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10 thoughts going into MSI Knockout Stage

The best team going into Taipei is, without a doubt, Invictus Gaming. The worst team is also Invictus Gaming. And the most middling team is also Invictus Gaming. You really can’t tell which version of them you’ll get in any given minute on Summoner’s Rift, let alone any game. You think they can’t keep getting away with it, and then they do. It’s an IG vs. IG world. The IGs are joined by a similarly erratic G2 Esports, a Team Liquid who just scraped by, and a terrifying SK telecom T1 (you may have heard of them). Here’s 10 thoughts going into MSI Playoffs! 

Invictus Gaming [9-1] – Ivern Gaming
IG is like a puppy with a very large body that they don’t quite know how to control yet, but they’ll still happily jump all over you and nip at you and damn if they aren’t strong. I’ve talked about their duality here, but it really can’t be understated just what a strange team this is. Especially when you juxtapose them to what we’re accustomed to seeing from champions, which was the SKTs and Samsung Galaxies of old slowly constricting opponents to death, IG is in many ways the opposite of what we expect. But I wouldn’t mistake that for being bad. I think there’s certainly cause for concern – like, even if it would be a massive upset if TL win, many of us wouldn’t exactly be surprised if IG ended up throwing and losing. You don’t have to try very hard to imagine what that would look like: throw after throw because they try to pick stupid fights. IG would fight Santa Claus if they saw him on the Rift. But, again, I would not mistake any of this for bad. On paper you might say they can’t keep getting away with this, but the reality of it is they do because they are that good. They play like the action hero movie who slips under the closing garage or threads a fighter jet through a tight canyon. They’re the hero’s stupid whims, and they’re the resulting triumph. And until they actually lose, I’m going to keep on believing that they in fact can and will get away with it.

2. SK telecom T1 [7-3] – Faker is still good btw
Before the tournament began, PapaSmithy tweeted out that SKT would start MSI slow and then ramp up as they adjusted to the tournament meta. And I just want to say this shit is clearly scripted and we should fine him for leaking. It’s been about 18 months since SKT last made it to the international stage, so it makes sense that they didn’t quite have a full grasp on how much stronger the other regions have become. But the strength of any team or player that is able to maintain a long period of success, like SKT and Faker, is their ability to adapt. League of Legends is a game that changes every two weeks, and if you are incapable of changing with it, then you will fall to the wayside. SKT has historically proven they can do that better than anyone else, and so when you stick them in an environment like this and give them a few looks, of course they’re going to make adjustments. And, as we’ve seen time and again, of course they’ll work. In knocking off IG to end the Group Stage (and thus preventing a perfect group from IG), SKT put a wrench into any sort of idea that IG would run away from the pack. Faker is again looking like the best player in the world, which seems to happen every time we suggest he might be outshined by someone else. SKT now face a G2 team that beat them 2-0 in the Group Stage, though, so it’s not like they’re a clear favorite (or even a favorite at all) to advance, but at least by the end of the Group Stage, it definitely felt to me like the onus is now on G2 to make adjustments. You can take the SKT out of the World Championship, but you can’t take the World Champion out of SKT.

G2 Esports [5-5] – Maybe a little too much art
I want to clarify that I love a lot of contemporary art, but you know how sometimes it’s literally just a toilet in a glass box? Sometimes that’s the artist better known as G2. And sometimes Caps is painting the Sistine Chapel with Perkz playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on a piano for him. Before losing their final three games of the Group Stage, this team was living up to the hype that called them the best team to ever represent EU internationally. And now? Well, I personally try to not put too much stock into games that don’t really matter for a region. They were always likely to finish second or third, which would mean a likely matchup against SKT anyway. I think we should judge a team for what they look like when their backs are against a wall, which we haven’t seen from this roster yet (not in the LEC and now not here at MSI). That’s good in the sense that they might be super clutch, and it’s bad in the sense that they might absolutely collapse. Caps has been every bit the coin-flip player that he’s sometimes characterized as, and some of that might just be him pushing his limits, but it’s not like this is the first time this has happened with him. The silver lining is he had a very strong game against IG in G2’s second bout against them, and even though they eventually lost, I think that’s the type of game that helps shatter any potential mental blockers you might have against a player (in this case, against Rookie). This is still a very talented and creative team, and in a Best-of-5, I think that even if you manage to adapt to one look from them (which I think SKT has or will), then they’ll be able of throwing another 10 at you. But the real trick here is to convince Caps that he’s a rigged coin. As Harvey Dent once suggested, go make your own luck.

