League of Legends' inaugural Mid-Season Cup, which was a competition in place of the Mid-Season Invitational, went off this past weekend, with Top Esports taking the title and their first-ever tournament victory. Our writers have some thoughts on the Cup, and what it means for this LoL season.
T1 was a tournament favorite going into the Mid-Season Cup. What happened?
Emily Rand: The reason why I had picked T1 to take it all was due to their dominant performance over Gen.G in the LoL Champions Korea finals, and the current metagame. Right now, a strong bot lane is, in my opinion, crucial to success, regardless of whether you're leaving them to play weak side for whatever reason or taking advantage of the myriad strong bot lane pickups like Ezreal, Varus, or Aphelios. T1 was able to do this, especially since they sometimes (deceptively to most) play towards their top side and rookie T1 top laner Kim "Canna" Chang-dong has looked better the more he's been able to play.
This weekend, T1 focused on a Yasuo-Gragas bot lane to counter Ezreal, which in theory is fine, but takes away from the absolute dominion that bot laner Park "Teddy" Jin-seong and support Lee "Effort" Sang-ho can have on the bot side of the map. Against Top Esports, who also were poised to do well in this tournament because of the current meta, they were eventually outdone by Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo's Ezreal, not to mention the two strong solo lanes of Bai "369" Jia-Ho (Wukong) and Zhuo "Knight" Ding (Ekko). I don't think it's as simple as saying "T1 play too slowly" but I do think they need to revisit what their team's true strengths are and, like the best LPL team, play to those strengths above all else.
Tyler Erzberger: Is it crazy for me to think T1 losing isn't that big of a deal? Group A, as shown by both FunPlus Phoenix and TES both making the grand final, was far and away the tougher quartet with Group B having a lot more questions surrounding those teams coming out of the tournament. The South Korean champions handled FPX with relative ease in the opener before throwing away a game they should have taken against the coin-flippy Damwon Gaming before losing another close affair to the eventual steamrolling winners in Top Esports.
I do think Canna was shown to be a bit out of his depth when matched up with the likes of former T1 starting top laner Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, DWG's Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon and possible MVP of the entire tournament in 369. As a whole, though, I'm still confident T1 can win a world championship with this starting-five and a full series against TES would be appointment viewing.
My biggest worry for T1 is the lack of competition in LCK at the moment, where with how soundly Gen.G was dismissed by Top in the semifinals, that they might not improve as much as the top Chinese teams who have the luxury (and horror) of playing in a league with seven to eight possible world-class squads.
Arda Ocal: They lost.
How much do you think teams were affected by ping and scheduling?
Rand: Ping was visibly an issue (pour one out for FunPlus Phoenix jungler Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang's Kindred), but since delays were unified across the board and mystified all teams at times, I didn't think it had a huge effect.
The scheduling is a different story. I don't think it's a coincidence that both teams that played earlier in their respective groups made it out, but I had also cited Group A as the stronger group so ultimately I don't think it had too large of an effect on the competition. The one point I would make is that with some time to rest, DragonX may have made it out and potentially made a run for the championship if they hadn't had to play back-to-back-to-back including a tiebreaker match.
Erzberger: It was a funky format but I'm coming out of it happier that we got anything at all than some random showmatch between the two regions. Even with all the logistical issues, the tournament still felt like the closest thing we could get to a Mid-Season Invitational at the moment, and I think the tournament will be necessary as we head towards worlds with Top Esports as the new final boss all teams will be gunning for come October when the event kicks off.
Ocal: I mean, what are you going to do? We are in a weird time in history, and I'm still of the mind that we are lucky to even have this entertainment available to us. Put it this way -- would you rather have a competition between the best regions on 30 ping, or not at all, what's your answer? I think more people pick to see it. At the end of the day, the players are agreeing to compete under these conditions for sizable prize pools, the organizers are doing the best they can to make it fair for everyone, and LoL fans worldwide get to watch and enjoy. Ideal? No. Welcome? Yes! And that remains my thoughts about online play until we can go back to LAN safely.
Blind Pick returned for one game in each best-of-five. What was your favorite blind pick moment?
Rand: Every time an LPL team was able to blind pick. All of those times were my favorite moments. I thought blind pick was taken away because of the swap from the Champions tournament to the league play of the LCK, but now I know it's because LPL teams would be too powerful.
Erzberger: I liked Knight smashing everyone on Syndra. The guy has a laundry list of champions (and styles, as shown by his Orianna game) that he can style opponents on, but it was a treat watching him running literal circles around the reigning world champions and one-shotting everyone in sight.
