Whenever the best mid laner in North America debate is raised, discussions usually centre on the two powerhouses Team SoloMid’s Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Cloud9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen. However, the question of their closest rival is often where the conversation falters.
After Counter Logic Gaming’s 3-2 victory in the NA LCS Summer Playoff Quarterfinal against Team EnVyUs last weekend, however, Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, needs to be more carefully considered in this debate. Perhaps the case can be made that Huhi is the third best mid laner in North America.
— lolesports (@lolesports) August 21, 2017
Huhi’s career trajectory has seen him rise from a relative unknown, who bounced around low-level teams like Bigfile Miracle and Quvic E-Sports, to being the starting mid laner for Counter Logic Gaming, one of the longest-standing and most prestigious teams in North America.
In so doing, he has proven himself as a potent damage-threat and a confident playmaker, albeit one who is frequently mechanically outshined by his contemporaries.
Yet CLG’s victory over Team EnVyUs highlighted many of Huhi’s strengths and provided validation for reconsidering where he might rank him amongst the other mid lane players in the NA LCS.
What makes Huhi a candidate for one of the best mid laners in NA can be boiled down to a single word: pressure. Huhi asserts a tremendous amount of pressure both on and off the map, forcing opposing teams to adapt and pay attention to him.
On the rift, Huhi spends a lot of time roaming and trying to set up dives and small skirmishes in the river or around the mid lane.
Few can forget, for example, the impressive level 1 roam that Huhi pulled off in CLG’s game against the Rox Tigers at last year’s World Championship.
This roaming playstyle was evidenced in their games against Team Envy as in Games 3 and 4 Huhi opted to push in the mid lane and roam before hitting level six in order to secure kills on the top and bottom sides of the map respectively.
This is what sets Huhi apart from other mid laners like Henrik “Froggen” Hansen of Echo Fox. Indeed, statistically, Huhi underperforms compared to Froggen when measured on metrics like gold, experience, and CS at ten minutes.
Froggen’s more passive playstyle leads him to farm safely and scale-up to do the lion’s share of Echo Fox’s damage in teamfights. Huhi and CLG, conversely, favour rotations and extensive map movement that gets the entire team ahead.
Off the rift, in the pick and ban phase of the game, Huhi has also become an obstacle to opposing teams as his champion pool has become one of the most diverse in the NA LCS.
Over the course of the 2017 Summer Split, Huhi played some 13 unique champions while most other mid laners failed to make it into double-digits.
His signature Aurelion Sol consistently draws target bans from top tier teams who do not want to have to adjust their playstyle to deal with what Huhi can bring with that champion: level 1 roams, stolen camps, or simply the sheer amount of pressure that a good Aurelion Sol is able to exert.
Here Huhi shows his unconsidered value to CLG as he is able to draw bans from the enemy team which allows his teammates the freedom to pick up whatever champions they need. In all five of their games against CLG, NV used the majority of their five bans to try to keep Huhi off of comfort-picks like Aurelion Sol, Taliyah and Orianna.
This is what separates Huhi from other mid laners like Eugene “Pobelter” Park of Immortals. Pobelter is most often content to play whatever champions are strongest in the metagame at the time and as such cannot draw the same degree of attention from enemy teams in the pick and ban phase.
Huhi is one of the few mid laners in North America who consistently seeks out the viability of off-meta picks and CLG seems all too ready to support this. In every single game in the NA LCS playoffs first round, CLG saved their mid lane pick until the last round of their draft in order to leave open the possibility that Huhi might have the opportunity to counter-pick.
What this tells us is that the team is acutely aware of the role that Huhi plays around the map and is willing to sacrifice counter-picks in other lanes to make sure that Huhi can get going.
Counter Logic Gaming is confident in Huhi’s champion pool and does not feel the need to try to first-pick him a champion that he will be comfortable on.
This was particularly important in Game 1 of their playoff set, as Huhi was able to pull out a relatively surprising counter-pick to Nisqy’s Cassiopeia, in the form of Vel’Koz, yet another mage capable of shoving in the lane and looking for cross-map plays.
The Vel’Koz pick proved instrumental to CLG’s victory in that match as its effective long range kept the Cassiopeia at bay during teamfights.
While the series versus Team Envy showcased Huhi’s strengths and earned him recognition as Player of the Series, their two losses in Games 2 and 3 also showcased CLG’s weaknesses in the current metagame.
— lolesports (@lolesports) August 21, 2017
In a world of front-to-back teamfighting and a metagame where tanks are particularly strong, if Huhi finds himself behind and unable to break through the enemy tank line, CLG looks weak and crumbles in teamfights.
Similarly, when Huhi is the one being pushed in and the enemy mid laner is the first to roam, CLG struggle to find a way to make plays. Fans and analysts alike will be watching to see whether CLG can shore up these weaknesses in the semi-final match against Immortals on the 26th of August.
Ranking players will always be a tricky exercise that often reveals more about the commentator than the players themselves. Yet, when considering the pressure that Huhi is able to assert, he stands above the likes of the more passive Froggen or the more conservative Pobelter.
While this may not be enough to make him better than Bjergsen or Jensen and not on par with the Fakers of the world, there can be little doubt that Huhi is one of the best in North America.