Your Definitive MSI Tier List

May 13 2021

Your Definitive MSI Tier List: Rumble Stage Rundown

Flowers in bloom, warm fronts rolling in, rain clouds coming and going, and premature fears of NA falling out in the play-ins of an international League tournament…

Yep, we’ve hit the peak of the Spring Season. The Mid-Season Invitational just wrapped up its Play-In stage and now we have the main 6 teams headed into the next phase of best-of-1’s. This is the point where most League fans earnestly tune in so it’s also a good time to catch people up.

I’ve put together a tier list of each team based both on pre-tournament expectations and on how they performed in the previous stage. Here, S-tier is the favorite to win, A-tier would be an unsurprising winner, B-tier would be a shocking upset, and C-tier is the Miracle on the Rift.

(EUphoria did the tier list format as well but I didn’t see it until already getting well into this article.)

The two big things to note about each rundown are the Player to Watch and The Foil. The Player to Watch is less about best current performance and more about how interesting they are to follow and how much their performance will dictate the team’s. The Foil is a team that could hard-counter another. Where it made sense I tried to get a bit spicy with this. Let’s get started.

LPL - China - Royal Never Give Up

The Player to Watch: Xiaohu (Top)

Ming and Wei go way underrated on RNG? and it’s because Xiaohu represents a total focal point. Even if he doesn’t play as well as Ming or Wei, he’s still RNG’s crux.

The Strength:

  • Powerful top side

  • Solid draft strategy (even with some small champ pools)

  • Clean and proactive macro

  • Strong Support-Jungle duo

The Weakness:

  • AD (GALA) and Mid (Cryin) aren’t fully proven

  • Struggles if Ming, Wei, and Xiaohu can’t control the map

The Sum Up:

No team looked better coming out of the Group Stage than RNG. This team had very few near-misses and 0 upset losses in their battle with the Wildcards. Granted, they also had the easiest road without GAM in the way.

RNG plays around their all-star mid laner turned all-star top laner: Xiaohu. The little tiger is all grown-up and fresh out of Uzi’s shadow, now treating the top side like it’s the map’s focal point. Where many teams are obsessively dragon stacking, RNG is still stacking up gold with heralds and making things so lopsided that the opposition doesn’t make it past soul point.

His trademark top carries (e.g. Lucian) also add another layer of flex picking to RNG’s draft. Xiaohu and RNG both have holes in their strategies that can be exploited—but it’s easier said than done. After all, Nuguri couldn’t manage it after getting a lead. It’s in no small part because no part of RNG is truly weak and Xiaohu may not even be the team’s best player.

If teams can clamp down hard on any lane, RNG does bleed. But that’s not an easy task when support and jungler Ming and Wei are having their own historic years.

The Foil: Cloud 9

The spiciest of foils: RNG is the stronger team overall but C9 has experience beating top-sided teams. If C9 can clamp down on RNG’s side laning and enable Blaber to rule over Wei then they could shock RNG and the analysts. But that’s a big “if” even with Fudge looking much improved.

LCK - South Korea - Damwon Gaming KIA

The Player to Watch: Showmaker (Mid)

Canyon may be the best player in the world but Showmaker wins or loses games for Damwon. In the Group Stage, he made a few questionable decisions. His form going forward could be what shapes the rest of Damwon’s run.

The Strength:

  • Incredible teamfighting

  • Very strong Jungle-Mid duo

  • Good late game decision-making

  • Best jungler in the world in a jungle-oriented meta

The Weakness:

  • Exploitable side lanes

  • Questionable early-mid game decision-making and positioning

  • Questionable drafts

The Sum Up:

If you’re just tuning into MSI now, be prepared: This Damwon isn’t the same team that seemed two rungs above the rest of the world.

This team can hemorrhage a lead and make pretty questionable decisions only to teamfight their way back into it. If you buy into the “X-factor” or “clutch” then Damwon may be your team to watch because they pull victory from defeats.

They had a lot more variance in their gameplay than their 5-1 score at MSI would suggest. Damwon struggled in what many predicted to be an easy street group as teams exploited some of Khan’s poor weak side tendencies in top lane as well as some of Damwon’s odd draft decisions.

Don’t get it twisted, Damwon aren’t looking bad so much as they’re looking mortal. They still teamfight insanely well and their raw laning looked very sharp. Damwon maintained strong early game leads in most games despite regularly giving up early kills through greedy positioning or poor decision-making.

