Ahead of the 2015 World Championship, we published a Top 20 Players at Worlds list where our LoL experts could compare and contrast their top picks. We're happy to continue this new tradition with a Top 15 Players list for the Mid-Season Invitational, featuring commentary from Kelsey Moser, Emily Rand and Tim Sevenhuysen.
Kelsey's Criteria: I value player versatility, consistency in the spring season, and their most recent form, with a tinge of career longevity. Players fundamental to team success will be ranked over those with individual talent on the same team. It's also worth noting that the current meta is very team-play oriented, so I do my best to see past instances where the team simply plays well around an individual. But, since it's impossible to completely separate the individual from the team, there's bound to be some bias.
Emily's Criteria: Since about Season 5, it’s become increasingly difficult to separate and celebrate individual skill. The game has become far more team-oriented, which makes it harder to identify top talent, especially when their statistics are inflated by their team's performance. Therefore the most important criteria I'll be looking at are the player's role on their team and how easily they could be replaced by someone else. I'll also look for individual decision-making, mechanical skill and flexibility in both champion pool and playstyle. Flexibility is something I rate particularly highly — given that so many of the players having played for so long, longevity through a myriad of patches and in-game changes matters.
Tim's Criteria: When picking the “best” players, I look for three things: game-breaking, consistency and versatility. By game-breaking, I mean the ability to make big plays at big moments, to go out and directly make good things happen. By consistency, I mean how well a player can maintain their level of play from game to game, without making big mistakes or mixing poor performances in with strong ones. By versatility, I mean both the ability to contribute to the team in different roles (supportive or primary carry, engage or disengage, etc.) and the ability to adapt to the changing meta and quickly pick up new champions and playstyles.
Kelsey: It's unlikely anyone will ever contest Faker's supremacy as the greatest League player of all time. With SKT taking another Champions title — thanks in no small part to Faker's near-independent mid lane control — both the meta and his spotless history at international events set him up as the favored MVP. Bang will no doubt also contribute to his team's success here, given the shallow pool of AD carry talent and his ability to play both as SKT's main carry and juggle a lower-econ style.
Mata's history as the 2014 World Championship MVP and his very noticeable impact on Royal Never Give Up make him a strong individual player, even if RNG aren't likely to place well. SwordArt similarly has been a consistent performer for more than the past two years and is easily the star player for Flash Wolves. Duke's own versatility has finally netted him a Champions victory, but he has less of a track record than the top four, and he's overshadowed by teammates Faker and Bang, who have a much bigger impact on SKT.
Emily: Faker is indubitably the top pick. The greatest player that League of Legends has ever seen found yet another way to evolve this past split, setting up teamfights for Bang to clean up and guiding new jungler Blank through growing pains. Putting Duke as high as fourth is bound to be contentious, given his struggles in the beginning of the 2016 Spring season; however, having acclimated himself to the team, and in light of his impressive season last year on a far worse NaJin lineup, I believe he’s en route to proving himself as one of the best top laners in the world. Bang, meanwhile, is clearly the best AD carry in the world already.
Royal Never Give Up would not be at MSI, nor would they have won this past LPL split, without Mata herding the team to victory. His presence is invaluable to RNG, and he continues to prove that he’s one of, if not the best, support in the world (depending on how you feel about ROX Tigers’ GorillA). Likewise, SwordArt has guided multiple generations of Flash Wolves to international competitions. There is no Flash Wolves without SwordArt, in my opinion.
Tim: Faker makes wins happen. Somehow, every champion Faker touches — Lulu, Zilean, anyone — transforms into an assassin. He dominated Korea, and remains the world’s best player. Bang is his steadfast carry partner, in my opinion the world’s best AD Carry, who usually wins his lane, teamfights excellently and rarely makes mistakes. Maple is my third pick because of his versatility: he can dominate his lane, roam for kills or play control and teamfighting, and all at a very high level. Mata has led his team with all kinds of playmaking, a great vision game and influential teamfighting. He’s embraced the LPL playstyle and really thrived in it. Trick edges into fifth place because of his huge game-breaking potential and consistent ability to carry games, alongside strong vision control.
Kelsey: There's a close battle for mid lane supremacy between Maple, PerkZ, and xiaohu. All three are fundamental to their team's success, but Maple's patience and efficiency in finding priority targets ranks him above the others. PerkZ and Trick are potentially the most synergetic jungle-mid duo at MSI, so it's hard to discuss one without the other, and the two of them define G2 with strong play both ahead and behind.
Royal Never Give Up wouldn't have won LPL without xiaohu, who has quickly become the second-best mid laner in the league. He's only improved since IEM and may shake up the expected standings with his strong sense for CC chaining with Mata. Blank's rise has given SKT yet another Champions victory, and his vision control put them over the edge against Tigers.
