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Thoughts on the Chen rework

The return of the legendary brewmaster

Chen has been in a rough spot for a long time now. According to HotsApi you have to go all the way back to 2016 to find an above 50% win rate for our favorite panda. He is a mechanically demanding hero that relies on body blocking and diving deep to stay efficient. But the reward for pulling it off was low damage. It earned him the nickname «fat Illidan» coined by the community may highlight the challenge in balancing him and explain why we have been waiting so long for a rework; in the case of Illidan Blizzard has gone out and said that the character walks a fine line between being undertuned and overly annoying.

Abilities

Let’s first talk about Chen’s basic and ultimate abilities. This is considered his base kit so it makes sense to start there, while we will go more into how you build him later in the article.

Flying Kick (Q) –  Chen’s Q ability has not seen any changes in this rework. Flying Kick is Chen’s main gap closer. It puts Chen on the opposite side of the player, flying over his target. This makes it a great tool for bodyblocking, especially combined with Keg Smash, his W ability.

Flying Kick requires Chen players to be very conscious of their positioning. If an enemy is looking to escape through a chokepoint, Chen can use his Flying Kick so he ends up in front of them, leaving the target vulnerable to follow-up from Chen’s team.

Keg Smash (W) – The W slot previously held only Keg Smash. Now it contains Keg Smash and 1.5 seconds after use the ability transforms into Chen’s previous E ability: Breath Of Fire. After being used or after waiting six seconds the ability resets to Keg Smash. Using the combination of abilities within the correct time frame ignites the target.

The brew cost of both Keg Smash and Breath Of Fire has been changed so that the Keg Smash+Breath combo is cheaper than in Chen’s previous iteration. The Keg Smash slow still lasts 3 seconds but the initial slow has been reduced from 25% to 10% To make up for this it has also gained a new functionality where 1.5 seconds into the slow it ramps up to a staggering 40% slow for the remaining 1.5 seconds. Breath of fire extends the slow duration by an additional 1.5 seconds. As a result you can now slow someone for up to 4.5 seconds in total.

Stagger (E) – Chen’s new E ability is called Stagger. Stagger is an extremely potent damage mitigation ability that makes Chen invulnerable for 3 seconds. After it expires it deals 75% of the damage taken during that time over 5 seconds. The potential for burst mitigation with this ability is its main draw and it allows Chen to make risky plays underneath towers and deep in the enemy backline.Despite this potential it has to be said that 75% of the damage taken is still a substantial amount and if Chen is focused the DoT left in Stagger’s wake can turn deadly. To alleviate this problem we have to talk about Chen’s trait: Fortifying Brew.

Fortifying Brew (D)Fortifying Brew regenerates Chen’s brew while also providing a shield. It has had some tweaks here and there, both to brew regeneration and to Chen’s shielding. Despite the removal of Fortifying Brew’s instant brew gain when Chen starts the channel, the increased rate that brew builds allows Chen to reach his maximum brew of 100 quicker than before. 

The nerfs to its shielding, both in terms of shield per second and the maximum amount of shields Chen can obtain, leaves him more susceptible to enemies bursting through the shield, but this nerf is eased somewhat by letting the shield stay on Chen longer after he’s done channeling (from 2 to 4 seconds). This increased shield duration gives Chen greater protection against small amounts of damage and consistent poke but it also plays into talents that I will talk about later. All this being said, the most important thing about Fortifying Brew in Chen’s rework is not the numerical changes but rather its interaction with Stagger. The Stagger DoT eats off Chen’s shields and this is obviously preferable to it eating away at his health. Because of this Fortifying Brew gains a new function where Chen doesn’t have to drink mid fight for burst protection because of Stagger, but more so in the aftermath to deal with the DoT.

Wandering Keg (R) – Wandering Keg has had its knockback and knockback speed increased along with a 70% movement speed increase while the ultimate is active. This sounds like a buff to the ability since you can potentially knock people further away from the team. While it’s true that in an ideal scenario people will be displaced further, the fact that you bump people farther away means they’re effectively spending less time stunlocked by the keg. There is more room for counterplay and using mobility tools to dodge the keg. The level 20 upgrade for the ultimate is buffed somewhat and now gives more armor and movement speed, but I think overall the changes to Wandering Keg can be considered a nerf.

