Cover via Lol Esports on Flickr.
Regarded as the second largest international tournament in League of Legends, the 2018 edition of the Mid-Season Invitational ended this Sunday and saw the Chinese team RNG (Royal Never Give Up) led by their star AD carry Uzi lift the trophy by beating the LCK champions KINGZONE Dragon X. Here's how it played out:
With the aim of allowing every professional league to be represented and the recent addition of Vietnam, MSI is now a 14-team tournament with each regional split winner attending.
Beginning with play-in groups from the 3rd to the 6th of May, the 8 worse performing regions from the past two years of MSI and Worlds faced off in groups of four to determine the two teams moving on to the knockout stage. Gambit Esports from the CIS region and SuperMassive eSports from Turkey both easily made it out of their groups with a 5-1 record where they respectively went up against LMS’ Flash Wolves and Vietnam’s EVOS Esports in a best-of-five. Eventually, the Flash Wolves and EVOS confirmed their seeding in stage 2 of the play-in by beating their opponents and joining the 4 best performing regions of the previous two years of international competition - Korea, Europe, North-America and China.
Group stage also took place in the EU LCS studios in Berlin from the 11th to the 15th of May and saw the 6 remaining regions battle it out for a spot in the semis. While the Koreans of KINGZONE DragonX (KZ) secured third place, two tiebreakers had to be played to determine the 1st and 4th place. EU’s Fnatic eventually defeated NA’s Team Liquid, making top 4 and advancing to the playoffs with China’s RNG and the Flash Wolves.
In the semifinals, RNG chose to face off against Fnatic leaving KZ to play against the Flash Wolves. RNG made quick work of the European representatives, winning the first 3 games of the Bo5 while KZ secured their spot in the finals going 3-1 against the LMS team.
It’s in front of a cheering crowd at the Zenith de la Villette in Paris that the finals took place. Opposing the Korean powerhouse which had dominated the LCK season, boasting an impressive 16-2 record, and a hungry Chinese team which just won the domestic title, the finals promised to showcase some of the best League of Legends of the year. On paper, both teams could take it home, the versatility of KZ and their incredibly strong laners needed to extinguish the Chinese fire, ignited by their gifted AD carry.
Game 1 was about Uzi on his Ezreal, one the tournament’s most contested pick due to his evasiveness and the damage he can dash out past the 25-minute mark, especially deadly in Uzi’s hands. Once more, the ‘raise the puppy’ strategy was adopted by RNG as they built a very tanky team composition to protect their AD carry, allowing them to take the lead in the series.
Game 2 began similarly to the first as Bdd lead the charge for KZ on his Irelia. Despite getting caught and losing their middle inhibitor, they managed to take the upper hand during a teamfight in the topside red jungle of the map and tie the series.
Banned by KZ in the first two games, Xiaohu’s Vladimir made it through in the third game and with Uzi still on Ezreal, the double threat proved to be too strong for KZ’s largely melee AD composition.
Down 2 to 1 and needing a win to stay in the series, KZ drafted a much more balanced team composition, giving the Xayah-Rakan duo to PraY and Gorilla and putting Bdd on Vel’Koz in the midlane. Following Bdd’s control on the long range mage, KZ sneaked a Baron 27 minutes in and managed to catch RNG off-guard as they went to check it. With the gold lead and the Baron buff, KZ methodically destroyed both the mid and bot inhibitor, opening up the Chinese base and the door to victory. However, RNG persevered and managed to create two beautiful picks on KZ’s carries in the midlane with both Malzahar’s and Ornn’s ultimates.
Uzi’s road to the top, a narrative to remember:
Ever since he made his debut as one of the youngest professional players in the League of Legends scene, fans around the world knew what his immense talent could lead the Chinese prodigy to. Claimed by many as one of the best to ever play the AD carry role, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao is the kind of player you watch lane and teamfight and immediately understand the hype that surrounds him. And when you see such talent grace the fields of justice, you can’t help but wonder why this guy doesn’t have more achievements under his belt.
Despite being dominant in his role and putting his teams on his back many times throughout the years, Uzi is probably the player that came close to winning everything the most, but didn’t. Seemingly unable to take it all the way, Uzi and his teams managed to place first in both splits for the 2016 and 2017 LPL seasons but lost in the playoffs every time; a situation Uzi had already experienced on the international stage back in 2013 and 2014 where he fell just short of claiming the World champion’s title, losing in the finals twice.
But 2018 looks like Uzi’s year. Three weeks ago, he won his first domestic title in the finals of the LPL playoffs and with the momentum of this MSI win he could well go on to win Worlds later during the year in what is already regarded as Uzi’s most successful year so far.
2018 is the year of the dog in Chinese astrology, which is very fitting for Uzi to finally reach the top of the world as the centrepiece of the famous ‘raise the puppy’ strategy his teams have used around him and his hard carry status. It’s probably also the best fitting team name for him to win MSI with, as he never gave up after 6 years of coming so close to the top. So it’s not tears of joy but rather a huge and contagious smile on Uzi’s face as he and his team lift up the trophy, because he was ready for this moment all along. The excitement, the pride and almost relief in his eyes, as well as the cheering from the electric French crowd, chanting his name as he walks across the stage after the victory is probably what will be remembered of MSI 2018: Uzi meeting his destiny and finally becoming a legend.
If you haven’t seen the finals or want to rewatch it, you can do so on LoL Esports’ Youtube channel.