By Petar Vukobrat
May 28, 2019
The first international League of Legends tournament is behind us, and needless to say it was an absolute barnburner. Coming into the tournament, everyone hoped they would witness a clash between four exceptional champions, but no one could have envisioned such an even fight — with the most surprising of outcomes. So let’s do a somewhat quick 2019 Mid-Season Invitational recap, and focus on multiple narratives that either sprung after the tournament, or have been shut down after its conclusion.
Many games were played over the course of the tournament, and instead of doing a play-by-play of how things unfolded, let’s instead center on the big story lines, the unexpected outcomes and how they will further affect the 2019 competitive season.
First of all, no matter how strong and capable G2 Esports looked coming into the tournament, no one could have predicted their eventual triumph. Even though such a possibility was at least somewhat grounded in reality, it always felt like an optimistic stretch. Like something that could happen further down the road. After all, SKT T1 looked spectacular in their Best of 5 against the LCK behemoth Griffin, and Invictus Gaming made quick work of all opposition back in China. They were the defending world champions as well, mind you.
But against all odds, the LEC champions managed to step up when it mattered the most, and became the very first European (and Western) Mid-Season Invitational champions. That fact, in and of itself, sent shockwaves throughout the world of competitive League of Legends. Once all of a sudden, there were some “new” kids on the block, and they looked spectacular.
The fact that both Western champions upset their Eastern counterparts made little sense. It felt like a dream come true, and not because of allegiance. Not in the slightest. We were all so accustomed to seeing Korea and China dominate on the international stage, that no one envisioned a Western champion upsetting the status quo — not this soon, at least. We saw brand-new narratives spring to life when no one expected it to happen, at least not to this degree. And while last year’s Worlds did provide us with a couple of insane upsets, no one knew whether that was just a flash in the pan or a sign that seismic change was going to hit the world of competitive League of Legends.
After years of expected results and triumphs, we were finally granted new and engaging narratives. At the very least, we saw two teams step into the spotlight and challenge their Eastern overlords. That sight alone made things ten times more exciting.
People weren’t getting bored because the same two or three teams exchanged trophies every couple of months — they were getting bored because we weren’t seeing new contenders rise up the ranks and challenge the upper echelon of competitive League. And now we not only have two great challengers (just a couple of months into the season), but they came from a place no one anticipated — the West.
The seismic meta shifts that occurred over the last year and a half enabled Western teams to an incredible degree. The Korean macro-oriented style of play quickly went out of fashion. It became passé. The current meta favors flexibility, unfiltered aggression, and mechanical prowess without any reserve. Western teams never lacked in mechanics, but they were always the last to adapt and start playing the game in the most optimal way.
But this time around, they had the upper hand. They were the ones who were dictating the pace of the game, and they reaped the rewards almost immediately.
To phrase things in a different way — the upcoming couple of months will be an absolute must watch if you’re a fan of competitive League of Legends. Things simply cannot get more exciting, are we’re going to witness an insane fight for the throne. Every team has the capacity to put up a fight, and they’re separated (skill-wise) by the slimmest of margins.
So without any further ado, let’s start out 2019 Mid-Season Invitational recap!
This is perhaps the biggest narrative coming out of the Mid-Season Invitational: North America is finally a bona fide contender. Even writing such a statement feels strange after years of disappointment. Now, Cloud9 was always able to make waves on the biggest of stages, but they’re not exactly your run-of-the-mill North American team. They’re an entity unto themselves and such a thing is evident in both their style of play as well as their approach to coaching.
Put that team in any region and they’re bound to find the same amount of success. Other teams, however, were never able to make much of a statement. Sometimes they didn’t have any luck of the draw, at other times they were simply unfit to take on the best teams in the world.
But it’s hard not to get excited after seeing Team Liquid dominate on the international stage. Their 3-1 victory over Invictus Gaming — the defending world champs, mind you — was no fluke. They were simply better in every facet of play, they played to their strengths, and they were unrelenting and commanding with even the smallest of leads.
We witnessed a spectacular showing from the North American champions, and it got us wondering — how high will they be able to go? This five-man roster only had five or so months to gel and build synergy. One can only imagine how capable and strong they’re going to be once they reach the World Championship.
There’s a metric ton of innate talent present within the Liquid line-up, and if they diversify their arsenal a bit, they should be more than able to make their region proud once October comes around.
This is a big one. After such an incredible run in 2018, everyone wondered whether Europe’s accomplishments were just a one-off thing, or a sign of things to come? You could argue for both sides, but ultimately, we just needed to wait for the first international tournament of 2019 to find out.
And find out we did.
G2 Esports put on an absolute masterclass, and they were able to do so while facing three other League champions. Being dominant on home soil is one thing. That’s expected from a team of their caliber. But playing such incredible League of Legends against the likes of SKT T1, Invictus Gaming, and Team Liquid is a whole ‘nother matter.