Storm, Earth, Fire (R) – Chen’s most iconic ability Storm, Earth, Fire lets him transform into three spirits that all have unique abilities. There are some negligible nerfs to each of the spirits hp (5%), but the important change is connected to how the spirits function. The spirits have all had their abilities buffed with the trade-off being that each ability can only be used once. On top of this, the last ability cast will be transformed to provide a more substantial version of itself. Using Storm(Q) last will give an indefinite shield, using Earth(W) last will root enemies instead of slowing them and using Fire(E) last boosts its damage bonus and provides a movement speed bonus of 50% on top.

Talents

Level 1 

Stormstout Secret Recipe has remained unchanged and it still heals for 2% of Chen’s max HP every time you damage a Hero with abilities. It’s worth noting that it only heals on the initial hit of Breath Of Fire and not every time its ticks damage a Hero. It feels lackluster compared to its rivals on the tier, since the healing would be negligible even if you were to hit 3 heroes with Keg Smash + Breath Of Fire.

Eye of the Tiger is a new talent, and the healing it provides seems just as, if not more, substantial throughout a teamfight and provides a damage boost on top if you auto attack targets that are brew soaked. Eye of the Tiger is the foundation for a lot of Chen’s damage builds that will be discussed more later.

Freshest Ingredients is a talent that empowers healing globes somewhat similar to Diablo’s Devil’s Due (does not affect fountains), but it also gives Chen a globe quest that when completed allows 50% of Fortifying Brews shields to persist indefinitely.

Level 4  

On this tier Withering Flames is provided as an option early (previously given at level 13). This talent lets the brewmaster reduce the spellpower of enemy heroes by 30% if he lands his full Keg Smash+Breath Of Fire combo on them. The duration of Withering Flames spell power reduction is increased by a second, presumably to make up for the fact that igniting someone is harder after the rework due to Breath Of Fires delay after Keg Smashing someone. 

Accumulating Flame was previously a W quest talent on level 1. Now it’s a baseline 25% increase of Breath Of Fires damage on top of auto attacks now extending ignites duration. It’s important to note that the 25% increase also applies to minions and mercs so it’s an obvious contender when playing from the solo lane.

Deadly Strike is a buff to Flying Kick and has not been touched in the rework. It’s a viable talent but in raw numbers it pales compared to the impact of Accumulating Flame and Withering Flames. It lets Chen use Flying Kick more liberally due to the removal of its brew cost and also incentivizes Chen being shielded up before Q’ing in for a 100% increased damage bonus.

Level 7

Level 7 is the mitigation tier for Chen and a lot of other characters. There’s three different kinds of damage the talents account for. Gift of the Ox which empowers Stagger and as a result Chen’s burst protection. This talent reduces the DoT damage you receive after Stagger runs out from 75% of damage received to 60% of damage received. It’s a hefty reduction and can make a huge difference if the enemies’ damage is bursty and predictable enough to be countered by Stagger. Kel’thuzad is an extreme example of a hero that could be hard countered by well timed Staggers, but also other cooldown reliant damage dealers like Jaina and Li-Ming.

Elusive Brawler has been buffed, probably due to being moved from level 1. It now gives 30% movespeed during Elusive Brawlers whole duration, which lets you stick on targets reliably. Coupled with the slow from Keg Smash it makes body blocking easy.

Brewmaster’s Balance has not been changed and still provides good poke protection through giving Chen increased health regen while above 50 brew. The movespeed when under 50 brew is also good for getting out of sticky situations or staying on a target, but seems less relevant now that Elusive Brawler packs more movespeed (albeit with less uptime).

Level 13

Chen’s level 13 tier is now a large one and provides him with four solid options. Pressure Point adds a 35% slow to Flying Kick, increased to 75% if Chen uses Flying Kick while having shields from Fortifying Brew. There is some synergy with Freshest Ingredients if Chen has completed its quest. This is likely by level 13 since it only demands 15 globes,  Chen will then have close to permanent shielding and be able to consistently slow people for 75%.

