Does the West Stand a Chance at the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational?
We are mere days away from the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, and, frankly, it’s impossible not to wonder whether the West has even the slightest chance of leaving a mark. Its two representatives — Cloud9 and MAD Lions — have impressed us throughout the most recent split, but competing on the international stage (against the very best teams in the world, no less) is a huge challenge and is not something one can truly prepare for before experiencing it.
And, as always, no one’s all too sure what to expect from the West. In all fairness, we’ve been burned on too many occasions, so we’d be stupid to come into this thing with lofty expectations. Sometimes our hopes did materialize — like in the case of G2 Esports winning MSI back in 2019 — but those moments have been few and far between, and even when they did occur they didn’t last nearly as long as we’d hoped.
2021 is especially interesting in that regard. We’ve been watching these players compete in an online-only setting for over a year now, and seeing them on stage next to their contemporaries will feel strange. It’s the “new normal,” as they call it. They’ve been competing from their bedrooms and gaming houses for months, and now they’re traveling to Reykjavik, Iceland — one of the most unique places on Earth — to duke it out for glory and a sizable sack of cash.
Amazing? Absolutely, but also a highly unique experience that will undoubtedly affect their performance. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s something to keep in mind. Moreover, that’s not the only shock they’ll experience — imagine playing against Astralis for nine weeks in a row and then facing DWG KIA or Royal Never Give Up right afterward. Talk about an illogical, mind-blowing dichotomy! It’s truly baffling, and it’s not something anyone can prepare you for.
This is where experience comes into play, and that’s a fairly scarce commodity as far as the MAD Lions are concerned. Now, sure, they’ve been playing a lot better than anyone expected, but we’re still talking about regional play, most of which transpired in a scrim-like setting. Now, however, they’ll clash off with the very best teams the world of competitive League has to offer in a foreign land that in very few ways resembles their own.
Cloud9, on the other hand, has a few seasoned veterans, some of which have already etched their names in history. They’ve been through it all, so this shift in context and environment shouldn’t affect them all too much.
A Case for Cloud9
The boys in white and blue are more than worth our undivided attention and praise. Furthermore, given the way they’ve grown and developed as a five-man unit, they’ve earned our benefit of the doubt as well. So, naturally, most of us are expecting them to not only trade blows with the crème de la crème over in Iceland but even win out more often than not. It’s a tall order, of course, but they’ve got all the right tools necessary for the job. Now it’s all about preparation and execution — two things Cloud9 excels at.
Now, would Team Liquid have a better shot at leaving a mark had they been able to emerge victorious in the LCS Spring Split finals? It’s hard to tell. Their playstyle is more “appropriate” for the international stage, but they’re also nowhere near as creative and flexible as Cloud9. Perhaps “unhinged” would be the best way to describe it. And it is precisely these two virtues that’ll play a vital role whenever they step foot on stage to compete against a slew of highly motivated (and obscenely talented) competitors.
Cloud9 can play a myriad of different styles and still execute at the highest of levels. They are, without a shadow of a doubt, a top-tier team that is brimming with talent, and they’re well-equipped for the monumental task at hand. Whether they’ll eventually challenge the likes of DWG KIA and RNG remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain: the gap between them and the two aforementioned LCK and LPL champions is nowhere near as large as some would lead you to believe. It certainly might be large enough for it to matter, but Cloud9 has a puncher’s chance, especially if they double down on their strengths and execute to the best of their ability.
A Case for MAD Lions
This is where things get a whole lot more interesting.
Ask a thousand different people whether they think MAD Lions have a chance at finding even the slightest amount of success, and you’re bound to get a thousand different answers. Predicting what’ll happen and in which fashion is impossible. Based on their only international showing, MAD Lions have pretty much been an embarrassment. That’s perhaps an overly harsh way of phrasing things, but it is by no means incorrect — they became the first (and thus far the only) team from a major region not to make it out of the Play-In Stage.
But even though we’re only a couple of months removed from that whole debacle, MAD Lions have managed to grow and develop in ways no one thought were possible, in no small part because of two seemingly ingenious pick-ups. So much of what happened last year is no longer viable (i.e., applicable) information — a good thing if you’re a MAD Lions fan (or player).
This burgeoning organization needed a fresh start. Fortunately, it was able to find one thanks to İrfan “Armut” Berk Tükek and Javier “Elyoya” Prades, two highly idiosyncratic and surprisingly capable young players, both of which have already left an indelible mark on the LEC.
Still, playing against Rogue on the LEC stage is one thing; playing against DWG KIA (or even Cloud9, for that matter) is a whole new ball game, and there’s very little overlap between the two. Are MAD Lions mature enough to compete and rub shoulders with the very best teams in the world? Will history repeat itself now that the level of competition has increased tenfold?
It’s no secret that Rogue’s mental wasn’t nearly as strong as it needed to be, despite having a 2-0 lead. Most top-tier teams would’ve easily closed out, but Rogue, for whatever reason, failed to “seal the deal.” Of course, it’s not like they “gave” MAD the win — their triumph was snatched away from them in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, so credit where credit is due. Still, there is truth in this statement.
If MAD gives up such big leads to any major region representatives, they’ll quickly find their Nexus exploding to smithereens. The margin for error has narrowed considerably, and they’ll need to be on their best behavior if they intend on leaving a mark. And, unfortunately, the odds aren’t exactly stacked in their favor.
Then again, if there’s one thing they have going for them, it is the fact that no one’s expecting them to upset the status quo. They should, therefore, be able to compete without pressure. Well, in theory, at least. There were many occasions where this one fact enabled seemingly inferior underdogs to punch way above their weight class — it is a mighty powerful boon, and MAD would be wise to harness it to the best of their ability. So who knows? They’ve already subverted everyone’s expectations back home, so who’s to say they can’t do it again, this time on the biggest of stages? They’ll face an uphill battle, but they’re probably used to it by now.
Either way, we’re dying to see how well they’ll perform and whether or not they have what it takes to compete on even footing. The 2021 Mid-Season Invitational is scheduled to begin on May 6, so make sure to mark your calendars!