In a Jungle-oriented meta, the team’s jungler Canyon is still one of the most valuable players on the planet. Between him and Showmaker, this team finds insane plays inside tiny macro and micro gaps left open by their opponents. While they looked mortal in groups, it did come from some uncharacteristic individual slip-ups and draft experiments which could be easier fixes.

The Foil: RNG

RNG play a very top-focused, snowbally, and surprisingly clean style that could completely overwhelm Damwon. Damwon is used to letting Khan die a few times and pulling a win out of a hat - but they aren’t used to doing that against any team that’s as good as RNG. Nor are they used to doing against teams that play game-winning carries in the top lane.

(Kelsey Moser better fleshes this point out in the video above)

LEC - Europe - MAD Lions

The Player to Watch: Humanoid (Mid)

It’s a tough call between Humanoid, Armut, and Elyoya... but Humanoid’s intense micro skill and strong laning make him the player to watch. He’s a player that can win a game in more than a few ways.

The Strength:

  • High risk, high reward style

  • Strong early game

  • Good, decisive teamfighting

The Weakness:

  • High risk, high reward style

  • Weak bot side

  • Prone to unforced errors

  • Sloppy mid-game macro

The Sum Up:

In some ways, MAD Lions resemble C9 if you switched the side lanes. Like C9, MAD likes to pick decisive calls that result in huge swings in or out of their favor. Their mid and jungle anchor the team, along with a support that roams. Only, MAD’s bot side is weak and their top side is solid.

However that difference is a big one. MAD’s top and jungle, Armut and Elyoya, form an aggressive duo that will generate more top-sided action than you’d see with C9. It also leads to a much different style of draft—opening into champs like Wukong and Volibear.

MAD is overall a very decisive team and like C9, those decisions can be bad ones. However, MAD needs to play this way because even if a bad early game decision sinks them into a deficit, an even better mid or late game decision will claw them out of it. The issue comes when MAD faces more potent opponents like Damwon or RNG, who punish more mistakes and make less of their own.

MAD went 5-1 in their group but looked a bit shaky in the process. That could be chalked up to an inherently high risk, high reward style that is both strength and weakness. It could also be chalked up to making changes, as the team’s coach, Mac, has talked about enabling bot lane more. The bot lane did look better for MAD but that could’ve shook up some general game plans.

The Foil: Damwon

MAD thrives off of catching the enemy off guard and going all-in on a surprisingly good opportunity. Damwon has a weird ability to feint their opponents into an attack, then reverse the scenario with even better teamfighting. That’s on top of being very good at punishing unforced errors.

LCS - North America - Cloud 9

The Player to Watch: Blaber (Jungle)

Perkz may be a historic talent but this team rides or dies with Blaber.

The Strength:

  • Surprising bursts of aggression

  • Solid skirmishes and side laning

  • Good dragon control

The Weakness:

  • Unstable early and mid game

  • Exploitable top lane

  • Prone to unforced errors

  • Coinflip moments

The Sum Up:

Cloud9 ran into MSI led by their MVP jungler. They tripped and face planted off of their MVP jungler too. Blaber’s early performance left a lot to be desired but in the second stretch of groups the MVP-caliber returned.

For C9, the team has to figure out how to bring out the MVP. That’s in good part because of how C9 likes to play. C9 scrounges for favorable skirmishes at every stage of the game and it’s what makes for a lot of their strengths and weaknesses.

If they find the right skirmishes, they can bring back doomed games or seal shut the easy win games. If they find the wrong ones, they throw leads and get rolled by the top teams in under 30 minutes. The jungle is key to finding those skirmishes and to enabling Perkz, Blaber and Vulcan to play high impact while Zven and Fudge safely hold the line.

For C9, the main issue is that this MSI is abundant with star junglers and it’s unclear if they can keep up. It’s also a matter of which C9 shows up as it feels like the only C9 players who didn’t coinflip in the Group Stage were Vulcan and Fudge. But if you’re an NA fan, all this is nothing new. Now as ever, never tell me the odds!

The Foil: PSG Talon

According to scrim reports, PSG Talon have C9’s number. It could’ve been a bad block or a bad day, or it could be a stylistic mismatch. PSG Talon have a lot of tools to do well against C9: They’ve got a potent jungler who’s good at stifling his enemy; they’ve got a flexible top laner who can play punishing champions; and they know how to run with the kinds of leads that C9 give away all too often.

