After four months of domestic competition across 12 regions, the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational is finally ready to go–this time for sure. Eleven teams will convene in Reykjavik, Iceland to compete for three weeks from May 6th to 22nd and see who is the current best team in the world.
As the teams compete in the northernmost point of the Atlantic, various storylines will intertwine to create an exciting occasion. The stars are ready to shine, the esoteric newcomers who’ve made it here are inching to garner additional praise besides their region, and the veterans are hungrier than ever to add more silverware to their already loaded cabinets.
Contrary to the old format where a dozen teams competed in a Play-in to then qualify for the Rumble stage, where the three representatives of the major regions meet those from the first phase in a single group, MSI 2021 will have every team start at the same point, splitting them into three groups of four teams each, with the top two spots in each group progressing to the Rumble.
One of the teams that qualified for MSI, GAM Esports of the Vietnam Championship Series, will miss the event due to COVID-19 travel restrictions which prohibited citizens of the country to leave, repeating the same restriction from last year where they and Team Flash couldn’t attend Worlds in Shanghai, China.
Royal Never Give Up (LPL)
When it appears the world is pushing a team down from the pedestal you fought so hard to stand on when you feel disheartened after losing your opening series of the postseason, what do they do to restore their errors? As this team showed in the LPL spring playoffs, didn’t give up, for they came back from an early series loss to defeat FunPlus Phoenix to win their first title since the summer of 2018.
Much to the surprising turnaround RNG had done from the mid-table to the title, their triumph had been a task seeped with hardship and hardened patience. It had been a year since the retirement of legendary ADC Uzi and the team was struggling to return to its heyday. In 2020, RNG went seventh in spring and fell to ninth in summer, which was the worst placement in team history.
As it stood, things needed to change, so for 2021, RNG moved their mid-laner, Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-hao, to the top after they couldn’t sign Chen “Curse” Chen from Oh My God, whereas his replacement and ex-eStar player Yuan “Cryin” Cheng-Wei joined the team along with his teammate Yan “Wei” Yang-wei. For ADC, CHen “GALA” Wei was signed from Dominus Esports, becoming the next in line of the team’s illustrious carry position. Though the aforementioned trio failed to garner success in their careers before joining RNG, with Wei and GALA’s notable regression in summer after an imposing spring, the team believed if they could coach them up, they can soon bloom into becoming extricate monsters.
And turning into monsters they did become as Wei picked up an LPL All-Pro First team selection (same as Xiaohu and support Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming) and GALA joined the Second Team. With these prime pieces in place, RNG ran riot on the LPL, finishing in first at a 14-2 record and winning playoffs.
It was through the fulfilment of their namesake mantra that RNG eventually earned a spot in Iceland, and once they attend MSI, spectators, analysts, and pundits will look to them as one of the top contenders for the title. A hefty burden to undertake, yes, but one RNG shouldn’t be petrified of. Besides, they overcame a similar variant of adversity back home.
Unicorns of Love (LCL)
Welcome back to the party, Unicorns of Love! It’s been, what, six to seven months since you’ve last played in an international tournament? Quite a pain to endure with the immense time gap separating major tournaments when you’re in the LCL, wouldn’t you think? (/end sarcasm)
While it is true UoL will represent the CIS yet again off their fourth consecutive LCL split championship, this occasion wasn’t as impressive nor simple as years prior. In fact, they had to scrape by a competitive league to even reach the playoffs, finishing in fourth place with a 10-4 record, their worst mark since entering the region. Fittingly, as the season winded down to its conclusion, some felt the time of UoL dominance in CIS was nearing its end, but when the dust settled, it was the same team draped in pink and black that emerged victoriously and hoisted the trophy one more time, overcoming tough obstacles en route to winning the title.
In respect to said obstacles, UoL switched their ADCs in the regular season’s penultimate week, bringing in Stanislav “Lodik” Kornelyuk in favour of Antonio “Frappii” Botezatu to rejuvenate their push for MSI. Later, it was revealed UoL played the LCL grand finals against CrowCrowd with two of their starters injured. No matter how hard UoL is depleted by certain circumstances, they always seem to find a way to win.
Moving ahead, the Unicorns are a side desperate for international success and reached a point where an appearance alone isn’t going to cut it, and in a diminished group with the LPL and OCL conjoined with them, they might just do it–keyword is might.
