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The Summoner's Guidebook: I suck at middle lane in LoL

Patrick Mackey

There are five roles on Summoner's Rift, and I play four with reasonable competency. Support is my strongest role; I'm cautious and attentive and I like warding. Also, I don't have to last-hit, a role at which I feel my skills are a bit deficient compared to the rest of my skillset. Despite feeling deficient at last-hitting, though, I actually play carry fairly well, given my current matchmaking rating. I am virtually always ahead in creep score compared to my opponents, and if an ally in my lane gives up first blood, it is almost always my jungler grasping at an opportunity that is not there. I've always been decent at solo top, I've recently learned how to jungle, and my jungling has been directly responsible for my team's victories quite frequently.

There is one role in League of Legends' Classic gametype I'm not so good with, and that's solo mid. I'm not even an apologist for it, really. People fight over mid lane often enough that I've really never felt the need to field champions that play there. Many of my friends also specialize in mid lane champs. Although I feel my Classic skills are a bit on the weak side, solo mid is a special deficiency for me. Can we improve it? Let's find out!

Storytime, right?

Normally when I talk about my experiences, I like to give a story showing where I went wrong or mistakes I made. However, in this case I don't have one. Most of my recent mid lane attempts were victories, and for all of those victories I was at least somewhat responsible. The last game I played as Ryze was almost singlehandedly won by me, and in the last few games I played as Morgana, I was critical in numerous ganks and all our teamfights. I recently laned Morgana against Twisted Fate, and he got so mad at Black Shield blocking his stuns that he ragequit ("morg is so easymode, no skill").

However, just because my team won and I played a big part doesn't mean I'm comfortable in the lane. In most of those games, I was behind on creep score, and this is in an Elo bracket where I should be dramatically better than my opponents (I still win 75% of my solo queue games because I don't play enough Classic). Although I may be winning games, I can objectively see that I won't be able to compete at any reasonable rating level.

Put another way, I can queue with my 1600-1900 Elo friends and play support or solo top just fine, and I can play a carry without throwing the game away (I often get a outplayed as carry, though I can pull through in the late game). If I were to play solo mid, I would get destroyed. The last time I played solo mid with my higher-rated friends, I was playing Morgana against Brand and I got utterly smashed. This was a long time ago, so I can't recall the story, but there wasn't some quick and easy lesson. I just got wrecked by someone better than I.

The Summoner's Guidebook I suck at middle laneLast-hitting again?

Unless you're a jungle or support or running a duo kill lane, last-hitting is important. Solo mid as it currently exists requires a lot of last-hitting skill, and I think it's the hardest of any lane. Unlike in bottom lane as a carry (where I am almost always ahead) or top lane (where I'm either ahead or have kills), I am almost always behind in creep score when I lane middle.

The reason for this is that mid lane requires creative use of skills to clear the lane. Each champion has his or her own special tricks to clear a lane quickly, and doing your lane clear with the right timings and the right spacing leads to optimal CS and the most gold. Doing this in bottom lane is a no-no, as you want to fight near your tower, and doing it in top is only a priority if the enemy pushes the lane at you. In mid, it's the norm; both champions throw lots of spells at the lane in order to clear it quickly, and the trick is combining spells and autoattacks in a way that will get the maximum number of minion kills.

In order to get better, we have to know what we can improve, though, and each champion is different. Although practice is important, I think here spectating matches is probably the best way to learn how to get last-hits as a mid lane champion. Look for matches with your champion in them and watch how she is played, especially in the laning phase. Alternatively, just get in the game with the lowest timer available (make sure there are two supports or it might be a Dominion game) and just watch one player last-hit. I'm not sure how much this will help everyone, but it helped me learn to last-hit as a carry, so I'm sure it will help somebody last-hit in mid lane.

Last-hitting with autoattacks is hard as a caster, since casters do not invest in attack damage. My advice is to practice, practice, practice! There is literally nothing that can help you get better at this besides practice. If you're used to last-hitting as someone who builds AD, it can be really hard to get used to your incredibly weak caster autoattacks. At least they're ranged... right?