Team Liquid [4-6] – All’s well that ends well?
Four wins. Fourth seed. Four teams remaining. Four-tunate to advance. Some things never change for Team Liquid. The good news is that reactionary analysis based on very short memory spans is hot right now, so thanks to their dominant victory over G2 on the final day, I think we can say for sure based on just that one game that this team has fixed all of their issues and will definitely destroy IG. Anyway, like I was saying for G2, I think you shouldn’t judge a team until they’re against a wall, and contrary to G2, Liquid has been pushed to the brink in both the LCS Finals and now in the MSI Group Stage. In both cases, they’ve risen and given their fans reason to believe. It took Doublelift four years to win his first trophy, and then it took him another three and a half years to make it out of a Group Stage at an international event. He has the chance to break through every single wall that remains. All that’s left is winning, simply, two Best-of-5s. It’s a career filled with heartbreak, but more importantly it’s been filled with patience and perseverance. For him and Liquid both, the road has been long, but what else do they have to lose? They’ve lost everything and climbed back, and they’ve lost it again and climbed back again. What stands in front of them is an IG squad that is starting to garner some hype as maybe the most talented roster ever assembled – so make no mistake they are massive underdogs here. But also make no mistake that people have been saying, for nearly a decade now, that Doublelift will never win this, and then he’ll never win that, and now they’ll say he will never – not in any universe – be able to defeat IG. So here’s a chance, again, to turn never into now.

FW and PVB [Eliminated] — It could have been worse?
Not since the Americans manifested destiny have we seen such a devastating blow to wolves and buffalos. With the disbanding of the core FW roster last year, the fear was always that the window for the LMS to return to international prominence was finally closed. After years of heartbreak, the roster that was built like a family and who served as the shining hope of the region was no more. But you know what? I’d say they had a pretty damn good showing at MSI anyway. If not for a couple of awful Baron throws against IG, this might have been the feel-good story of the tournament. But, as they say, sometimes that’s just how the dice rolls. They were on the same plane to Taipei with the rest of us, but it will unfortunately not be to play in front of their home crowd. It’s about as bitter a flight as it can get – like flying back home with someone who just dumped you – but maybe the pain will fuel their growth. Maybe things won’t be as bad as some of us initially predicted for the LMS. As for PVB, that was Vietnam’s third consecutive year advancing to the MSI Group Stage, and it seems like Vietnam is here to stay. It was, however, also their third consecutive Group stage exit. Whether they’ll be able to break into the upper echelons or not is still to be seen, but there is more than enough passion. Surely they won’t forget the feeling of bowing in front of their home crowd.

6. And now the favorite is…
Definitely the San Francisco Shock. Now that we have 10 games worth of data from each team, there are a couple of ways to approach this. First, do we really believe that games from the first couple of days matter less when it comes to assessing strength when compared to games from the later days? And if so, then by how much? My theory is that teams absolutely do learn and grow from clashing with each other even once, but my other theory is that it’s really hard to make substantial growth in just five days. It is more likely that a team simply cleans up mistakes in their own style than it is for them to actually make significant changes to how they approach the game. You either had the ability to win it all from the get-go or you don’t. And in that vein, I feel like we shouldn’t undervalue the first few days too much. I think IG is still the favorite to win this whole thing because they are a very flexible team when it comes to picks and playstyle, and because they are the most proactive team. That has bit them in the ass at times, but it’s incredible to watch them be a couple thousand gold behind and still dictate the pacing of games — they are the ones who start fights, and they are the ones who move to objectives first, and they are the ones who always seem to be pushing into enemy territory. All this said, the one thing that’s easier to adjust is champion picks, so long as your players have large champion pools. That’s where a team like SKT shines the best — they can play a lot of champions, and they are very good at fine-tuning their own style. Whether that’s enough to contest IG at the top is still to be seen, but it sure seems like we’re heading towards a grand final between the two giants.

