This is part three of a series I’m writing on the earliest part of DotA - the lane phase. Many people consider the middle lane to be the most important, and there are a number of reasons for this. There are many jobs your middle hero must perform while keeping basic control of his lane and getting gold and experience, and this guide will discuss the various facets of the middle lane and what you should be aiming to accomplish from game to game.
This guide will not be a step by step instruction on how to block and pull creeps or how to last hit and deny to win the lane - there are many other guides to solo mid that are already extremely detailed and lengthy. Since there are dozens of guides that can teach you how to act, this guide will focus more on how you should be thinking when you decide on the middle lane. Even if you are not ordinarily a mid-lane player, a solid understanding of what the middle lane is all about can help you in the side lanes, as you will know what to expect of the hero your team sent middle.
I’ll begin this guide by pointing out a key concept to the middle lane that many players do not seem to understand. To put it plainly, there are three types of middle lanes:
Probably the most popular hero to send to the middle lane lately is a hero who excels at ganking (note: these heroes are just examples and not a magic rule). Gankers go middle for several reasons. First, ganking heroes typically need quick levels to be effective at their role. Part of what makes these heroes so strong is the high amount of power they have early on in the game. By going to the middle lane, they can safely get solo experience in order to get that power sooner. Furthermore, the middle lane offers easy access to both rune spawns - runes that vastly increase the chance of successfully making kills. Lastly, part of what makes these heroes great choices for gankers is that they are very good at winning duels with other heroes. For that reason, they are often very strong in their lane and able to beat most other heroes one on one.
People who go to the middle lane with gank heroes should keep these things in mind at all times. The primary function of a ganking hero is to establish map control. By constantly attacking the enemy side lines, the middle hero can help control all three lanes very early on and provide his allies with room to breathe by beating the enemy back. Furthermore, ganking heroes are nearly always chasing rune spawns, which not only provides them with an advantage over the enemy team, it prevents the enemy team from using runes against their allies.
Another common role for middle heroes is farming. Heroes are sent to the middle lane to farm because it is typically a very safe lane. The distance between where the creeps naturally clash and both towers is very small and the heroes in the middle lane are constantly protected by their tower. For this reason, heroes that are weaker early on can go middle and safely get gold and experience without the aid of a support hero. This frees up support heroes to go help in more difficult lanes, as well as providing the hero middle with extra experience from being solo.
As with gankers, heroes who go middle to farm should keep in mind their primary goal at all times. While fighting the enemy over runes and attempting to gank to help your allies might seem noble, if you are playing a hero who relies heavily on gold and levels to be effective, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. As a farming middle lane, the benefits of leaving the lane at any time must always be weighed with the consequences.
The last common reason to have a hero go to the middle lane is to counter the hero the enemy sent. These heroes typically excel at being absurdly annoying and highly effective at harassing enemies, denying them a large amount of gold and experience. In many cases, the strategy for these heroes is to beat the enemy up so much that they are crippled completely and unable to perform the role they originally intended. Like most games, Dota2 is one giant round of rock, paper, scissors, and every hero has a way to be stopped, even the heroes considered most powerful in the middle lane. If your team does not have a hero who can effectively gank or farm in the middle lane, the last option you have is to simply screw with the enemy’s middle lane so much that they can’t do anything there, either.
Unfortunately, there is no golden rule to countering enemies in the middle lane. However, if you’re experienced enough to be able to predict the hero the enemy team is going to send to the middle lane and counter pick him, you probably don’t need one.
With the most common roles of middle heroes listed, I can move on to the real meat of the guide. Like any lane, your goal while playing is to accomplish whatever your role is for your team, while also preventing the enemy in your lane from performing his role for his team. Let’s break this down:
Performing your role:
When playing a game of DotA, you should always have in mind what role your team needs you to perform and be actively trying to fulfill that role as best you can. This is especially true of the middle lane, considered the most important lane by many. Even as you try to mess with the enemy hero in your lane and worry about your teammates, you should always keep in mind what role you were actually sent to the middle lane to perform.
If you’re a farming hero, you should focus on farming. You have to gauge the loss of gold and experience for every second you spend not last hitting creeps and decide if it’s worth it or not - sometimes it really is best to let the enemy hero have runes. You can’t do every job at once, and even if you make successful ganks on side heroes, your farm will still suffer if you spend too much time walking around instead of last hitting. If your team is relying on you to have the gold to stand up to the enemy carry during the mid-game and you don’t have it, you have failed them regardless of how many sweet ganks you pulled off.
