With the Korea vs World gap definitively closing in the past 18 months, MSI has drawn attention to a different skill division: the wildcard regions.
In the past, I have often advocated for including more wild card teams into Worlds. The benefits of setting less successful regions playing against the best in the world should be obvious to anyone.
The chance to level the playing field and eventually bring teams from the likes of Vietnam, Turkey and Russia up to at least LEC/LCS level far outweighs the cost to the viewer (a few more one-sided matches).
But numerous times during play-ins, I found myself doubting the efficacy of just throwing weaker teams in at the deep end. I want every region to be given an equal chance, but results at MSI made it clear that so-called lesser regions aren’t really learning much from their best team getting pasted by Invictus or SKT a couple of times a year.
LCL’s Gambit Gaming looked promising at Worlds last year, surely the team that beat them domestically should do decently at MSI. Indeed, Vega Squadron’s group stage was pretty impressive, but their match against Frost Wolves was far from it. A 3-1 defeat doesn’t sound dreadful, but a 1-0 start for the Russian team flattered to deceive. Frost Wolves swept the remaining games convincingly.
Gadget, in particular, looked out of his depth. He has already faced plenty of criticism so I won’t add to it: his struggle was simply the most visible part of a team that found itself outmatched.
Gigabyte brought Vietnam onto the world stage with a bang in 2017, upsetting Fnatic and nearly making it out of groups. Last year, though, despite a promising 4-0 performance from G-REX in play-ins, the Viatnamese teams were dreadful at Worlds. PVB managed to contribute an upset win against G2 as well as a solid victory over Flash Wolves, but G-REX went 0-6 in groups, barely even troubling a 100 Thieves squad who had looked abysmal.
Now, at MSI, Phong Vu narrowly made it through the elimination matches of the play-in stage. They had a solid enough group stage, though a loss to Bombers is a bit of an anomaly for a region that is supposed to be pushing for ‘major’ status.
During commentary and analysis, we heard several discussions about Vietnam overtaking Taiwan in terms of receiving more Worlds invites, but I just don’t see it yet.
Still, the prospect of a knockout tie against Team Liquid was an enticing one.
Everyone loves to bash North American teams, and they do have a habit of falling flat at international tournaments, Cloud 9 notwithstanding. On top of that, PVB were playing on home soil. Surely, then, this was a perfect opportunity for PVB to show Vietnam’s credentials.
The 3-0 Team Liquid win that ensued doesn’t tell the whole story, but it tells enough of it.
PVB were competing for a time in Game 1. Even Game 2 was a contest, though the fact that the typically slow Team Liquid won in 25 minutes doesn’t look great after the fact. Game 3 was where the 3-0 score-line started to look appropriate: 3-0 in dragons, 1-0 in barons and whopping 10-0 in towers! This was not the close, hard-fought series fans had hoped for.
Look, guys, if you want to be considered a major reason, you can’t lose 3-0 to American teams.
Luckily, PVB got things right at the second attempt, taking down Vega Squadron in the final game of play-ins. Even here, though, things looked shaky at times.
After a 2-0 start, the series really should have been wrapped up, especially when the first two games were nearly as one-sided for PVB as the previous series had been against them. On top of that, the fact that Vega looked so poor against Flash Wolves the day before should really have meant the 2-0 lead became an easy 3-0.
Instead, we nearly witnessed a reverse sweep, and only a 40-plus-minute win in the deciding game kept Vietnamese despair at bay. This kind of inconsistency does not a major region make.
In the end, exposing these teams to more regular competition at this level is the way forward, but there is no way Vietnam is close to being a major region right now.
Taiwan might be a one-team region, and that team might not even be that great anymore, but apparently they’re still good enough to brush off the best team from the LCL with relative ease.
I want to see more regions be competitive, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking Vietnam is a step away from challenging Korea and China. They barely challenged North America the other day, so how about we take it one step at a time, eh?