Breaking Down North America's Midlaners
Note** the statistics used in this article only include games being played up to week 6 of NALCS, the games played this weekend and any after it are not included. Also it does not include either of Coasts midlaners neither Jesiz nor Mancloud have played all of the matches, if you want to know where I would rank them it would most likely be 10th.
Undeniably the best mid laner in North America Bjergsen has had an amazing split thus far. His stats are ridiculous, with a KDA of 9.1 Bjergsen leads the pack of NA mid laners, earning solo-kills onto the likes of Xiaoweixiao, Hai, Shiphtur, Pobelter, and Mancloud. Bjergsen’s laning is easily his most impressive trait. He averages 83.7 minions at 10 minutes higher than any other North American mid laner, and an average CS advantage of 9.7 minions by the 10 minute mark. In none of his games this split has he had a CS deficit at 10 minutes. By 20 minutes Bjergsen is able to extend his lead to an average of 181.08 and a CS advantage of 20.6. These are easily the most impressive stats of any North American mid laner. This is to be expected from the all-star mid laner as he is the primary, and some would argue sole carry of his team. Bjersen has his downsides though, not only is he a mid laner that demands resources from the enemy team to keep him in check but he also demands resources from his own team. In the majority of Team Solo Mid’s early victories both their support Lustboy, and jungler Santorin would make multiple attempts at ganking the midlane attempting to give Bjergsen an advantage which he would use to snowball into a victory for Team Solo Mid this strategy has its flaws most notably in the game vs Team 8 Slooshi was able to get himself on a defensive mid laner and survive the onslaught of ganks from Santorin’s Rengar. Currently Team Solo Mid sits comfortably at the top of the NA LCS however the team may run into serious struggles internationally if they are unable to distribute resources and pressure throughout the team.
After a massive under performance at the Season 4 NA LCS Summer playoffs and the Relegation tournament vs Curse Academy it appears as if Link, CLG’s mid laner, is back on track. Racking up 75 kills this split, more than any other North American mid laner, Link has had an impressive performance thus far. He has a strong laning phase although lacking behind, Bjergsen, XiaoWeiXiao, and Fenix in both CS at 10 minutes, and CS at 20. Link has a team oriented style of midlane, often forgoing CS and choosing to roam for kills or to assist his team with neutral objectives, buff control, and vision control. In fact Link is one of the few mid laners that occasionally opts to go for the ward trinket upgrade over the typical sweeper trinket suggesting that instead of clearing enemy vision he opts to invade and place aggressive wards. Link has very glaring weaknesses however. In both of his games vs Team-Liquid’s FeniX he was completely shut down losing lane by nearly 30 Cs, in his most recent game vs Team Liquid it resulted in FeniX completely taking over the game with his Zed. Link has also struggled vs Bjergsen, and to a lesser degree TiP’s XiaoWeiXiao, this issue, while not so prevalent in the North American scene, is bound to lead to troubles down the line if CLG makes it to any international tournament. Link has always struggled with his consistency, his worst being 2-0 down against curse academy in relegations, and his best playing against faker at all-stars. The real test for Link this season will be if he is able to translate his regular season performance into a Playoff run for first.
While on LMQ XiaoweiXiao was a dominating force in the NA scene. He was the primary carry of the team racking up 3 MvP awards and helping the team to a 2nd place finish. But now he is on a new team, with a new jungler, with 2 new languages. It’s a completely new environment for him, one that in which his skill, and mentality will be put to the test. So how has he done so far? While he’s not the same mid laner who solo-killed OMG’s Cool at worlds he is still a solid player. He has one of the best laning phase out of any NA mid laner farming up 82.16 Cs @ 10 minutes the second highest just behind Bjergsen who averages 83.75 at 10 minutes. He’s earned himself 51 kills total this split the 3rd highest only behind Link and Bjergsen, who are both on significantly higher placed teams. He has shown be a jack of all trades in the mid lane, being able to play Assassins such as Leblanc, Ahri, and Kassadin, control mages such as lulu and Lissandra, and poke champions like Ezreal and Xerath. If you aren’t impressed yet consider this, XWX has put up these amazing numbers with a team that doesn’t even speak the same language as him, along with the fact that his jungler is a rookie fresh out of Korean soloque that he has a completely contradictory playstyle with.
Team Liquid came into the spring split with a lot of hype. Picking up Piglet, a world champion, in the ADC position was a huge addition to an already strong roster. With Dominate in the Jungle who proved last split that he was still one of the best junglers in North America, Quas at top with a rock solid carry type style, and with the Xpecial-Piglet bot lane, a world champion and North America’s best support it looked like this team was going to be unstoppable. But many people overlooked their mid lane acquisition FeniX, he was not very well known at the time and had recently came to North America to play mid lane for TDK (Seraphs challenger team). He was originally a top laner for the Jin Air Green Wings Falcons in Korean and played in Champions Winter and Spring 2014. His transition to mid lane has been hit or miss. While his laning has been superb with the most CS at 20 out of any North American mid laner (184.44) and he has proven he can take over games when he carried his team on Zed vs CLG last weekend. But these stats can’t overshadow his shortcomings. Racking up 40 deaths so far, the only mid laner with more than him being Team 8’s Slooshi, points to an over-aggressive style that has caused the team multiple defeats. This can be seen most notably in the game vs Dignitas when he repeatedly arcane shifted into the enemy team for no reason. Plays like this while appear to be diminishing are causing Team Liquid losses that they can and should be winning. If FeniX cannot control himself and switch to a more controlled style it may hold Liquid back from becoming a top team in the North American LCS.