Conversely, as a ganker your role will always be to support your side lanes and develop map control for them. Leaving an enemy farm hero to last hit in your lane is not the worst thing in the world. Many gank heroes fail in their lane simply because they get too caught up in their 1v1 to help their allies, which is the selling point of their hero. A ganking mid should always be fighting over runes and using them to pressure the enemy team, and spending your time farming in the middle lane is wasting the high early-game potential of your hero.
Denying the enemy his role:
Of course, this last guideline is subjective and will change completely on a game to game basis. As usual with a game as complex as DotA, there is no magic rule that will fit every game, and you still have to judge the situation as it develops. If you’re a farming hero in the middle lane, but your team has even better farming heroes in the side lanes, it’s still useful to them for you to fight over runes and help give your allies space. If you’re a ganking hero and your team is already strongly winning their lanes, you can instead focus on the second task to the middle laner: stopping the enemy middle lane.
This is especially true of heroes who are sent to the middle lane specifically to stop the enemy there, but all heroes who are sent to the middle should be actively attempting to stop the enemy middle lane from performing their role. This might seem obvious, and it is a part of both side lanes as well, but it is especially important for the middle lane. With close proximity to both side lanes and rune spawns, and the shortest route to the fountain, the middle lane is in the best location to affect the flow of the game. Allowing the enemy hero free reign to impact your team however he can is a common mistake. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most common tricks for the middle lane:
Here is a game I played as a ganker (Skywrath Mage) against a ganker (Storm Spirit). As gankers rely heavily on runes to help get kills on the side lanes, controlling the runes is the top priority for the heroes in the middle lane. In this lane, I opt to focus on harassing Storm instead of concentrating on last hitting. This serves several purposes:
1) Keeping him low on health makes ganking side lanes a risk to him. Without a full health pool he is prone to dying if he tries to jump into a lane with two of our heroes. This is the first step is preventing him from ganking my team.
2) Keeping the creep wave near his tower gives me constant vision of him. With this vision, I will know immediately if he runs for a rune and can alert my team (or chase him to fight over it). By doing this, even if he beats me to a rune spawn he will not be able to create a gank with it - my team will already know what lane he’s coming to.
3) Keeping the creep wave near his tower also puts me in a position to be closer to both rune spawns than he is, which prevents him from effectively chasing after them. While at low health, he is also unable to fight me over them, allowing me to easily pick up every rune that spawns. This prevents him from ever ganking the side lanes, and I am able to constantly refill my bottle, allowing me to harass him out of the lane entirely (and even pick up a few kills on him). While I might not have farmed extremely well, by constantly harassing Storm I prevent him from ever being a threat to my team, and when team fights start happening during mid-game I am able to pick up several kills while Storm is unable to effectively fight at all. Storm has such a hard time in this lane he even has to call Mirana for help - causing her to miss out on gold and experience as well!
Keeping the creep wave at the enemy tower might seem counterintuitive for many middle lane players, as the rule of thumb is almost always to keep it near YOUR tower so you can safely farm and deny the enemy. However, part of being in the middle lane is to prevent the enemy from doing his job, and keeping Storm behind his tower the entire game is a great way to stop him from ganking. A hero like Storm is going to farm no matter how hard you try to stop him - with a spammable AoE nuke at very low mana cost he can even switch to jungling if his lane is too hard on him. Therefore, preventing him from snowballing from kills on your allies is typically the best way to stop him.
Here is a game I played as a ganker (Queen of Pain) against a farmer (Outworld Devourer). With blink as a movement advantage on OD, it is already likely that I will be able to pick up every rune. Furthermore, as a farming hero, OD does not really care about picking up runes, he only wants to get levels and gold in the middle lane. Therefore, the best thing I can do in my lane is to stop him from farming, while picking up runes to gank side lanes if I can. Once again, I elect to focus on harassing him, even if the result is pushing the creep wave toward his tower. Let’s break this concept down:
1) While OD has an easier time farming near his own tower, and it is harder for me to harass him there, he is a hero who naturally counters other intelligence heroes. As we gain levels, his Astral Imprisonment will grow stronger and stronger, allowing him to drain my intelligence, and therefore my damage, while boosting his. Eventually, I will be completely unable to beat him on last hitting, while also out of mana to harass him, and he will win the lane with ease. Therefore, I have to be aggressive straight from level one and keep him low on health and in danger of dying.