When the Oceanic Professional League folded in December 2020, the future of League of Legends in the region was essentially in tatters. The region’s best players were forced to look elsewhere to continue their careers, with the majority jumping ship to North America as Riot Games changed their residency status to belong to the latter region. But for the rest of the player pool who couldn’t enjoy the same benefits as their contemporaries, they had to fend for themselves, languished by the decision to either remain in the region’s dying amateur scene or pursue other ventures.
Fortunately, with the possession of a slot for this year’s MSI and Worlds propping Oceania to continue its League scene, they founded the LCO to consolidate their representative, which would be Pentanet.GG, and hope they can do them proud on the international stage.
And why would Oceania not be hopeful for their champion? They were the team that had been on the upward trend since the start of last year and reached their peak by the end of this split, going a near-perfect 13-1 in the regular season and beating PEACE 3-1 in the grand finals after outlasting two five-game series. Not only that, Pentanet’s excellence in the LCO extends to the individual side as every member finished first in average KDA for their respective position, according to Oracle’s Elixir.
Pentanet’s dominance is unmatched, undebatable, and possibly unreplicated in the future. When the clock strikes midnight and the team must battle the rest of the world, will their performance carry over?
MAD Lions (LEC)
If you had written off G2 Esports as the clear favorite for the LEC championship and its representative for MSI after they signed ADC Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, please raise your hands. *everyone raises their hands* Alright, now how about those who put in MAD Lions? Yeah put them down, you freaking liars.
With a lineup consisting of a brash but confident Turkish import and a promising Spanish jungler who dazzled in the European Regional Leagues, few expected MAD Lions to ascend in the meteoric pace they’ve orchestrated. A proper guess for their standing heading into spring would’ve been third place (which they did), not winning the title altogether and presumptively ushering a new era (also did).
When MAD reached the grand finals by *defeating* G2, everyone drowned them with praise for their achievement, but most didn’t pencil them as the eventual champion since Rogue stuck afoot in their vicinity. When MAD was down 0-2 to Rogue in the grand finals, that same crowd was already convinced of their defeat and ready to hand the latter the trophy.
What happened instead? The Lions didn’t just back down; they rose up. Top laner İrfan “Armut” Tükek wasn’t dismayed by the difficult task of pulling the reverse sweep, he welcomed it by famously making the “3-2” hand signal after the team lost Game 2 of the series. Jungler Javier “Elyoya” Batalla didn’t shrink to the incredible pressure of grand finals that would overwhelm every rookie grappling with the juncture, he turned it into an asset. With those two players ignoring the face of defeat, MAD rallied back to defeat Rogue in five games and win the LEC title, becoming the fourth organization to ever hoist the trophy and the first in five years other than Fnatic and G2.
However, although MAD Lions struck gold with their run in the playoffs, the question regarding them is can the team genuinely compete in MSI? By all metrics, MAD performed below G2 and Rogue during the season, playing well but not enough to be considered a total contender.
Their transition from the early game to the mid-game suffers a considerable drop, going from third (62.0) to seventh (-6.4), according to Oracle’s Elixir. Players from other teams put up better numbers than their own in MAD by a considerable margin. Among ADCs, MAD’s Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság is eighth in KDA (3.4), seventh in kill participation (68.2%), and last in kill share percentage (22.7%). These numbers don’t fare well for him in addition to the rest of the team, but the team has the advantage of youth by their side. They can continue to grow the longer they play together competitively, fixing their mistakes and improving their specialties while also adapting their styles. Don’t forget where their play took them.
The Lions who were originally built for the future found themselves ahead of schedule and are among the cream of the crop. As a result, they hold the heavy burden of expectations square on their backs. What follows next in MAD’s burgeoning tale of greatness?
PSG Talon (PCS)
Was there anyone in their domestic league that dominated their way to MSI as PSG Talon did in the PCS? Take this into consideration: PSG played 27 total games in the regular and postseason and lost just once (Week 1 vs Beyond Gaming). Their split is the best any team has done in the history of the PCS. It’s an excruciatingly difficult task to achieve in a prominent league, but in the way PSG played, they didn’t consider it as such.
And why would people be surprised by PSG’s stellar form through spring when they were the same lineup that made the group stage in Worlds 2020, save for the entrance of mid-laner Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang, a former member of the famous Flash Wolves from LMS and an ex-Suning and LNG Esports player.
Let’s take a longer look at the team’s collective play because it is just mind-boggling how they basically seized the PCS as a hostage. Per gol.gg, among every team in MSI, PSG is first in kill-death ratio (2.80), gold per minute (1,983), gold differential per minute (402), kills per game (18.1), least deaths per game (6.5), towers destroyed (9.2), dragon control rate (75.9%), gold differential at 15 minutes (2,450), and creeps per minute (34.8). Nuts.
