Mid-Season Invitational: the MSI Narrative Capsule

Posted on April 26, 2019 - Last Updated on February 1, 2021

The Mid Season Invitational 2019 is right around the corner! First-place teams from all over the world are packing their bags and booking their tickets to play in one of the most cutthroat League of Legends competitions in the world. With that in mind, we look back at the rich history and thrilling storylines of Mid Season Invitational tournaments!

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2015: The winds of change

A lot happened at the MSI 2015. This was the first Mid-Season Invitational, and some fans will undoubtedly remember it for the North American TSM going 1-4 in groups and failing to qualify for the playoffs. Others will reflect on the high level of competition and rigorous Mid Season Invitational schedule that almost relegated the Taiwanese AHQ and the European Fnatic to the same fate.

Yet the two most exciting narratives took place in the playoffs.

The semifinals saw Fnatic clash with the South Korean powerhouse SK Telecom T1. At the time, Fnatic were believed to be the best team in the West, but no one thought they could put a dent into the LCK Champions. In fact, Koreans were so far ahead of the curve that the idea of a Western team challenging them was akin to sacrilege. Fnatic didn’t let that get to them. They ramped up the aggression and took on their opponents in a close five-game series. And while they lost in the end, Fnatic proved that even gods could bleed if you were willing to challenge them.

That feat set the stage for the iconic finals between SK Telecom T1 and China’s EDward Gaming. Both teams went blow for blow, and—once again—everything came down to Game 5.  It looked like EDward Gaming’s fate was sealed, as SKT T1 locked in LeBlanc in draft. Their mid lane ace—Faker—was 12-0 on the champion, and he had every reason to believe he could add another W to this record. But unbeknownst to SKT T1, EDG prepared a secret Morgana to counter him. This approach paid off in spades, and EDward Gaming tore through the mid lane to seize the first-ever Mid Season Invitational trophy and put a stop to the long era of South Korean dominance.

2016: The rise of North America

Then, 2016 was a year of subverted expectations. Most Western fans rallied behind G2 Esports, a young European team that seemed to have the perfect mixture of talent and confidence to make a splash at the event. But when push came to shove, G2 wavered. Fans watched in horror as they struggled to stand up for themselves in the group stage.

And they almost missed the rise of Counter Logic Gaming.

Mid Season Invitational 2016

The NA LCS champions entered the tournament as the ultimate underdogs. Their players didn’t have the experience or the firepower of other MSI participants. Yet what they lacked in individual strength, they made up for with teamwork and strategy. They shook up the mid lane with their Aurelion Sol pocket pick and brought back ranged supports in a meta dominated by the likes of Alistar, Braum, and Tahm Kench. This allowed them to go 7-3 in the group stage—a result previously unheard of for a North American team.

CLG kept the momentum going in the semifinals. Hundreds of thousands of fans watched them take down the Taiwanese Flash Wolves on the Mid Season Invitational live stream. The finals saw them facing the dominant SK Telecom T1. And while CLG lost the series 3-0, this was still the best international performance by a North American team in years.

2017: Representation and redemption

It’s easy to forget in 2019, but the Play-In Stage wasn’t always a part of the MSI. In fact, it was only in 2017 that teams from emerging regions got a chance to prove themselves on the MSI stage. They were met with mixed feelings. No one expected these relatively unknown squads to accomplish anything noteworthy. Mostly, their presence was regarded as a way to fill up the Mid-Season Invitational schedule with inconsequential matches, that is, until fans saw GIGABYTE Marines.

The Vietnamese team overwhelmed its foes with unconventional tactics and relentless aggression. And even though GIGABYTE Marines couldn’t break into the MSI playoffs, they won the hearts of Western fans and single-handedly started the process of recognizing Vietnam as its own League of Legends regions.

2017 was also the year of G2 Esports. The EU LCS champions were dying to redeem themselves for the previous year’s failure. And while their group stage showings weren’t pretty, they still managed to fight their way into the playoffs.

Most fans thought this was the end of the line for them. After all, the Europeans faced the stacked Team WE lineup from China. But suddenly, G2 turned these expectations on their head and came up with a confident 3-1 victory. Their run ended on a bittersweet note, as they fell in the finals against the unwavering SK Telecom T1. Still, most fans viewed this as a successful conclusion of the G2 redemption arc.

2018: The Chinese kingdom

Last year was a tough one for the West. Europe (Fnatic) and North America (Team Liquid) went neck and neck in the group stage, so they had to play a tiebreaker for the last playoffs seed. Fnatic won, but their celebration was cut short by a devastating semifinals loss to China’s Royal Never Give Up.