2) While OD is low on health, he can’t risk staying too close to the creep wave for fear of my blinking on top of him and killing him. Even while near his tower, he is unable to effectively last hit and misses a large amount of gold. Furthermore, since he has lower range than Queen of Pain, he cannot risk spamming Astral Imprisonment on me for fear of dying. This allows me to build up momentum on him, and I even manage to pick up a few kills as he decides to stay in the lane at low health, rather than walk (fly?) all the way to base to heal.
3) Keeping the creep wave near his tower allows me to back off out of vision range to pick up runes. Without observer wards in the river, OD’s team will not know which lane I am moving toward and will be unprepared for a gank. With a farming hero in the middle lane, I know the enemy team is unlikely to have strong support from their allies’ teleports (OD teleporting to help the heroes I gank is not as scary as say, Storm Spirit teleporting), which makes surprise ganks very effective against them. At the same time, their primary carry is already in my lane, and I have to make the decision where I want to use the pressure my runes grant me. In the end, I decide to use most of my runes ganking OD in the middle lane to further harass him away from farm.
In this game, while I had no focus on last hitting and did not actively attempt to deny OD, he requires twenty minutes to build his first item (force staff - largely due to the fact that his team pushed down four towers with Mass Serpent Wards) and is one of the lowest levels in the game. Meanwhile, I am able to catch up on the farm I missed with Queen of Pain’s amazing mobility and spammable AoE nukes, while also contributing to team fights and picking up several kills with my level advantage and runes. The Antimage on my team even catches up with a Hand of Midas and Battlefury by this same 20 minutes - despite being in a 1v3 lane and having nothing but Poor Man’s Shield around 7:00. So great is the pressure I put on the middle and bottom lanes that the enemy has to start ignoring Antimage in order to save the heroes I am killing. In the end, OD never makes a difference for his team.
Here is a farmer (Dragon Knight) versus farmer (Outworld Devourer) lane. The first thing to notice is that I have a lane partner. Don’t be afraid to have help in the middle lane - even if this lane is almost always typically run solo, if you can get your primary carry fed while also crushing the enemy carry, this is easily worth the help of a support hero. Dragon Knight, as a melee hero, will have a hard time beating the ranged OD out for last hits, however, with the threat of Shadow Shaman added to the mix the lane becomes much harder for him and he is unable to effectively farm.
After this level one gank nearly kills OD, winning the lane is already simple. OD has relatively short range for a ranged hero and cannot come anywhere near Shadow Shaman to fight him over the creeps. Meanwhile, I can easily deny my creeps and last hit the Dire creeps. In the end, Shadow Shaman is able to almost completely push OD out of the lane, keeping him away from the creeps and unable to get any experience at all.
Of course, keeping control of a creep wave in such a small amount of space can prove a challenge at times, and if you focus too much on denying you will pull the creep wave into your tower. The added damage from the tower can end up pushing the creep wave all the way back to the enemy’s hill, which will make it difficult for Shadow Shaman to keep OD away from the creeps and the experience/gold. One of the easiest tricks you can use to stop this is to simply tank the creep wave for a bit:
By doing this, you allow your creep wave to catch up and meet the enemy creeps outside your tower range. Not only does this prevent the tower from pushing the creep wave, it also stacks the enemy creep wave so that you don’t have to focus on denying as much to keep the wave in place. In doing this, Shadow Shaman and I are able to keep the creep wave near our tower full time, effectively keeping OD in danger and unable to farm.
