained on the LPL analyst desk that there is no counter to the giant insect in lane. Nobody can stop him from farming. His passive, Carnivore, allows him to regenerate both HP and mana endlessly, shrugging off most attempts to poke him out of lane. Even lane bullies such as Viktor cannot create any meaningful CS leads against Cho’gath, as demonstrated by the OMG vs. IG match-up in week 9. Not only is he an unstoppable farming machine, Cho’gath can also control the position of minion waves at will with a simple toggle of his “E” ability, Vorpal Spikes. Combined with his Rupture and Feral Scream, Cho’gath can instantly clear minion waves at higher levels.
Assassins cannot stop Cho’gath. With a single scream, he can render even the deadliest assassins, such as Leblanc and Ahri, harmless by silencing them mid combo. Cho’gath doesn’t need gap closers—all he needs is one successful combo at level 6 to 100-0 most squishy mages. The best Cho players will punish the enemy laner for the slightest mispositioning, which makes low mobility mages very risky match-ups against Cho'gath. Dade, one of the best mid laners in the world, decided to play Ryze into the Cho’gath of LGD’s Weiless. He quickly met his demise after one misposition in lane.
Cho’gath truly shines when he groups for objectives. His ultimate, Feast, has a 1000 true damage base and a 70% AP scaling against minions and neutral monsters. Armed with the strongest “smite” skill in the game, Cho’gath can create advantages for his team by stealing jungle buffs, one-shotting the rift scuttler, and of course, securing Dragon and Baron.
The giant insect lives for team fights and skirmishes. Amongst the 123 champions released, his ability to completely disable a group of enemies for up to 3.5 seconds is unrivalled. But, his skills are hard to land against top level players, hence they are always used after the more reliable crowd controls from his team. To maximize his effectiveness, Cho'gath is usually stacked with other CC-heavy champions such as Maokai and Leona.
While Cho’gath’s crowd control abilities deserve praise, not many expects the damage potential of the AP Cho. The unseen nom-nom is the deadliest. Mid lane Cho’gath tends to build pure AP, relying only on ROA and Zhonya's Hourglass for survivability. But that makes him a scary burst damage threat. Cho'gath's skills not only have decent base values, but they also scale well (100% AP scaling on Rupture and 70% AP scaling on Feral Scream and Feast). With a true damage ultimate that can chunk any non-tank's health in one bite, he can instantly erase an enemy carry through all stages of the game. If Cho’gath has Flash available, nobody is safe.
Is Cho'gath overpowered? Not quite. He has major weaknesses that stops him short of Riot’s nerf squad.
Containing the Terror
Cho’gath is a niche pick used only with the right team composition, effective only when played to the proper win conditions. In the hands of inexperienced teams, Cho has too many exploitable weaknesses that are severe enough to put him under more conventional picks such as Viktor and Lissandra.
The problems start in the laning phase. With an early Catalyst rush, Cho'gath has minimal offensive stats from his Doran’s Ring. Thus, while the enemy mid laner cannot push Cho out of lane, the same could be said in reverse. Against a prepared enemy, his unreliable skill shots can be easily dodged, thus offering no kill pressure and poke potential in a 1v1 scenario. Furthermore, unlike most mid laners in the current Meta, the giant insect is too immobile to roam effectively. He can neither initiate nor follow the enemy mid laner’s roam. Prior to completing his ROA, the predictable Cho’gath can only do two things : farm and push.
As an off-tank that needs AP to remain relevant, Cho'gath must build Rod of Ages first to survive in the frontline. However, ROA offers no resistances, which means he is deceptively squishy despite having a large HP pool and an obnoxiously big character size. Without any escape abilities to save himself, Cho'gath will die just as quick as any squishy mage if caught out of position. That is why he must never fall behind early, or risk being useless compared to other mid laners who at least have the mobility, reliable CCs, or consistent sources of damage.
The main reason Cho’gath remains a niche pick is his unreliability. His attacks, albeit powerful, have either short range, sluggish cast animation, or both. Although Riot has drastically shortened his cast animations, sidestepping his attacks isn't difficult if you can see them coming. His ultimate ability is the most difficult to land. Feasting a backline carry requires him to wobble past all of the enemy team, and stand in the melee range of his target, who, by that time, should have already hightailed out of there.
If Cho’gath miss his skill shots in a team fight, he becomes a walking meat shield for the next 7+ seconds–an open invitation for the enemy to walk past him and eliminate his team. Cho'gath must cautiously decide whether to build CDR early at the cost of more survivability or damage, since a sub-optimal build order will drastically reduce his mid-game effectiveness in team fights. High risk high reward, not only must Cho'gath build the right items, but he also has to flawlessly coordinate CC chaining with the rest of his team. This makes him only suitable for teams that naturally excel at team fighting.
By this point, you are probably not surprised that Cho’gath is still unpopular in the current Meta. But the giant insect has his unique place on the competitive rift.
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
Some times better than a master of one, Cho’gath has his place over conventional picks in the mid lane, albeit that place is elusive to most teams. There are two ways to look at Cho; one, he is useful in his ability to burst, tank, and CC at the same time; two, he is useless because he cannot reliably accomplish any of the above. I believe he is an off-tank, a secondary DPS, and a secondary engage rolled into one package.
Cho’gath should not be the core of a team composition; he is a “reinforcement pick” that strengthens the rest of his team. The other four positions, therefore, should each possess a primary function on the team as the engage, tank, or DPS.
