Lessons learned from the Mid-Season Invitational

The Mid-Seasonal Invitational provided many lessons learned for the six teams competing in it. Although Korean juggernaut Sk Telecom T1 took home the championship, as many expected going into the tournament, the rest of the participants had plenty to take away as the League of Legends community looks forward to the next international tournament: the League of Legends World Championship in September.

The small expectations of the wildcard

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It’s difficult to say what an international wildcard team takes away from a last place finish. Coming from an undeveloped region for League of Legends, IWC teams — despite having rich lore in the local leagues — have always been one of the worst teams at a tournament in terms of records, and have largely played spoiler in standings.

The question over SuperMassive’s head was “can we not get obliterated in every game?” In the early stages, where laning was the only thing to worry about, SuperMassive could hold for a short time. Once it fell behind, SuperMassive had no answers.

Surprisingly, Nicolaj “Achuu” Ellesgaard, the AD Carry, had a good showing. Combining with Mustafa “Dumbledoge” Kemal Gökseloğlu in lane, Achuu was able to average a 10 CS lead across the group stages — remarkable given SuperMassive’s 1-9 record, but it also speaks to how weak the ADC competition was.

SuperMassive had one bright moment: its victory over eventual finalist Counter Logic Gaming in the group stage. Sieging an early lead, SuperMassive showed it could snowball and close a game, but that is what it requires to win at this level of competition.

The holiday gone wrong

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The true loser of the tournament, G2 was supposed to have been close to a top-four finish. But on the server, it looked absolutely abysmal: needlessly aggressive, disorganized, and sloppy. Statistically, G2 had the worst Dragon control rate, second worst gold difference at 15 minutes, and the worst vision control.

Was Europe so weak that a team as bad as G2 rolled over it? No. The G2 that won the European League Championship Series didn’t show up to MSI. Instead of preparing for the event, the team chose to take a break in order for players to spend time with their families. While that is an understandable desire given the relentless schedule a top team faces, the consequence of that choice was clear on the stage.

Ill-advised attempts to clarify the situation only dug G2 further into its self-made grave. A cringe-inducing statement invited further criticism for its poor planning, excuse-making, and illogical insinuations. Opening up a social media blitz, G2 added the weight of an outraged public on its mind. It should have kept quiet. It should have avoided distracting its players with defending what should have been a private decision while the competition was still going. That might not have been enough for G2 to turn its tournament around, but it certainly would have helped fans’ opinions of the organization.

Europe lost a first seeding at worlds because of G2. How much of a punishment that will actually be is unknown. Europe’s international strength is also undetermined this year — again, this wasn’t the G2 that breezed through the LCS playoffs. Europe is still strong, and can become stronger with some of the confirmed roster moves. But when G2 returns, it will have a target on its back.

The Semifinalists in need of change

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Both Royal Never Give Up and Flash Wolves proved something for their regions. RNG had the best showing of a Chinese team internationally since last year’s MSI, and FW claimed a first seed for worlds that some thought Taiwan deserved. Either could have advanced to the final, but RNG’s top seed from the group stage was punished by SK Telecom T1’s fourth place, and FW faced a stylistic mismatch in CLG. The SKT everyone expected to show up finally did, slamming RNG 3-1, while FW clawed at CLG, but the North American squad’s tempo leads in lane swaps and steady early game put FW in deficits difficult to overcome.

The limitations of both squads are identical: they need new ADCs that match the level of their star supports. Wang “wuxx” Cheng might have had the highest first blood participation of ADCs at 43 percent, but his attempts to assassinate the enemy backline varied in execution. Sometimes it worked, but more often it backfired. The idea is there, but wuxx lacks the sense of when he can go in for those plays, making him a liability. FW’s Hsiung “NL” Wen-An has a massive problem with positioning and getting caught out, leading him to have the highest death percentage at his role and tying with teammate Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan for the highest on his team. This problem means that the gold FW invests in him isn’t liable to pay-off, and it didn’t. Despite receiving 31.8 percent of FW’s gold, one of the higher investments into an ADC, he outputted the second lowest damage per minute at his position.

The ADCs are limitations for both squads, and RNG seems to be aware of this. Just two days after its loss to SKT, it added Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, the famous ADC who made it to two worlds finals in a row, to its team. What it plans to with him is still a mystery, but it’s not a difficult one to figure out. FW have some time to shop for a new ADC, but it might not be interested in that. It may choose to try and groom NL more until it becomes apparent that he is a lost cause. Only time will tell.

The Finalists: Underdogs and alphas

SKT cemented its global domination with the last title that escaped its grasp. With an IEM championship, two world championships and an MSI trophy in its case, SKT is the most successful team in League of Legends history.

As the group stage progressed, most were shocked to see SKT struggle. It seemed to have regressed to its early spring form, when Kang “Blank” Sun-gu was inexperienced and Lee “Duke” Ho-seong had synergy troubles. Even Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok uncharacteristically struggled, at one point averaging a -10 CS differential at 10 minutes. Only Bae “Bang” Jun-sik kept to his expected form, and he was forced to try and solo carry his team.

Upon reaching the playoff stage and losing the first game to RNG, however, SKT awakened. It slaughtered the opposition, demonstrating how difficult it can be to defeat in a best-of-five series.

Standing against SKT in the final was CLG. Throughout the year, CLG has had more than its fair share of detractors. Letting its star player go and being seen as one dimensional, many wrote off CLG. But every “no” was met with resilience. CLG made it to second place in the NA LCS regular season after being seen as a mid-tier place team. It beat Team SoloMid in the final, after many thought TSM’s star players would crush CLG. It took second in the group stages at MSI, after some thought it might not make it into top four.

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When it stepped to SKT in the final, CLG was finally halted. It didn’t go quietly in Game 1, fighting back after it gave up three kills across the map in a span of a minute. It locked in the same composition again, effectively challenging SKT to a remake without the shenanigans. Although it fell 3-0, CLG did what fan favorites TSM and old Cloud9 could not: Advance to the final of Riot international event. Sure, a lot fell into place for CLG: SKT’s poor group stage helped CLG avoid an earlier matchup with the champions, and G2’s lack of preparation removed a competitor, but CLG seized the opportunity it was given. It showed that teamwork can take a team lacking in star power to the top. Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, in particular, showed that he has become a world-class talent. He is instrumental in CLG’s success, with his playmaking and roams involving him in more percentage of team kills than any other support at MSI (Soraka’s global ultimate also helped with that). While CLG’s performance is not indicative of North America’s strength as a whole, it brings legitimacy to the region’s reputation that prior international events–including Team SoloMid’s IEM World Championship title in 2015–didn’t.

As it looks on to the next split, CLG anticipates a season format it favors and more time to further develop. Teamwork, while important, can only take it so far. It will have to reach the next step and mix elite-level talent, either through roster changes or further training.

After that, it might land a blow on the gods of League of Legends.

All photos courtesy of Riot Games. Thanks to Oracle’s Elixir for the statistics.

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