The Summoner's Guidebook I suck at middle lane
Stop talking about last-hitting and start talking about something fun

Now that we're done with last-hitting, I do have a little story. When I started League of Legends, I played mid lane champions quite a bit, particularly Ryze. I also played Ahri once she came out, and I played carries as mid lane characters such as Sivir and Tristana (I never did the AP Tristana thing, though). One of the things I found out almost right away is that fighting games and League of Legends have a lot in common.

A bit of backstory: I'm somewhere between an amateur and semi-pro fighting game player. I have played in quite a few regional tournaments for quite a few games and placed in the top five. I'm nowhere near a professional level, and my skills have tapered off quite a bit since I started writing professionally, but I still think of game systems in fighting game terms.

Either way, zoning in middle lane is a bit like zoning in a fighting game. You have attacks that hit near-immediately and have a set range, such as low forward kicks in a fighting game or autoattacks and targeted spells in LoL. One of the things you just develop a sense for when you're playing fighters is just how far Ryu (or whoever your enemy is) can hit you with his low medium kick -- you imagine that low medium kick out in front of him. When you play League, you can sort of imagine a space where Annie can throw her autoattack or Disintegrate at you, and stay out of that range. This is important in any lane, but zoning is critical for mages since virtually all of their combat happens at a distance.

There are attacks in Street Fighter that don't hit quite so quickly, though; projectiles are launched from a character and fly at you, and they control the space they occupy and a little ahead and behind it. Skillshots are a lot like this, particularly slow-moving ones. Fast skillshots like most of Ezreal's have basically a "fuzzy" autoattack range; they are guaranteed inside a lot of their range, but they have a little bit further where they can still hit but are more avoidable. Slower skillshots like Anivia's ice ball or Morgana's binding are guaranteed only at near point-blank ranges, and thus throwing them is more a prediction game or a message to your enemy, "Stay away from that space."

Zoning is critically important in middle lane, but it's fairly intuitive to learn.

The Summoner's Guidebook I suck at middle lane
Matchups, matchups, matchups

This is the thing I'm actually good at in League. Matchups are one of the most important strategy elements you can know in mid lane. Carries are all basically the same with a few quirks; the main thing to remember with carries is who has dashes/gap closers and who has longer range. Top lane is similar; there are a lot of matchups to know, but if you learn the basics of your character and play safely, you can often figure out the landscape of the matchup without dying. Jungle matchups are pretty vague by nature. Unless one of you is going to counter-jungle, you don't really need to know a lot about the exact mechanics of the enemy.

In mid, this is really unacceptable. You have to know whether his spell range is 675 or 650. You have to know when his stun is up, when his ultimate is up, and what all of his stuff does. Imagine for a minute that you laned against an Annie, and you had no idea what any of her spells did or what her passive does. You'd be happily in lane at 70% life from a little bit of poking, then all of a sudden you'd be stunned and dead with no warning. The same goes for a lane against Malzahar or any other combo-oriented champion who can burst you from a certain health total to dead instantly with no real response possible. You have to know what kind of situation you're in.

If you're a mid lane player, you have to know as many matchups as possible. You should learn weird ones, too. Let me paint a situation for you: You're Ahri, and your solo top is Teemo. Teemo is up against Tryndamere, which is a terrible matchup for Tryndamere. Instead of fighting an impossible battle, Tryndamere switches lanes and comes down to fight you, while your lane opponent goes up to fight Teemo. Do you know the Ahri versus Tryndamere matchup? If he knows the matchup better than you, you might have some problems in lane.

Is it crazy to ask you to know every matchup for every champion? No! There are some you don't really need to worry about. For instance. no one will put Sona in a solo lane because she's awful in that capacity. However, what if the enemy lanes Soraka mid? Do you know that matchup? Did you know that she beats several popular mid lane options?

Although these are the key areas of improvement I'd advise people learning to play mid lane, I am actually betting that some of you guys have better advice. If you do, leave it in the comments! Thanks in advance, and have fun!

We understand what it's like to climb the skill ladder in League of Legends. The Summoner's Guidebook teaches you the tools you need to get a competitive edge. Whether you're climbing the ranked ladder, playing Draft Dominion, or getting crushed by intermediate bots, every enemy has a weakness. And every Thursday, Patrick Mackey shows how you can improve improve on yours.

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