A Touch of Honey increases the slow of Keg Smash by 10% for its entire duration and also increases the duration of Keg Smash. In practice this means that the first 1.5 seconds of Keg Smash now slows by 20% and the final period lasts 2 seconds and slows for 50%. This increase is substantial and helps Chen lock down opponents in fights, increasing the likelihood of landing his full Keg Smash + Breath Of Fire combo. It also pairs well with Eye of the Tiger since its auto attack bonus on soaked targets will find more value due to the duration increase of Keg Smash.

Ring of Fire is similar to Burning Rage that was usually found on other characters at this tier. It’s a talent that passively damages targets in an AOE around Chen if he lands his Keg Smash + Breath Of Fire combo on an enemy. The fact that you can proc this on a minion or mercenary in lane and don’t rely on a hero, coupled with its strong waveclear potential makes this the go-to for the solo lane if you want to increase your ability to push out a wave. It’s teamfight value isn’t bad either as each enemy standing in it for its duration of 5 seconds will take 300 damage (scaling not taken into consideration), adding some decent AOE to Chen’s already high damage output.

Enough to Share grants Chen an immediate shield when using his trait, similar to his iteration pre-rework. This is a neat bonus for burst protection but the main draw of the talent is the fact that it lets you shield your allies for a maximum of 420 shielding. The shield per second that allies gain has been substantially buffed, meaning you can get it in quicker. The range is not huge but with proper positioning this talent can really turn the tide of battle similar to Storm Shield. Since Chen already has good dive potential with Flying Kick I can also see this talent getting value in enabling a typical dive carry like a Genji or Illidan.

Level 16

The 16 tier is a big power spike for Chen as it is for a lot of heroes. Flying Leap is an old talent with some added buffs. It is in my opinion the weakest on this tier. It gives Chen increased range on his Flying Kick (15%) and gives it a cooldown reduction based on ticks from enemies being ignited. While it has great potential and gives Chen Kerrigan-like mobility in fights where his W-combo gets value, the other talents on this tier are better. I can see this having some room in a utility style build, but I think the raw numbers aren’t there for this one.

Celerity gives 15 armor for 3 seconds and reduces the cooldown of Stagger by 1.5 seconds each time Chen auto attacks CCed targets. The notable interaction here is with Keg Smash, since you can get these benefits by auto attacking slowed targets. The near constant armor you will have in fights coupled with a substantially reduced Stagger-cooldown makes Chen way more survivable and it is probably the talent to go for if the enemy team is pressuring you in fights.

The last talent on this tier Combo Strikes is the offensive talent on the tier. It makes every third auto attack deal 75% increased damage and buffs Chen’s attack speed by 50% if he has shields from Fortifying Brew and for two seconds after the shields expire. The power in this talent is huge, especially coupled with Chen’s other auto attack talents like Eye of the Tiger. With this talent you’re looking to use Fortifying Brew prior to an engagement to maximize damage, and the damage really is something. I’m expecting to see Chen’s numbers and talents like these dialled back, but right now you should be looking to pick this up unless you’re being blown up before getting the damage out, in which case Celerity is a potential pickup on the tier.

Level 20

The 20 tier is very dependant on the build you’ve decided on but I’ll start by saying that all of the choices are very good. Untapped Potential gives you unstoppable and 75 armor while using Wandering Keg, and also increases it movement speed. This lets you displace enemies further and lessens the potential for counterplays against you while displacing someone making this a strong talent if you’ve chosen Wandering Keg. But as I mentioned earlier in the article there’s arguments for Keg being nerfed in this iteration of Chen and also the power level of Storm, Earth, Fire seems so overtuned right now that Wandering Keg and it’s 20 upgrade is very much in the situational category.

Elemental Conduit, the upgrade to Storm, Earth, Fire increase the health pool of all spirits by 100% percent and empowers all their abilities irrespective of when they are cast. The fact that you can get the empowered attack speed AND a full root on someone is a lethal combination and can very easily let you 100-0 someone in the late game. Also the empowered shield coupled with the health increase makes you pretty much impossible to kill. This stands out to me as a very potent level 20 talent.