Keane bridges the gap between the elite and poor mid laners of the NA LCS. While not quite breaking into the ranks of the elite mid laners such as Bjergsen and Link, Keane is still a solid mid who brings a lot to the table in terms of ingenuity and team play. His stats run straight down the middle when compared to other North American mids, he is 5th in Cs at 10 minutes, 4th in Cs at 20 minutes, and 5th in damage dealt to champions. Considering this is Keane’s breakout season after qualifying through the expansion tournament on team Curse Academy his current results are quite good. His team has managed to take games off Cloud 9 and Team Liquid, and have placed themselves comfortably in the middle of the standings. However if the team wants to make a final push and make it into a strong seed for playoffs both of their solo-laners are going to have to pick it up. Keane specifically is going to need to step into a more carry oriented role. His main champions Corki and Azir suggest that he prefers a poke/wave clear style of play, forgoing the carry role and opting for consistent damage instead. The problem with this is that Gravity already has a player who fills this role, Cop and are severely lacking a playmaker. Keane was a stellar mid laner in the challenger scene and has played games on Zed, Kassadin, and Viktor that suggest he may be more suited in a carry role, and with his signature champion Hecarim coming into the Meta his team may look to mold him into the carry that will lead them to a strong run at playoffs and avoiding relegations.
Before the split began many were writing off Team 8 as the team that would be auto relegated, finishing in 10th. But here we are 2/3’s of the way through the split and they are slowly making their way through the middle of the standings not even close to being relegated. In the beginning many predicted CaliTrolz, there top laner, to be the teams carry but it has become clear as the split goes on that it is in fact not their Calitrolz who leads this team to victory but their mid laner Slooshi and jungler Porpoise. At the beginning of the split many wrote Team 8 off claiming their only talented player was Cali, yet in most of their victories this split their true carry has been Slooshi the mid laner. Slooshi is a sporadic mid laner, in some games like on Orianna vs TSM he is able to make it past his poor laning phase and take over the game through his exceptional mid game team fighting but in other games, he falls to far behind early and is unable to carry his team to victory. If Slooshi wants to break out of the middle of the pack he is going to need to not only solidify his laning phase, (he has one of the weakest laning phases currently only averaging 72.5 Cs at 10 minutes.) But also become the playmaker his team needs him to be. If Team 8 are to make a run to the playoffs, which I believe they will, they will do it not from the unique picks and carry style of their top laner Calitrolz, but on the back of their mid Slooshi.
With Cloud 9 at an all-time low many have been quick to blame their mid laner, Hai, for the team’s abysmal performance this split, after all this has undoubtedly been Hai’s worst split. Hai has one of the worst laning phases in North America his average CS at 10 minutes is a meager 74.4 only beating out Shiphtur and Slooshi. Not only that, he also has the lowest damage dealt to champions at 12508.33 per game, lower than even Shiphtur who is known for his passive play. Combine these in-game issues with the fact that his champion pool (Zed) is easily the smallest out of any mid laner in North America (and quite possibly the world) and you can see why C9 are struggling this split. The only thing that keeps Hai from being ranked lower on this list is because he as a player has recognized his weaknesses and done his best to make up for them in other areas. For example Hai buys the most green wards out of any mid laner in the NA LCS at 8.6, the closest being Keane who averages 4.66, these extra wards are a huge help to the teams vision control and it is one of the reasons why C9’s surpasses almost any other western team. Hai has the 2nd most assists only behind TSM’s Bjergsen which suggests that he is willing to sacrifice lane advantages in order to group with his team for objectives. These solutions although working right now are temporary, as the competition in NA gets better and teams start banning out his small champion pool, Hai and C9 are going to struggle more and more.
Pobelter got a lot of hype coming into the spring split, while boot-camping in Korea with his team he was able to reach rank 30 on the Korean soloque ladder. This combined with his ever-growing stream viewership resulted in one of the most hyped players in NA history. So you would imagine he is a dominating force in Na right now right? Sadly no. His play has been underwhelming to say the least. In the summer split Pobelter seemed to be a rising talent, leading his team to a 4-0 super weak and crushing Team Coast in the relegation tournament, Pobelter was set on track to be NA’s 1st great mid laner. But after what seems to be a complete miss-management of the team in the off season Pobelter has fallen off significantly. Although his laning stats aren't abysmal (he has the 6th most Cs at 10 minutes, He is tied with Slooshi for the 6th most Cs at 20 and is 2nd in green ward purchases) his overall team play has been quite lackluster (only racking up 59 assists 2nd to last) and his play seems limited to assassins only winning games on Kassadin, Leblanc, Fizz, Ahri, and Zed. To be fair to Poblter Winterfox as a team has been struggling a lot this season. Their top laner Avalon is quite frankly awful, and he requires their jungler, Helios, to baby-sit for him so that he can go even in lane. If Pobelter was given more attention from his jungler perhaps the team could use Pobelter’s untapped skill to carry them to victory. If things do not change on Winterfox I would not be surprised to see them finishing in 9th and being relegated by a team like NME or Final 5.
Shiphtur deservingly gets the number 9 spot on my list. He has been little more than horrible this split. He is 2nd to last in damage dealt to champions, he is 2nd to last in both green and pink ward purchasing, and he’s last in kills and assists and in Cs difference at 10 minutes and 20 minutes. Statistically Shiphtur is a train wreck, and when I look at his stats I can’t help but feel like it is a waste of talent. At the beginning of the summer split Shiphtur was being hailed as possibly the best mid laner in NA and in less than half a year he is easily the worst. His only excuse for such poor play is that he’s been through 3 junglers over the last 6 weeks, but even that isn’t enough to wash away this horrendous performance in my mind. I really hope Shiphtur is able to pick it up at the end of the split otherwise I don’t see him or team Dignitas making a return in the summer split.