Nate Hales takes a look at the upcoming MSI tournament and breaks down how the teams are performing thus far
It’s time to take stock of how the different regions fare against one another. In previous years, the one true international test was the World Championship at the end of the season, but this season, Riot has decided to add a new event to pit the world’s best against each other. This event is called the Mid-season Invitation and it is taking place in Tallahassee, Florida beginning on May 7.
The mid season champion from each region (NA, EU, LCK, LPL, LMS) along with one wildcard team will compete in the four-day tournament with the victor earning prize money and bragging rights and will be considered the frontrunner for the World Championship at the end of the season. The teams will compete in two days of group stage with the top four teams advancing to bracket stage. In the bracket stage the teams will compete in best of five series to determine the champion.
So how do the teams stack up? Here is a breakdown.
NA LCS Spring Split Champions – Team SoloMid
Coming off of a 2014 season victory, TSM still remains the team to beat from North America. New jungler, Santorin, brings a lot of pressure to the map for the team, but is also an area of weakness and could see a lot of focus from the opposing teams. Santorin has a relatively shallow champion pool and could easily be targeted in the pick/ban phase of the game.
Of course, TSM also has Bjergsen, who is making a case as the best mid laner in the world. TSM’s team strategies revolve around getting its mid laner rolling and Bjergsen’s deep champion pool allows the flexibility to run many different compositions. Consistent play from Dyrus and Lustboy also gives TSM the tools it needs to match up against any international team. Also, TSM recently won the IEM Katowice tournament, which featured many of the top teams from around the world (GE Tigers, World Elite and SK Gaming).
All-in-all Team SoloMid is out to prove a point that it is not only the North American powerhouse, but truly one of the best teams in the world.
EU LCS Spring Split Champions – Fnatic
Coming into the Spring Split, Fnatic was almost a complete unknown. xPeke, Soaz and Rekkles all left the organization and Cyanide retired at the end of the 2014 season, leaving only support player YellOwStaR to rebuild the team. And rebuild he did. The new addition took the EU LCS by storm and rolled over most of the competition en route to an unexpected Spring Split championship.
Fnatic relies on the carry potential of its top laner Huni and mid laner Febiven to propel the team to victory. Fnatic achieves this with superior shot-calling by team captain YellOwStaR and map pressure created by jungler Reignover. These two use their skill to create advantageous situations for Huni and Febiven to pick up kills and overpower the opposing team.
Fnatic also excels in lane swaps, which is a common strategy employed by many teams. Huni is a master of the 1v2 and routinely picks up kills when he shouldn’t, while YellOwStaR and ADC Steelback play smart and safe to build up a lead while denying the opposition.
Fnatic is a team you can’t underestimate, but at the same time are very hard to pin down. It doesn’t have the history of many of the other teams in the tournament, which makes the team harder to prepare for, but it execute as well as any veteran squad.
LCK Spring Split Champions – SK Telecom T1
The 2013 World Champions started off the LCK Spring Split a little slow, but after the introduction of the Cinderhulk item, managed to go undefeated and finish on top. Part of the reason for the slow start was an ever changing roster for SKT T1. Liberal use of subs for jungle, support and mid resulted in some inconsistency for the team early on, but eventually worked in the team’s favor.
Really, SKT is the tale of two mids, Faker and Easyhoon. Faker is widely regarded as the best player in the world. He excels on assassins, but can just as easily play any number of other champions in the mid lane. His mechanics are picture perfect and Faker has the ability to carry any game he is a part of. Many teams develop strategies solely around how to shut Faker down, but very few actually succeed.
SKT’s other mid laner is the less known Easyhoon. Easyhoon is no slouch in his own right. He tends to favor much more farm-heavy and utility champions like Lulu, but also excels at niche picks like Xerath or Cassiopeia. He has much less experience than Faker, but is becoming a top tier mid laner and was even able to lead his team to victory 3-0 over GE Tigers without Faker playing a single game.
These two mids make SKT T1 extremely dangerous. Teams will have to decide how to create strategies against both players and SKT has the luxury of replacing one world-class mid laner with another at the first sign of trouble. No team is as dynamic as SKT T1.
LPL Spring Split Champions – EDward Gaming
Following the shakeup of the LCK (formerly OGN) after the 2014 season, many top Korean players were left looking for new teams. Two members of the 2014 World Champion, PawN and Deft, found that home at China’s EDward Gaming.
EDG dominated the regular season in the LPL, but when the playoffs came, the team struggled. Its first round matchup against World Elite is the stuff of legends and featured a heroic run to victory after PawN rushed to the studio from the hospital to lead the team to a fifth game victory. The rest of the tournament would also prove difficult, but EDG came out on top and punch its ticket to MSI.
The team’s play is focused around PawN and Deft. EDG’s strategies revolve around PawN’s ability to make plays all over the map and Deft’s amazing laning and teamfight abilities. As long as EDG can keep its stars safe, they should be able to match up against any team.
However, EDG is a team that has a tendency to underperform in international competition. Things are different this time around, with its two experienced Korean players bringing some balance to the team. Expectations are high for this powerhouse roster.
LMS Spring Split Champions – Ahq e-Sports
Like many teams at MSI, Ahq’s team revolves around its superstar mid laner Westdoor. Regarded as the best player in Taiwan, Westdoor has a deep champion pool, huge carry potential and an extensive knowledge of the game. He is able to put his team on his back and carry them through most games with his ability to roam the map effortlessly and create pressure everywhere.
Of course Westdoor isn’t always a one-man wrecking crew; he also gets a lot of help from Ahq’s ADC An, who improved immensely as the season progressed and really became the secondary threat in the LMS Spring Split playoffs. He has found much success on Jinx, Urgot, Kalista and most notably Sivir, a champion who fits perfectly into the mobile run-and-gun strategies that Ahq excels on.
Ahq’s weakness however, is equally obvious. Recently its jungler Albis moved to the support position and new jungler Mountain joined the team. This created an obvious area of weakness, which other LMS teams have targeted in the pick/ban phase. Westdoor and An were still able to carry most games, but on the international stage, teams rarely let a weakness go unexploited.
Ahq is an exciting team, with one very exciting player. They could certainly catch any team off guard with their unique style and Westdoor’s ability to create global pressure. They are not a team to be taken lightly.
Wild Card – Beşiktaş e-Sports Club
Hailing from Turkey, formerly known as Aces High e-Sports Club, BJK is hoping to follow in the footsteps of KaBuM! and create a little chaos for the more established teams at MSI.
BJK uses, what can only be described as an aggressive-protection strategy. The team relies on mid laner Energy and top laner Thanldrin to set a frantic pace and force opposing teams into uncomfortable situations all over the map. Champions like Ahri, Diana, Rumble and Hecarim fit the team’s playstyle perfectly and allow the team to take huge risks that hopefully yield huge rewards.
On the other side of the coin is the jungler, Theokoles and support, Dumbledoge (who is probably their best player). These two play champions like Janna, Thresh, Nunu and Gragas, who specialize in disengage and peel. This allows them to swoop in and save their overly aggressive teammates if the situation should start to turn south.
It is a very specific and very risky style of play, but BJK is hoping to catch one of the other teams off guard and secure an upset.