In Game 2 of TSM vs Immortals’ Summer Split playoff game, TSM support, Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh, built Zhonya’s Hourglass on Leona, an item usually built on vulnerable AP carries and squishy engage champions. Zhonya’s is only built in 0.43% of all Leona solo queue games in Platinum+, so SwordArt’s itemization is incredibly niche, to say the least. Why did he build it here, and why do pros build it across the board?
When glancing at pro player itemization on Leona in major regions, Zhonyas is the most often completed item on Leona after the support item and mythic of choice, according to Games of Legends. As often as pro players get itemization wrong, it would be easy to glance over their item choice as “just a weird, incorrect thing that pros do.”
As a tanky, engage support against mostly physical damage, Thornmail or Zeke’s Herald would seem like the most obvious build paths for the average player, but Zhonya’s gave SwordArt exactly what he needed to play against Immortals’ composition.
Stat-wise, Zhonya’s hourglass gives 45 armor and 10 Ability Haste (which Leona can effectively take advantage of) compared to the 60 of Thornmail and 25 of Zeke’s. Zhonya’s also lacks health, which is a crucial Leona stat, especially considering her W ability, Eclipse, provides percent damage reduction.
All of the items are relatively close in cost, and very few players build Zhonya’s in solo queue, so why does it eclipse the rest in pro play, and why did SwordArt build it against Immortals?
The stasis Zhonya’s provides is one of the most useful tools in the game, and it’s especially useful in very specific situations. It’s necessary on champions like Diana and Morgana, who have large AOE abilities that take time to complete once activated. Leona doesn’t have that need, but based on how IMT’s comp worked, the Zhonya’s stasis provided incredible value, much more than the health of Zeke’s or Thornmail would have.
The icing on the cake was using the stasis to prevent the enemy Tristana from gaining a reset on her Rocket Jump, limiting her teamfight capabilities and slippery escapes.
Leona served as TSM’s primary method engagement, so SwordArt was often alone for a few seconds as he started the fight. IMT also had incredible single target damage and a Twisted Fate for single target crowd control. Just a few seconds alone would almost guarantee death, even for a tanky Leona. So, unless SwordArt was consistently hitting a perfect ultimate from range, he would always be vulnerable kicking off a teamfight.
However, since SwordArt was able to mitigate that damage and crowd control after making his engage by going into stasis, it wasn’t as risky. SwordArt would engage, triggering Aftershock, which gave him a huge amount of flat resistances temporarily, and use Eclipse to gain even further reduced damage. Then, as those effects wore off, he would go into stasis, dodging all of the abilities sent to kill him.
While in stasis, the rest of TSM would then pile onto whatever IMT target SwordArt had stunned. By the time Zhonya’s wore off, his spells were available again thanks to Leona’s short cooldowns — and he could use Locket of the Iron Solari to shield himself and his team who arrived as backup to help clean up the teamfight.
If he didn’t have Zhonya’s, the Twisted Fate stun would last longer than his burst of extra resistances, and he’d likely die before his team could join and before his second spell rotation. The Zhonya’s allows him to be much more aggressive, despite the lack of health.
It won’t work in every comp, particularly against those with better range, more AP damage and more area of effect (and it’s much harder to pull off without team comms), but if you play Leona as your team’s primary engage champ, pick up Zhonya’s and try it out. You may find that it does more than a few hundred health would, otherwise.