The Mid-Season Invitational play-ins begin Wednesday, and as the top teams from 13 regions come together to face off, so do some of the best players in the world.
With such an abundance of talent, it's hard to pick teams to watch for top-tier top lane play or mid lane mastery. Have no fear, though; we put together a list of the 20 best players going into MSI.
1. Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok, Invictus Gaming
There is no consensus "best player in the world" at the writing of this ranking, but in the race to the empty throne, no one is closer than TheShy. Since he became part of Team WE as a streamer at 14 years old in 2014, the sky has been the limit for the gifted top laner. When he turned 17 and was eligible to play professionally, it was less a question of when he would become the best top laner in the world and more a question of when he would take the necessary steps to become the best at his position.
At 19, TheShy dispatched every adversary who came at him at the 2018 world championship en route to his first Summoner's Cup. In the most recent domestic final, TheShy was matched up with Zhang "Zoom" Xing-Ran, who could be the second-best top laner in the world, and the JD Gaming star was ineffective all series. Now, with a world and domestic title under his belt, TheShy is gunning for a third straight, an MSI title, which would give him the "triple crown" of winning both yearly international tournaments and a domestic championship.
He isn't perfect -- no player is -- but even at his worst moments, when he's caught too far up in lane or too arrogant with his positioning, TheShy makes it work, turning certain doom into a highlight-reel outplay. When asked at the post-worlds news conference in 2018 whom he thought of as a rival, he was unhesitant in saying that "no one" could stand up to him in the laning phase.
TheShy will try to continue to prove that at MSI.
-- Tyler Erzberger
2. Song "Rookie" Eui-jin, Invictus Gaming
Since his career began, Rookie has been connected to Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. He was "Budget Faker" or "Kid Faker" or "The Next Faker." After winning the 2018 world championship, Rookie is finally just Rookie, the best mid laner in the world until someone does something about it.
It was a strange first season back since basking in the glow of his first Summoner's Cup win in his home country of South Korea. For almost any other mid laner in the world, this domestic season would be considered above average or even fantastic. For Rookie, it seemed like a slow start, only picking it up at the tail end of the regular season. In the final, he was fantastic, showing the difference in class between him and JD Gaming's young upstart, Zeng "YaGao" Qi.
MSI is a chance for Rookie to make a statement. He has craved a chance to face Faker on a major stage, going as far as to brush aside his world finals opponent, Rasmus "Caps" Winther, by saying that winning the Summoner's Cup was bittersweet because it came so easily. In Vietnam, Caps and Faker will be waiting for the world champion, both with something to prove against Invictus Gaming's centerpiece.
3. Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, SK Telecom T1
He's baaack. Following the worst year of his career, Faker promised that 2019 would be different. He wanted to reclaim what was taken from him and South Korea last year, when China won every international tournament, and after winning the spring domestic split, this is his first opportunity to do so.
For the first few weeks of the season, it seemed like Faker would take a back seat on the team he proclaimed "a team of aces" by being saddled on stabilizing champions such as Urgot and Lissandra. Then, like the old days, the switch was flipped, and since he brought the assassins and mages back into his arsenal, Faker has been shining like he did when he was last sitting on the throne as the undisputed best player in the world. In the domestic final against Griffin and league MVP young gun Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon, Faker used Chovy as a proxy for everyone who has doubted him over the past year, slapping him around Summoner's Rift in a 3-0 sweep.
"God," "Unkillable Demon King," "Ace of Aces" -- the nicknames don't matter to Faker. At the end of MSI, the only thing he wants to be called is the best player in the world once more, holding up the MSI trophy as SK Telecom T1 retakes its position as ruler of League of Legends.
4. Park "Teddy" Jin-seong, SK Telecom T1
Teddy has been one of the best bot laners in the world for about a year, but it wasn't until this split with SK Telecom T1 that people took notice. After two years languishing at the bottom of the standings with the Jin Air Green Wings, it's now Teddy's time to shine.
Mechanical prowess is part of what makes Teddy strong, but his teamfight decision-making and positioning are what make him a star on this SKT lineup full of other notable names. Teddy is not only a strong laner, especially when given a winning matchup, but he also shines in teamfights, which is exactly what SKT have wanted from their bot laners. When Mata leaves to roam for vision, Teddy keeps himself safe and doesn't frequently overextend. This tournament is much more about its top laners than the bot side of the map, but don't be surprised if Teddy is the standout player of SKT at MSI.
