With the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational's first games just on the horizon, theScore esports' Kelsey Moser, Emily Rand and Tim Sevenhuysen break down their best guesses for what lies ahead.
Moser: SK Telecom T1
I hear that SKT were looking for food and EDward Gaming nearly plied them with beef noodles, which we all know are the true kiss of death. Alas, not even beef noodles will be enough. SKT have a good grasp of jungle-mid control and trump other teams in dragon-stacking and calculated play.
Rand: SK Telecom T1
There is no other 2016 Mid-Season Invitational champion in my mind than SK Telecom T1. Unlike last year, where SKT were still favored prior to the event but Edward Gaming was seen as close competition, SKT is leagues ahead of the rest in this tournament. They’ve tailored their identity to suit the current meta perfectly, and this is what allowed them to overcome the ROX Tigers in the LCK Summer 2016 Final. I don’t see any other team present as on the level of the Tigers, therefore I think SKT will be victorious.
Sevenhuysen: SK Telecom T1
Faker and Bang are arguably the two best players at their positions in the entire world, and Duke isn't far off that honour in the top lane. Over the course of an admittedly rocky regular season, SKT gradually found their identity, putting Blank on carry junglers and having Duke and Wolf play tanks to enable the damage-dealing trio. That formula powered them to an impressive playoff run, and it's going to power them to a smooth-sailing MSI title, completing Faker's trophy collection.
Biggest group stage upset
Moser: CLG beat RNG in Game 1
I honestly feel it's impossible to have a true upset at this tournament unless SKT lose a game or SuperMassive win one. Anything else is fully within the realm of possibility and not exactly an upset. But I'll predict CLG defeat RNG in Game 1 simply because Chinese teams don't always open strong.
Rand: SuperMassive wins a game
SuperMassive taking any game, even one, off of the top team from one of the five major regions would be a large upset similar to KaBuM! besting Alliance at the 2014 World Championship — a Wildcard against a number one seed. They still wouldn’t make it to the bracket stage, but should this happen, SuperMassive will prove, once again, that Wildcard teams cannot be wholly discarded in preparation. That aside, I would not consider any of the major regions' teams advancing to be much of an upset, even CLG which is widely considered the worst of the five.
Sevenhuysen: Flash Wolves beat SKT
This upset will be powered by Karsa out of the jungle. All around, Karsa is a better jungler than Blank, and he's especially strong as a ganker, with Elise being his weapon of choice. If Karsa can get out of ahead of Blank with a couple of early kills, and if the Flash Wolves can push their advantage hard enough and make good on some smart risks, they might be able to amass enough gold to snowball their way to a surprise win.
This tournament is truly set up for Faker to shine. You control mid to set up for jungle invades, and Faker can handle this exceptionally to enable Blank.
I’ve enjoyed watching Duke play since his time on the KT Rolster Bullets under the name Leopard. While Faker and Bang are obvious choices in an SKT MSI victory, I think Duke will play a key role in SKT’s win, putting him in the MVP spotlight.
At the 2015 World Championships, the meta pushed Faker into a secondary role, while MaRin became the centrepiece. That won't be the case at MSI — Faker has thrust himself squarely back into the spotlight this split, wreaking absolute havoc on a plethora of different champions. In Faker's hands, every champion is an assassin, from Lulu to Zilean to Azir. He's been SKT's primary playmaker and primary carry. And on top it all, he's out for MSI redemption after losing to EDward Gaming in 2015. This will be Faker's tournament from start to finish.
When people list top mid laners at the tournament, I believe xiaohu is underrated and can contend with Maple and Perkz in certain aspects of the game. Look out for him, especially if teams don't ban Azir.
An intriguing entity at this MSI is Flash Wolves jungler Karsa. Aggressive and fairly creative, Karsa burst onto the international radar prior to the Flash Wolves’ appearance at the 2015 World Championship. At first glance, the current meta of farm until mid-to-late game and join up for teamfights, filling a similar role to an AD carry, seems ill-suited to Karsa. However, he’s still found a home on Nidalee, Kindred, Elise and the occasional Lee Sin. Furthermore, IWCI aside, Graves and the more passive farming jungle style has been recently exploited in other regions. Karsa has the chance to wreck opposing junglers who favor this style and once again aggressively carry his team to victory through pressure rather than DPS in teamfights.
Sevenhuysen: Counter Logic Gaming
The North American champions are at a pretty big skill deficit at MSI, just like they were back at home, but their smart preparation and strong coordination will make them look much better than expected. They will take a game off of G2 Esports and the Flash Wolves, even if those teams get the upper hand in the end. CLG have a pretty good shot at reaching the semifinals, and while I don't think they'll make a finals run, they will play some tight games. Cynics and anti-fans will still discredit them.
Moser: G2 descend from their predicted second-place perch
G2 have succeeded through most of the LCS by adapting to new things quickly, but a long break after Patch change from 6.6 could prove their undoing. An easy second-place clinch could become a fall from grace.
Rand: Royal Never Give Up
China has not had a stellar track record in international events as of late. All three of their teams at the 2015 World Championship fell well short of the mark, and in subsequent IEM events, Chinese teams have failed to progress in the tournament brackets. On their home turf of Shanghai, RNG have a great deal of pressure to perform. While it might just be another Chinese loss to add to a pile of mounting disappointments for the international community, for Chinese fans, an RNG loss will likely sting like none other.
Sevenhuysen: Royal Never Give Up
The LPL representatives have plenty of skill, including one of the best supports in the world, Mata. But despite all of their talent, their strategic play lags far behind the other premier regions, from oddities in their lane swap execution to impatience in wielding their leads, forcing 50/50 fights rather than smoothly controlling the map and playing to objectives. RNG will win some games on the back of their skillful aggression, but the more strategically developed teams will punish their mistakes.
Moser: SKT vs. FW
Even though I've placed G2 second overall in my ranking for the tournament, I feel that lack of practice may hit them hard and cause a stumble. As a result, FW should ascend to the final in a close semifinal series.
Rand: SKT vs. FW
I think G2 Esports is the second-best team at this tournament, yet with whispers of a lack of practice and the typical small shake-ups that occur in these tournaments, Flash Wolves are my pick for SKT's finals opponent.
Sevenhuysen: SKT vs. G2
I've flip-flopped between G2 Esports and the Flash Wolves as the second-best teams at this tournament, but ultimately I think G2 has faced stiffer competition domestically, which has probably prepared them better. G2 has also been slightly more in tune with the meta, focusing on carry junglers while Karsa has maintained a devotion to Elise, effective in its own right but, in my opinion, not the right tool to take down G2.