MSI 2021 Group Stage roundtable: best games, busted champs and more
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After a full-week of play at the Mid-Season Invitational, the field of 11 domestic champions has been whittled down to the final six. Oceania made history, China stayed unbeaten and the world champions from South Korea look… mortal? Here is the Upcomer staff’s MSI group stage roundtable to discuss the hottest topics following the opening stage as we look toward the next round, beginning in two days time.

1. Let’s say a friend missed a majority of the opening stage group matches and wants the single, must-see game of the first six days of the tournament. What are you recommending?

Tyler “FionnOnFire” Erzberger: It has to be the first game between Japan’s DetonatioN FocusMe and reigning world champions DWG KIA of South Korea. I can guarantee that almost every group stage game will be forgotten by next month and only be remembered by the statistics, but that initial DFM vs. DWG KIA game is going to last for a long, long time. Not only was it a back-and-forth barnburner, but it felt like the ascension of an entire region, Japan, which took a huge step forward in its development. They didn’t exit the game (or the group) victorious, yet they left gaining respect from the millions watching at home.

At the upcoming world championship in China, no one is going to be overlooking the Japanese representative any longer.

Yinsu Collins: This is the only time you will ever see me agree with Tyler and admit he’s right about something, so here it is… He’s right, go watch DWG KIA v DFM. But if you don’t have 30 minutes to spare, make sure to check out the last 60 seconds of MAD Lions’ first game v paiN Gaming. I don’t want to spoil it for you but this one is truly Spain without the “S”.

Declan McLaughlin: Let’s break away from the pack here and suggest the first matchup of paiN Gaming and MAD Lions. This game has everything: a bloody early and mid game, a baron steal, a pocket pick and a mad dash for the win. Moments like the inhibitor spawn to save MAD’s base are why fans tune into these international tournaments.

Storylines are cool, but this game was a feast for the eyes and also pairs well with an iconic photo of Felipe “brTT” Gonçalves after his team’s loss. That moment is real paiN.

Nick Ray: Why hasn’t anyone mentioned Pentanet.GG’s second matchup against RNG yet? That game had everything you could ever want from a high-stakes David and Goliath match. It was the first game of Day 4 and every result for PGG would have a huge impact on their shot at advancing. So what do they decide to do in one of the most important games of their careers? Insta-lock Qiyana against a top Chinese mid laner and solo kill him, of course.

Sure, they eventually lost, but they gifted the fans a 31 minute banger filled with crazy team fights and over 50 total kills. Oh, and they still made it out of the group.

2. Which player or team was your biggest disappointment through the group stage?
Unicorns of Love disappointed at MSI, according to Upcomer's roundtable
Despite superior performances just a few months ago, the Unicorns of Love fell flat in the MSI group stage. | Provided by Colin Young-Wolff for Riot Games

Erzberger: There are a lot of good answers for this question since I think a lot of teams underperformed, but I’ll go with the Unicorns of Love. Sure, DWG struggled, though I expect them to shake off the rust come the second stage. UoL, however, were a team that made it through the play-ins stage at worlds and were considered the juggernaut of the non-major regions only a few months ago. This tournament, it all fell apart, and that’s with them being gifted a group that was without a strong Vietnamese side due to travel restrictions. Their bottom side just wasn’t up to snuff in any of the games they played, and the frantic, brutish mid-game plays that worked at worlds didn’t pan out in Iceland.

With pillar CIS organization Gambit Gaming pulling out of League of Legends entirely, I worry about the future of a region that has continually produced some of the best talent in the game since its inception.

Yinsu Collins: This is a tough one because every single team (maybe with the exception of RNG because those guys are absolutely cracked) showed both their strengths and also weaknesses throughout week one. A few matchups could have really gone either way and a couple of teams definitely got some lucky results. But with that in mind, I think one team that didn’t quite live up to my personal expectations is UoL. Sure, they had a tough split ahead of MSI and I didn’t think they’d make the finals or anything, but they felt underwhelming at the end of the day, lacking in both results and identity. The latter is what worries me the most going forward.

McLaughlin: Who among us didn’t have high expectations for DWG KIA? The actual results came out alright, but the games themselves did not live up to the hype of the tournament favorite (disclaimer: Upcomer has RNG as favorites for MSI). Outright dominance wasn’t too much of an ask in a group with two minor regions (or three depending on your definition), so losing positions in multiple games feels a little disappointing from DK. If it wasn’t for their amazing team fight coordination, DWG KIA may have had some trouble in Group C.

Ray: I don’t think I’m alone in saying that despite DWG KIA’s overall results at the tournament, Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee hasn’t looked quite like the world class player we know him to be in this Group Stage. Between all of the random deaths and questionable positioning he’s a totally different player at this tournament so far and definitely a weak link in the bot lane at the moment.

Maybe he only looks worse by comparison, seeing as some of his counterparts in Group C, Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme and Kazuta “Kazu” Suzuki, have had some highlight-reel-worthy plays so far, but it’s definitely sad to see.

3. Be honest: Which champion do you think is the most busted so far at MSI?
Rumble was the most hated champion of Upcomer's MSI group stage Roundtable
Players aren’t respecting the Rumble jungle pick as much as they should, according to Upcomer’s experts. | Provided by Riot Games

Erzberger: Get Rumble out of here. Even when Rumble doesn’t win games, I still can’t believe how much that dork in his spacesuit can do so early in the game. Morgana can clear faster than the Flash, but I still find Rumble the most broken champion at MSI.

