The group stages of the 2016 League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational have been played out, serving up several surprises, including the elimination of G2 Esports, the faltering of SK Telecom T1, and Counter Logic Gaming’s emergence as a non-wildcard team. This upcoming weekend looks to be a complete tossup, the playoff teams all finishing within 2 games of each other. While Royal Never Give Up has been the superior team, dropping a single game to only SKT and CLG each, they’ve yet to show true dominance, holding only marginal leads in most games. It’s going to be tough for anyone to predict the outcome, but here’s my breakdown of the upcoming matches, and the predicted placings.
Counter Logic Gaming (2) vs Flash Wolves (3)
Nothing has been more inspiring and optimistic for North America in recent memory than the pleasant surprise that CLG has brought to MSI 2016, finishing behind only RNG after the group stages. They’ve truly been riding the back of Stixxay, who is averaging a Gold% of 27.2%, around 2 entire points more than the tournament average for marksmen. Most of the early game advantages created by CLG have been through punishing opposing mistakes, aside from the errant aggression from Aphromoo. Xmithie has made some heroic plays when it comes to securing neutral objectives, almost never losing contested smites on Baron and Dragon; his early game however, has erred on the side of safety.
Best of 5 series’ show a different side of teams. While exhaustion as a factor may play into some of the matches, teams are expected to play with a greater level of precision come playoff time. The hyper aggressive mistakes that the Asian squads have made will likely be removed as their coaching staffs find ways to tame their mindless aggression into a concerted effort to end games. The ability for each of the other midlane players (Maple, Xiaohu, Faker) to dominate games on assassins could spell the demise for Stixxay’s carrying. The stalling style of CLG may also be abused as teams continue to adapt to the current patch and meta: we won’t be seeing RNG squander another 17,000 gold lead.
These two teams split their group stage 1-1, CLG winning the latter of their matches. Flash Wolves will be deferring to the duo of Maple and Karsa even more in the playoffs though, who are both fantastic players in their own right. Great players learn to adapt – the diverse champion pools of each respective player will allow for them to reach in to a deep strategic pool in order to counter the generally monotonous play style of CLG. If FW marksman NL can manage to keep his head in the game, they should be able to pull out ahead in a slug-fest.
Predicted Winner: Flash Wolves 3-1
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Royal Never Give Up (1) vs SK Telecom T1 (4)
After rolling through the early part of the group stages, RNG has begun to show some vulnerabilities in their play, specifically in their ability to close out games as a team. The assertive early skirmishing that the team takes to the rift has been fairly successful; opposing players can hardly keep up with their individual mechanics. Mata and Looper have shown how world champions play in this tournament, with some incredible individual efforts. But the team as a whole has been prone to tilting, especially their jungler mlxg and marksman Wuxx. The same aggression that carries the early game has turned into recklessness come the late game. Just watch Wuxx instantly die for no reason in this clip.
SKT, on the other hand, is beginning to come into form as this tournament progresses. Shaking off a surprisingly mediocre start to the tournament, the former world champions have found stable ground again, going undefeated in the final two days of pool play, culminating in a 54 minute rear-end-clenching match against RNG. Blank has been struggling to adapt to the international game, but his decision-making is beginning to tidy up. In the later stages of the game, it is extremely difficult for teams to match up with the disciplined and multi-faceted attack that SKT brings to the field.
This semi-final match may very well end up deciding the actual victor of MSI. These two teams were viewed as the favorites going in by many experts, and perhaps they are meeting one series too early. Best of 5’s have always favored the telecommunications giant. Even in much earlier seasons, SKT have managed to pull through in the clutch, bringing fans memorable moments such as Faker’s Zed mirror outplay. It’s a sequence that has been seen and probably over-digested by the majority of League of Legends fans, but one that truly illustrates SKT’s (and Faker’s) mental fortitude. It’s tough to break this team mentally. In a 5 game series, it’s going to be tough to select the tilt-prone RNG over the Korean stalwarts.
Predicted Winner: SK Telecom T1 3-2
Final: Flash Wolves (3) vs SK Telecom T1 (4)
As previously stated, the winner of the Korea-China match for me takes the cake. It will be a joy to see Faker’s expansive champion pool take on the Flash Wolves, in what I expect to be a fairly subdued series. The bottom duo of SKT seems to always be unwavering in the face of adversity, and consistency will be the name of the game in these playoffs. These two teams have fairly comparable players: consistent botlanes, superstar midlaners, aggressive play-making junglers, and stoic toplaners. But man for man, Flash Wolves is just barely inferior to SKT in each position.
This has been the most competitive international event that League of Legends has seen since season 2 without question, and it’s incredibly exciting to see the rise of all of these regions, including Turkey from the Wildcard. That being said, Korea still looks like the most powerful region, sporting a team of mechanical gods and strategic discipline, that needed a bit of tempering at the start of the tournament – looking flawless now though. With this hypothetical finals match-up being a clash of similar styles, I expect a slight edge for SKT in each game that will ultimately make the final series score a sweep.