The 2021 season has been one of entropy for professional mid laners. Early on, mid laners were looked at to play towards their side lanes and look for any opportunities to create and capitalize on team-wide plays, but for the majority of the season, scaling control mages have dominated the mid lane meta with alternatives only appearing if in congruence with a team's style of play.
Inven Global's top five mid laners at this year's MSI are:
- Heo "ShowMaker" Su — DWG KIA
- Luka "Perkz" Perković — Cloud9
- Yuan "Cryin" Cheng-Wei — Royal Never Give Up
- Marek "Humanoid" Brázda — MAD Lions
- Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang — PSG Talon
Seeing ShowMaker at the top of this list should not be a surprise to anyone. As DAMWON Gaming, DWG KIA's victory at the 2020 World Championship was due in large part to the unmatched synergy and individual ability of ShowMaker and jungler Kim "Canyon" Geon-bu.
Since then, DWG KIA's rebrand has been one marked with improvement in multiple aspects. Despite tying for 1st with Gen.G in the 2021 League of Legends Champions Korea Spring Split, DWG KIA dominated the post-season on the way to its second consecutive South Korean domestic title. The team hasn't missed a step in integrating new top laner Kim "Khan" Dong-ha in place of Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon, and heads into MSI 2021 as the favorite to win the event?
Where does ShowMaker fit into this team success? The mid laner not only showed unmatched proficiency in the roam-centric early season meta on picks like Twisted Fate, but has seemlessly transitioned into a more controlled role for DWG KIA as the season has gone on. In addition, ShowMaker and the rest of DWG KIA's versatility allows the team to draft outside of convention within the current competitive meta, giving the best team in the world yet another unique edge.
Perkz's joining of Cloud9 marked his solidified return to the mid lane position, and after some brief growing pains in the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series Lock In, Perkz looked every bit the terror he was in his EU prime. As part of C9's first place finish in the LCS Spring Split, Perkz was named the LCS All-Pro mid laner and boasted a deeper champion pool in both the split and the LCS Mid-Season Showdown than any of his peers on the way to C9's second domestic title in three splits.
Perkz's performances may not be able to measure up to ShowMaker's form individually, but his 2021 season thus far has shown no issues for him in retaining world class form in returning to the mid lane.
When considering his current level of play with his wealth of deep runs in international tournaments, it's no surprise to see him second only to ShowMaker when considering the mid lane talent pool at MSI 2021.
Cryin initially joined Royal Never Give Up in the summer of the 2020 League of Legends Pro League season, but the Chinese mid laner got his chance to start after mainstay RNG mid laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao roleswapped to the top lane for the 2021 season. Cryin had already established himself as an exciting mid lane talent, but the question was whether he could rise to the occasion as the starter for a prestigious org such as RNG, especially in the highest stakes of competition.
Cryin answered the call in the 2021 LPL Spring Playoffs, especially in the finals against FunPlus Phoenix, and the nature of his performance combined with his role within RNG's team identity are encouraging signs that point towards a strong first international performance. However, his consistency and international experience are inferior to that of Perkz and ShowMaker, which is why RNG's mid laner finds himself as the 3rd best mid laner coming into MSI 2021.
When Splyce rebranded to MAD Lions ahead of the 2020 League of Legends European Championship season, Humanoid was the sole remaining member of the 2019 roster. When MAD Lions, after a genuinely successful 2020 season, made changes to 40% of its roster, Humanoid continued to hold down his spot, and for his organization's faith, he rewarded it with arguably his best split in a MAD jersey.
Humanoid slotted admirably into any role MAD Lions asked him to play in the 2021 LEC Spring Split, and his level of play on the control-focused meta picks was improved from previous iterations of his play, especially in the form of pivotal Orianna shockwaves that not only defined many a MAD Lions game in the Spring Split, but throughout the post-season on the way to MAD's first domestic championship as an organization.
However, the question of whether Humanoid will be able to replicate this success on an international stage remains. MAD Lions failed to escape the Play In of Worlds 2020, and a large part of that was Humanoid's lackluster play on meta champions like Syndra. His improvements since then are undeniable, but whether those improvements will be enough to make a difference for MAD Lions at MSI 2021 will continue to be in question until at least a few good performances at the event.
Maple has long established himself as one of the best players to ever come from Southeast Asia, but fell out of the international spotlight and into obscurity after leaving his home region for China before the start of the 2019 season. After relatively forgettable ventures on Suning in 2019 and LNG Esports in 2020, Maple has come home and captured his first Pacific Championship Series title as a member of PSG Talon.
Maple has shown a ceiling unmatched by both Cryin and Humanoid, but multiple years have passed since that point, and Maple finds himself far nearer to the twilight period of his career than any other mid laners at MSI 2021 contending for the top spot in the role. Maples' history as a clutch performer at international events is not in question, but his play in the PCS this season, while enough to win the domestic title, did not answer whether he will be able to hit his previous level.
On the Cusp: Nomanz
Since Unicorns of Love's emigration from the LEC to the Commonwealth of Independent States' League of Legends Contintental League, the team has dominated the region and has made several international appearances. The team has had a handful of roster swaps over the past few years, but key players in the team's success have remained in pink, including mid laner Lev "Nomanz" Yakshin.
Nomanz has been at the heart of Unicorns of Love's international success throughout the past few years, mostly on the control mages that define the current meta, but has also taken over games singe-handedly on signature champions like Kassadin.
UOL's group is one team less than the others since Vietnam Championship Series champion GAM Esports is unable to attend due to its country's COVID-19 complications, and unlike previous seasons, the team is boasting a bot laner more proficient on conventional AD carry picks in Stanislav "Lodik" Kornelyuk, who took the place of Ilya "Gadget" Makavchuk before the start of the 2021 season.
If Unicorns of Love can reach new heights and survive more than the first formal round of an international event — a feat that has only been achieved once in 2016 courtesy of Albus Nox Luna — expect Nomanz to be at the heart of the success that led to that result.