Sports

League of Legends takes to international stage after LCS

The players gather on stage for a round of applause after last year's MSI. (credit: Courtesy of Shane Davis) The players gather on stage for a round of applause after last year's MSI. (credit: Courtesy of Shane Davis)

The 2016 spring split for League of Legends has concluded, and the season is halfway over. League of Legends is a video game played by teams of five players that each controls a character, known as a champion. These champions duke it out on a fantasy battlefield known as Summoner’s Rift, using magical abilities and attacks to defeat their opponents. The Rift has three lanes: bottom, middle, and top along with a jungle in between. Teams all over the world play this game professionally, practicing for multiple hours every day to hone their skills. The best of these teams face off in season-style format called the League Championship Series (LCS) to determine the best of the best over three months. Now that the first three months, called the spring split, is over, the best teams from each region will come together to play in one large international tournament, called the Mid-Season Invitation (MSI). Six teams, the spring split champions from each region, will meet at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in China to determine the best team in the world at this halfway point in the season. While it is not the official world championship, MSI is seen as a useful benchmark to determine a region’s relative strength going into the summer split. The tournament consists of a group stage in a double round-robin format, where four of the six teams will advance into the bracket stage. The bracket stage is single elimination, and each match is a best-of-five series.

The competition at this year’s MSI will be fierce. South Korea’s representative, SK Telecom T1 (better known simply as SKT), have won the world championship twice in the last three years and are considered heavy favorites to win the tournament. Their star mid laner, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is the captain of the team and is considered the best player to ever play League of Legends — some call him the god of gods when it comes to the game. His only loss at an international tournament came at last year’s MSI, where Chinese team Edward Gaming drafted a team composition designed to completely counter Faker and nothing else. It worked and SKT lost their first international event, but it seems that only made Faker angry. Although Edward Gaming did not qualify for this year’s MSI, Faker and SKT will surely be back with a fiery vengeance.

The most heated matchup will be between the North American and European teams, because the League of Legends community loves the rivalry across the pond. Europe’s G2 Esports is a new team, entering the LCS at the beginning of this split. They took no time to establish their dominance, however. Behind the prodigal performance of mid laner Luka “Perkz” Perkovic and the consistent play of support Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenbal, G2 took the European LCS by storm and easily took the spring split championship over the defenders, FNATIC. The North American LCS is represented by Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), a well-established organization that has competed for a top spot in North America since its inception, and at one point CLG was considered the best team in the world. CLG has undergone some major changes in recent months, however. They lost their star carry player to rival Team SoloMid, who has battled with CLG every year for the top spot in North America. That didn’t faze CLG though, because they rode the veteran leadership of support player Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black all the way to the spring split championship. Aphromoo took a rookie from the lower levels of play, brought him into the LCS and has helped turn him into one of the best carry players in North America. That player, Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, won the MVP award for the spring split finals against TSM and has shown just how effective a good teacher can be in this game.

The Taiwanese Flash Wolves and the Chinese team Royal Never Give Up are also set to provide challenges for the top teams, but there is no clear favorite among the non-Korean regions. Turkish team SuperMassive Esports qualified from the International Wild Card group, made up of teams from the south Pacific islands, Australia, Turkey, and Latin America. The last time a team from an International Wild Card region won a game against a team from a major region was at last year’s world championship, when Pain Gaming took a game from CLG in the group stages. It is a massive feat to undertake for a wild car team, but it is not impossible. This year’s MSI will prove to an exciting one.

If you want to watch the action yourself, competition begins on May 4 and can be watched on twitch.tv or Youtube. Group stages will be played over the next five days, and the bracket stage will commence on May 13 with the finals on May 15. Will we see SKT dominate as expected, or will a dark horse emerge to take down the Goliath? Tune in to find out.