MSI Day 1 Recap: European Vacation in Shanghai

SK Telecom T1 waits with the audience before taking the stage for the opening ceremony at the Mid-Season Invitational. Provided by Riot Games

Fionn's MSI Power Rankings (Day 1):

S Tier: SKT T1
B Tier: RNG, CLG, FW
C Tier: SUP, G2

The first night of the Mid-Season Invitational 2016 has come to a close, and all six champion combatants have played their first two games of the group stages. To the surprise of no one, South Korean champions and reigning Summoner's Cup holders, SK Telecom T1, began the tournament like it has been ending tournaments lately. The world champs silenced any notion of a dramatic upset on Day 1, and swept past Turkey's SuperMassive and G2 Esports in dominant fashion without a blemish on its record.

The European champions, G2, who lost to SKT1 in its second match of the day, emerged as the headline story on opening day. Following the international trend of last year, Europe has been on a substantial upward trajectory, placing in the top four of last year's MSI, Riot World Championships and the IEM World Championship final. Korea has been the gold standard for the past three years, and Europe had seemingly secured its place in silver with Fnatic and Origen's impressive performances in 2015 and the early part of 2016.

G2 Esports looked to be in great shape entering Shanghai. Although it's a group of rookies, the team's fast-paced style was strong enough to win the regular season title and the playoffs in the very same season. When put up against the two pillars of EU LCS' success in 2015, Fnatic and Origen, G2 was able to get through the pair and hoist the domestic crown in its first go-around.

Its starting five was perfectly suited for the current meta. Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek was allowed to play his eccentric tank picks in the top lane. Europe's regular season MVP, Kim "Trick" Gang-yun, had the green light to play hard carrying champions in the jungle, and his partner in the mid lane, rookie talent Luka "Perkz" Perković, supported him with his arsenal of wave-clearing champions. The top lane was comfortable. G2's greatest strength, the jungle-mid duo, was in the spotlight. And the bot-lane, sometimes considered weak when stacked up against the other talent in Europe, was able to thrive.

Going into the tournament, I thought the team was set up for an easy top-four finish and a possible finals if it kept up its play from its 3-1 EU LCS win against Origen. Outside of the clear favorite, SK Telecom T1, G2 felt like a safe choice as a runner-up. China had all flash but no substance with its macro-play. Taiwan was a mystery. Turkey was a heavy underdog. North America could probably win Worlds and still have major doubters. G2, and Europe's pedigree, pointed toward a successful trip to Shanghai.

After day one of the tournament, even Turkey, the International Wildcard champions, look to be in better conditions than the tightrope walkers from Europe. G2 dropped both of its opening round games against Taiwan's Flash Wolves and Korea's SK Telecom T1, and neither were particularly pleasant to watch. The crisp, highlight-reel offensive style of play G2 became known for in Europe was on display for the first few minutes of the game against Flash Wolves, but vanished as the game drifted into the muddy mid-game.

Trick's Kindred was splendid to watch for the first 10 minutes. He was slick, gliding between turrets and enemies to pick up kills. If we were to cut out the rest of the Flash Wolves match and SKT1 game, you would have thought G2 Esports was a top-5 team in the world. A bit sloppy with tower dives, yet, when the dust cleared, Trick was the one exiting with the lion share of scalps and gold.

Too bad for Trick & Co. the games don't end at the 15-minute mark. G2 composed a team light on wave clear and couldn't do much versus Flash Wolves' Azir in the mid-lane, as the Shurima Emperor stalled out the game long enough for the pretty plays by Trick in the early-game to become irrelevant. By the time G2's Nexus was busted open, all that remained was a frustrating game where both competitors believed they could do better.

G2's game versus T1 doesn't really need to be touched upon. The European side was run around the map from the opening minutes of the game, and the world champions dispatched G2 Esports quicker than it did the wildcard team from Turkey. The Flash Wolves game was a disappointment. The blowout loss to SK Telecom T1, a team expected to make a run at the finals, was an embarrassment.

The apparent reason for G2's lowlights on Day 1 is the fact the team didn't practice in the weeks leading up to the tournament. Instead of going to South Korea for a bootcamp session, the team didn't scrimmage heading into Shanghai due to its EU LCS peers being on vacation and not able to practice with them. So the team entered the tournament rested but rusty, and it showed in spades against two major region champions.

Maybe against lower-level talent G2 could have skated by and rounded into form -- not at the Mid-Season Invitational, though. When you're across from SK Telecom T1, a full-fledged dynasty in the running, nothing but your best will have a chance at scratching its armor. Anything other than your optimal form will produce what we saw today: an out-of-shape team getting dissected by a true champion.

With four days left in the group stages, all hope is not yet lost for G2. It still has eight games remaining on the schedule, and it'll only take one good day to get back into the running for a top three spot. The European champions will attempt its comeback tomorrow against LCS rivals from NA, Counter Logic Gaming (1-1) and the Chinese champions, Royal Never Give Up (2-0).

One day, if rectified, can be forgiven.

An 0-4 start, though? That won't be forgotten.

Player of the Day: Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong from Royal Never Give Up

I could have given this to any of the SK Telecom T1 players who waltzed through the opening day, but I decided on the player who came up the biggest when his team needed him the most. In the closest match of the day, Mata's world-class Alistar play was the difference-maker in a win or a loss versus NA's Counter Logic Gaming.

It was a game played on a knife's edge, and Mata's playmaking ability came up time and time again to bail his team out of disadvantageous situations. Right when you thought RNG was going to lose its opening game in front of the hometown crowds, Mata flashed in, headbutted a key member of CLG away from his team, and had his team delete them from the map. The former world champion MVP has been in the renaissance of his career after a forgettable 2015.

Above all else, it was a game RNG couldn't lose. CLG will be one of RNG's toughest opponents for a top spot in the group standings, and the Chinese squad is also susceptible to a weak mentality. One close loss in front of thousands screaming their heads off, and it could have wounded the squad's psyche heading into the rest of the competition. Luckily, the team stepped up in the closing moments, and Mata proved why he's one of the game's all-time greats in superstar fashion.