The main reasons for Cho'gath's resurgence are the changes to the Dragon and inner towers in Season 5. Since early Dragons no longer offer global gold and have 50% reduced experience, teams cannot snowball the early game as hard by taking early Dragons. Likewise, pushing 2nd tier towers became much harder after inner towers gained regenerative shields. These two changes significantly delayed the time to reach mid-game, which gave Cho’gath more time to farm and complete his items without compromising the rest of his team.
In LPL, there are two teams that have used Cho’gath effectively: Team King and LGD. They play two similar yet different styles. Both teams seek to skirmish with Cho, but they find and execute team fights differently.
Pick One, Kill All
Team King likes to play Cho’gath in a pick composition where they seek to pick off an enemy champion to gain a numbers advantage. For that reason, Rengar is always picked as the primary engage for his ability to find a pick and force team fights with his ultimate. King then adds two other single target lockdown champions to compliment their team. For example, they used Maokai&Thresh against Energy Pacemaker, and Irelia&Leona against OMG. These compositions provides Cho’gath with ample opportunities to land his less reliable CCs, and close the distance in time for his Feast.
For the primary source of damage, Kalista is their go-to pick. She is a champion that requires peel and protection to fully exert her potential as a late game hyper carry–something that Cho’gath can provide. Furthermore, Kalista compliments Cho’s strength for securing neutral monsters with her Rend ability. Notice that in either of King's compositions, Cho’gath is neither the primary tank, engage, nor DPS. But he is an unneglectable secondary threat in all three roles.
In the game versus Energy Pacemaker, Cho’gath couldn’t follow Leblanc’s roam in the laning phase, which gave the early game tempo to EP. However, King played to their mid game powerspike by continuously finding picks with Rengar ultimates, followed by the deadly CC chain and burst damage from Cho’gath. As more fights went in King’s favour, EP was forced into a lose-lose scenario where they would either use all of their abilities to burst down Cho’gath, leaving nothing for the rest of his team; or, ignore Cho’gath but have no response for him.
King demonstrated Cho’gath’s power to control objectives and come from behind in their match against OMG. Despite playing poorly in early team fights, King had a strong grasp over the Dragon pit and took multiple Dragons with the duo of Cho’gath and Kalista. If OMG tried to contest, Rengar would pop his ultimate to force them away from the area. Eventually, King stalled the game until they caught OMG with their pants down. A Rengar bola or a Leona ultimate was enough for Cho’gath to catch up, Flash silence, and feast upon any vulnerable target. After repeatedly losing fights, OMG crumbled.
Damage Across the Board
LGD has a triple threat carry system: Acorn top, Weiless mid, and Imp bottom. They like to play Cho’gath with Acorn on a carry top laner that can output devastating AOE damage, such as Rumble and Kennen. Since Weiless is one of the most aggressive and mechanically adept mid laners in China, he plays an opportunistic Cho’gath in the laning phase, always looking for solo kills.
While King relies on stacking CCs across their positions, LGD's multi-threat system make focus firing difficult for their opponent. Weiless’s Cho’gath doesn’t play second fiddle to his primary engagers; he initiates at the same time targeting the backline carries. Their strategy is simple: run at you with five people dealing tons of damage.
In their game vs. Snake, Weiless was punished for his aggressive play by dying twice in lane to ganks. However, that same aggressive play also rewarded him with a solo kill on Lissandra, which helped him complete his items. In team fights, Weiless prioritized on body blocking skill shots and Sion ultimates in the front line. Realizing that LGD has too many DPS threats, Snake tried to ignore Cho’gath and went for Kennen and Graves instead. This gave Weiless an open window to clean up the rest of Snake’s crew, and reach his critical mass where he can walk all over the enemy team in the late game.
Dade experienced the might of Cho’gath first hand in his game against LGD. His Ryze pick failed miserably, dying two times in lane to Weiless. Controlling the game from the very beginning, LGD constantly looked for opportunities to fight across the map, this time with four DPS threats: Rumble, Jarvan, Vayne, and Cho’gath. A fed Cho'gath early game transitions into an unstoppable force by mid game. In the face of a giant Cho and his dive buddies, M3 could not do anything except run away.
Invading the LCS
Season 5 is a glorious period for the giant insect. As changes to the jungle introduced a new iteration of tanky junglers, Cho’gath found himself comfortable in a Meta where teams favour beefier lineups. Although I believe more LPL teams will add Cho’gath to their mid lane champion pool, he won't become a trending pick any time soon.
You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Cho’gath. While his strengths as an off-tank CC bot are impressive, his weaknesses are so exploitable that they might cost him the match before he becomes unstoppable. Even veteran teams like LGD and King often errs in team fight coordination with Cho’gath. Indeed, the skirmish-loving giant insect lives and dies by the constant aggression that is prevalent in the LPL. Hence the reason why Cho’gath cannot be played to his full potential in the LCS, since there are only two teams—TSM and Fnatic—that can team fight at a level close to the LPL teams.
I always advocate for doing things the easy and the most effective way. Learning Cho’gath doesn’t appear to be either when champions such as Viktor and Lissandra are available. They are much easier to use, more versatile, and arguably more effective. Despite a few LCS teams trying their hands at using the giant insect, I cannot fathom that Cho'gath ever becoming a popular mid-lane pick in the West. But I hope, one day, that the giant insect would find his place.
Wouldn’t that be interesting to watch?