As good as PSG looked in the PCS, they will be set to meet higher competition in a tightly-contested Group B with an upstart MAD Lions, a resurgent paiN Gaming, and a properly-regarded Istanbul Wildcats. They are the undisputed best team of the PCS, so expect some fireworks to burst out of this side during groups.
FastPay Wildcats (TCL)
Apologies to those who wished for 1907 Fenerbahce’s Cinderella Run in the TCL playoffs to come to fruition. The fastPay Wildcats didn’t want to wait any longer for their first split title so they seized it for themselves.
Relative to the WIldcats’ extensive history in the TCL, which dates back to 2013 when they were known as HWA Gaming, this split broke the mould for them as they won their first-ever championship on the back of three All-Pro calibre players. Their win also served as a fitting counterbalance to their disappointing 2020 Summer Split which saw them bow out prematurely of Worlds contention despite owning a 16-2 regular season record heading into the playoffs.
To avoid another cataclysmic failure, IW reshuffled their roster, signing Fenerbahce’s former duo of HolyPhoenix and Farfetch to man the bottom lane, joining Soner “StarScreen” Kaya, Hakan “Ferret” Çakmak, and Tolga “Serin” Ölmez. With an MVP-caliber season from Ferret and an Improved Player of the Split showing from Berk “Farfetch” Badur–the support skipped the 2020 summer split for self-improvement reasons– IW went on to exercise their playoff demons.
A bygone era of endless jeering and disappointment has finally desecrated for IW. After years of trying, they have conquered the Gateway of Eurasia. Now it’s time to set their sights on the world.
paiN Gaming (CBLOL)
If anyone said paiN would go to win CBLOL prior to the start of playoffs as the fifth seed, they would be met with intense ridicule, but that’s exactly what they did. One of the lowest-seeded teams to qualify for MSI, paiN etched their return to the CBLOL’s forefront after five-and-a-half years by defeating #4 LOUD, #1 Flamengo, and #2 Vorax during the playoffs.
Their result came off the backend of an 8-2 run that capped the regular season which boosted them to the postseason at injury time, prompting the crowd’s thoughts to shift from plain derision to genuine belief.
Nevertheless, don’t let their recent form fool you. Their performance didn’t occur from a band of unknown people. This is the same team (minus Korean support Han “Luci” Chang-hoon) that lost in 2020 Split 2 grand finals to INTZ and missed Worlds, although their coordination and play didn’t pick up until when it was most needed.
But in a critical environment like MSI, where lethargic play can signal a team’s imminent downfall, paiN must begin the group stage with their guns blazing to have a chance of survival. They must bring the pain to their adversaries, or else they’ll receive it instead.
DWG KIA (LCK)
Did anyone think an LCK team besides DWG KIA would reach MSI? Hardly one person would reach such a judgment against the defending world champions when they are still in top form after their famous victory in Shanghai, China.
Even more impressive than the team’s renown is the set of players they boast: Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun, the greatest coach in League history; Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, a dependable top laner who’s performing exquisitely in the twilight of his career; Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu, an excellent jungler turned MVP superstar; Heo “ShowMaker” Su, an already great mid-laner; and Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun and Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee, a boisterous bottom lane that can overwhelm the opposition at a given moment.
What is there to identify flaws for a team apparently harbouring none? On the surface, it seems like that anyway. After all, they have the propensity of suffering random losses to weak opposition like they did against Fredit BRION in Week 2 of the spring split.
Even so, missteps committed by DWG happen in a dime a dozen fashion. Should DWG come to Iceland in the top form they are accustomed to, it would take the right team to play the quintessential game at the right time to take them down.
The Korean juggernaut may behave timidly in their speech and pose themselves as a happy-go-lucky bunch which reclusively says they were glad to have won against Gen.G or promise to their fans how they will do their best in Reykjavik. But make no mistake, when the lights are on and the eyes of the crowd gravitate towards them, DWG will pounce on their opposition like they did in the LCK, KeSPA Cup, and Worlds.
The multi-million dollar buyout C9 activated to get mid-laner Luka “Perkz” Perkovic from G2 worked out splendidly, didn’t it? Whereas the Croatian’s former team crashed and burned, his newest team flourished with their earning another shot of attending MSI after they couldn’t do so the year before.
