With the group stage of the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational over nearly as quickly as it began, the top four teams at the tournament have made their mark.
SK Telecom T1 were clearly the strongest team. Although they dropped two games in the last couple of days of play, their actual gameplay looked on form, and it’s hard to doubt that they will continue to dismantle their opponents as we move into the best-of series.
Team WE (who I have wrongly referred to as World Elite in the past, apparently I missed the rebrand) wound up only one game behind SK Telecom T1.
What was at one point a four-way tie worked itself out with G2 eSports coming third, and Flash Wolves scraping into fourth after a tiebreaker. Team SoloMid lost that tiebreaker, while Gigabyte Marines came in last place.
Now I don’t want to spend too long on this before going into the preview for this week, but like many others I have to ask: what on earth were Team SoloMid doing during their pick/ban phase?
A few of their team compositions were decent, aside from the fact that they couldn’t actually play those compositions (yes, I am mainly talking about protect-the-AD-Carry comps), but they lost multiple games off a bad first ban phase.
There were other problems, absolutely. Svenskeren died far too many times; he had the third most deaths in the group stage, behind only Optimus and Stark. Biofrost was consistently out of place, and ended up using his defensive abilities on himself.
All three lane-core players made bad decisions in multiple games. But with their terrible pick/bans, they were setting themselves up for a difficult game from the outset.
No team was perfect. Every single team, including SK Telecom T1, had moments where they looked (and of course, were) beatable. They all had amazing moments too, and games where they thoroughly took down their opponents.
But on to the last round of MSI, the knockouts. This weekend will host all three remaining games – two semi-finals, at 4am AEST on Saturday and Sunday, then the finals at the same time on Monday. Each round will be a best of five.
Semi-final 1: Flash Wolves versus SK Telecom T1
The first game for the weekend is probably the semi-final that I’m most excited for. Despite the fact that this is seed one versus seed four, Flash Wolves (and the LMS region as a whole) have the nickname ‘king killers’ for a reason.
In these teams’ histories, they have met eight times, in which Flash Wolves have a winning 6-2 record. These two teams haven’t met in a Bo5 though, so this game is definitely one to watch.
I said last week that Flash Wolves needed to improve by playing more decisively, and they definitely stepped this up through the rest of the group stage. They even went 1-1 with SK Telecom T1 in their two games, although their 38-minute win took almost 30 minutes for them to get any real gold advantage.
Not to downplay anything; the baron fake-out was beautifully done, and Flash Wolves had a great and swift snowball from there, but I suspect plays like this will be very hard to pull off again against SK Telecom T1.
While Flash Wolves did improve in this aspect of their gameplay, if they want to win a best-of series against the three-time world champions, they will have to keep stepping it up. They have been playing very controlled games for the most part, but control can only get you so far against a team that is as incredibly versatile as SK Telecom T1.
The longer the game goes, the more opportunities they will have to take advantage of any mistakes.
I’ve mostly skipped over SK Telecom T1 in my MSI coverage so far, simply because they have been so dominant. In their two losses, there were two particular things that caught them out. In the game against Team WE, I don’t want to put the win solely on the mid lane Lucian, but the way Xiye completely shut out Faker made a huge difference.
The other thing… well, I’m not sure if it was cockiness or exhaustion, but either way they got a bit lazy towards the end of the week. They should not have let Flash Wolves take the baron so easily. While Faker is clearly the star, the rest of the team needs to be able to play well and carry in the rare case that he is being shut down.
In a best of five, between the players and coaching staff they should be capable of identifying and fixing any issues that come up. Being the higher seed, they will also have side selection
In their last match-up, Flash Wolves only gave up two kills, the fewest ever given to SK Telecom T1 at an international event (this broke the previous record of three, also set by Flash Wolves, in Season 6).
I would love to see Flash Wolves starve SK Telecom T1 out in this way again, but I don’t think they will be able to do it three times on the same day. They may be able to do it once, possibly even twice, but this series will probably go 3-1 to SK Telecom T1.
Semi-final 2: G2 eSports versus Team WE
This is somewhat of a harder game to call. Team WE did win both of the games between these two in the group stages, and were clear in second place long before the bottom four teams sorted themselves out.
G2 eSports, however, have serious strength in series; while their EU LCS regular season match record was 12-1, they went 2-1 in half of the series they won. Although they drop single games relatively regularly, they are able to learn within the context of a series, so moving into the playoffs will work to their advantage.
If you’re interested, G2 eSports posted a video of their team comms at the end of the Team SoloMid game on Twitter; it’s only a minute long, and a great watch.
Expect makes the call to go in on Bjergsen, and the trust from the team was incredible to see. Strong, decisive shot calling has increasingly been a hallmark of great teams, and the fact that G2 eSports clearly has this will work in their advantage.
It did, however, feel like the players struggled as individuals. The mistakes made by each player led to their opponents regularly getting quite early leads, which G2 eSports appeared to struggle to recover from. Each member of this team can pick up their game; if they can recalibrate, and play to their best, they do stand a chance at moving forward.
Team WE looked increasingly powerful moving through the tournament. They won all of their re-matches, and the final game between them and SK Telecom T1 looked fantastic. Showing Xiye’s Lucian right at the end was a serious strategic move; if Perkz wants to play Orianna at all (his most played champion at MSI, and equal first in the EU LCS), the Lucian basically becomes a must-ban.
We’ve seen that this isn’t Team WE’s only successful comp, too. It’s given them a surprising edge going into the knockout games. Not to imply they had no edge without it, 957 has continued to be a force to be reckoned with through the tournament, and as games have gone on, Condi has also had time to shine. All of this could be very useful against a team that struggles to play from behind.
Team WE do have their weaknesses though. In their most recent loss to the Gigabyte Marines, multiple team members played too far forwards for their vision. Mystic was on a champion he doesn’t even play usually, and the discomfort showed. They (like many others, in fairness) had a mediocre pick/ban phase, which led to them giving up far too many strong champions.
It’s minor pitfalls here and there, but they could all lead to a loss if Team WE is not more careful.
These two teams both have strong points, but they also have exploitable weaknesses. This is going to be the closer series, at least in gameplay if not in actual game outcomes. I’m calling this a 3-1 win for Team WE, but I expect at least half the games to be close for an extended period of time, possibly coming down to a last team fight.
(Probable) Final: SK Telecom T1 versus Team WE
I’ve already gone over their strengths and weaknesses, this is likely to come down to a win for SK Telecom T1, who may drop a game, but they are less likely to drop a match in this series than against Flash Wolves.
I’m going out on a limb and saying that, no matter who they play against, SK Telecom will come out of this with a 3-0 victory, leaving viewers a bit disappointed in how anticlimactic the series was, but ultimately unsurprised by how dominant SK Telecom T1 still is.
And then that will be MSI done and dusted for another year. Has your team made it through? Does anyone stand a chance against SK Telecom T1?