We live in a carry jungle meta.
A meta where proactively ganking solo lanes no longer cuts it. A meta where junglers have to be strong on champions like Graves, Kindred, and Nidalee to top the late game damage charts. A meta where mid laners run Teleport all the while prioritzing wave clear champions in the hopes of surviving long enough for their junglers to come online.
So why, in a meta where junglers represent a larger chunk of a team's damage output, did European League of Legends Championship Series Playoff teams give so much attention to their mid laners?
Starting in Game 3 of the EU LCS' third place match, H2k-Gaming spent two of their bans targeting Febiven's champion pool while Yoo "Ryu" Sangook had at least one ban dedicated to his.
Luka "PerkZ" Perković stole the spotlight in G2's finals series against Origen, and Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider spent much of Game 4 preoccupied with the mid lane. Despite dying three times, PerkZ stayed competitive in farm totals and finished the game with an impressive 7/3/0 scoreline.
It’s obvious that the mid lane is important — and that's not just because because Europe has a reputation for producing some of the world's strongest mid laners. In a carry jungle meta, mid lane control is vital to opening up the map and creating freedom for junglers to invade. This is why G2 Esports won Europe, and this is why they’re well-prepared for international competition in the current meta.
When the mid lane falters, so does the jungler
In the third place match between H2k-Gaming and Fnatic, H2K placed a lot of emphasis on pushing out side lanes with their strong duo lane. Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou-Napoleon often had control, and picking Kalista allowed him to both bully his opponents and siege turrets quickly. H2K were able to eke out their early advantages, but they almost entirely ignored their mid lane.
Lee “Spirit” Dayoon and Johan "Klaj" Olsson frequently took this as an opportunity to roam mid considering that Ryu habitually forgot to place his trinket in the river brush throughout the series, which made him an easy target. This approach allowed Fnatic to acquire leads through the mid lane and even when H2K controlled side lanes and took early turrets, Fnatic could pressure a mid lane advantage to invade the jungle.
The first mid lane turret is the most important turret to take since it opens up a significant part of the map for jungle invades, all the while creating opportunities for the jungle to farm and acquire leads. Because of Fnatic’s mid lane control, Spirit averaged the second highest CS lead at 10 minutes of any jungler in the playoffs on average at 6.5 CS ahead of his opponent — in contrast, H2K’s Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski averaged -5.9 CS at 10 minutes.
Jankos’ performances in the first two games were lacklustre to say the least, but some of his later weaknesses were due to disadvantages in jungle control. H2K only averaged 47.3 percent of the game’s total jungle CS, relative to Fnatic’s 51.8 percent in the playoffs. G2 Esports, a team that grew accustomed to gaining advantages through jungle control, averaged 54 percent of jungle CS per game, which means that they were often able to invade and ward enemy camps to keep control of the map.
Febiven and PerkZ both averaged a CS lead at 10 minutes (though PerkZ’s was less than Febiven’s, as Origen came prepared with a strategy to target PerkZ in the final), which also lead to high percent damage shares by their junglers. Kim “Trick” Gangyun did 22.3 percent of G2’s damage to champions, while Spirit dealt 21.9 percent of his team's damage to champions. The next highest value was Jankos, who sat at a comparatively pale 17.3 percent damage to champions.
In the final week, Fnatic played more like G2, making it easy to see why the meta shift brought about their sudden surge. Fnatic are well-suited to mid lane control and carry jungle style with Febiven and Spirit. A mid lane enabling a jungler to farm and function as a carry for late game created the favorable results for both Fnatic and G2.
Examining mid lane picks
With these factors in mind, the most confusing thing about last weekend's playoffs was the Kassadin pick. In five games played in the EU LCS playoffs, Kassadin won two. Kassadin scales well and provides assassination power in the late game, but the Void Walker usually cedes control of the mid lane while he scales. Kassadin cannot push out too far in lane, which means that he frequently loses control of the flow of minions in lane. Vitality's inability to pressure this possible advantage in their game against Fnatic's Kassadin is a prime example of a sorely missed opportunity.