By and large, C9’s arrival in Iceland was expected considering the immense star power it conveyed. Not only did they have Perkz returning to his natural position in mid, but they also had their MVP jungler Robert “Blaber” Huang, ADC Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and his partner Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme holding the fort at the bottom lane, and an up-and-coming top laner in Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami. Even though they eventually became the sort of team everyone envisioned, their rise didn’t come smoothly. In the top lane, Fudge was regularly bested in the Lock-In tournament and sometimes in the spring split, causing people to chastise him as a player who’s too green for a league that’s too good for him.
Fudge didn’t back down to the weight of pressure created from his skimpy play. He gradually improved throughout the season to become the catalyst for C9’s victory in Game 5 of the Grand Finals of the Mid-Season Showdown, from lending a hand to the brilliant Level 1 double vertical jungling play to solely rendering Team Liquid’s Barney “Alphari” Morris to a shell of himself. From Lock-In to the MSS, C9, with its players meshing into a cohesive unit, proved to be the best NA had to offer for MSI.
Cloud9 was supposed to show their might to the world at this same time last year, but their hopes were dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic canceling MSI. Now, with a roster that is arguably better than last year’s iteration, C9 is poised to show fans and teams alike exactly what they’ve been missing.
Infinity Esports (LLA)
Returning to international competition since Worlds 2018, Infinity Esports sealed a spot to MSI after dispatching two of the best teams of the regular season, all culminating in an instant classic five-game series victory over Furious Gaming.
Even so, let it be known their championship was a wholesale warranty. Their free-agent acquisitions during the offseason included Cristian “cody” Yampara, one of the worst LLA mid-laners of 2020 (statistically speaking according to gol.gg); Mateo “Buggax” Zamora, the Uruguayan top laner who returned to LATAM following an underwhelming CBLOL campaign; and Gabriel “Ackerman” Aparicio, the best support of the amateur LMR but a debutant in the LLA heading into 2021. Even with Infinity’s veterans, which featured jungler Diego “SolidSnake” Trujillo and ADC Matias “WhiteLotus” Musso, it looked as if their best days had long gone past them. On paper, Infinity exemplified a team, if they’re on a good day, can run over the field, but that itself was left to the devices of the unknown and their impulse.
But much to the sceptics that scoffed at Infinity’s form heading into the playoffs, the team subverted expectations–or more like utterly destroyed them–enjoying rebound years from the aforementioned crop of veterans, a renaissance from cody, and a standout debut from Ackerman. As a matter of fact, among all supports for this spring, Ackerman’s average KDA and vision score ranks the highest outright.
In 2018, Infinity came within a series victory of qualifying for the group stage of Worlds, a feat never achieved in the history of Latin America. As this iteration is riding on a major high, will their momentum continue to the point they create undeniable history?
DetonatioN FocusMe (LJL)
Flying the LJL flag is its most distinguished and recognizable son. As far as redemption stories go, few could be surprised in anticipating DFM’s return to prominence which began right when they fell.
Following their defeat to V3 Esports in the grand finals of the 2020 LJL Summer Split, which ended their four-split winning streak, DFM rebuilt their roster by making a key signing at mid, bringing in Korean mid-laner Lee “Aria” Ga-eul from Crest Gaming Act to replace their legendary captain Kyohei “Ceros” Yoshida, ushering a new era within the team. The team made just one signing for the offseason, but as the season transpired, the one move was all they needed to take the title as the mid-laner helped wipe out the competition with an 18-4 overall record for the split.
But once Aria enlisted with DFM, they faced a dilemma as to the number of imported players they could play within the LJL. Riot’s Interregional Movement Policy (IMP) stated teams can field up to two imported players in their lineup so long as the remaining spots are filled with residents. Since DFM contracted three Koreans (with jungler Mun “Steal” Geon-yeong, support Yang “Gaeng” Gwang-woo, and Aria), they had to decide which of the three must fall to the bench, which resulted in Gaeng sacrificing his spot for Aria.
As a result of the switch in support, DFM moved Kazuta “Kazu” Suzuki, one of their coaches, to the starting role until the summer where Steal is due to become a resident since he will have lived in Japan for four years, the amount of time required to trigger the change of nationality. However, waiting for DFM’s final roster to take form doesn’t happen until the summer and their prowess has already proven to be great in LJL. But as for MSI, what will be the ceiling for this roster?
Enjoy this piece? Don’t forget to share our work with the buttons below. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter to get the latest gaming news straight to your feed.