League of Legends' Mid-Season Invitational surprised us all

 The Mid-Season Invitational is the second biggest international event in League of Legends after Worlds.  Four teams are left standing after the first stages of the tournament: Europe’s G2,  China’s WE, the Taiwanese Flash Wolves, and the Korean three time World Champions SK Telecom T1. There were a couple of surprises throughout the early stages of the tournament, and while it was delightful to see the Vietnamese Gigabyte go for a bar brawl, aggressive, non-stop style, North American fans were disappointed to see Team SoloMid fall short of making it to the top four. Every international event invites criticism, feedback, and analysis—after all, this is one of the few chances each region has to represent themselves internationally, even if it’s not against as varied a pool of competition as Worlds. What we have learned from this years MSI, and what can we take forward into the playoffs—and eventually, 2017’s Worlds?

Photo credit: Riot Games

Photo credit: Riot Games

Stop. Underestimating. Smaller. Regions. 

Hey, remember at Worlds 2016, when Albus NoX Luna managed to make it to the quarterfinals, and everyone was shocked? Likkrit gave a speech about supporting G2 despite their dismal record, everyone talked about how fun it was to watch their aggressive playstyle and off-meta picks? Remember that? It was great.

So, why are we still letting teams from smaller regions surprise us? The Gigabyte Marines nearly knocked Team SoloMid out of the very first play-in stage, and then proved to be a thorn throughout the group stages. They didn’t make top four, but they certainly made an impact. This point came up during the press conference with TSM after they beat Cloud9 and qualified for the MSI—with NA teams having a history of dropping crucial games to Wildcards, how did TSM plan on avoiding that?

WildTurtle answered that “underestimation is the biggest thing you can do when you lose to a lower team. Taking them lightly, and doing things you’re used to doing, playing around calls, playing around vision, etc. When you’re playing lower teams, better teams that think they’re better tend to skip steps that usually makes you lose games.”

So, everyone is clearly aware that they shouldn’t be taking these smaller regions seriously. What’s the issue? Before we start dreaming of stealing the cup away from Korea, we’re going to have to answer this question, because Worlds is going to have even more scrappy upstarts hungry for big name blood.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Photo credit: Riot Games

G2 buck the trend 

G2 Esports has had the unfortunate trend where they take Europe over handily, make it to an international competition, and then struggle to keep their heads above water. This MSI, everyone was eagerly waiting to see G2 fall to the same fate once again... but they’ve made it to playoffs. Now, it was close, and they still have to go up against WE, but if they manage to make it past the Chinese contenders and into the finals, that will be a huge step towards building their international confidence.

G2’s struggle has clearly had an effect on the players: at one point, mid laner Perkz had to give up social media. Now, they seem more at ease. Perkz has gone from bragging about the legends he’ll clap in mid lane to making self deprecating jokes. Europe is still waiting to see if any team will be able to recapture Fnatic’s feat and go up against SKT in a best of five. G2 probably aren’t there yet, but they’re making forward progress this time around.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Photo credit: Riot Games

Everybody (still) wants SKT to lose 

It’s lonely at the top, and SKT T1 have amassed three World Championships, LCK titles, and they even took the MSI trophy away from Counter Logic Gaming last year. Winning is, of course, considered to be a very good thing in esports. In fact, winning is considered to be a very good thing in nearly every sphere. The problem with SKT is they just keep winning, and they keep rolling over teams that everybody likes. 2016’s ROX Tigers nearly knocked SKT down in the Worlds semifinals with that Miss Fortune pick, but they fell just short. Samsung Galaxy fell shortly after. SKT have only dropped one game this MSI, and that’s to the Flash Wolves, the team that loves to lunge at the gods and make them bleed.

The Flash Wolves are one of the only teams with any kind of consistent success against SKT, and now everyone’s pumped to see a best of five between them. Sure, SKT is probably going to win, because they’re SKT and they always win, but... the fact that they look even slightly vulnerable is exciting. The Flash Wolves are essentially the only realistic barrier between SKT and the entire tournament, and so people want to see the titans topple.

Bringing Huni and Peanut on board for spring was a great move that lessened a lot of the animus towards the organization, but ultimately SKT is probably going to catch heat for the (arguably petty) reason that it’s always boring to see the same guys win.

There are still two best of five matches to go before we head into the grand finals. A lot of people may be tuning out now that Team SoloMid are out of the running, but I’m eager to see whether G2 Esports can make their first final (and, of course, whether the Flash Wolves will somehow manage the impossible and eliminate SKT T1). There’s been a lot of clamor for more international tournaments, which would give us more of a chance to see teams like the Gigabyte Marines. We’d also get to see more of these inter-region clashes between big names. It remains to be seen whether Riot will be making any of these changes, especially many of these voices suggest axing the Spring Split. If there is a chance of more international tournaments on the horizon, we should be sure to learn as much as possible from this MSI.