My goal with this series is to establish historical context by exploring who I think are the best players to ever play those champions. This series will give an in-depth history of a champion’s competitive history and showcase some of the best Summoners to ever call them forward.
These days, when Team Impulse mid laner XiaoWeiXiao hovers Yasuo, the Unforgiven, TiP fans around the world groan. His season 5 success on the wind swordsman has been mixed at best, and for a player with such a wide champion pool, it seems a complete waste for him to play such a subpar champion. Nonetheless, XiaoWeiXiao continues to hover Yasuo in almost every single game play he plays. It’s possible, even probable, that the famously mischievous mid laner is simply playing with his fan’s hearts. But there’s a chance that XiaoWeiXiao is remembering better days for Yasuo, a time when a Yasuo pick was a badge of pride, a sign that a team had so much faith in their star player that they would build an entire team composition around his success.
Yasuo’s play has seen some dramatic rises and falls. These days, Yasuo has almost completely fallen out of favor. During his release, he immediately become one of the most broken champions in the game. But once upon a time, Yasuo’s play was at one of the best balance points in all of LoL. Only the most skilled Yasuo players dared select the champion, and when they did, they were signalling their teammates that with the right composition, they could singlehandedly carry the game. This article will present a history of Yasuo in competitive play, highlighting the greatest players to ever summon the Unforgiven.
The story of a sword is inked in blood
Immediately upon Yasuo’s release, players around the world realized the incredible power of the champion. While melee DPS carries have historically suffered, Yasuo’s incredible mobility, awesome defensive power (release Yasuo’s Shield at level 18 blocked 690 damage), and ability to complement common knock-up engages meant that the Unforgiven immediately found a home at the highest level of competitive play. The first competitive games involving Yasuo were the 3/4th place matches of OGN Winter and the finals of the same tournament. The four mid laners at the tournament, Ryu, Ggoong, Faker, and dade were indisputably the four best mid laners in Korea at the time. Although only two of the group would become historically great Yasuo players, the champion was banned in 6 of the 7 games – teams were loathe to give away the obviously broken champion.
The single Yasuo game saw dade (then still on Samsung White) playing his future signature champion against Faker and SKT at the height of their powers. When compared to the heights dade’s Yasuo would reach later on in the year, his gameplay was unspectacular, but fans could already see glimpses of his great play – several confident solo engages onto SKT saw him converting kills and occasionally escaping with his life. One of the biggest issues in this game was how hesitant Samsung White played. It was apparent that the synergy issues that eventually led to dade’s departure to Samsung Blue were present. Several times, Looper or Mata gave up great opportunities to either set up perfect Yasuo ultimates or supplement Yasuo’s daring engages, and even in this broken state Yasuo was a champion that required fantastic team communication. Even when engaging on his own, Yasuo needs complementary crowd control to lock down opponents, otherwise he is in serious danger once his shield is blown. On Blue, dade would soon find the running mates he needed to enable his heavy mid-lane engage style.
In the meantime, Yasuo was beginning to see play elsewhere around the world as more tournaments/leagues began their seasons. It’s important to once again note that unlike most other picks, Yasuo play was not the result of players noticing a powerful champion in another region and trying it for themselves – Yasuo was simply obviously broken. Some teams also began trying to flex Yasuo into the top lane, hoping to combine his engage prowess with an additional knock-up threat in mid lane Orianna or Gragas. One of the first teams to attempt this was ocelote’s future Gamers2 squad, sending Jwaow top lane with Yasuo against Latin American squad Furious Gaming. While the match saw Jwaow amass a large CS lead against FG’s top laner Accelerator, the Yasuo pick itself wasn’t particularly impressive, the Latin American squad simply looked out of their depth. Once again, this was a case of teams simply having the opportunity to play a pick everybody knew about first rather than true innovation, but unlike Yasuo mid, Yasuo never attained much popularity or success in the top lane. While the knock-up combos seemed powerful in theory, teams with tanky top laners were able to brute force past Yasuo and into his backline before he could build enough damage to kill them. As the season went on, teams with strong carry top laners would repeatedly try the champion, notably Coast and later Dignitas with ZionSpartan in the Summer Split and Ninjas in Pajamas with nukeduck, (swapping lanes with then top laner Alex Ich) the seemingly potent pick never took off.