7. Results were… as expected?
For all the individual upsets and action that we got, which made for a very exciting Group Stage, the final standings were still  in line with what we expected. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely very different from Worlds last year, for example, which is really just my roundabout way of saying we should really appreciate what happened in Korea a little more. Like, SKT ramping up to be a major threat again feels very familiar, as does watching them slowly choke a team to death. There is nothing more suffocating than watching their vision line advance as they have a lead, and then watching them eventually secure the Baron, and then watching them deliver their minions into the enemy base. It feels like it all just happened yesterday! They’ll now face a G2 squad that is anything but traditional, and if they win will likely be followed by an IG squad who is also a kind of batshit crazy. It’ll be interesting to see if we’ve truly entered a more teamfight and skirmish-happy era or if last year was just an aberration. Whichever team wins this MSI will set the pace for every other region going into the summer, and the more dominant the win, the larger the tide.

8. The best picks so far (it’s Daisy)
While the results were in line with expectations, we did get some very unique champion picks. The most interesting pick in a game that mattered was G2 picking Pyke for Wunder in the top lane. If, like me, you sit on Twitter during games, then you will have seen a very interesting progression in the discourse around the pick. People questioned it when it was first locked in, and then they memed it to hell when it started getting crushed early. And then all of us shut up very quickly. The moral of the story is to flame first and then say it was a prank later when the Pyke pops off and finishes the game with 11 kills. I’m curious to see if anyone will be willing to play Jayce into G2 with Pyke still up going forward — it’d be great to see the matchup play out again. Other than that, watching Ning lock in Ivern in a game that did not matter was pretty strange. Ivern is like… the exact opposite kind of champion from what you’d expect from Ning. No one is actually sure if Ivern even does anything, which is antithetical to Ning, who you are absolutely sure is doing something even if you don’t know what it is. There’s pretty much no way he picks it again, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him bust out something like Vi if IG finds themselves up 2-0. In non-happy games, though, I’d be surprised if we saw any yet-to-be-played champions introduced. But if we did… I would be very, well, happy.   

9. Some bonafide win conditions
Invictus Gaming

  1. They win if Ning can successfully set up his solo laners — it doesn’t even need to be flashy as they should be able to win on their own so long as the enemy jungler doesn’t interfere. IG is capable of winning skirmishes and teamfights, but needs to be wary of overcommitting and of players trying to make hero plays (for literally no reason).
  2. Make them watch the Nina Tucker episode of Full Metal Alchemist before the game so they don’t play their happy style.

SK telecom T1

  1. Have all four other players funnel Faker since he’s the only one anyone talks about anyway.
  2. Clid has had a lot of success ganking for both of his solo laners so far, and putting them on champions that can deal with skirmishes will be critical against the likes of G2 and IG. If they wind up against TL, well, just don’t troll.

G2 Esports

  1. G2’s losses have primarily come from falling behind early — it seems like they’re not particularly good at knowing where they can bend without breaking. So I feel like they can’t afford to play slow picks like Karthus and should instead lean into lane dominant champs with a good early jungler.
  2. Keep Perkz on an ADC like Ezreal as bait but have him build fully defensively (Randuin’s, Spirit Visage, GA) and hope SKT doesn’t notice.

Team Liquid:

  1. TL’s best game by far was their last one, which involved a couple of fantastic early Xmithie ganks. This is a very good team when they’re able to win the laning phase, but so far their laners have been punished, which makes it harder for Xmithie as well (it’s also a chicken-or-egg thing here). I think they’d do well to prioritize a winning bot lane and one winning solo lane to go with an aggressive playmaking jungler.
  2. Bind dancing and emotes to an easily spammable key to bait IG into diving.

10. Three lies and a truth
1. G2 will win MSI
2. IG will win MSI
3. SKT will win MSI
4. TL will win MSI

Print this out and put it on the bulletin board when I prove to be a prophet. And then Venmo me some money so I can become a prophet-for-profit.

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