Mid Season Invitational 2018

On the opposite side of the bracket, everything revolved around South Korea. For the first time since the inception of Mid-Season Invitational, the region wasn’t represented by SK Telecom T1. Kingzone DragonX took their place—an explosive team that seemed destined to become the final boss of the tournament. At first, Kingzone lived up to the hype. They quickly established themselves as title contenders in the group stage before strengthening this narrative with a confident semifinals victory against Flash Wolves.

The finals were a different story. Despite their reputation, Kingzone found themselves at a loss against Royal Never Give Up. Their top-focused playstyle proved to be a clear mismatch against a team that funneled all of its resources into the bottom side of the map. To make matters worse, Royal Never Give Up had the greatest bot lane player in the world—Uzi—fighting for them.  It was only a matter of time before Kingzone lost the series 3-1. For the second time in League of Legends history, the MSI trophy went to China.

2019: Things to come

The Mid Season Invitational 2019 is shaping up to be the most competitive tournament yet. In Europe, G2 Esports took the LEC by storm and made a name for themselves as the clear-cut best team in the region. Their roster is stacked with talent to the point where it ticks all the boxes of a Western superteam, and they’ll be looking to prove this by taking on other regions at the MSI.

In South Korea, SK Telecom T1 finally look like their old dominant selves. They already made a statement with a 3-0 finals victory over their closest rivals in Griffin, and the only thing left on their to-do list is to reestablish themselves as an international powerhouse.

In China, Invictus Gaming finally claimed their first-ever LPL title. With that, the reigning world champions will be setting their gaze on the Mid Season Invitational 2019 in an effort to claim the last trophy missing from their cabinet. All three teams are incredibly close, and even accomplished League of Legends experts struggle to predict who’s going to come out on top.

One thing’s for sure, though: We’re in for one hell of a tournament.

League of Legends MSI: Structure, Format, and Live Stream

As we have explained the MSI (or Mid-Season Invitational) is a premier League of Legends tournament that happens between spring and summer splits. Over its course, the first-place teams from all LoL regions fight each other for a chance to take a slice of the multimillion-dollar prize pool as well as the prestige that comes from winning a major international competition. The MSI is the second-biggest League of Legends tournament after the World Championship.

MSI Play-In Stage

The MSI begins with a Play-In stage. At first, eight teams from emerging regions are split into two groups where they battle through round 1 of the competition. The battle follows a Bo1 double round robin format, so each lineup has to play twice against every opponent in its group.

Once the dust settles, two lineups with the best win/loss records advance to round 2 of the MSI Play-In. There, they take on the teams from the weakest major regions to decide who’s going to advance to the Main Event. Unlike in the group stage, round 2 employs a Bo5 series format. With that, the tension reaches its peak, as each side tries its hardest to be the first to score three victories.

MSI Main Event

MSI Group Stage

As soon as the Play-In teams finish their standoff, it’s time for the MSI Main Event. Once again, everything starts with a group stage. However, this particular group stage is unusual since it puts four teams from major regions and two Play-In lineups into a single group.

The double round robin format means that each party has limited opportunities to prove itself in, so the competition becomes incredibly volatile. The level of play is high, and every region has its own unique take on how to approach the League of Legends meta. Still, the MSI group stage is quite forgiving, and four out of six teams advance to the playoffs.

MSI Playoffs

The real struggle begins in the MSI playoffs. This is where the remaining four lineups clash in cutthroat semifinals. There’s no room for error here, so teams pull out all stops to crush their opponents. When the semifinals wrap up, it’s time for the final Bo5 bloodbath where two strongest lineups do everything in their power to achieve victory. And at the end of it, the last team standing is proclaimed the MSI champion.

MSI Champions

While it’s common to see international League of Legends tournaments dominated by South Korean lineups, that’s not exactly the case for the Mid-Season Invitational. Granted, the LCK powerhouse SK Telecom T1 scored two back-to-back MSI victories in 2016 and 2017. However, the 2015 MSI was won by the LPL’s EDward Gaming. As for the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational, its trophy went to another Chinese team in Royal Never Give Up.

Why watch MSI?

The Mid-Season Invitational presents a perfect opportunity to see how different regions match up against each other. After all, the tournament is stacked with #1 teams from all over the globe. Moreover, every region has its own ideas of how to approach the game, so the MSI isn’t just a tournament for teams, but also a battleground for philosophies and playstyles. The event is visceral, volatile, and wild—and that’s a huge reason why League of Legends fans watch it.

All images courtesy of Riot Games.

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Gianfranco Capozzi

Esports Editor-in-Chief & Head of Esports at Catena Media. Specializing in Growth Hacking & Digital Marketing. An Old School Online Gamer and Gambling Professional, passionate about Overwatch, Fortnite and fighting games.

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