Redefining the Mid Lane
What defines a great player varies depending on their Role, with most Roles having different criteria defining what a great player is. Top Laners can be lane dominant, solo kill, and hard carry like Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho , but can also have TP plays, and map presence like Lee "Duke" Ho-Seong. Junglers who have great vision control, gank a lot, and focus on getting their Laners ahead, such as Bae "Bengi" Seong-ung, are praised. Junglers who focus on farming up, and proceed to hard carry like Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon are just as acclaimed. AD Carries can provide utility like Kim "PraY" Jong-in, lane dominance like Gu "Imp" Seung-bin, or ability to team fight like Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu. Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon is loved for his ability to make plays in lane, but Lee "Piccaboo" Jong-Beom is just as highly rated for his ability roam, and create plays in other lanes instead of his own. Every role allows for different play styles, all besides Mid. If you're not ahead in CS, dominating your lane, and making sure you can solo kill and outplay the enemy Laner, you're not good.
Like every other role, Mid has evolved over the years, but unlike the others, it has evolved very rigidly. There are three key players who helped developed what the Mid Lane would eventually become. Henrik "Froggen" Hansen, Yu "Misaya" Jingx, and Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. Froggen revolutionized not only how the lane would be played, but how the entire game should be played. He focused on sitting in lane, accumulating high CS, then when he reached a certain point and had an overwhelming lead on his opponent, he'd snowball and win the game from his lane advantage. This would make Mid a very slow, and stagnant lane, but the entire game would follow the pace of the Mid Laner. Games, especially games with Froggen, would take a very long to finish. The game was slow, monotonous, and revolved around the Mid Laner's ability to rack up a high CS number.
In late Season 2, after the World Championship, Froggen was dethroned as the best Mid Laner, and best player in the world. To replace Froggen as the best Mid Laner was Misaya, who, like his predecessor, would revolutionize the Mid Lane. Unlike Froggen, and every other Laner at the time, Misaya didn't care that much about his CS. He would go to other lanes, get them ahead, and use their ability to snowball. His best champion was Twisted Fate, mostly because his passive lets the player to miss some CS, but still keep reasonably even, as well as an Ultimate that allows for easy roams. While other Mid Laners were focused on farming up for the late game, Misaya would be getting his Top, and Bot lanes ahead, and ending the game as quickly as he could. Because of Misaya, people dropped what Froggen did, and everybody began trying to replicate Misaya.
Finally, we come to the last player who has dramatically changed the lane, Faker. After his first tournament, OLYMPUS Champions 2013, Faker was considered the best Mid Laner in the world. After his second tournament, HOT6iX Champions Summer 2013, Faker would be considered the greatest player in the world. It has been over 2 years since then, and most people still agree that Faker is not only the best Mid in the world, but the greatest player to have ever played the game. During the Spring Split of LCK, and at MSI, people were starting to doubt Faker's dominance, but he once again proved himself to be the greatest. He doesn't get as much CS as Froggen, but he is always farming really well. He didn't roam as heavily as Misaya, but when he did roam, he would always make sure his other lanes got ahead. Despite being great at these things, what most people credit Faker with, is his ability to dominate his lane. He would deny his opponent farm, and if they ever stretched out a little bit to get one extra minion, Faker would easily solo kill them. Because of Faker, the standard idea of a great Mid Laner would be someone who can apply pressure in his lane, punish anyone, especially those who got a little risky, and have the ability to make amazing outplays. Right now, the commonly accepted best Mid Laners in the world are Faker, Lee "Easyhoon" Ji-hoon, Song "RooKie" Eui-jin, Heo "PawN" Won-seok, Shin "CoCo" Jin-yeong and if you want to include Western Players, Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten, and Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. All of these players are extremely dominant in lane, and will punish anyone who plays a bit risky. The only odd one out is Easyhoon, and while he isn't going to solo kill someone, he is going to win to his lane by a lot, and deny his enemy Laner.
While Faker is definitely the greatest Mid Laner in the world, and the greatest player, making his style the only definition of a "good" Mid Laner is wrong. The thing that makes Faker great isn't his ability to outplay his opponent, but the impact he provides on the game. The player people thought was better than Faker in Spring 2015, was PawN. PawN always managed to get the best of Faker, but he could never take the title away. PawN might lane better than Faker, might have better mechanics, and might even be able to solo kill Faker, but that will never make him better. PawN's impact on his game will never match Faker's, who even when his entire team was working against him in the Spring and Summer of Season 4, he managed to carry his team to the quarter finals twice, and the majority believed that despite their placing, Faker was the best Mid Laner in the world.
Now, if a Mid Laner doesn't do what Faker does, he is not considered good. There are plenty of examples on why this ideology is wrong, but let us go with the most recent example, Lee "KurO" Seo-haeng from the KOO Tigers. I'm not going to go over his entire history, but if you're curious, I suggest checking out Stillwell's article on KurO. It was also part of what has inspired me to write this article, and reach the conclusion that I have. When it came to KOO, the most praised players were Smeb, and GorillA, and for good reason. They are the best players in the position playing at the Season 5 World Championship, and have certainly proved it. After the series against Fnatic, PraY recieved praise, and even Lee "Hojin" Ho-jin, who is considered the weakest member of the team by almost everyone, got some praise for his Zac play. Sadly, KurO wasn't getting any praise, and was even getting tons of hate for it. The community was constantly saying how much better Febiven was, and even a highly rated analyst like Thorin thought that KurO was a weak link for the team. What exactly made Febiven better than KurO? Nothing, just that Febiven plays a more lane dominant, aggressive style.
