A Misfit in the mid lane: The ups and downs of Misfits' mid-jungle approach

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PowerOfEvil is the mid laner for Misfits (lolesports)
PowerOfEvil is the mid laner for Misfits (lolesports)

At two minutes into the second game of EU LCS 2017 Spring regular season between H2K-Gaming and Misfits, Misfits jungler Lee “KaKAO” Byungkwon noticed the absence of his own red buff. Ten seconds later, H2K-Gaming jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski Safeguarded into mid lane to gank Misfits’ Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, winning first blood for Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. The mid and jungle snowballed from there, limiting KaKAO and PowerOfEvil’s decision-making, and allowing H2K to control the map.

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For Misfits’ second game against H2K-Gaming, it’s easy to gut-react and blame either the draft (as Misfits effectively chose three losing lane matchups and a weak jungle matchup) or poor mid and jungle play. But some of Misfits’ patterns instead reveal an overreliance on mid taking a disadvantage to get side lanes ahead. H2K’s style naturally abused this by initially playing to mid lane and denying a strong bottom lane matchup.

As always in the LoL community, a lot of discussion revolves around the optimal way to play the game. Almost everyone agrees, however, that jungle and mid control stands out as one of the most important factors in the standard lane meta. If a team has control of mid lane, they can use it to invade the jungle and extend pressure to side lanes.

Misfits typically skew this principle. Rather than getting control in mid lane first and extending this into the jungle for invades, they will give up pressure in mid lane to get control in side lanes, and then invade and control the jungle. Part of this comes from the fact that Misfits want to fell side lane turrets early so that support Lee “IgNar” Donggeun has the freedom to roam with KaKAO.

This approach has a lot of merit, but Misfits couldn’t adapt when their mid lane faced pressure from H2K-Gaming. As a result, a few limitations of their strategy shone through.

PowerOfEvil tends to roam a lot more than most mids. Misfits have a high first turret rate (62%), and PowerOfEvil frequently groups with the rest of the team to secure a turret in an early play in a side lane. PowerOfEvil has been involved in 13 (in 21 games) of the plays that have netted Misfits their first turret. It isn’t uncommon for him to fall behind the opponent mid laner in experience and gold in favor of giving a side lane a lead. POE averages a 3.5 CS deficit at 10 minutes, the lowest of all mids in the EU LCS.

Though this behavior allows Misfits to snowball on one side of the map early, failure to rotate members of the team mid or to the opposite side can put some of their team out of position. In addition to PowerOfEvil’s tendency to roam to set up turret trades, top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris often uses his Teleport to ensure his involvement in most of the first turret plays. Alphari has contributed to 17 of 21 first turret takes in some way.

When this works, the burden falls to the enemy team to make intelligent trades on the other half of the map. When Misfits act early, rotating PowerOfEvil out of the mid lane first and timing his roam with a strong push in a side lane, they usually get a tempo advantage in a trade. If PowerOfEvil doesn’t get initiative in a roam, Misfits can easily lose out and fall behind.

H2K exploited this scenario by playing naturally. With early mid pressure, they kept PowerOfEvil from roaming to side lanes with ease.

In the first game, Febiven bullied POE with Syndra. In the second game, H2K opened with what has become close to their standard start (in six of nine blue side games, Jankos and one of his solo laners has started by invading the red buff area on red side). Jankos started raptors and red buff, then ganked mid at level two (level two ganking mid is something he did on his only other Lee Sin game against Giants).

Misfits should have predicted this, but they immediately lost control of mid lane. PowerOfEvil couldn’t roam to side lanes first, and H2K took the initiative in many of their map trades.

But Misfits typically have a safeguard if PowerOfEvil loses his ability to roam. IgNar has a kill participation of 71 percent, the second highest of any support in the league, reflecting that Misfits often rely on his playmaking ability. When Misfits have push advantage in the bottom lane, IgNar can influence mid lane with a roam and reset the lane to give PowerOfEvil agency.

The distinction becomes clear when comparing the two games. In the first game, Misfits were able to get a more even bottom lane matchup. When IgNar and Steven “Hans sama” Liv managed to get control of the wave, they transitioned to control bottom side river quickly.

From this point, Misfits could set up an easy path for PowerOfEvil to roam, and they managed to take the first turret. They overcommitted resources to the trade, mostly to prevent Alphari from getting caught out on the top side of the map alone. The roam here opened the map early so IgNar could have a larger impact, and Misfits maintained a gold lead into mid game.

