Lee Sin is one of League’s most iconic champions. Season 11 is one of the only times since Lee’s release that Lee’s been almost entirely absent from pro play, and there are players who have built their careers off of their prowess on this champion. There’s a reason that ward hopping behind someone to kick them into your team is still named after InSec despite the fact he retired years ago. Lee Sin rewards a high level of mechanical skill, which makes him a perfect fit for pro play.
Now, Lee’s back in the meta. He was rarely picked before MSI, and the few times he was picked were all in the jungle. Lee’s performance during the first week of MSI feels night and day in comparison to the entirety of Season 11 up to this point, and the players who are making the most of Lee’s kit are playing him in mid and top. What makes Lee a good laner, and why is he still a mediocre jungler?
Lee’s biggest change? Mindset
Most of the time, when a champion becomes part of the meta, it’s the direct result of a balance change. Sometimes, champs will become relevant because of their ability to counter a meta champion. Sometimes, a big buff makes a champion the best pick on any given patch (I’m looking at you, Rumble
). The same is true of champions that get nerfed, which is why we haven’t seen much Hecarim. However, Lee’s rise to prominence doesn’t fall into any of these camps. At least, for the most part.
AD champions have risen in popularity due to the fact that most of the meta junglers are AP. Prioritizing champions like Morgana, Nidalee, and Rumble in the first draft phase makes Lee a strong flex in mid and top.That said, champs like Renekton and Lucian boast a similar level of flexibility. There’s definitely more to it than that.
The excellent Day 3 early play against Unicorns of Love
of Royal Never Give Up displays some of Lee’s early game strength. He plays him in a similar way to how Lee would be played in the jungle, except he doesn’t have to risk his farm to go for a big play early on.
Xiaohu, RNG’s top laner, lane swapped into mid and shoved out the lane. He forced Kassadin to swap to top lane, but it takes time to complete a swap and respond. Xiaohu used this pressure to rotate to bot lane and prep for a level 3 dive.
With no pressure and no vision on the side of UoL, RNG were poised to take advantage of the fact that Varus’ flash got forced at level 1. This is why Lee is so heavily valued. His laning is pretty consistent, but Lee’s early pressure allows proactive teams to make plays that it’s hard to imagine any other champion going for in the early game.
Xiaohu made great use of Lee’s mobility and utility to help his team successfully go for a very early dive, and RNG don’t lose anything for this dive due to the fact that Nocturne TPed bot and tried to counter the dive. This is a best-case scenario for someone playing Lee Sin. Xiaohu was likely very happy with this early play, and RNG used the lead they gained from this dive to snowball the game and end with a 12,000 gold lead in 25 minutes.
Lee Sin has always been thought of as an early game menace that leverages his base damage and strong utility to dominate the early game. Lee Sin still does this in lane, but laning removes much of the risk from going for risky plays and long rotations because the other laner has to either respond or accept that a strong Lee player is going to dominate the map. He’s got a similar playstyle at the end of the day, but players are utilizing his kit in a more efficient way.
Pushed out of the jungle
Lee’s clear isn’t bad per se, but it’s much worse than champions like Morgana, Rumble, and Udyr. When playing Lee Sin in the jungle, he gets behind on farm for simply existing. Ganks have to be successful in order for Lee to stay even. Pulling off the kind of play Xiaohu did in the early game would put a jungle Lee Sin behind, but playing him in lane eliminates that pressure to farm. Teleport also aids Lee Sin’s want to start fights early on, and the ability to hop right back into lane gives him insane map pressure.
However, it’s ok for Lee to not be the best jungler. In fact, we’ve seen him played more like a second jungler. Strong 2v2 in top lane and strong roam potential out of make Lee an absolute pain to deal with, which is why his pick/ban rate for MSI is sitting at 81%. Does Lee still fall off in comparison to late-game mages like Orianna and Viktor? Sure, but he matches most top laners in the late game, and Lee Sin’s early pressure in mid still makes him more than viable in either role. Additionally, Lee’s new identity as a drain tank in the later stages of the game makes him so much more than an early game champion.