Ocal: I thought Game 1 of the final was pretty cool. Top Esports had a solid team fight composition, we got a mirror match in bot lane, with Crisp on Thresh (with champions that he's played over 25 games, Thresh is the champ he's won with the third-most in his career at a 65.4% win rate). Yuyanjia wasn't historically too successful on Thresh (44.8%) but has had success on it in 2020 in particular in the MSC. Both Jackeylove and Lwx have played Varus second most in their respective careers, (JackeyLove with a 74% win rate and Lwx with a 57.4%). Galio and Wukon from DoinB and Khan was fun. The LPL definitely utilized the blind picks to maximum potential and like Emily said, that's too much power in their hands and can never ever be placed again. We just can't just hand the Infinity Gauntlet to Thanos like that anymore.
Who was your tournament MVP?
Rand: I know my compatriots are probably going to pick Knight, and I think that's a valid choice. I want to highlight Karsa who had, as English-language LPL caster Jordan "Lyric" Corby put, "anti-synergy" with Knight for most of the split. For his part, Knight simply looked strong individually, but his lack of synergy with Karsa cost the team games while Karsa frequently looked lost in the jungle despite his veteran status and obvious skill. This past weekend reminded us of what Karsa can do individually all while having much stronger synergy with the team. This is likely due to the addition of Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-bo in the bot lane, who has provided a much-needed strong voice for the team, allowing communication between all players to run smoothly. Karsa has been the most immediate benefactor of this, and it's shown in his individual performances as well as his much-improved coordination with Knight.
Now that I think about it, maybe my pick should have been JackeyLove.
Ocal: I think Knight is the favorite to take this one here, but let me give a little shout out to 369. He wasn't someone many called consistent in 2019 but has blossomed into a solid contributor for Top Esports. HIs KDA went from an average 3.25 in 2019 across both regular season splits to a 3.6 in Spring 2020, with a 5.1 KDA in the Mid-Season Cup. He played Wukong twice, Jayce twice, Gangplank and Ornn once, losing only on Jayce. His damage percentage in team fights was 24.6%, with a kill participation of 65.4% in the tournament. I'm not just saying this because I picked him as my top laner in our Mid-Season Cup fantasy draft -- Top Esports have their first championship under their belt and 369 was a solid contributor to that.
Erzberger: Knight is the most mechanically gifted player in the world, Jackeylove is right up there and brings the shotcalling element that this team desperately needed, and 369 came up big time and time again when his team needed him the most. Really, it's difficult to pick a single MVP from a team that was humming along so well as a five-man unit. But to not be boring and pick the sentimental and lazy "everyone wins!" answer, I'll go with Jackeylove.
I can't stress how scary the combo of Knight-Jackeylove is. I've said since they partnered up that Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and Park "Teddy" Jin-seong are the scariest duo in League of Legends, and while I'm not going to switch from the T1 pair just yet, the more Knight and Jackeylove build chemistry it's going to be hard to pick against them.
Please give me a Top vs. T1 best-of-five at worlds.
How significant is this tournament in the grand scheme of 2020 League of Legends events?
Rand: I don't think it can be considered a major tournament given the circumstances, but it's as serious of an online tournament as we're going to get with the current restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. Whenever the LPL and LCK meet, they will take it seriously and this weekend was no exception. As for where it fits, I think we'll have to wait until we see what worlds shapes up to be, but it still is a good indicator of where the LPL and LCK stand.
Ocal: It's big for a couple reasons: It involves the two largest regions in League of Legends, South Korea and China. The prize pool was $600,000, with $240,000 going to Top Esports as the winners. This happened during a pandemic, with no MSI, so in some ways even though we didn't get the global competition we might have all wanted, we got a high level tournament anyway. So, for the significance, the time period, the level of competition, the money... all the pieces are there to treat this like a top tier tournament.
Erzberger: In the case of the losers, I don't think it's that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. LCK's reputation took another hit with Gen.G getting bopped by Top and T1 not making it out of groups, but I feel like at this point a lot of people already understand that the LPL is the deeper, more talented league.
For Top, however, I think this is huge for them. This reminds me of when SK Telecom T1 crushed everyone at the All Stars event (the beta version of MSI) that occurred in Paris back in 2014. While that tournament isn't really brought up when we discuss international accomplishments, it added to the overall legacy of the organization and most notably Faker, who added another piece of hardware to his collection. If Knight, Jackeylove and the rest of Top use this victory as a springboard to more championships, we'll remember this in history as the true start of the TES dynasty.