If a mid laner cannot control the flow of minions and push out his lane, then it’s extremely difficult for a jungler to invade the enemy jungle or even feel protected in his own jungle. Aside from positioning himself closer to the enemy jungle by clearing minions and extending forward, when a mid laner pushes out, he ensures that he can easily respond to calls for help from his jungler while his opponent must choose between sacrificing farm or aiding his teammate.
Given the importance of a strong late-game jungler, it’s fundamental to look for picks that can aggressively control and push out minions. This is why Azir — despite the fact that Azir players often forego Teleport because of the utility of teamfight spells relative to Teleport on Azir — has become popular. Azir can aggressively clear waves and force his opponents back with strong poke.
Despite the fact that Leblanc struggles in the late game due to the increasing popularity of tanky top laners, The Deceiver saw a great deal of play due to her aggressive laning phase. If Leblanc can control the 1v1 matchup, she doesn’t necessarily have to scale for the late game as her jungler will do the heavy lifting in teamfights as long as she gets the advantages her team needs to successfully control jungle farm.
Mid lane Teleport is incredibly popular as a Teleporting mid laner and top laner creates more map pressure while junglers are farming. G2 rely on Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek to make early plays, and his First Blood participation has been higher than Trick’s all season long. Teams may opt for a mid laner that can both push lane hard and get a great deal of utility from Teleport like Lissandra, Lulu, or Ryze and his recently buffed Overload.
While Ryze isn’t necessarily a lane pusher, his improved base damages on Overload make his early levels more effective. Though I don’t always agree with picking directly for the matchup, Ryze opens up the possibility of a Cassiopeia lock-in. Given the importance of mid lane control, you can almost justify picking Cassiopeia into a devastating lockdown team that features the likes of Maokai and Sivir just to counter Ryze. It didn't work out for Fnatic, but the reasoning is easy to understand.
Lissandra and Lulu provide a lot of utility and gank potential while possessing the ability to buff or augment scaling junglers and AD carries later in the game. Orianna’s wave clear also puts her in this category, though Orianna players don’t usually run Teleport.
That leaves Zed and Twisted Fate. Twisted Fate’s wave clear and multiple Teleports make him an obvious choice as he can also be taken as a counter to Azir with his Gold Card and range. Zed brings wave clear of his own, and assassins can make laning phase difficult for other picks common in the meta. A few players in China and Brazil have even gone so far as to run Teleport on Zed to give him more utility.
The mid-jungle synergy
Given the recent shifts toward creating a heavy wave clear mid position with many jungle invades, it’s unsurprising that Fnatic won the third place match this weekend and that G2, a team that's relied on this strategy for much of the split, were crowned Europe’s champions. Trick and PerkZ don’t just have strong synergy during the laning phase, but their presence is massive in teamfights and skirmishes. Their ability to pincer and create pressure as a pair unearthed a comeback opportunity against Origen, even though Amazing and Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez secured early game control of the mid lane and jungle.
Barring a jarring meta shift before the Mid-Season Invitational, I see more daring invades and emphasis on warding the mid lane becoming common. Glenn "Hybrid" Doornenbal’s tendency to roam mid and ward for PerkZ once again sets them ahead of the pack.
Even in lane swap scenarios, teams have adapted such that while a team's top laner, AD carry, and support push a side wave, junglers gravitate toward the mid lane for early ganks. Early 2v2 skirmishes here can dictate the pace of the entire game. Whichever jungler appears fast enough could determine the fates of teams at MSI even more than whichever team executes a lane swap correctly. Control over mid lane also make it easy to rotate to Rift Herald or dragon, which could become increasingly important against dragon stacking teams from Korea or China in Shanghai.
While teams like H2K fixated on the best way to push to inhibitor turrets with their strong duo lane in the early game, and teams like Origen have struggled to create ideal synergy with their mid laners, G2, perhaps by happenstance, perfected mid lane-jungle control style prior to Patch 6.6. This may well put them ahead of the curve in Shanghai next month while other teams find their stylistic footing.
All statistics sourced from Oracle's Elixir.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.