Emily: This is where the rankings start to blur together. xiaohu has quietly been having a career year, and his mid lane prowess has been invaluable to RNG’s success this split. Meanwhile, Trick and PerkZ form the two-prong primary attack of G2 Esports, a team for which the current meta is practically perfect. Blank had a shaky start on SKT, but made clear improvements come the Final, freeing up Faker a bit more in mid while applying his own stifling jungle pressure. Wolf is easy to overlook on this SKT roster, but his crowd control has been an important part of their late-game teamfighting, which suits the playstyle they’ve gravitated towards this split.
Tim: Karsa is an excellent Jungler. He's on Trick’s level, but with a more traditional ganking focus, which is less ideal in the current meta. Perkz is an amazing assassin and playmaker, but his consistency and versatility are a step or two behind Faker and Maple. Duke is the best top laner at this tournament: he can reach big highs, but his Teleport timing and communication still show occasional hiccups. SwordArt is an impressive playmaker who pairs really well with Karsa. Blank has emerged as a really strong carry jungler who cleans up teamfights, but he’s not as versatile as the junglers I’ve already listed.
Kelsey: Our editor made us do a Top 15 list instead of a Top 10 list, so it became very difficult after Number 11.
As the best player on CLG and the most consistent playmaker, aphromoo definitely deserves a mention on a squad of otherwise lukewarm talents that survive off team play rather than skill. Karsa's style of aggression makes him more one-dimensional than the other junglers ranked higher than him, and he may be outshone by farmers and teamfighters. Looper is a stable player — even on Masters3 last year, he rarely completely collapsed, though his impact was rarely high — whose success in the past puts him in contention. At the very least, he will almost never fall behind, but he most often goes even. Hybrid vs. Wolf was a difficult choice, as both have somewhat limited playstyles, but Hybrid is more fundamental to G2's success. Wolf's roams sometimes feel easy to track, and he has three teammates in the Top 5 that make some of his flaws less noticeable.
Mlxg makes it because it was either him or Dumbledoge (mostly kidding), and his high mechanical talent as well as placement in several third-party tournaments — plus being one of the only two players to best EDward Gaming in multiple Chinese Finals — gets him a spot.
Emily: I probably ranked Aphromoo a bit higher than the others; however, his contribution to CLG this past season cannot be understated. Without aphromoo, CLG doesn’t make this tournament. He’s as important to CLG as SwordArt is to Flash Wolves, and the only NA player to make my personal list.
The bottom of this list is admittedly a bit of a mess. Wuxx and mlxg can just as easily cost their team a game as they can aid them in winning it, and the current meta isn’t exactly the strongest for Karsa. Even aphromoo with his importance to his own team has weaknesses in vision coverage.
Tim: All of my players from 11 to 15 are really strong performers, but are missing some small piece that would push them to real stardom. Hybrid plays a really clean game, but needs to prove himself on a big stage to cement his status as a top-tier support. Wolf is a steady player, making some positional mistakes but usually doing the right thing at the right time — just what a carry duo like Faker and Bang needs. Aphromoo is a good playmaker, laner and leader, but his vision game has always lagged behind. xiaohu can definitely match the other mids at this tournament in straight skill, but his aggression gets him killed a bit too often. Darshan has a flair for the dramatic, and proved he actually can play tanks, but his teamfighting doesn’t stand out, and his champion pool goes in strange directions at times.
As a final exercise, we tallied up points for the 12 players that showed up on all three lists to come up with an aggregate ranking. The three remaining players appeared on two out of the three lists (Emily and Kelsey both ranked Mlxg, Emily and Tim both ranked Wolf, and Kelsey and Tim both ranked Hybrid).
Ties in points were broken in favor of whichever player had the highest rank on any of the three lists. For example, Maple and Trick both received 21 points, but Maple's highest ranking was third (on Tim's list) while Trick's was fifth (also on Tim's list) so Maple was ranked higher.
Kelsey: The final list doesn't follow any consistent rationale, but it does include the highlight players at MSI. I don't agree with every placement, but it's really hard to pin down 15 out of 30 players in an order that makes sense.
Emily: As I said earlier, I've found it really difficult to rank individuals over the past year because of how team-oriented the game has become. Hopefully this draws attention to some key players on each of the top teams at this tournament. The most interesting part for me was reading everyone's reasoning and personal criteria, rather than the actual rankings of players
Tim: Seeing the final aggregated rankings, it's clear we all looked for different things when making our lists. I'm second-guessing (er, maybe tenth-guessing) some of my placements, but I'm not really worried about being "wrong" or "right" with a list like this; mostly I'm interested in generating discussion. With all of our disagreements, I think we've accomplished that goal!
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.
Tim Sevenhuysen is a freelance contributor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.