Yinsu Collins: This Champion I’m about to say isn’t that busted or anything, but I’d like to take this opportunity to make a public service announcement: STOP PLAYING MORGANA JUNGLE IN SOLO QUEUE, YOU ARE NOT CANYON — AND CANYON, I BLAME YOU FOR ENCOURAGING ALL THE JUNGLERS IN MY RUBBISH GOLD ELO TO BLIND PICK MORG. FOR SHAME.

McLaughlin: There’s a blind monk in the top lane? We let this happen people: Lee Sin has returned to the meta and he’s overpowered. The second top laners figure out how to flash-kick like insec, this champion will be perma-banned and I am here for it. But that may be a bit of stretch, since Sion and Gnar players aren’t really known for their flashy mechanics. Just wait until teams flex Rumble to the top lane and throw Lee’s blind behind in the jungle.

Ray: I’m co-signing the calls for Rumble bans seen above. He’s way over-tuned in the jungle right now and I’m tired of seeing teams disrespect the pick. Just watch any game from Group A where RNG gets Rumble! They’re all the same: Yan “Wei” Yang-Wei AFK farms for a bit, picks a lane, walks into it, kills an enemy and repeats. There isn’t even time for his teammates to catch up. The pick just makes the game way too easy and I’m sick of seeing it on my screen.

4. Who was your MSI group stage MVP?
Pentanet.GG made an otherwise boring group exciting, according to Upcomer's MSI group stage roundtable
Despite low expectations, Pentanet.GG made history by escaping their group. | Provided by Colin Young-Wolff for Riot Games

Erzberger: I’m picking Cloud9’s backbone in Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme. Be it on Tahm Kench or a more playmaking champion, Vulcan was fantastic throughout the eternity of the group stage, including the first two games in which the North American champions faltered. There will always be talk about Luka “Perkz” Perković, and for good reason as the team’s best overall player, but don’t sleep on Vulcan. C9’s bottom lane was their silver lining even during the dark times in the opening week. And with an even tougher challenge upcoming, unlocked Vulcan could be the difference maker C9 needs to make it into the top-four playoffs.

Yinsu Collins: I’d like to give the MVP award to the entire nation of Australia and New Zealand, which obviously includes every single person that has anything remotely to do with Pentanet.GG. These boys not only played their hearts out but gave us some of the most entertaining drafts, moments and just all round viewing experiences so far at MSI. Given everything the OCE region went through and the fact people definitely wrote PGG off before they even took the stage, they’ve been absolutely fantastic. This has the potential to be the ultimate underdog story if they were to progress even further out of Rumble Stage, and I for one am all for it.

McLaughlin: I’ll go with the hero of the LPL and RNG’s captain, Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao. The role switching veteran showed his consistency in the top lane can transfer over on the international stage. He claimed the most kills in a single game so far (at 13) and even went back to the mid lane for a game to show just how much better he is than the rest of the field. We talked about players that went under our expectations for the tournament, and Xiaohu may be one of the few players that exceeded most peoples’ — especially mine.

Ray: My group stage MVP is all five players of Pentanet.GG. Despite being in what was supposed to be a doomed group for them, they took it in stride and just had fun with it. Their Twitter memes? On point. Banter game? Untouchable. Win-loss record against RNG? 0-4. Even if they didn’t advance, their personalities made what was supposed to be a boring group fun.

5. We’ve watched a slew of games over the past week and are down to the last six. Which two teams are going to make it to the final in Iceland and who is your favorite to hoist the trophy at the end?
RNG are a favorite to reach the final, according to Upcomer's MSI group stage roundtable
RNG are still one of the clear favorites to reach the MSI final after an impressive group stage. | Provided by Colin Young-Wolff for Riot Games

Erzberger: I thought the final would be DWG KIA vs. RNG before the tournament began, and though DWG looked out of sorts, I’m not going to change my mind just yet. C9 is still my dark horse as long as they keep ramping up and Robert “Blaber” Huang stops flashing for scuttle crabs. As for the winner, I am firmly on the Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun train and have seen him make in-tournament developments at MSI to go from bottom of the table to champions. Until someone finally eliminates them, DWG KIA are still the team that the rest of the League of Legends world revolves around.

Yinsu Collins: I’d be a fool if I didn’t go for DWG KIA and RNG but what’s the fun in that? I think MAD Lions will absolutely spankerino DAMWON into another dimension and then challenge G2/TL for the record of the fastest international BO5 in the finals against RNG. MAD will then take center stage after slaughtering RNG and perform their most iconic post-match celebration by turning themselves into Voltron. Mac will then enter from stage left, let down his luscious hair, take the MSI trophy and ride Voltron back to EU.

McLaughlin: For this event, with the shadow of an ongoing pandemic and in the wake of group stages, rumble and otherwise, anything is possible. DWG KIA vs RNG is the safe answer, but I think MAD Lions vs DWG KIA is a real possibility and my personal hope for a finals. These two teams thrive on chaos, and that is what the rumble stage embodies. Best of ones normally skew in the favor of teams with nothing to lose and cheese strategies, so MAD fit the bill. DK did look mortal in Group C, but they can also thrive on chaotic fights and build leads off of team synergy alone. Neither team have bathed in the blood of a North American regular season fiesta but I have no doubt these teams will thrive in that environment.

Ray: My unlikely, but very possible prediction: C9 vs. RNG in the finals. I think that C9 has hit their stride and at this point in the tournament, no team is unbeatable — especially in a best-of-five series. The Rumble Stage is uncharted territory in terms of figuring out how some teams will match up with each other and how brackets will seed out, but these two teams absolutely have a shot at going all the way and I’m putting my money down early.