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The West disappoints, SKT is SKT and Gigabyte Marines leave as fan favorites: MSI group stage observations

MSI group stage observations

The group stage of the Mid-Season Invitational was a large mix of large disappointments, especially as the tournament went on (and even more so if you are a fan of the North American region). Team SoloMid floundered. G2 made the playoffs but wasn’t much better, and only two teams had winning records in the double round robin format. We’re here to break down all that happened in the MSI group stage and make sense of what it all means:

TSM exits, G2 barely survives

To the disappointment of many, but to the surprise of almost no one, the North American spring split champions are out of the tournament. With a record of 4-6, TSM lost a tiebreaker match against the Flash Wolves for the final spot in the semifinals.

Criticism of TSM came from all directions, with analysts and pundits heavily bashing TSM’s poor macro gameplay as well as questionable drafting that took place throughout the tournament. The low point was losing to G2 on Sunday, a comeback victory that forced the tiebreaker. Had TSM taken care of business and closed out the game, it would have reached the semifinals. Instead, TSM suffered the same fate that has become increasingly painful for North American fans to endure in recent years.

The only difference between G2 and TSM was that the European representatives get to stay around a little longer. The two teams entered the tournament with the same questions surrounding their international ability and the hope that this time would be different. G2 didn’t play well either last week but earned the right to stick around by winning the three team tiebreaker with TSM and Flash Wolves.

The western rivalry that wasn’t

Western fans seem to have an obsession in figuring out which region is better between Europe and North America. The lack of international tournaments throughout the year also means there’s only a few moments where these battles can happen. But there really wasn’t a winner this time.

MSI left both regions in silence. Sure, G2 made the semifinals, but in front of SK Telecom T1, neither team looked worthy of praise. The debate of which region is better doesn’t mean much when neither team performed well.

GAM is out, but not down

Talk about an unexpected X-factor for this year’s MSI. The Gigabyte Marines were the embodiment of a wild card, as they not only made it to the group stages by pushing TSM to the brink in Round 2 of the play-in stage, but they continued to keep the other top teams on their toes. The Southeast Asian representatives scored a 3-7 record, the worst in the the group stage, but in context their achievements are impressive.

They lost both times to Flash Wolves and SKT and quite frankly, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. The Flash Wolves cut their teeth across multiple international tournaments, and SKT is SKT. Gigabyte Marines’ three wins were off of TSM, G2, and China’s WE. Trading wins with three major region teams is a worthwhile accomplishment.

Their games were also consistently entertaining, and they made a case for sticking to your guns and the strategies that you know you can execute. Without trying to emulate better teams and their play styles, GAM just went for fights and more fights, forcing trades that would cause disarray in their opponents.

The strategy of “Let’s get kills and transition that to advantages” made for fun games, but Gigabyte Marines’ execution still left much to be desired. They managed to get first blood in 80 percent of their games, but on the other hand they also had the most amount of deaths in the group stage with 190. Perhaps they were risking too much for a kill and lane advantage, with the best example of their shortcoming coming in Sunday’s match against Flash Wolves in which they gave an ace away in an attempt to rush kill in the bottom lane.

Yet, they do not leave Brazil in shame or even with heavy amounts of criticism. They leave with pride, defying any and all expectations that anyone had for them, and they indeed made a unique mark in MSI history.

GAM players continue to come out with amazing backstories

Af if their performances weren’t impressive enough, stories behind the Gigabyte Marines’ players made their run almost worthy of a movie — or at least a syndicated show on HBO.

Top laner Phan “Stark” Công Minh has been a professional for only about a month. That didn’t stop him from going toe to toe against some of the best players in the world at his position. On top of that, support Trần “Archie” Minh Nhựt said in an interview with Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere that the team had a hard time getting scrims for MSI, and that they treated the play-in stage like a scrim itself. GAM had to cut practice on the fly against teams like TSM and Super Massive. They then made it to the group stages and leave a mark.

On top of that, it popped up on on Reddit that according to a picture from an official Riot Games Vietnam Facebook account, Stark and Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh use pretty standard and non-expensive equipment. In an industry where seemingly every team is sponsored by tech companies or have equipment priced well over $100, this revelation added more to GAM’s underdog status and thus to the team’s popularity.

God bless you, Gigabyte Marines, and we hope to see you at worlds.

SKT is still SKT

Speaking of expectations, SKT finished the group stage in first place with a record of 8-2. Initially in the running for an undefeated streak for MSI, the name of the game was “how hard will SKT win MSI,” since its winning the tournament was really never in doubt from the beginning.

SKT pretty much breezed through the group stage with only two losses against WE and Flash Wolves, which themselves were considered upsets, even in the case of FW, a team with a history of beating SKT. But looking at the games, SKT is still very much in control of pretty much everything.

With a whopping average 2,031 gold lead at 15 minutes, SKT leads the groups stage in kills and jungle control. SKT had an average game length of 33.6 minutes, just behind GAM’s 33.5. There really isn’t a team that looks like it can measure up to SKT in a best-of series, and going into the semifinals, it looks like it’ll be the second verse same as the first.

SKT and vision denial

An interesting metric that caught the eyes of the caster desk was the fact that Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok often bought the upgraded red trinket at Level 9, preferring to remove enemy vision as opposed to securing vision for his team with a yellow or blue trinket.

Looking at the numbers, SKT has the highest percentage of wards cleared per minute among the semifinalists with 1.53 and cleared 71 percent of the enemy’s visible wards during their games. Faker has the lowest wards placed per minute while having the highest amount of wards cleared per minute among mid laners, which is the opposite of his opponents.

This can mean a large variety of things, with the most obvious being that SKT prioritizes keeping the enemy in the dark, even at the cost of keeping its vision on the lower side. Faker, being one of the most consistent in lane control and jungler cover in the game, is certainly the best player to do this with his high mechanical skill and game understanding, which arguably doesn’t rely on vision as much as some of his other counter parts.

The focus then is to remove the opposing vision so the other team don’t know what’s waiting around the corner. That increases risks, and against a team like SKT, each mistake counts. It’s an interesting strategy for sure, and perhaps one that is most well-suited for a team like SKT that knows how to snowball whatever advantages it can take.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games/illustration by Slingshot


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