MSI Mid-Season Invitational and Groups Breakdown
As NA fans breathe a sigh of relief with TSM making it into the group stages, we have to look back and then look ahead.This years Mid-Season invitational is set to be one of the most explosive and entertaining in years. The group stages were stressful in their own right, with Super Massive E-Sports and The Gigabyte Marines proving that the LoL world is forever getting smaller. The world watched as teams from seemingly unknown League regions came to showcase how far they have come. To say that they have improved would be understating it. The Gigabyte Marines coming from the South-Asia GPL dominated their group. On top of that, where they only dropped a single game, they were up over TSM 2–0 during the play in, and swept Super Massive E-Sports 3–0 to claim their spot in the invitational. Super Massive while less dominant showed that every region in the League world has the potential to take games from most anyone else. So, where does this leave us in terms of the actual tournament itself? With group stages getting underway on May 10th, it’s time to look ahead at what’s in store.
Heading into groups the stage is set with six teams vying for only four spots in the playoffs.
SK Telecom1 — The Gods
The undisputed top dog heading into groups, and three time world champions. SKT1 has looked phenomenal in the LCK boasting an impressive record and crushing KT Rolster in the finals to secure their spot at MSI. Since last year SKT1 has added Huni in the top lane from Immortals and Peanut in the jungle, taking a strong roster and arguably making it even stronger. Peanut has been a driving force in SKT1’s success this split, showing up on a variety of champs. His Lee Sin is an absolute must ban in my mind, and Graves might make that list as well. His ability to make plays and create pressure are unmatched even in the LCK and it will be exciting to see him match up against other hyper aggressive jungles like Flash Wolve’s Karsa. With the number of threats SKT1 brings to the table, along with their longstanding ability to perform on the international stage, they are the favorites going in.
Keys to Watch: Pick and Ban phase is the best place to start playing against SKT1. If any team hopes to beat SKT1 they better start with a stellar pick and ban phase. Allowing any of their players onto comfort picks is going to result in a bad day for whoever they are playing. (Please ban Leblanc 100% of the time)
Flash Wolves — The (potential) God Slayers
Flash Wolves are coming off an impressive play in game where they crushed Super Massive E-Sports in convincing 3–0 fashion. After their showing last year at the world championship where they gave SKT1 a run for their money it’s hard not to pick them as the #2 team going in. Despite being relegated to a play in (Riot….) Flash Wolves look to be a stronger version of what they were last year. A hyper aggressive team that depends on Karsa and Maple to make plays and create a lead they can use to close the game out. If one issue sticks out in my mind it remains their inability to close out games late. SKT1 is unebelievably adept at stalling games into the mid and late game, where their mechanics and team fights make them almost untouchable. If the Flash Wolves hope to come out on top at MSI they are going to have to play fast and aggressive, forcing teams to play a reactionary style where they can control the tempo.
Keys to Watch: Flash Wolves success is going to be dictated by their ability to close games with a lead. In the world championships Flash Wolves consistently entered mid game with a lead, but failed to close games against the very best teams.
Gigabyte Marines — The Wild Card
The GPL has long been considered the outcast in the Asia region with the LPL, LCK, and LMS holding considerable dominance. Inside the GPL though, the Gigabyte Marines have been a powerhouse team, crushing their way through the GPL and into the group stages for MSI. While in my eyes they are the weakest team going into group play, their willingness to take risks and agressive style might net them a few wins along the way. As evidenced from their series with TSM, Optimus is a force to be reckoned with in the mid lane. The issue is that their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. The ability to be aggressive is very different from the knowledge to do it at the right time. The Marines threw what was an almost certain victory vs TSM and a close to the series by trying to end the game at the wrong time. Those types of plays may work in the GPL, but top teams from around the world are another story. If the Marines hope to get out of groups, look for them to make smart aggressive plays and reduce their mistakes.
Keys to Watch: Optimus in the mid lane is their unquestioned play maker and he is going to have to be firing on all cylinders to get them out of groups. I expect them to have trouble against other teams with world class mid laners.
Team World Elite — The Dark Horse
Team WE was the very first E-Sports organization founded out of China fielding their first League of Legends team in 2011. They made a showing at the Season 2 World Championships. Since then WE has been a staple team in the LPL, but not much else. Being out paced the last few years by the likes of Royal Never Give Up, WE has been a no show in the international scene. This split they looked convincing, taking the LPL and securing their spot in the Mid-Season Invitational. WE is sporting a few very strong players and I expect them to show better than expected results.
Keys to Watch: RNG was able to roll their way through worlds with a hyper aggressive strategy that seemed to have even the other Asia based teams on their toes. WE is going to have to implement something similar to take down teams like SKT1 and G2 who are known to stall out games, WE cannot rely on their late game team fighting to win games at this level.
G2 E-Sports — The Sleeping Giant
What is there to say about G2 E-Sports. They have dominated in Europe and have a stellar line up. They consistenly play well in their region and were convincing in their dismantling of Unicorns of Love to take the spring split EU LCS title. Their problem is that they do not do well against other regions historically. G2 has been Europe’s potential trump card more than once, and have crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. I won’t discount them yet, from a talent standpoint they are the 3rd of 4th team, but results beat speculation and I have trouble picking them to do well without a strong international result in their back pocket. G2 has a lot of potential, and their first game will be a litmus test for the rest of groups.
Keys to Watch: Their first game is against SKT1 on Wednesday to open the tournament. If they manage to hold their own and give a good game to SKT1 I have high hopes for their tournament performance.
Team Solo Mid — The Hope of NA
Let’s be honest, NA has been getting crushed on the international stage for a while now. I know we all want to act like we haven’t, but it’s the truth. Aside from CLG’s strong showing last year where they made it to the finals of the 2016 MSI Mid-Season Invitational finals. Worlds have been a disaster for us, and this is despite importing a ton of talent. I expect TSM to well….be TSM. They are going to struggle in the group stage. TSM is a series team, keying on their opponents weaknesses and using them to win games. That’s all fine and dandy unless you only get one game. If TSM can make it out of the group they have a shot for a decent showing. The talent is their with Bjergsen and Hauntzer being in top form recently. Biofrost is the catalyst for the team, saving WildTurtle more than once and bringing some pressure with his roams I expect him to play a big role in their wins or losses. TSM to me didn’t distinguish themselves as the undisputed top team in NA this split, and P1 would have been my pick to play on a world stage if I had one. I hope to be wrong, but I expect TSM to struggle in groups despite their historic success vs teams from Asia.
Keys to Watch: WildTurtle is the weak link in my eyes. In the NA finals he was caught out on multiple occasions and I expect this issue to be exploited by the top teams at MSI. I also want to watch TSM’s ability to make accurate predictions without a history to work with. If TSM’s analysts can figure out what they are going to be seeing, instead of reacting to what they see, they have a chance.
It’s rare we get to see the different regions square off as plainly as during the Mid-Season invitational and Worlds. I expect we to see some interesting meta clashes along with some fun pocket picks. I am excited to see SKT1’s new roster deal with some of the up and coming international talent, and see how that talent can deal with SKT1. We are in for a wild ride, and it all starts tomorrow May 10th, 2017 at 2:30 PM!