The Ghosts Of NA MSI's Present And Future
Disappointment, restoration, and a failed attempt at revenge were all that the North American region or the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) saw in the first three years of the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI). A pattern that was somewhat repeated in the coming years and has been unique to this region.
In 2015 Team SoloMid were looking like one of the teams to beat. Having just recently taken the IEM VIII World Championship and a dominant win over Cloud9 in the spring split finals, this was a solid team. Unfortunately for the North American fans, Team SoloMid disappointed on the international stage. That disappointment was later corrected by Team SoloMid's long-time rivals, Counter Logic Gaming, in 2016. A surprise second-place finish helped dispel some of the disgruntlement that was had with the region.
This disgruntlement soon returned though, as in 2017, Team SoloMid had a failed attempt at revenge. Not being able to correct their past 2015 failings, the North American region once again was looked at with concern by fans, or ridicule by opponents.
2018 - Team Liquid continues the North American ridicule
This was the second year in a row where the North American region sent a solid roster to the first of two international tournaments of the year. A team spearheaded by former Team SoloMid member, and superstar domestic AD Carry, Yiling “Doublelift” Peng, yet again failed to get the region past the group stage.
Doublelift was paired together with support, Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, in the bottom lane. He also had experience-filled players around him in jungler, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and mid-laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park — both with previous MSI experience — back him up. World Champion top laner, Jeong “Impact” Eon-young rounded off the roster.
At the time, this Team Liquid team was in its early beginnings in what would later become a dynasty that went on to win four straight LCS titles. But as described, it was only the early beginnings. As the case in most teams, early beginnings mean that there is a lack of experience either domestically or on the international stage; it showed.
Similar to Team SoloMid’s previous year performance, Team Liquid finished in fifth place with a 4-6 record. Although tied with fourth-place Fnatic, the team failed to get past the group stage and into the playoffs after losing the deciding tiebreaker. Making it the second year in a row and the third time the region has failed to get into playoffs.
2019 - Team Liquid: “This is how you get revenge, TSM”
After winning their third straight LCS title, Team Liquid — like Team SoloMid in the past — got a chance to enact revenge on their first performance at the tournament. But this time, it was a far more dangerous and more well-equipped team.
This Team Liquid roster was essentially the same going into this year’s MSI with two added changes, a top-two mid-laner and a World Champion. Team Liquid acquired mid-laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen from Cloud9 and let go of Olleh. After letting go of Olleh, the team recruited superstar, Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in from Korea’s Samsung Galaxy to join the cause. Not a stranger to the North American scene, as seen by his past stint on Dignitas, CoreJJ and the rest of his team were hellbent on correcting that 2018 performance. And correct they did.
Like Counter Logic Gaming in the previous years, Team Liquid finished in second place, but this time to a non-Eastern team, world-beaters, G2 Esports. In hindsight, this is not a loss any team should be ashamed of. G2 Esports finished the year as the eventual runners up at the World finals after losing to China’s FunPlus Phoenix. But at the time, this was a loss that, compared to other North American losses, stung the most.
Yet again, a North American team was to be stuck at fourth to fifth place limbo of a 4-6 record. But in contrast to the previous years, Team Liquid managed to get a one-game gap between them and the team below them; this allowed them to make the four-team cut into playoffs. And it wasn’t just making the four-team cut; it was done above a Flash Wolves team from Taiwan (LMS region) that had prevented the region from moving on once before.
Team Liquid first shocked the world by taking care of one of the tournament favourites, Invictus Gaming, from China with a 3-1 series win. As opposed to Team Liquid’s 4-6 fourth-place finish, Invictus Gaming dominated the group stage with a 9-1 record. This set them up for a matchup against G2 Esports, a team that shocked their world in their own right after taking down historic Korean powerhouse, SK telecom T1.
Once in the finals, Team Liquid got dominated from start to finish. Even though the team got dominated, hope was restored to the North American region.
2020 - What Cloud9 could have been
Cloud9 started the 2020 year with a historic spring split performance. Only one loss blemished the near-impeccable record that Cloud9 showcased — they wouldn’t lose again until the next split’s ninth match.
The most dominant performance by any North American team was eagerly awaiting its reward in the form of international play. But due to the covid-19 pandemic, that reward never came, something that has left many domestic and non-domestic fans wondering the “what could have been”. MSI for 2020 was cancelled.
2021 - Cloud9 get rewarded, how will they perform?
After MSI’s cancellation in 2020, Cloud9 have a chance to test their might versus other teams on the international stage at 2021’s MSI. A team that in last year’s spring was as dominant as any team can be was upgraded with one of the most prolific players in the game's history. To go alongside their already fully stacked roster, mid-laner, Luka “Perkz” Perkovic joined from that historic G2 Esports team.
A shaky start to the 2021 season and a wobbly first couple of LCS Lock In tournament games were quickly adjusted. Even with a loss to Team Liquid in the Lock In finals, the team utilised the 17-game experience they gained from the tournament to its fullest extent. The team didn’t lose their first place spot all regular split long; this was awarded a first-place finish.
Come playoffs, the team took care of business leading up to the finals. Once in the finals, they got revenge on all of the losses they received in the season to Team Liquid and became the spring champions.
With renewed vigour that was dormant since last year, only time and Cloud9 themselves will tell how they will perform in honour of the North American region.
Images via Riot Games