In the Summer LCK split, KurO had some of the best stats in the region, better than even Faker. Out of all the Starters in Korea, KurO has the second most kills, overall best KDA, second highest Kill Participation, the least amount of his team's deaths, the third highest Damage Per Minute, second lowest percent of his team's Gold, and the second highest Wards Cleared Per Minute. Not only does he have these great stats, he has them while having the second lowest CS difference at 10 minutes, and second lowest Gold at 10 minutes. He has amazing stats when it comes to the team, and uses next to no resources. You could easily argue that he has the best stats all around, with only Faker and CoCo, usually the latter, surpassing him in those stats, all because he does it all while having nothing. If the regular Summer Split isn't enough, his stats at Worlds are also pretty good, given it is out of 15 other Mid Laners. He has the most kills, highest KDA, and the fifth highest Kill Participation, and the highest out of any other Mid who got the Semi-Finals. Fourth highest Damage Per Minute, Fifth lowest Gold share, and fourth most Wards Cleared Per Minute. Just like in Korea, he falls behind in lane. How can this player even begin to be considered bad, when he manages to put overall good stats, with such little resources given to him?
As I mentioned Febiven, I am going to place his stats from Summer and Worlds here. This is not with the intent to speak poorly of him, as I was actually pleasantly surprised with his play at Worlds. Similarly to KurO, Febiven has the second most kills, and the highest KDA for the region. However, he does have the second lowest Kill Participation, highest share of team's deaths, fourth highest Damage Per Minute, second lowest percent of his team's Gold, and fourth most Wards Cleared Per Minute. He is only a little down in CS, but somehow manages to have fourth highest Gold difference at 10. Moving to his stats at Worlds, Febiven has the second most kills, fourth highest KDA, sixth lowest Kill Participation, lowest share of team's deaths, Fifth highest Damage Per Minute, the seventh lowest Gold share, and the fifth most Wards Cleared Per Minute. Stat wise, Febiven is over performing at Worlds, but he has only played around 12 games as opposed to the usual 18.
The stats say a lot about both players. Febiven gets a lot a Gold, but he never seems to do a whole lot with it. He isn't exactly a high economy Laner, but he isn't making much of the Gold he does have. KurO is the perfect example of a Laner who gets no resources, but he somehow manages to affect the game more than Febiven, just from stats. When it comes to stats, KurO is better than Febiven. Another factor to notice when talking about their stats during their Summer splits, KurO played a grand total of 41 games, as opposed to Febiven's 18. This is not to downplay Febiven, but that more than double the games played.
There is more than just stats however, and it is something that can't be quantified, and that is the actual impact of the player. Some stats allude towards impact, such as Kill Participation, and wards cleared, but there is no real way to quantify it. KurO is always having a large impact in games. He is playing a utility based Mid champions to make sure Smeb can carry, or he is taking Teleport Mid so the team can not only have extra TP pressure, but he can TP to other lanes to get them snowballing. Febiven usually doesn't have a high impact in his games. That role is almost always reserved for the other members of Fnatic. He wins his lane, but he isn't going to extend his lead for other lanes. This was apparent in the series vs KOO, where he would win lane ever game, but he couldn't keep up with KurO's TP plays. He could not make as big of an impact as KurO. Febiven is still a good player, he just has a different style than KurO, but KurO overall does more for his team than Febiven.
As I said earlier, there are multiple examples, but KurO and Febiven are just the most recent ones. KurO has great stats, and has some of the most impact of any player in the world, so why is he not considered good? It is because he doesn't replicate what Faker does. His job is to play safe in lane, and give his team the tools they need to carry with. Faker is going to try his best to carry, or at the least, try to dominate lane. KurO doesn't bother with this, gets what farm he can, but knows that his play will be crucial in putting Smeb in a position to carry. Smeb could never carry as hard as he could if his Mid Laner wasn't KurO. KurO gives Smeb everything he needs to be in a position to carry, while holding his own, and doing things for the Bot Lane as well. KurO is a good Mid, but because he doesn't mimic Faker, most people will never agree with this.
While looking back at a few trends, I have noticed one common thing. If you're not doing what the best player in the world is doing, you will never be considered good. Back in Season 2, if you weren't farming into the late game like Froggen, you weren't considered a good Mid Laner. If you're not solokilling, dominating lane, and outplaying your opponent, you are not a good Mid Laner. This isn't limited to role either. Earlier on I mentioned how Misaya became the best Mid Laner in the world, but he wasn't considered the best player in the world, that went to his fellow teammate, Gao "WeiXiao" Xuecheng, who was an AD Carry. This also follows the trend, as if you weren't an aggressive Hyper Carry, you weren't considered a good ADC. Whichever role has the greatest player in it, that role will be forced to play exactly like how that player plays. Froggen has continued to play like Froggen over the years, but he is no longer considered a great Mid, but why is that? Because he won't do change his play style to mimic what Faker does.
In the future, I hope we, as a community, can look at players for what they provide for their team, and what impact they have. Faker is hands down the greatest player in the world, but that doesn't mean that every other style is bad. He just uses his style to impact the game like no other player really can. Faker is great because of his impact, and I hope that a player's impact will eventually mean more than his ability to solo kill his opponent. Strategic diversity will be allowed in the Mid Lane, and multiple different styles can appear, all getting as much credit as they deserve, and every player getting the praise they deserve. A player can be determined great for what he does for his team, be it hard carrying the game from a dominant lane, or giving their other Laners everything they need while giving up their own.