It’s that time of the year again, and Riot Games’ Mid-Season Invitational is fast approaching. This year marks a new age for North America: Team Liquid is representing the region at MSI, taking the place usually occupied by Team SoloMid and (one time) Counter Logic Gaming. Across the Atlantic, an old team with new faces is coming to MSI. Fnatic has attended MSI before, but none of their players have ever attended, despite their storied legacies. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, in particular, has a grudge to settle. He recently ranked himself as the fifth best AD carry out of all the major regions’ semifinalists, and he has to back that up in Berlin. But before Rekkles squares off against Doublelift, the Play-in stage has to start.
TL;DR: RB7 > GMB > KLG > ASC
Play-ins are always hard to determine. Not only are the teams mercurial, apt to either stomp or crumble on any given day, but nobody watches them. I’ve only watched a little bit of Gambit (GMB) out of this group this year, but in the past, I’ve watched Rainbow 7’s roster (formerly Lyon Gaming) and they have done some good things. This is the same roster that took both games in the 2017 Worlds play-in stage from Gambit and almost qualified for the main event. Meanwhile, Gambit has only looked weaker and weaker every year. As much as I hate to say it, Diamondprox is done. He’s still a good LCL jungler, but he can’t cut it on the world stage anymore. Luckily for Gambit, Kira and PvPStejos are more than capable of handling themselves in the solo lanes. After those two, Kaos and Ascension pale in comparison. These two will probably take games off of each other and maybe even one from Gambit, but they aren’t going anywhere in this group.
TL;DR: SUP > DW > KBM > PGM
Supermassive is a staple of minor region representation at MSI. They’ve attended two of three MSI’s, their absence at the first MSI due to the fact that the organization did not exist at the time. SUP has been dominant in the Turkish scene, securing a medal in every regional event since their inception. And their roster has been getting stronger. Stomaged is a fantastic jungler and he has formed the backbone of the team with ADC Zeitnot. Mid laner GBM, while past his prime, is still a competitive (and stylish) player who is solidly the best mid in the group. The only question mark is SnowFlower, Supermassive’s Korean import support player. Their bot lane hasn’t shown many problems with communication, but against stiffer competition, they may begin to show cracks. Next, Dire Wolves. While Oceania hasn’t exactly been the strongest minor region, Dire Wolves’ World Championship showing wasn’t shoddy. They managed to take one game off of Team oNe Esports last year in the Worlds play-ins, only failing to pass through in a tiebreaker. They’ve kept the majority of their roster coming into this MSI, so I have decent hopes for their group stage performance. I don’t have much to say about Kabum!, but I have some thoughts about Pentagram. Rebranded from last year’s Rampage, they looked absolutely lost in the Worlds play-in stage last year. 0-4 in the weakest group isn’t something to inspire confidence, but YutoriMoyasi is a pretty good ADC, and against a weaker team in this bot-centric meta, Pentagram may be able to surprise.
Play-in Round 2
TL;DR: FW > RB7/SUP, EVOS = RB7/SUP
Since the matchups are decided by a random draw, I can’t say for sure who will pass through to the group stage, but I’m pretty confident that Flash Wolves will win their match. Although LMS has looked weaker and weaker as a region in recent years, FW is still an experienced team with veteran players. Plus, they’re not TSM, so they won’t even have to reverse sweep to get out of play-ins. EVOS is where it gets interesting. I never really had that much faith in Vietnam as a region. I just had a lot of faith in Optimus and Levi. EVOS did beat GAM in VCS finals, but that was a GAM without Optimus and Levi, and it was a narrow 3:2 victory. And here, both of my group winners have strong odds against EVOS. Supermassive is an extremely competent team, and I have faith that my boy GBM can do work against the Vietnamese team. For the other group, RB7 WhiteLotus’s competitive ban is up by the time play-ins come around, and despite four months off of competitive play, I think that his presence can even the odds against EVOS.
TL;DR: KZ > RNG > TL > FNC > FW > EVOS
Okay, now for the big one. Group stages at MSI are always hard to predict, especially for an NA fan. At least we know one thing: Korea is really, really good. KZ is absolutely disgusting and I don’t think any of the competitors can match Kingzone lane to lane, much less in macro and teamplay. The only one that comes close is Uzi over Pray. I’ll take Uzi over Pray any day, but every other player on KZ is better than RNG. Sure, they might drop a game to RNG or even someone else, but KZ is going to come out as the first seed. Meanwhile, RNG just had a great showing over EDG to give Uzi his first LPL championship and his first MSI. They looked great in their finals match, and I don’t think it will be much of a struggle for them to come out over TL and FNC. And to segway into that, the next thing I want to talk about is Liquid over Fnatic. It’s surprising, I know, and I might get some hate for being a blind NA fanboy, but hear me out. Liquid has thrived not when they built a snowballing lane, but when they’ve stuck together and made sure that everyone is above water. Look at their finals match against 100 Thieves. None of them really popped off and put the team on their back, but everyone just consistently did well and rolled over the Thieves. And the most important part of Liquid’s win condition is the player matchups. They can’t stay above water against Kingzone but look at Fnatic. Bwipo, although pretty damn amazing for a rookie, is still a rookie, and I don’t think Soaz can push Impact around enough to hurt Liquid’s team play. Doublelift and Olleh are a strong lane, and while I think Rekkles and Hylissang are still better, I trust Doublelift to play defensive and allow Xmithie to either put bot lane ahead or focus on the other side of the map and shut down Broxah. The mid lane is another interesting matchup. Caps is aggressive, forcing skirmishes and getting significant jungle pressure, which usually spells doom for his lane opponent. But Pobelter, the All-American 200IQ native of Pobelt, is nothing if not consistent. It may just be because TSM can’t screw it up this year, but I believe in Liquid. Doublelift should probably keep an eye on Vietnam, though.
The Mid Season Invitational starts with the Play-in Stages on May 3 at 7:00am EDT/6:00am CDT at https://twitch.tv/riotgames