Mid lane is typically the lane with the most variation in viable champions. But one pick in particularly came a bit out of left field: Lulu. Let’s take a look at the factors that have made Lulu one of the most picked and banned mids of the second half of the LCS split, and also a semi-viable top.
What is Lulu?
Rather than give a history lesson, I’ll simply point out that Lulu has been played mid before; in fact, she was considered an OP mid on release for many of these reasons.
Lulu is a huge lane bully. She has long-ranged poke with her Q. She can shield to trade well. She has mana issues that are hyper-relevant as a support, but barely noticeable in mid with Athene’s Unholy Grail or top with multiple Doran’s Rings. She has a ranged auto-attack with a steroid that lets her harass without putting abilities on cooldown or using up mana.
It’s very hard to gank a Lulu. She has a speed buff, a long-ranged slow, a single target hard-CC, and a giant health buff that doubles as a knockup if the enemy team dives you.
Lulu’s late game is exceptionally strong for one main reason: she works primarily by buffing other players on your team. This means that if she gets fed, she can buff herself, but if somebody else is bringing heavy damage, you can buff them instead!
Lulu’s main weakness is her Mid Game. Right now, almost every AP champion prioritizes two items:
- Athene’s Unholy Grail – Sustain and CDR
- Rabadon’s Deathcap – AP
Most champions take off once they have those two items. But most AP champions have higher damage than Lulu. Lulu really has 3 damage abilities, and they’re all minor, for an AP Carry
Passive – Pix: (35 + .05 AP)*3
Q – Glitterlance: (260 +.5 AP)*2
E – Help, Pix: 280 + .4 AP
On top of that, Lulu is very likely to use Help, Pix as a shield — rather than as an attack — in the mid game. This gives her a total burst of super low.
Now, that is not to say that Lulu’s effect is minimal. But with just those two items, her main contribution is mostly utility.
Lulu is very dominant in lane, disappointing when she falls behind, and has a weak patch in the mid-game. She is actually very similar to Orianna. Like Orianna, she
- Has a shield
- Has a speed buff
- Has an auto-attack steroid
- Has a team-fight, AoE CC ultimate
- Doesn’t outright lose many lane matchups and is a lane bully
- Takes some time to ramp up, despite laning strength
This is a very awkward power curve that can really only be super strong or super weak. Why? Because a strong early game and a strong late game with a weak mid-game typically leads to dominating early game so hard that you pass through mid-game into late-game quickly enough to avoid your weak mid-game. This is part of why Tristana can’t be competitively strong without being OP.
From Disappointing to OP
So what brought Lulu from a champion who was niche at best (good when combined with damage heavy tops) to extremely dominant? It wasn’t just a passing whimsy. Three things contributed most heavily:
Lulu needs slightly different builds than standard mids, to compensate for her low damage and high utility.
First, Lich Bane solves Lulu’s damage issues. She has low damage because 2-3 of her spells aren’t used primarily for damage. However, having Lich Bane means she can auto-attack in between each of her spells for huge damage, despite not using her spells for damage. Lich Bane is so core on her that many AP mids get it before Rabadon’s Deathcap, to hop, skip, and jump over her weak mid-game.
Second, heavy CDR is super important. Lulu’s status as a lane bully has a lot of factors, but the biggest one is her Help, Pix! -> Glitterlance combo. If you put Pix on somebody (damaging them), you can then Glitterlance to them with almost no chance of missing. The cooldown on Glitterlance is 7 seconds, while Help, Pix! only lasts 6 seconds. Getting CDR from runes and masteries allows Lulu to get two Glitterlances in per Help, Pix! This increases her bullying potential to even higher degrees.
Finally, the arrival of damage-heavy junglers means you sacrifice less damage by having a support-heavy mid, because you can use Lulu’s utility to supplement the damage from your junglers.
When Riot added scaling utility to supports like Lulu, they intended to make it more viable for them to build AP. Of course, any success on that front doesn’t actually buff the viability of the champion in the support role, but instead in a farm role.
Any of these things would have made Lulu viable, but the combination of the three vaulted her into pick/ban status. She is the 4th most-picked mid as well as the 4th most-banned mid, despite not having been picked until week 4 in Europe and week 5 in North America.
She has a 68% win rate, and an average KDA of 4.85. She has been slightly stronger in Europe, with a 71.5% win rate, although a slightly lower KDA (4.44)
She has also been played top (primarily by sOAZ), but the differences are largely cosmetic, with mana regen being filled by Doran’s Ring, and Morellonomicon being a first item over Athene’s Unholy Grail.
Lich Bane is getting toned down so that it requires more AP to break even. This will likely force Lulu to pick up Lich Bane third instead of second, decreasing her mid-game dominance, and making her strong early-game, weak middle-game, strong late-game curve more pronounced.
While other champions like Twisted Fate are getting buffed to compensate, Lulu is not. Hopefully, this will bring her in line, and make her a strong pick, but not oppressively so.
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Mattias “Gentleman Gustaf” Lehman is a big time nerd-gamer who has been involved in both SC2 and LoL. He has ranked as high as Diamond 1 in solo queue and Diamond 3 in arranged 5s.
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