-- Emily Rand
5. Martin "Wunder" Hansen, G2 Esports
G2 Esports' top laner might be the best Western player in the world going into MSI, analyst Christopher "Papasmithy" Smith said during one of his many VOD reviews this season, and we definitely agree. Wunder was the backbone of an incredible G2 run at the world championship and continued that trend this year as a split-pushing and teamfighting star. Wunder is just a step below the best players in Asia, but he deserves to be recognized as the best player in the Western regions and as the most consistently excellent player on G2.
-- Xander Torres
6. Rasmus "Caps" Winther, G2 Esports
When it was first announced that Caps had been picked up by G2 and Luka "Perkz" Perković was headed to the bottom lane, there was a lot of head-scratching and doubt from the League of Legends community. In Perkz's ascension as one of Europe's stronger carries, Caps has oddly been forgotten more than once or twice when he's just as flexible a part of G2 as any of his role-swapping teammates. Caps has a large champion pool and can play a variety of styles, making it simple to fit him into any composition that G2 wants to play. During some of G2's more experimental looks this split, it was Caps alongside Wunder who dragged G2 over the finish line.
7. Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, Team Liquid
In his first season on Team Liquid, CoreJJ became the first player in the history of the league to be unanimously voted as an All-Pro in North America. Although his Rakan and other engage-first champions have been a joy to watch, it's the games in which CoreJJ is rarely noticed that he is at his best. No one in the world is as good at defensive supports as the former world champion on Samsung Galaxy. His Braum and Tahm Kench act as high-class security for AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng.
In the spring domestic final against TSM, CoreJJ's Braum play was immaculate, with his shields seeming like they were some sort of automatic cheat code, popping up every time Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen took aim. If Liquid has any shot of making it to the finals of MSI, it's going to have to start with North America's MVP.
8. Kim "Clid" Tae-min, SK Telecom T1
The acquisition of Clid from JD Gaming was supposed to help usher in a new era of SKT. Unlike previous SKT junglers, Clid was unapologetically aggressive, often to a fault. He had played enough professionally that he seemed a bit stuck in his ways and unlikely to try to bend to fit the SKT mold like multiple junglers before him. Clid hasn't always been a good fit for SKT, and sometimes his early pathing is a bit too greedy and his engages a bit too far forward. But in the most recent final against Griffin, Clid came to play with strong early game presence and showed why SKT decided to pick him up. He's an important part of what makes this SKT iteration different from the ones that came before.
9. Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning, Invictus Gaming
No one knows what Ning is thinking, and that appears to be his greatest strength. As a hyperaggressive player, Ning often gets a bad reputation for greedy pathing and poor invades, but he has the mechanics to back them up. In a sense, his style gives TheShy and Rookie the freedom to pressure lane as they choose while making his gameplay safe. In a bubble, Ning's style is highly questionable, but on Invictus Gaming -- the best team in the world -- it's perfect.
10. Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong, SK Telecom T1
What is there to say about this legendary support that hasn't already been said? Rather than revisiting the Matas of past organizations and successes, SKT Mata looks suspiciously like KT Rolster Mata in that his primary job (besides vision, of course) is protecting his carries in teamfights. Mata's engages are still strong, and though he might die occasionally in a routine vision roam, Mata's synergy with Teddy is strong, allowing them to work well together in lane and achieve things independently on the map, such as Mata's oft-stifling bot side river vision control.
11. Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo, Invictus Gaming
JackeyLove might be deemed underrated by certain Reddit posters, but most analysts know what he brings to the table: peak mechanical performance with occasionally awful positioning. As the final piece of a world champion Invictus Gaming, Jackeylove brings the muscle at AD carry that the team always lacked. Like most young carries, his positioning can be off at times, and that often leads to him not being rated among the best carries in his region or even in Invictus Gaming. Still, internationally, he has dynamic performances, such as his final teamfight against KT Rolster in the quarterfinals last year. As the lowest carry on the Invictus Gaming pecking order, teams will forget about JackeyLove, but that's when he makes the difference.
12. Luka "Perkz" Perkovic, G2 Esports
This one might be a little more controversial. Slotted just above the remaining major Asian players at this tournament and most Western players, Perkz has made the AD carry transition a dream come true. While there's no doubt that Perkz is less electric bot laner than he is mid (let's face it, Sona brings more peace than pain), he has served as a consistent carry-foil for G2, stepping in when Wunder and Caps aren't stealing the show. Also, at a tournament in which flexibility and miniature metas become prevalent, a player as adaptable as Perkz will always be valuable. The only realistic pain point for Perkz is that he faces greater AD carry competition while potentially missing out on his best support in Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle, who might miss the tournament due to injury.