PCS - Taiwan - Paris Saint-Germain Talon

The Player to Watch: Doggo (Bot)

Sure, River is the team’s true focal point and Maple could be MVP. However, Doggo did surprisingly good work as the team’s substitute ADC. If he can keep ramping up and building bonds, PSG could go even further. Also, his tag is Doggo.

The Strength:

  • Strong early game

  • Strong, on-meta jungling

  • Playing from ahead

The Weakness:

  • Coming from a weak region

  • Mediocre teamfighting

  • Greedy forward positioning

  • Playing from behind

The Sum Up:

You’ve heard this one before. It’s a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. PSG Talon dominated the PCS but the region is so weak that it’s hard to know how to rank them. They’re also down their starting ADC but still destroying scrims but still getting rocked by the major region competition (EU) on the stage.

This time around, PSG seems improved. Doggo, their substitute ADC, looks surprisingly fluid in the lineup. Their jungler, River, had great showings against the two wildcards in the group and seems pretty on top of the meta (AKA plays Rumble). Their top and mid lane seem like flexible, veteran anchors who can carry or stabilize.

PSG overall feels like a solid early game team that is so used to having a lead that they know how to carry it out. However, there’s a certain arrogance to the way they play that MAD punished repeatedly. PSG likes to commit to forward positions without full vision control - something that MAD won entire games off of.

(Mediocre teamfight coupled with Kaiwing going way too far forward)

PSG also struggled to claw back games once they got away from them, either making some desperate reaches or floundering in the fights where an opportunity came. However, they looked better against the wildcards than MAD did. Plus the scrim reports point to promise and given they have a substitute and are finally getting good competition, they also have room to grow.

The Foil: MAD Lions

It’s a bit obvious, given the 2-0 score. MAD Lions beat PSG pretty solidly while looking off their game. If MAD Lions fix their mistakes, their potent early game and decisive engages could do even more damage to PSG than it’s already done.

LCO - Oceania - Pentanet.GG

The Player to Watch: Pabu (Jungle)

You could give it to Chazz, the mid laner that blind picked Zed and solo-killed Cryin with Qiyana. However, Pabu enables the entire team if he can get rolling and in the first stage it seemed Pentanet’s successes and failures routed through him.

The Strength:

  • Very deep (and weird) champion pools

  • Unpredictable playstyle

  • Quick to improve

The Weakness:

  • Exploitable gaps in macro

  • Under-practiced, low-resource region

  • Weak laning

  • Exploitable over-aggression

  • Poor decision-making in skirmishes

  • The Sum Up:

    The biggest story in MSI thus far may also be the shortest. Pentanet.GG is the first OCE team in history to make it out of the play-in stage in international competition. Exciting as the win may be, these lads still have a lot to prove.

    Pentanet’s main task was to beat UOL. Against RNG, they looked outmatched and outmaneuvered. RGN regularly accrued large advantages mostly through laning—to the point where in the one game that Chazz solo-killed Cryin, RNG was still up some 400 gold from laning.

    Pentanet loves to scrap and that attitude can catch opponents off-guard as well as snowball a game. Combine that with a wonky champion pool full of surprise picks and they have a strong recipe for upsets. However, we’ve seen teams with this style before in international competition and they tend to struggle.

    The off-meta picks often have exploitable issues that the S-tier opposition picks apart. The ceaseless aggression, when expected, leads to a lot of lost skirmishes. Their weak regions mean the wildcard players have to overcome a gap of raw skill as much as a gap of strategy. All of that means a rough battle for the new fan favorite.

    (Who picks Zed blind?)

    That said, Pentanet is nothing if not resilient. This is a team that worked out good counter-strategies to UOL in order to get here. It’s also a team that feels like it has a real identity—akin to successful wildcards like GAM. So don’t write Pentanet off but defo don’t wager the farm, the dog, and the ute on Straya, mate.

    The Foil: PSG Talon

    PSG Talon don’t do well from behind, so this matchup comes down to getting the lead. While Pentanet has sold early game playmaking, PSG has been particularly solid at not giving the wildcard teams room to breathe. Given Pentanet’s struggles laning and River’s strong map presence, PSG Talon could look as strong against this wildcard as the last two.

    Writer // Austin R. Ryan

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