Purifying Brew has not seen any changes and still grants unstoppable for 1.5 seconds when using Fortifying Brew. This has been nerfed somewhat indirectly due to Fortifying Brews cooldown being increased from 5 to 7 seconds but it still has a lower cooldown than something like Yrel’s Seraphim, which is a 2 second, must-pick unstoppable on a 10 second cooldown.. This is a very strong talent and might be considered if the enemy has scary crowd control.

Energizing Brew gives Chen a 20% boost to his health and a 20% boost to ALL damage for 25 seconds if he channels his Fortifying Brew all the way through. The damage boost in particular is crazy, but in my testing I seemed to get more damage with Elemental Conduit due to the utility and CC it brings on top of the damage increase. More testing should be done though and I think this might be a sleeper talent where you can unload a surprising amount of damage on someone coupled with his auto attack build.

How and where to play Chen

As always with the release/rework of warrior/bruiser style characters there are questions whether they’ll be able to tank. In the case of Chen that doesn’t seem to be the case. He has a definite lack of hard CC and peel, and he thrives when someone other than him makes the engage so he can dive and harass the backline.

From what I’ve seen of Chen so far he seems to very much fit in the offlane role. His self sustain is excellent and the shield from Fortifying Brew lets him trade into other characters freely much like a Fenix. His damage numbers are simply overtuned and he’ll trade positively into most offlaners and can easily take them out if they play carelessly. With talents like Accumulating Flame at 4 his waveclear ramps up and he is also able to grab camps.

Your usual combo when playing aggressively into someone usually starts with popping your trait Fortifying Brew for shields and post 16 for the attack speed bonus. You then want to Q onto your target, making sure you end up in a position where you can easily bodyblock while you weave in autos. As you Q on to them use your Keg Smash + Breath of Fire combo for the slow and damage, making your job body blocking them that much easier.

When doing the Keg Smash + Breath of Fire combo make sure you don’t ignite them too early. You want to get the most out of your initial slow. After level 10 your rotation is similar up until the point where you want to pop Storm, Earth, Fire. Try not to use it too early but rather get your baseline damage rotation out first. While the enemy is slowed by ignite you transition into it. While in Storm, Earth, Fire you will want your spirits to be attacking the priority target.

The question that comes up is what abilities to use first and last since this has a huge impact now. In my view you never empower your Q ability unless you’re in a really rough spot. In 90% of cases you want to empower your W ability for the root that it provides. The root is huge in teamfights. It lets your team follow up and all your spirits get to auto attack freely for extremely high damage.

In rare cases where your target is already heavily CCed or you just need that straight up damage boost to get someone down, empowering your E ability is also an option. Once 20 hits and you get Elemental Conduit for the root + empowered attack speed, you’re literally a damage monster and a big threat for the enemy backline and even frontline characters.

I think this damage/harass heavy style is Chen’s current strength – playing him like a sustainable solo laner that wins most trades until you come online at 10 and then dominate teamfights by securing kills with your ultimate ability and hard hitting auto attacks. To accentuate this strength I’ve been using the following build in my games so far:

The 100-0 build (offlane):

1 – Eye of the Tiger
4 – Accumulating Flame
7 – Gift of the Ox/Elusive Brawler – Damage mitigation tier so these are situational depending on the enemy team’s composition. That being said I do lean towards Elusive Brawler due to its added movespeed bonus.
10 – Storm, Earth, Fire
13 – Ring of Fire/A Touch of Honey Ring of Fire for waveclear, if you for some reason don’t want to talent into that then the slow from A Touch of Honey can be strong and synergizes with Eye of the Tiger
16 – Combo Strikes/Celerity – Combo Strikes in most cases as it adds substantial damage but if under pressure go Celerity.
20 – Elemental Conduit

Help I’m the only warrior in QM or ARAM (utility/tank build)

1 – Freshest Ingredients
4 – Withering Flames
7 – Gift of the Ox/Elusive Brawler
10 – Wandering Keg
13 – Pressure Point
16 – Celerity 
20 – Purifying Brew

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