Simply put, they were spectacular across the board. If you blinked once, chances are, you’d miss a crazy play or a hectic skirmish. Whenever G2 Esports stepped foot on the Mid-Season Invitational stage, everyone knew that fireworks would quickly follow suit. That’s just the way G2 is. They’re a binary team, but in the best sense — they’re either unhinged and aggressive from minute one, or they’re lost and confused. Fortunately for all European fans, we saw the former state far more frequently than the latter.
This is not only the best and most stacked European roster of all time, but it’s also the most capable. The fact that they’ve won the Mid-Season Invitational isn’t just a testament to their skill and overall prowess, but also a sign that a new era has been ushered in — one that’s spearheaded by the West.
G2 Esports are currently the best team in the world. There’s just no other way to put it. While the likes of Invictus Gaming and SKT T1 might be able to make things competitive, they’re currently less powerful and adept at the 2019 meta. That doesn’t mean they won’t stand a chance once Worlds comes around, but right now, G2 Esports is the team to beat.
Perhaps their innate flexibility is indicative of the future. They have an incredible AD carry within their ranks (Luka “Perkz” Perković) who’s also able to switch to an AP mage on the fly and still get the job done. At this point in time, he’s a “2 for 1” type of player, and he’s both one of the best Western mid laners in history, and an insanely talented AD carry.
How does one prepare for such a layered bottom lane threat? Not to mention his partner in crime, Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle, who’s been able to do some spectacular carrying from the support position — while being injured. It feels like anything this team goes for, they can find a way to make it work. And by anything we really do mean anything.
Watching them play and further develop over the next couple of months will be an absolute joy. If you’re a Western fan of League of Legends, now would be the time to get hyped.
Coming into 2019, there was one huge, incredibly exciting story line that stood out, and it revolved around the LCK. After failing to get a representative into Top 4 at Worlds, Korea looked lost and weak — something we hadn’t seen before. And so everyone wondered: will the LCK bounce back?
That’s a layered question, and it’s not easy to answer, especially without a big enough sample size. Fortunately, the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational gave us a better understanding of just how strong and capable the Korean champions are, and fortunately, we were positively surprised.
We witnessed — after quite a long drought — the good, old, and dominant SKT T1. The organization was fielding a rejuvenated roster, but also one that had three exceptional legends leading the charge. Whenever they were able to impose their will and set the pace of the game, we were never left indifferent. This is all we dreamt of on so many occasions over the years. A highly capable, frighteningly talented Korean roster that’s immune to the meta while also being perfectly prepared to throw down at any point in the game and fight their hearts out.
That’s a lot to ask from a team, but if there’s one region that should always be able to deliver on such a promise, then it has to be Korea.
Now, SKT T1 ultimately succumbed to G2 Esports’ immense talent and flexibility, but they fought valiantly in a series that, in theory, could have gone either way. They were unable to solve the G2 puzzle, and it’s hard to blame them. Fortunately, even in such a close defeat, they displayed admirable strength and potential, and they’re bound to come back even stronger in a couple of month’s time.
In any case, Korea has nothing to be ashamed of. 2019 is their year for redemption, and they’re making the right moves and improvements in order to reclaim their former glory. While it’s hard to envision them at the very top once again, they do have a shot if they play their cards right — even in a meta where Europe and China reign supreme.
There is but one single question that was left unanswered after the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational, and it’s regarding China. Throughout history, Chinese teams were able to re-define the word “volatile” every time they stepped foot on stage. They would pull off huge upsets, only to fall against the most random of opponents. You never really knew how well LPL teams would play, but one thing was always certain — regardless of how well they started off, they would always fall short when it mattered the most.
That was just the way things were, and all the way up to 2018, the LPL was rarely able to leave a mark on the international stage — excluding Edward’s Gaming upset win at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational. So once the meta shifted towards early game skirmishing and unhinged craziness, Chinese teams were able to prosper and dominate almost immediately. They were playing in such fashion for years, but they could never hold a candle to Korea’s macro-oriented style of play.
Once all of a sudden, the ball was in their court.
We all know how 2018 ended. China won both international tournaments, and coming into 2019, no one dared question their strength and dominance. In fact, their staggering level of play continued well into this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Invictus Gaming only lost a single game in the group stage, and that one loss came at the hands of an aggressive SKT T1, so it was understandable.
But once the Knockout Stage came around, they were outclassed across the board by Team Liquid — an opponent they chose for themselves. Such a one-sided affair got everyone thinking, and it feels like we’re back at square one: is the LPL as strong as everyone thought?
Fortunately, we won’t have to wait for long before finding out.
That’s it for our 2019 Mid-Season Invitational recap! If you’re still itching for top-tier League of Legends, then you’re in luck — we are just days away from the second half of the competitive season, so make sure to tune in because we should be in for one heck of a ride.