What just happened?
The first day of Mid-Season Invitational was a casual stroll in the park. We had an interesting narrative in the European champions, G2 Esports, coming into the tournament out of form due to lack of practice. But the rest of the results weren't too surprising. SK Telecom T1 breezed through its opening two matches, China's RNG proved its world-class team-fighting prowess, Counter Logic Gaming and Flash Wolves were inconsistent, and the International Wildcard, Turkey's SuperMassive, went down swinging in two straight losses.
Fionn's MSI Power Rankings (Day 2):
A Tier: FW, RNG
B Tier: SKT
C Tier: CLG, SUP
D Tier: G2
We didn't walk out of the second day at MSI, we stumbled out, clothes dirty, hair messy, not knowing what the hell just happened. In what will go down as possibly the most unbelievable single day of results in League of Legends history, the world champions and far-and-away favorites for the MSI title, SK Telecom T1, lost both of their games. First, they were slowly worn down in a war of attrition against the hometown hopefuls, RNG -- and then, without warning, they took a blowout loss to the Flash Wolves, where the Taiwanese champions made the Korean kings look like a class below.
The world champions falling straight off a cliff performance-wise would be big enough of a story on its own, but we also had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde showing from Counter Logic Gaming of North America. The NA champions began the day with one of the region's biggest victories in international competition history, with a blowout win over Europe to bring the team to a 2-1 record for the tournament. Of course, G2 Esports has struggled mightily in the first two days, but it was the way CLG went about the win that made it a statement. From the opening minutes of the game, the NA combatants were in complete control, picking up an early first blood and snowballing the advantage to an almost insurmountable lead by the mid-game.
CLG was rolling. It beat the Flash Wolves and G2 Esports, and the team's only loss to hometown favorites, RNG, was a close affair. The fourth match on CLG's docket, SuperMassive, was supposed to be a forgone conclusion following its strong start to the tournament. Turkey's representative had an impressive early game, even keeping it close with the likes of RNG and Flash Wolves. However, as the set moved into the latter stages, the team failed to keep up with the more experienced squads.
CLG, a team renowned for its calm demeanor in the late-game and all-for-one mindset, was a mismatch for SuperMassive. As long as CLG didn't get cracked open early, the North American squad would win through better synergy, rotations, and leadership.
The only decisive rotations in the game, though, were made by the underdogs. SuperMassive got ahead early against CLG, and the Turkish champions never looked back. Mustafa "Dumbledoge" Kemal Gökseloğlu, the team's ace support, starred in the match-up, playing a near flawless game on Bard. Whenever it felt like the North Americans could get back in the game with a turnaround fight or pick in the jungle, Dumbledoge was around the corner with a stun, a portal away from trouble, or a well-placed ultimate to set up a perfect fight for his teammates.
When CLG exited the topsy-turvy day, it accomplished two amazing feats. First, it captured one of NA's greatest international conquests. The North American champions blew out the European champions after an entire year of the rival LCS region doing vastly better. CLG smashed G2, set itself up for a playoff birth, and kept its main rival at zero victories. Secondly, CLG also gave NA one of its worst losses in Riot tournament history with a loss to the wildcard region. It took it from an almost assured place in the playoffs to now having to fight against SuperMassive and even G2 Esports for one of the final bracket slots.
NA giveth, and NA taketh away.
The pack leaders, Royal Never Give Up and Flash Wolves, had perfect second days to the competition. RNG was my fifth-ranked team coming into the tournament due to macro play concerns and how well the players' mentalities would hold up in front of the hometown crowd if it faltered. Thus far, the macro play has been steady enough to get RNG into its bread and butter of late-game team fights.
The spotless record after two days means it hasn't been forced to face adversity yet.
Although RNG is the one with the perfect record, a case can be made Flash Wolves is the strongest team through the first four sets. While RNG has played to its opponent's level, Flash Wolves has been more dominant in its victories. Just comparing its wins over SK Telecom T1, the Wolves played a much cleaner and structured game behind support leader Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Jie.
Royal's win over T1 felt like a draw. RNG got up to a massive early lead, controlled the entire map from objectives and kills, and needed an hour to put away the world champions. Even with all Royal did, the game still came down to a single team fight that could have gone south if not for a well-timed flank by Li "xiaohu" Yuan-Hao. It was a war between a team having every tool possible available for victory against a team that should have lost thirty minutes before. RNG took home the win, but only after digging in and giving SKT everything it had in the late-game. The team's play around Baron was lackluster, and the dance around the map in the mid-game coupled with T1's superb disengage kiting allowed a toss-up team fight to decide things.
Luckily for China, RNG is really good at team fighting. SKT is too, but it was the Chinese champions that struck first blood in the tournament.
For the Flash Wolves, the game against SKT T1 was one you'd expect. It was controlled. Not too up-tempo, but not slow enough where SKT T1 was allowed to put its heels into the ground and stretch the game like it did against Royal. The Wolves didn't give T1 any chance to breathe during the game, and every time T1 tried counter-attacking, the Wolves quickly closed the door.
When behind, T1 plays a flawless defensive, counter-attack style. Regardless of how much the team is down, T1 will force you to play a perfect game. If you make a single mistake, it'll seize the opportunity and flip the match on its head. Instead of fighting for outer turrets or other objectives, SK Telecom T1 will gladly allow you to bolster your 2k gold lead into a 6k gold lead. All it takes is for one mishap and it's over -- T1 pounces, executes its counter, and the other team is knocked out, watching as that nice gold lead is evaporated in a matter of seconds.
"The Wolves didn't give T1 any chance to breathe during the game, and every time T1 tried counter-attacking, the Wolves quickly closed the door."
The Wolves didn't allow T1 to counter because the team really didn't make any mistakes. At one point, the team's ace, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, was backing off from a confrontation in the mid lane, zipping back with Azir's escape abilities. Usually, this would be fine, as SKT T1 is the master at poking enemies stronger than it in items. Rustle a bit, know your limits, and push up the lane before speeding backwards to safety. However, this time, Faker was quickly met in his jungle by the rest of the Flash Wolves, getting pincered into the wraith camp without a second warning.
T1 attempted to find openings where there were openings to be found.
Royal played an amazing game between a world-class offensive, individually masterful team, and a world-class defensive, perfectly organized team. RNG, as it turned out, won in the end.
The Flash Wolves didn't play an amazing game -- it was amazing, producing a one-sided, systematic breakdown of the world's best teams.
RNG told T1 with its game that the Chinese champions are capable of competing with the world champions.
Taiwan's champion bluntly told T1 in its game that it can't just hang with the world champions -- it can dismantle them too.
Player of the Day: Mustafa "Dumbledoge" Kemal Gökseloğlu
This was an incredibly difficult decision coming off one of most exciting nights to watch in professional League. It came down to two players: Dumbledoge and SwordArt, the two captains of the teams with the biggest wins on the day. Dumbledoge led his underdog wildcard team over the North American champions while SwordArt conducted the Flash Wolves in a breathtakingly beautiful win over the world champions -- asserting the Taiwanese champions as a contender for the title. If I were to give to give an award for team of the day, it would have gone to the Flash Wolves for how well it played.
But, for solely a player, I give today's accolade to Dumbledoge. Last year, he became a household name for international players when he killed Faker for first blood to start off a game. In the end, his team was stomped, but the clip of Dumbledoge killing Faker has been replayed numerous times the past year. This tournament, though, Dumbledoge made big plays, but was also able to get the win for his team, something his Turkish side wasn't able to do last year.
Not only is Dumbledoge growing as a legitimate support in the global scene, but so are his teammates and his region of Turkey behind him.