Misfits’ core playmakers are KaKAO, PowerOfEvil, and IgNar. If PowerOfEvil struggles to find roam opportunities, the team will often look to dive bottom with Alphari’s Teleport and open the map for IgNar to roam. KaKAO, IgNar, and PowerOfEvil will frequently coordinate their backs to set up a play on one side of the map, which places a lot of Misfits’ resources to that side.

The value of a strong bottom lane matchup comes through in Misfits’ drafting. They frequently will leave support to the second rotation, something that many EU LCS teams avoided, especially in the early weeks of the split, preferring to secure jungle and bottom lane picks while leaving solo lanes for counterpicking.

Misfits either saved support to second rotation or early picked Malzahar in all but four of their games so far in the EU LCS. They have the ability to make an almost guaranteed bottom lane play with Malzahar at Level 6, or can look to counter the support matchup.

H2K understood the importance of having a strong bottom lane matchup in providing a second lifeline for PowerOfEvil. The team banned Ezreal in Game 2, to the surprise of the EU LCS casters. Ezreal’s power to get a push advantage Level 1 by zoning with Mystic Shot makes him a lane bully pick, especially into Jhin, one of the most popular bottom lane choices.

Though H2K’s draft allowed them to have strong matchups across the board, attacking mid by putting down Ryze early, stalling his scaling, and confining IgNar to a losing lane severely limited Misfits. KaKAO appeared lost without his main playmaking pair, and Misfits slowly bled out.

Misfits’ frequent focus solely on one side of the map, however, is the most vulnerable part of their strategy. Even in Game 2 when the team was freed up to make group plays, H2K responded by putting pressure on both mid and the other free side lane. A need to commit Teleport when PowerOfEvil roams bottom for a dive leaves the top half of the map entirely open.

Sending five for a single turret doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, but both PowerOfEvil and Hans sama tend to fall behind in experience at 10 minutes on average. Despite Misfits winning most their games, a loss in experience on their main carries can pose a problem. It seems Misfits do it too often without taking account for the rest of the map.

This reflects an inability to plan defensively. Many teams will resolve this problem by leaving their mid lane in the center of the map to hold the lane or rotating their bottom lane mid when making a play top. Mid lane serves as a control point that allows the team to react or play safely on the side of the map that has fewer players.

By opting into a trade for turrets on one side of the map, Misfits have to ensure they will either have a tempo lead for the better trade or can mitigate a loss with strong defensive play. If they constantly move PowerOfEvil, a defensive play becomes much harder. They have to give up control of one side of the map almost entirely. When PowerOfEvil falls behind, and IgNar and KaKAO cannot help reset the lane, they effectively “all-in” on one play on a side of the map.

There is a relatively simple solution. Misfits should practice more standard mid control strategies where they give PowerOfEvil a strong matchup and rely on him to keep minions flowing. That way, they can secure the jungle and set up plays in the side lanes more efficiently rather than giving up complete control on the top or bottom half.

PowerOfEvil, however, is not the strongest 1v1 mid laner in the league, and a strong matchup may just allow him to consistently break even. Misfits’ strengths ultimately lie in their side lanes, which they seek to cultivate by giving up potential mid lane advantages.

For this, the best alternative may be to emphasize a strong mid lane matchup and better time the flow of minion waves. Rather than committing to a long engage on one side of the map, Misfits can use opportunities that arise simply from PowerOfEvil disappearing from the map. Thanks to his reputation as a strong roamer, if Misfits acquire control on one side of the map, his disappearance could force the enemy team to back off the lane. This will give a side lane a more subtle advantage without mid or the other half of the map sacrificing too much.

In general, I think Misfits could also do a more work scouting the movements of enemy junglers. They didn’t predict an extremely common start from H2K, which suggests that more research can be done prior to each match. If they have a better grasp of where their opponents will appear on the map in response to a play, they might not have to overcommit to one side. This will let them hold lanes better so that Alphari doesn’t get dove in a cross-map play, for example.

Misfits’ strategy is interesting in that it demonstrates the benefits of strong mid-jungle synergy in a highly active way. I don’t want to dissuade them from using PowerOfEvil as a roaming tool. They can still set up skirmishes earlier and start snowballs by giving up mid lane advantages. Their strategy also has its fair share of risks, however, but if Misfits can identify them, they can avoid situations where they lose too much in a mid lane roam.

All non hand-collected data from OraclesElixir.com.

You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.

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