What’s a drain tank?
When most League players think of a tank, they think of something like Malphite or Sion. A massive brick wall with a ton of CC that’s meant to soak up as much damage as physically possible. Drain tanks, however, are meant to live through fights through their kit healing. Release Goredrinker created a drain tank meta, pushing champions like Olaf, Pantheon, and Renekton to the front of the meta. Lee Sin’s kit healing is so strong that, even after Goredrinker’s nerfs early on in Season 11, his staying power in teamfights rivals that of a late game Sion. Lee may not have 5000 HP, but he has a ton of mobility and healing.
In MAD Lions’ game against paiN Gaming on Day 3, Armut gets poked for most of his health bar early in this fight, and yet he ends it with almost full HP. The shielding from Thresh definitely helped, but the amount of healing that Armut had in this fight kept him alive long enough to ward off PNG.
Champs like Aatrox and Illaoi are the sort of champions that are standard drain tanks. Their kits are built around healing off of damaging enemy champs, and they have to be in the fight to get the most out of their kits. Lee, however, has one ability that gives him all the healing he needs. Lee’s W (Safeguard) is a shield, yes, but it also has a secondary activation (Iron Will) that gives him lifesteal and spell vamp that goes from 10% at level 1 in the ability to a staggering 30% at level 5. This is a large part of why many pro players max their W second, or will sometimes get additional points in W before maxing out their Q in order to live through difficult matchups.
Keeping the dream alive
Out of all the games Lee Sin has been picked over the course of MSI, Fudge
’s Lee Sin game against DWG KIA
on the last day of the Group Stage showed the absolute best the champion has to offer. Cloud9 taking a game off the reigning world champs was a big enough deal as-is, but Fudge being the one to step up and carry Cloud 9’s early game was surprising. Fudge had a rocky start to his NA career, but he’s improved to the point of being one of the best top laners in the world. Cloud 9 gave over Rumble, MSI’s most valued pick at 97.3% presence so that they could first pick Fudge’s Lee Sin. The Fudge Factor is alive and well at MSI, and C9’s confidence in their top laner paid off.
This teamfight could have been where Cloud9 lost against DWG KIA, but Fudge’s ability to zone ShowMaker out of the fight kept his team in the game. Notice how the fight starts with Fudge kicking ShowMaker away from Cloud9’s backline as soon as he uses the stolen Alistar ult, shaving precious seconds off of that massive damage reduction. Then, Fudge uses his Q on BeryL as a vehicle to get to ShowMaker in the backline and continue to press the issue. While fighting ShowMaker, Fudge was able to land another crucial Q onto Ghost and contribute enough damage to take out Damwon’s ADC.
For the record, Fudge didn’t carry late game teamfights damage-wise. And that’s ok! What he did manage to do is keep Cloud9 in the game long enough for Perkz to get more items and full augments on Viktor. At that point, Fudge effectively swapped away from being a carry and took on the role of keeping Perkz alive with shields and an intimidating frontline presence.
Lee’s damage may fall off a bit as the game goes on, but that doesn’t mean his late game is bad. It’d be more accurate to say that Lee Sin’s role on the team changes, and he’s more useful as a frontliner than a damage dealer once the late game comes around.
An unforeseen shift
It’s likely that pro players have been practicing Lee Sin for a few weeks, but that isn’t near long enough to fully master his mechanics. Through these clips, even the best showings on Lee Sin haven’t featured a player hitting everything they could have. Lee Sin is this strong right now, and yet every player that’s picking him has room to improve and grow on the champion. This may result in Lee getting close to 100% pick/ban in the Rumble stage, and it’s likely we’ll see more and more highlights come from Lee Sin as players get a better grasp of his mechanics.
Lee Sin’s new identity may be different from the way he’s been utilized in the past, but he’s so mechanically involved that it’s impossible to dispute the skill level of a pro player who takes full advantage of Lee’s strength. Lee’s future going into the later stages of MSI is bright.