In all regions, it was apparent that teams understood Yasuo’s power but still didn’t know the best way to use him. In addition to experiments sending him top lane, teams also attempted to play him in compositions without any other knockups, hoping that his high mobility, damage, and single knock-up would be enough to carry the day. Other teams went overboard with the knock-up synergy, bringing out otherwise sub-par picks like Malphite or the nerfed Zac to try and add additional synergy with the powerful samurai. Teams eventually settled on picking Yasuo alongside champions that were already in the meta but incidentally also had knock-up skills, such as Lee Sin or Thresh. Yasuo also saw a key change to his build path. While players had previously rushed Infinity Edge immediately after their Static Shiv for maximum raw damage, Samsung Blue mid laner dade began building the Blade of the Ruined King after Shiv, delaying his damage spike in favor of far greater safety and a smaller increase in dueling potential. Deciding which build path was optimal for the situation became an additional criteria for playing Yasuo, the component items had a very high build price in and of themselves, so foresight was required for maximum effectiveness.
After back-to-back nerfs on patches 4.2 and 4.3, Yasuo would fall in popularity but remained an extremely powerful pick in the hands of a select few experts who had both individual mastery of the champion and devoted teammates willing to back them up.
Some mistakes you can’t make twice
Although Yasuo was nerfed shortly after teams figured out how to use him to his maximum effectiveness, the changes weren’t enough to stifle such a potent kit, but were damaging enough that players who preferred other champions felt no need to continue practicing the Unforgiven. Consequently, he reached a rare balance point where only Yasuo experts were able to choose the champion. Because of his versatile nature (he features aspects of an assassin, AD Carry, and bruiser) the way the expert Yasuo players approached the champion spoke volumes about their approach to the game.
In North America, two Yasuo players would rise to the top of their region, establishing their own unique approaches to the champion and quickly receiving reputations as must-ban Yasuos. The first notable Yasuo player of North America was Curse mid laner Voyboy. Although most fans assumed that the affectionately nicknamed Boy’s mastery of assassins would translate well into his new home in the mid lane, Voyboy generally struggled during his first LCS season, only occasionally succeeding on eclectic top lane champions like Vladimir or Akali and generally failing to match up to his fantastic top lane play. On Yasuo however, Voyboy would find a champion that both fit well with his mid lane playstyle and was a powerful metagame pick. Yasuo’s mobility and forgiving defenses synergized perfectly with Voyboy’s daring style. Voyboy would frequently make use of Yasuo’s high lane damage to score successful all-ins, as seen in this narrow defeat to Cloud9. Outside of lane, it was clear that Voyboy’s top lane assassin playstyle had found a new home, his ability to pick off and assassinate opponents on Yasuo was unparalleled in the West. Yasuo also synergized perfectly with the unique champion pool of jungler IWillDominate, whose mastery of champions like Vi or Wukong proved critical to Curse’s success with the Unforgiven.
But although Voyboy’s Yasuo was scary, he never built up enough of a surrounding champion pool to support it and free it up from picks and bans. While his Yasuo was truly terrifying and led to several key Curse victories, Voyboy was not a world-class mid laner at the end of Season 4, he was just a world class Yasuo player. On the other hand, LMQ mid laner XiaoWeiXiao, central carry for LMQ and now Team Impulse, was and is still a world-class threat. XiaoWeiXiao’s mastery of Yasuo symbolized the redemption of a player once considered too weak for China’s premier league. When XiaoWeiXiao played in China, he was harshly criticized for his passive farm playstyle and inability to play champions other than wave clear mages. When XWX first brought out Yasuo in amateur tournaments like the NACL or the Black Monster Cup during LMQ’s time in the Challenger scene, it seemed like many of his harshest critics were correct. He was never able to have great impact on the Unforgiven, and his mediocre play caused LMQ to fall behind teams like Curse Academy and Team8 in the NACL standings. But eventually, his hard work paid off. As soon as he entered the LCS, XiaoWeiXiao’s Yasuo was already an extremely potent threat, and it would only become scarier as the season went on. When thinking of great farming champions, Yasuo rarely comes to mind but XiaoWeiXiao would use his impeccable last hitting to rapidly become the best Yasuo player in the West. The LMQ mid laner took a very conservative laning approach, only roaming when kills were guaranteed, preferring to quickly farm up and become a deadly late game threat. XiaoWeiXiao was the spearhead in LMQ’s aggressive playstyle, dueling his opponents as soon as he had amassed enough of a gold advantage so that he could take the mid tower and free up the map for his teammate’s brawling style. On Yasuo, XiaoWeiXiao would usually focus on kiting backwards in teamfights, saving his Q knockup for the perfect time to dive past the tankline and finish off the opposing carries, a style reminiscent of great Orianna players like Ryu or Toyz. It was fitting that XiaoWeiXiao’s greatest accomplishments in Season 4 came both with Yasuo (the deciding Game 5 against Curse to go to Worlds) and against him (LMQ’s day 1 upset of Chinese kings OMG.)
