MSI 2019 will feature the best of the best in international League of Legends, likely showing the eventual World Champion by the end of the year. With some new faces and some old, even the Play-In stages will be a fierce series of best-of-1s in a double round-robin format.
Group A brings together 1907 Fenerbahçe from the TCL, Phong Vũ Buffalo from the VCS, Isurus Gaming from the LLA, and Bombers from the OPL.
The winner of Group A will move on to fight Team Liquid of the LCS for a spot in the Main Event.
The TCL 2019 Winter champions 1907 Fenerbahçe went on an absolute tear throughout their first domestic split of the year, finishing up at 16-2. That didn't slow down a bit in the Winter Playoffs where they ran through internationally renown Supermassive Esports in a surprisingly tense 3-0, recovering their 2018 struggles which saw them drop 1-3 to Supermassive in the Summer Playoffs, and their even worse showing in 2018 Winter.
With their domestic rivals off their back, 1907 Fenerbahçe return to the international stage looking new and improved since their run in Worlds 2017. In fact, the only returning member from that squad is support veteran Japone. Outside of support, the team has picked up imports Ruin and Kirei in top and jungle, and Bolulu and Hades in mid and bot.
This squad's most dangerous weapons seem to be its top and jungle pairing of Ruin and Kirei. Against Supermassive in the Winter Finals, Ruin took massive leads in the top lane in two of their wins, and when Ruin wasn't carrying the team to victory, Kirei popped all the way off through his strong Karthus play to seal the deal. While they fell behind, especially in game 1, the team showed championship composure and managed to rattle off a huge comeback victory. Through some strong macro decision-making, this team looks like they're always threatening opponents no matter the game state. This strong game sense could be a weapon that separates them from their competition, and gets them to the next leg of MSI.
Phong Vũ Buffalo
Internationally we last saw the 2019 VCS Spring Champions Phong Vũ Buffalo in Worlds 2018. There they fought their way to the Main Event falling short in the round-robin. That same squad has stayed together to rattle off more domestic success, and another opportunity at making a deeper international run. After a nearly spotless 13-1 spring domestically, this very young team is looking even more dangerous with some extra experience under their belts.
Phong Vũ Buffalo seem to lean most on their powerful ad carry BigKoro, and outstanding mid laner Naul. Phong Vũ's bottom lane duo often favor tanky supports like Braum and Galio to protect fairly immobile but heavy damage dealers like Varus, Xayah, and Viktor, unlocking BigKoro to deliver big damage. Meanwhile Naul flexes a deep champion pool that spans the spectrum of champion roles, anywhere from Sylas to Lissandra to Urgot. The team also plays a farm-heavy style in their top lane, and a very aggressive jungle presence relying heavily on Lee Sin and Jarvan IV.
In their Spring Finals series, BigKoro and Naul recovered from their game 1 loss by dying only 9 times between themselves in the next three games, leading their team to a quick three win comeback.
Unlike some other teams in this group, Phong Vũ Buffalo have a very definitive playstyle identity that might be targeted by their opponents in picks and bans. We don't expect any team to allow this group access to Jarvan IV and Lee Sin for very good reason, but it'll be hard to find a weakness across this consistent group of good players that just so happen to have an international chip on their shoulder.
The 2019 LLA Opening Playoffs champions Isurus Gaming are without a doubt the biggest underdog entering MSI 2019. After just scraping by with a 13-8 record over their first split of 2019, Isurus Gaming rallied in the playoffs and pull of a very unexpected championship run.
Isurus Gaming have accomplished what few could expect from them with one consistent trait to their play: avoiding big mistakes. While they thrive on their aggressive jungle play from Oddie, players like Seiya in the mid lane, and the bottom lane duo of Warangelus and Slow play much safer styles. Of course, this didn't go very well for them early on in the year, but throughout their playoffs run one thing was abundantly clear: Isurus live and die on the playmaking potential of their jungler, and at least in playoffs, Oddie was up to the challenge.
While Isurus managed to outperform expectations, their one-dimensional style seems to be the most exploitable heading into MSI, especially looking at the incredibly dangerous jungle presences of teams like Phong Vũ Buffalo. If their opponents coordinate good pressure on Oddie, Isurus will probably crumble around him.
But still, underestimating a team coming off a fresh championship victory over teams doing exactly that is a dangerous proposition.
The 2019 OPL Split 1 champions Bombers are one of the most dangerous groups the league has ever seen. After decimating competition 19-2 across the first split of the year, they made their domestic dominance clear. And that domestic dominance was very, very sudden.
Bombers ended 2018 looking like one of the worst orgs in the OPL. Cut forward to 2019, and after an entire remodeling of their failed roster, and they're suddenly untouchable.
As one of the most successful new rosters we've seen in 2019, it's hard to find a weakness in this team.
From the potent combination of imports top laner Mimic and jungle rookie BalKhan down to OPL regulars mid laner ry0ma and bottom lane duo FBI and Rogue, this lineup has been above all else consistent in their utter domination of their region.
Bombers have the least amount of information available for MSI competitors to study as a fresh team in 2019, especially with one of their strongest players, BalKhan, in his professional League of Legends debut. But despite the little info to go on, there's one (and only one) clear note to the 2 losses Bombers suffered in 2019: To beat the Bombers, you must get far ahead of their bottom lane.
The OPL may be one of the most underperforming wildcard regions in international League of Legends, but this fearsome organization is looking to change that at MSI 2019, and I don't think anyone wanted to be in their way.
Group A of the MSI Play-Ins is a fearsome lineup of teams with the potential to make a splash on the international scene. With that said, we expect some tense games throughout this group.
But only one team can move on to fight Team Liquid, and some must go home early.
When the dust settles, we expect Group A to break down with Phong Vũ Buffalo in first, 1907 Fenerbahçe in second, Bombers in third, and Isurus Gaming in fourth.
In terms of matches we expect the race for first to be razer close, but for Isurus Gaming to be far behind the other three competitors, unlikely to take a match.
Who do you think will escape Group A of the MSI 2019 Play-Ins? Let us know in the comments below!
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