In the end, constant zoning of OD while I’m freely farming will allow Shadow Shaman to leave me to solo him with ease. As he falls behind in levels and gold, he will eventually be unable to fight me even with the inherent advantage his hero provides against DK. With a low health pool, even simply spamming nukes can be enough to push him out of the lane:
Here OD has just used a teleport scroll to return to the middle lane after a death, and is immediately sent back to his fountain by a combination of Ether Shock and Breathe Fire. In this manner, Shadow Shaman no longer needs to actively stay in the lane and zone OD to deny him experience, he can simply be sent back to his fountain the second he shows up to the lane. Furthermore, the absence of OD in the middle lane allows me to start pushing down towers for even more gold for myself and my team, while also removing the safety net the tower provides for OD. The end result of this strategy is that OD remains crippled the entire game while I turn into a very scary dragon in a very short amount of time:
Eventually, OD attempts to leave the middle lane entirely and farm elsewhere. Unfortunately, by mid-game he is so far behind in levels and gold that catching up is virtually impossible for a hero with low farming potential (no AoE nukes to clear creeps with).
The last matchup for display is a farmer (Antimage) against a ganker (Night Stalker). This is arguably the most difficult matchup, as the enemy hero is going to do whatever he can to kill you and push you out of the lane. Gold is not as vital for him as it is for you, so he can afford to ignore the creeps way more than you can. Furthermore, he will likely have the assistance of a bottle being refilled by runes to help him accomplish the task of beating you up, not to mention he is probably a stronger hero in a fight to begin with. All of this can add up to a very challenging lane as the enemy runs through the steps I explained earlier in this guide to deny you.
However, you can still win lanes like this. The first suggestion I would make is simple: do not be afraid. This short shows me tanking the creeps to prevent them from entering tower range. Even as NS sees what I’m doing and tries to kill me for it, I simply turn around and hit him to destroy his mana pool. Since he is unable to chase me without any mana, I know I can back off the second my creeps arrive and start using Tangos to heal. With the creep wave right next to my tower, he is unable to harass me and I can get plenty of last hits.
Next: focus on farming. While chasing the enemy hero across the map to kill him might seem like a fun idea, you will lose out on several creep waves worth of last hits in the process. As a farming hero, you should always be focused on getting gold first; everything else comes second. With fast base movement speed and blink I can challenge Night Stalker over runes in this game, but I don’t - it is simply not worth it. I tell my team where I see him headed and it’s up to them to defend themselves, there is not much more I can do to help. Not only will I miss gold chasing runes every two minutes, I could risk blinking into a gank set up by NS and his team and die.
Lastly: keep solid map awareness. As I see it turn night and NS run off to grab a rune, I immediately start freely auto attacking the creeps in the lane. Not only does this allow me to finish them off before NS grabs the rune and potentially turns around to kill me, I am able to use the enemy tower to push the creep wave back toward my side of the map in his absence (before anyone laughs at me for missing two creep kills here, I know I could have been more careful, give me a break! NS is scary at night).
Being aware of where the enemy ganker is at all times is essential for farming well. If he constantly has a rune, you need to play more defensively and might focus on denying to pull the creep wave toward your tower. If he’s off ganking a side lane, you can push the creep wave to damage the enemy tower or reset its position. As your focus should always be on farming, you need to be in constant command of the lane so that you can stay safe and in control of your lane.
As with the match in which I was Dragon Knight, not all lanes can be easily won 1v1. If you need help in your lane, insist upon it. In this game I received several ganks on NS from my allies and actually get multiple kills early on. With my allies’ help in the middle lane, I complete Battlefury quickly and begin clearing out the jungle and split pushing, turning into the monster Antimage is best known for.
As you play DotA, keeping in mind the role of both heroes in the middle lane will put you in a position for success. Even if you are not in the middle lane yourself, you should always be aware of what your team is trying to accomplish. If you have a farming hero in the middle lane, do not expect constant ganks to save you when you are struggling. Furthermore, try to fight the enemy middle lane over runes so that your farming middle hero does not have to.
If you have a ganking middle lane, insist that they help pressure the side lanes if an enemy is farming too well. They might not realize that you are losing your lane until you let them know! Again, try to help them help you as much as you can. If you can help camp rune spawns to guarantee they get them instead of the enemy, do so. If you can spare a minute to leave bottom lane and help your middle hero gank top, do that as well. While being middle does give a hero many advantages, it does not make them one a person team, and they still need the help of their allies to win the game.
It is the fundamental understanding of the purpose of the middle lane that will make the biggest difference in the early stages of a match. Teams that win the middle lane are often in a great position to win the match thereafter. Just keep in mind what “winning” means in the context of a game - it is not always who gets the highest level or the most gold.