In spite of Yasuo’s popularity in North America, he never truly caught on in either Europe or China. In Europe, Yasuo only saw sparing play from the top teams. European assassin expert xPeke preferred other champions, and would-be Yasuo star nukeduck failed to enter the LCS and was soon barred from competitive play. Likewise, Yasuo rarely saw play from the top teams in China. Although fans may know Cool for his Yasuo play at Worlds, for much of the regular season Cool was actually known as a quite poor Yasuo player, and was actually often mocked for his comically poor showings on the Unforgiven in solo queue. The tides would dramatically turn in the Chinese regionals, with Cool displaying a heretofore unknown mastery of the champion, scoring 20 kills to power OMG past SHRC and into the World Championships. Interestingly, China’s true Yasuo god, Zzitai, was unable to qualify for the World championships. Best known for an erratic playstyle and an extremely unusual champion pool, Zzitai was able to make use of Yasuo’s great mobility and engage potential to frequently catch his opponents off guard, making him a scary threat at all stages of the game. Fnatic mid laner xPeke would discover just how deadly Zzitai’s Yasuo was at the IEM World Championships, falling prey to Zzitai’s Yasuo when playing his signature Kasssadin in their first matchup against the Chinese squad.
For sections discussing the Yasuo play of dade, RooKie, PawN, and Faker, check page 2.
I will not die dishonored
As skilled as those Yasuo players were, their Yasuo play paled in comparison to that of dade. As the first player to bring out Yasuo in competitive play, it was perhaps fitting for him to also become the greatest. Reeling from an exceptionally disappointing end to Season 3, dade would come back in Season 4 with a vengeance. After his defeat to Faker in the Winter playoffs, dade would come back roaring to pilot his new Samsung Blue squad to the OGN Championship in the Spring Split. The so-called “King of Spring” played Yasuo as he did many of his best champions – as an aggressive playmaker and primary engager. In this montage, one can see how rare it was for dade to need additional engage help, even in competitive games.
Whereas most mid laners were reliant on their junglers to engage, dade would take the responsibility himself, allowing Spirit to play farm heavy junglers like Kha’Zix or Rengar and focus on building damage. At his peak, dade would seemingly willing his team to victory by landing tornado after tornado to score countless picks and engages for Samsung. Part of dade’s Yasuo mastery was his great understanding of two seemingly basic concepts. dade was the best at deciding the proper build for Yasuo given the game’s circumstances. As the first player to delay an Infinity Edge in favor of Blade of the Ruined King, he also knew when the completely eschew BotRK in favor of second item Infinity Edge into Bloodthirster, or simply delaying it to spike in damage earlier with a second item IE. In addition, dade was great at timing the Yasuo ult so that he could levitate either the most critical opponents or simply the largest number of opponents possible. While this mistake seems more fitting of a Yasuo novice than a top pro, even great Yasuo players were guilty of using the ultimate too quickly and only knocking up the frontline. One of dade’s best Yasuo plays actually came in the final set against the KT Arrows. Although his team lost due to a great early game snowball from KaKAO, dade’s ability to score clutch ultimates allowed him to shine in defeat, even solo-killing the very fed RooKie, a great Yasuo player in his own right, after KT’s first tower dive. dade’s Yasuo would quickly become a critical must-ban champion for Blue, as his daring and comfort on the champion was simply unrivaled. While dade has always taken a unique approach to his picks, often engaging on other mid lane champions like Zed or Twisted Fate, it usually seemed like while dade’s style was strong, there were better ways to play those champions. On Yasuo, dade set himself up as the model the world would try to, but fail to, follow.
