Things we learned from the 2016 MSI Group Stages
So far the Riot Mid-Season Invitational has been full of surprises, with even the most experienced of analysts failing to predict the outcome of the group stages in any way, shape or form. The knockout stage of the tournament kicked off on Friday 13th of May at 6:30AM GMT, with 1st seed, China’s Royal Never Give Up taking on 4th seed, the LCK’s SK Telecom. This is followed by North America’s Counter Logic Gaming, facing off against the LMS stars, Flash Wolves on Saturday, with the Grand Final on Sunday. With almost all of the teams bringing surprises to the table, there’s a lot to talk about following the group stages, so let’s jump into in.
Gods can Bleed
Perhaps the biggest shock of the weekend came from SK Telecom. Coming into the tournament there was a unanimous thought in the League of Legends community that the Korean powerhouse would blaze through the competition and take the title home without breaking a sweat. Even after their first day, the feeling was still there, as SKT dominated Europe’s G2 and Turkey’s Supermassive eSports in bold statement games. Faker in particular, showing that even though he is a 2-time World Champion, he is still one of the hungriest players out there. What happened over the next 2 days will live in the memory of SKT fans and players for a long time. They lost the next 4 games in a row, and came out of day 3 with a 2-4 record, and looked to be running out of options.
SKT’s problem seems to start and end with jungler Blank, who has simply been out-pressured by almost every other jungler in the tournament so far. There were huge question marks about Blank coming into the tournament and he has certainly shown us why so far. There was even speculation about him being benched in favour of veteran Bengi, but SKT managed to pull things together in the last 2 days of tournament, going 4-0, including a victory against their semi finals opponents, RNG. Blank looked better in these games, but nowhere near as good as he did in the LCK finals.
SKT look shaky but determined going into the semis, but with such a talented an experienced roster, who have boat loads of experience in best of 5 series, it’s hard to count them out. Blank will have to step up his game if he hopes to unlock the team’s carries, Faker and Bang and see his team through to their second MSI final.
Speaking of question marks, the EU LCS’s G2 eSports came into MSI with many surrounding them. A squad of rookies who have only just come up from challenger to find themselves up against the best teams in the world after only 1 split in the LCS? Their story sounds reminiscent of Europe’s Origen from last year, but clearly the squad lacks the experience that xPeke’s squad from last split was so stacked with. Simply put, G2 look messy. In a reddit post, the team confirmed that they had decided not to bootcamp in Asia, like the other teams, and had only three days of practice as a team leading up to MSI.
Despite only picking up wins against the Wildcard team, Supermassive eSports, G2 were by far and a ways the most disappointing team at MSI. G2 were eliminated from the competition, with a 2-8 record, and go back to Europe with heavy hearts and a lot of explaining to do.
CLG – The second coming of #goldenage?
One of the things that last year’s MSI is remembered for is the performance of Fnatic. The largely rookie squad came into MSI with fans unsure about how they would match up to the international competition, but it will be remembered as the tournament which both cemented EU as a strong region, and the one that made a true superstar of rookie, Huni. Watching CLG this year reminds me heavily of last year’s Fnatic, and if there is one underdog to superstar story to come out of this year’s competition, it’s that of CLG AD carry, Stixxay. He has been a total monster this tournament so far, racking up several quadra kills and cleaning up fights through excellent positioning and top mechanics. He leads the pack in kills so far, racking up 73 in the tournament. To put this in perspective, the player with the second most kills is RNG’s wuxx with 52. It’s not all about Stixxay though, the other members of CLG have also been performing. Xsmithie has been playing a high pressure game of League of Legends, and has had some highlight plays to add to his collection, including a clutch dragon steal that ultimately secured CLG the win against RNG. Aphromoo has also been playing outstandingly, leading the pack in number of assists 117. His shotcalling has been a huge factor in his success. CLG have the utmost trust in one another, and it shows in how confidently they play and how decisively their calls are.
The kink in CLG’s armour so far has been Huhi in the midlane. He has heavily favored Azir, and teams have been taking advantage of the champion’s exploitable laning phase by counter picking and camping him to keep Huhi down. However, Huhi is still able to make an impact when behind, and CLG are a team who are good at playing around the strengths and weaknesses of the team, so this is less of a problem than it would have been if Huhi was on a different team. CLG play Flash Wolves on Saturday May 14th, and I think they will win the series 3-2.
Could MSI be China’s tournament?
For a team with 2 former World Champions, when RNG came into MSI most analysts pegged them as a mid table team, who would probably make the knockout stages, but were unlikely to be seen in the finals. How wrong we were. RNG have looked fantastic, so much so that it’s hard to pick an MVP of the team. Mata has played outstandingly, showing the world his skill of Alistar, and Braum, with crisp shotcalling and huge plays every game.
“Give me Alistar and I will win you the game”
He is showing everyone why he is considered the best support in the world, and it’s a pleasure to watch. Mlxg has also become somewhat of a star. His Nidalee is simply a class above the rest of the Nidalee players in the tournament, using the champion to pressure the enemy jungler and lanes. He also has the best KDA in the tournament, with 9.7. Overall, RNG look very strong, and coming into their match against SKT it is hard to pick a favorite. One of the 2 games that RNG dropped in groups was to SKT, and SKT have everything to prove after their lack-lustre group stage.
Mata vs Faker. The clash of the titans. Only one will survive
Flash Wolves are here to stay
Flash Wolves are the only team who have performed basically as expected. They have played well as a team, and have shown very good individual performances. Particularly Maple and Karsa have schooled other midlane jungle synergies, roaming together, and always in each other’s heads, knowing what the other is going to do before he does it. Swordart has also had an outstanding tournament, playing tanky supports like Alistar and Braum (The two strongest right now) and putting his team on his back in times of need. Their match against CLG promises to be a close one, but I say they are very slight underdogs. It’ll be up to Maple and Karsa to continue the team’s upward trend and show the world that Taiwan is a region to be fearful of.
Supermassive are not a joke
Despite a 1-9 overall record, it’s hard to say that Supermassive are the jokes that some had written them off as. The team are a step behind the other regions, sure, but they showed that they can contend with the best, as most of their games were very close. Supermassive could have easily come out with a 4-6 or even a 5-5 record if things had gone slightly differently. Dumbledoge in particular showed that he is worthy of standing next to such supports as Wolf, Swordart and Mata, and Stormaged impressed me a lot, out pressuring many opponents on carry champions such as Graves and Kindred. Supermassive have also shown that they are comfortable playing with and using a substitute effectively, a feat that many Western and even Asian teams have struggled with. Playing with a substitute lends a team with many advantages, and if Supermassive continue to play both Thaldrin and Fabfabulous, they could be a really good team coming into Worlds. They can go back to Turkey with their heads held high.