Despite being the most successful LCS team internationally in 2021, Cloud9 havе decided to undergo a soft roster reset. Gone are mainstays like Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen and Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme in the bot lane, and mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković has returned across the Atlantic to the LEC. That just left Ibrahim "Fudge" Allami and Robert "Blaber" Huang, two of the organization’s home-grown and still young players to build around. By supplementing that topside duo with strong imports in the mid and bot lane, many fans surmised, there is no reason Cloud9 couldn’t build another team with aspirations of a deep international run.
Cloud9 are, indeed, building around Fudge and Blaber. Just not in the way most fans expected. As part of a roster retooling, which sees Park "Summit" Woo-tae formerly of Liiv SANDBOX joining Cloud9 in the top lane, Fudge will be shifting down to the other solo lane as the team’s next mid laner.
On a surface level, this seems to be a questionable move by Cloud9. The LCS collection of mid laners, though not exceptional, has some stiff competition. Returning mids like Felix "Abbedagge" Braun (100 Thieves) and Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage (Immortals) and the second outing of Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg (now with Team Liquid) will be tough to face in a new role. Young, promising mids like Joseph "Jojopyun" Pyun (Evil Geniuses), Nicholas "Ablazeolive" Abbott (Golden Guardians), and Cristian "Palafox" Palafox (CLG) are all going to be no slouches to face either. For a role as important as mid, it seems odd for a historically strong, smart organization to take a chance with a role-swapped player. Not everyone agrees with that assessment.
Professional League of Legends analyst Nick “LS” De Cesare — now a coach for the very same Cloud9 — weighed in on the opinion on Twitter. “Skillset [sic] wise he's literally a mid laner who happened to play top lane.”
In terms of roleswaps, the transition between mid and top lane seems like a fairly straightforward one. Both are solo lanes, with some overlap in champion pool and lane mechanics. In fact, just last year, the same transition — only in the opposite direction — happened in the LPL when RNG’s Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao roleswapped top, leaving the mid lane open for Yuan "Cryin" Cheng-Wei.
Not only did Xiaohu not suffer in the new role, but he actually thrived. In 2021 Summer, among all qualifying top laners with at least 20 games played, Xiaohu ranked #4 in KDA, #3 in kill participation (KP%), #2 in damage share (DMG%), #2 in damage per minute (DPM), and #1 in gold per minute (GPM). In fact, compared to his last split as a mid laner, Xiaohu was better as a top laner in statistics like GPM, CSPM, DMG%, and DPM. So the transition is not necessarily a difficult one.
Top to mid: What does the transition mean
However, it is important to remember that Fudge is still making the opposite transition. Mid laners, on average, tend to outpace their top lane counterparts in every major statistical category (KDA, GPM, DPM, etc.). That’s partly due to the nature of the role and the champions within, but also that mid laners tend to have a much higher mechanical ceiling. So Fudge is, theoretically, going to appear to perform (statistically) worse in his new role.
That said, Fudge was absolutely an elite top laner last season, especially during Summer. His key metrics (KDA, GPM) put him in the top 11% of all top and mid laners. Even if we were to assume that the transition to mid lane against stiffer competition drops his performance 20% in his key statistics, he would still be in the top 15% of all qualifying mids and tops, statistically. So, skills-wise, it’s not a stretch to say that Fudge could immediately succeed in the mid lane, eventually potentially developing into a strong and perhaps elite mid laner.
Another issue that might need to be addressed is developing the mid-jungle synergy that teams often rely on for early game map plays. The fact that Fudge and Blaber did spend all of last year together should give them a leg up, but Fudge is still going to need to learn how to set up waves — and deny these set-ups by his opponents — so he can roam with his jungler. He’ll also need to learn the timings of these roam windows and how to set up objectives as a mid laner. These are learnable skills, yes, and he can translate some of the knowledge from top lane but it's still going to be an adjustment in fine-tuning these details.
Fudge and the mid lane pool
The only real issue that Fudge might run into in this transition is adapting to a new champion pool. Even though there is some overlap in the champions played between mid and top lane, the truth is that in 2021 of the five most-picked mid lane champions, only Lucian was picked top in more than 50 games across every single professional league. The other four most-picked mids (Leblanc, Ryze, Orianna, and Sylas) were picked top 35 times. Combined. That means that, in top lane in all professional leagues, Trundle was seen more than the four most-picked mid lane champions. Fiora was a more common pick top lane than Lucian. Fudge is going to have to learn a lot of new champions.
There are some mitigating factors that could ease Fudge’s transition to mid: the meta will switch at the start of the new season and some of the skills Fudge has from playing champions like Gangplank can translate to the same style as a control mage. Divers like Sylas and Akali play similar to Irelia, and some tanks like Sett have found homes in both lanes.
However, for the staple picks in mid lane — like Leblanc, Ryze, Orianna, Syndra, Twisted Fate, Viktor, Azir, Zoe — Fudge does not have much experience. Of the 20 most-picked mid laners in 2021, Fudge has only played 11 of them ever in his career dating back to 2018. The most played of that top 20 is Sett with 12 career games on record. There is no other champion in that top 20 that he has more than 10 games with.
Now, this isn’t all bad, as Fudge has demonstrated a deep champion pool which means that he should be able to adapt and pick up new mid lane champions easier. But it must be acknowledged that he is starting behind the 8-ball. Although he will be facing arguably less talented players in the mid lane, they will have the advantage of years playing and refining the mechanics of staple picks for their role like Leblanc, Orianna, Azir, and TF. Fudge will have to rely on his skill and work ethic to close the knowledge gap that many of his opponents will hold over him.
In conclusion, the move of Fudge from top to mid lane is not as far-fetched as it might seem on the surface. Fudge is a highly-skilled player with a skillset that could very well translate to this new role. He will have to overcome champion pool issues, as is to be expected, but he has shown in the past that he is quick to pick up new champions. The move can pay off, but whether it will is a whole other story.
Diamond TFT Player & esports watcher.