In addition to dade, three other Korean mid laners would establish themselves as Yasuo virtuosos during the Spring and Summer of Season 4. While Ggoong and Ryu were top players when Yasuo was first introduced, the two of them never became prominent Yasuos, with only Faker and dade remaining from the original quartet. Much like his other champions, Faker took a very aggressive and mechanical pick-oriented approach to Yasuo, and his outplay of former NaJin (currently GE) mid laner KurO remains one of the best Yasuo plays of all-time. Unfortunately, Faker would move away from Yasuo as the year went on. His diverse champion pool meant that he often could succeed on other champions with higher solo-carry potential, which was critical for a flagging SKT squad. Faker’s prospective Yasuo play was especially hurt by the fact that the jungle and support positions are often called upon to synergize with Yasuo, and bengi and Pooh were both facing extremely terrible slumps. The other two notable Korean Yasuos, PawN and RooKie, both were not normally considered the stars of their teams, but were very notable Yasuo players and playmakers in their own right, taking unique spins on the champion that allowed them to star in a team context.
Playing on a loaded Samsung White squad alongside Looper, DanDy, imp, and Mata, PawN was rarely counted upon to star for his team, which usually won through mid-game picks with their great vision control or relied on a “Protect-the-imp” strategy as a back-up if the game dragged on to the late game. PawN’s job was to win his own lane and to follow up picks from Mata and DanDy. On Yasuo, PawN had a perfect champion to play this role. Yasuo’s long ultimate range meant that he could follow up a pick from over a screen away, and some of the jungle-support duo’s most favored champions, like Lee Sin, Nami, and Thresh already had knock-up spells. Yasuo was also a great fit for PawN’s powerful laning phase. Although Yasuo became only an average laner after his third round of nerfs, the champion remained quite dominant in the hands of PawN’s great understanding of trading and all-in timings. PawN’s Yasuo eventually became so fearsome that in Blue’s matchups against White, Blue themselves were forced to ban the champion even though they were led by the greatest Yasuo player of all time.
The other great Yasuo player, RooKie, took a more hard carry approach to the champion, but was still quite reliant on following up plays from his jungler, KaKAO. RooKie and KaKAO played on a kT Arrows squad filled with extremely streaky players. While Arrow was generally fairly reliable in the AD role save for his shaky last hitting, ssumday and Hachani would wildly veer between acceptably playing their roles and outright feeding. With KaKAO constantly on the lookout to make plays or find carry opportunities, it fell on RooKie to become the rock of that stormy Arrows squad. His play on Yasuo, possibly his best champion at the time, was characterized by a reliable style where he only took risks when he had backup from KaKAO. Their great synergy led to the team to an OGN title, where their famed Yasuo – Lee Sin combo would serve as the primary carries in a decisive blind pick Game 5.
The road to ruin is shorter than you think
After an exciting performance at the World Championships, which featured many of the best Yasuo players from around the world including XiaoWeiXiao, PawN, and dade, it looked like the Unforgiven would stay in his new comfortable niche in competitive play. Unfortunately, additional nerfs to the champion as well as overall metagame shifts would make his fragile laning phase untenable for even the best Yasuo players, and he has always completely fallen away from the upper echelons of LoL. (Changes to Statik Shiv would add insult to injury, forcing him to go extremely awkward runes or build paths to reach 100% crit.) These days, a Yasuo pick just seems like bad luck. Not only has former master XiaoWeiXiao failed to revive the champion, it was KurO’s bizarre Yasuo pick that spawned World Elite’s comeback and subsequent upset of the GE Tigers.
At his peak, watching a great Yasuo player was a true treat. The champion was flashy and incredibly demanding, but also featured such a diverse kit that Yasuo play was also extremely expressive – a perfect combination for a top-tier pick. But even though Yasuo has fallen away, there is always a chance that he can return. In addition to XiaoWeiXiao’s determined efforts, it’s possible that other former Yasuo experts can bring the champion back, perhaps after some helpful buffs from Riot Games. RooKie and KaKAO still play together in China. Eccentric mid laner Zzitai has joined them, this time moving to the top lane. If anyone could make that pick work, it would have to be him. PawN’s Yasuo might be the perfect fit next to ClearLove’s Rek’Sai. Maybe T0M and Bang can bring the support Faker’s Yasuo never had. A late spring might be coming for dade.
As Yasuo would say – This story is not yet finished.