13. Wang "Baolan" Liu-Yi, Invictus Gaming
On a team of stars, Baolan's contributions are often forgotten. He receives the bulk of Invictus Gaming criticism from the Chinese fan community, and his contributions to his team's wins are consistently underrated. Baolan's strengths lie in his strong engage sense, particularly on champions such as Rakan, Galio and Alistar. Due to Invictus Gaming's penchant for picking fights regardless of situation, it makes sense that Baolan is the one receiving most of the blame; he's often the primary initiator. Much of this is undeserved, though. Baolan is an important part of what makes Invictus Gaming work as a team in addition to ensuring that bot laner JackeyLove succeeds.
14. Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, SK Telecom T1
MSI last year was supposed to be Khan's tournament. That isn't how it shook out. Khan had a relatively awful tournament, his team Kingzone DragonX failed to win as heavy favorites, and the team collapsed in the summer domestic split to somehow keep the MSI representative out of worlds. Khan, unwilling to stay down, made the move to SKT in the offseason, looking to join a team of players wanting to redeem themselves from cruel endings in 2018.
Khan is not where he was last year, when everything came so easily to him, but he still might be the closest thing TheShy has to a challenger in the laning phase. His tank play is spotty, but when it comes to carrying and making a difference through pure offense, there are few better than the mechanical monster of SKT.
15. Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen, Team Liquid
Jensen's career in North America has been perpetually overshadowed by another European mid laner in the League of Legends Championship Series: Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. This most recent LCS victory with TL is Jensen's first domestic title, despite his strong mid lane prowess. Jensen has consistently pulled off strong performances whenever his team has managed to make it to the international stage, and Team Liquid will be relying on him to have another strong showing at this year's MSI.
16. Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, G2 Esports
Throughout his career, Jankos has earned a name for himself by being an aggressive jungler who controlled the early-game tempo for his teams. Last year on G2, he broke out of this particular mold during G2's highly successful funnel composition execution during the summer split, showcasing remarkable flexibility and willingness to play certain things where other junglers might have balked at the idea. As a key part of the G2 lineup, Jankos, like all of his G2 teammates, is a flexible player who allows G2 to play pretty much any style they want.
17. Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, Team Liquid
There are no excuses if Doublelift can't make it out of his first major international event group stage. He has one of the -- if not the -- best support players in the world at his side. He has a team of experienced, internationally proven players around him. He's in form and in good condition heading into MSI. Everything is set up perfectly for Doublelift.
In the worst-case scenario, his team fails, and even if Doublelift has a strong tournament, he will receive the brunt of the disappointment. The AD carry is the face of a franchise, and no player might be under more pressure to perform than the USA's brightest star.
18. Phạm "Zeros" Minh Lộc, Phong Vũ Buffalo
Following the fall of Flash Wolves, Vietnam is readying to take up the mantle as fifth-best region in the world and, despite the region's dip in talent, is still sneaking players into the top 20. Zeros was appropriately hyped going into the world championship last year and delivered plenty, performing well against both Flash Wolves and G2 in the group stage. Domestically, his sheer mechanical ability and teamfight sense have been nothing short of impressive. Zeros has his work cut out for him against numerous elite top laners at this tournament, but given his past performances, it is very unlikely that he will wilt.
19. Shunsuke "Evi" Murase, Detonation FocusMe
This might be the highest rank any Japanese player will ever earn on a player power ranking, but Detonation FocusMe's top laner deserves it. As the crown jewel of Japanese League, Evi is the star of not just his team but also his entire region. Detonation FocusMe were always one playoff series short of winning their region but now have twice won titles on Evi's back. Compared to some perceived snubs of this list, such as Flash Wolves' Lu "Betty" Yu-hung, Evi's role and impact on the team is of much higher significance.
Evi proved his worth at last year's world championship against both KaBuM! and Cloud9 en route to Japan's first play-in qualifier match. This year, he is out to prove that he can take it one step further and play with the big boys.
20. Jake "Xmithie" Puchero, Team Liquid jungler
Xmithie is the type of player who makes you reevaluate how you look at players and their achievements. He isn't necessarily at the top mechanically, though he has his moments, and many of his strengths as a player are intangible, making him difficult to rank. We wanted to give the nod to Xmithie here for his veteran leadership and in-series ability to adapt. Even if Xmithie is heavily punished by his opponent early, he's almost always able to rebound due to careful consideration of his opponent's pathing and movement.