MSI in Review: Another International Disappointment for NA
After two weeks of play, we’re finally down to four teams at MSI 2021. DWG KIA, Royal Never Give Up, PSG Talon, and MAD Lions are all moving on. That means Cloud9 have cemented another disappointing international performance for North America. Pentanet.GG joined C9 in elimination, but they got in a nice parting shot on their rival region. We look at the top news and storylines from MSI 2021.
CLOUD9 BRING MORE INTERNATIONAL DISAPPOINTMENT FOR NA
Cloud9 found themselves in a familiar situation in the Rumble Stage of MSI. After starting 1-5, Cloud9 needed to turn it around in the second round-robin. They were able to do it in the Group Stage, going 3-0 against DWG KIA, DetonatioN FocusMe, and Infinity Esports on the final day to advance. With both games against DK already in the books, the task wasn’t as daunting as it may seem.
C9 took a big step in game seven by handing Royal Never Give Up only their second loss of the tournament. Robert “Blaber” Huang had his best game of the tournament. Playing Volibear, he helped Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami pick up First Blood. Immediately after, he ran to mid lane and secured a kill in Luka “Perkz” Perković’s lane. Cloud9 never trailed in the game, winning 20 kills to 7 in 30 minutes. With their next game against 0-7 Pentanet.GG, C9 were in a good position to strike on day five.
Unfortunately for Cloud9, Pentanet.GG had other ideas. In a must-win game for C9 to control their own destiny, PGG dominated C9 for their only win over the Rumble Stage. In a tournament full of frustrating losses, this had to be worst. There was no throw or unlucky break. Pentanet.GG were just better from start-to-finish. Beating RNG and losing to PGG on the same day was the ultimate example of C9’s inconsistency at MSI.
At 2-6, Cloud9 were officially eliminated from contention before they played their next game. With nothing to play for, C9 lost to PSG Talon a second time. C9 then finished their tournament with a win over MAD Lions. Their 3-7 record was two games off forcing a tiebreaker. C9 were also the only team to lose to Pentanet.GG in the Rumble Stage.
PUTTING C9’S LOSS IN CONTEXT
Cloud9’s up-and-down performance has and will continue to be heavily scrutinized. As exciting as it was to see them take games off DWG KIA and Royal Never Give Up, the negatives of the tournament outweighed the positives. We knew that North America was behind the LPL, LCK, and LEC. However, it’s also become clear that North America is currently behind the PCS as well.
After both Cloud9 and PSG Talon finished 4-2 in the Group Stage, PSG Talon clearly outperformed C9 in the Rumble Stage. PSG beat C9 in both matchups and were three games (6-4) ahead of C9 in record. This is also while PSG’s starting ADC Wong “Unified” Chun Kit was unable to attend MSI.
Additionally, the PCS is not a major region internationally. At 2020 Worlds, PSG had to go through the Group Stage as the PCS’ second seed. Only top-seeded Machi Esports automatically qualified for the Main Event. Both Machi Esports (1-5) and PSG Talon (2-4) did not advance from that Group Stage. The PCS’ 25% win percentage was worse than North America’s 33.3%—even counting TSM’s epic 0-6 meltdown.
So, it has to be disappointing for Cloud9 to fall behind PSG Talon in the international pecking order. It’s something that should not happen considering their wealth of resources. Give credit to PSG Talon for elevating their region, but Cloud9 are not getting enough return on their investment.
WHAT HAPPENED TO PERKZ?
Speaking of investment, Cloud9 made a huge one this offseason in Perkz. After initially announcing they would keep the 2020 roster together, Cloud9 aggressively went after Perkz in free agency, eventually landing him for a reported exorbitant buyout figure. C9 wanted Perkz to elevate them to a level they hadn’t reached with Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer.
After a mixed bag in the regular season, Perkz did help Cloud9 to win a Spring Split title. He did so by outplaying Nicaloj “Jensen” Jensen. However, it must be remembered that Team Liquid were missing Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer. We also know that Nisqy led C9 to a 2020 Spring title as well, one in which C9 were much more dominant than the 2021 version. But C9 brought in Perkz to shine in these big international tournaments.
Unfortunately, Perkz had a very poor MSI. Two-time LCS MVP Blaber did him absolutely no favors, but it doesn’t change the fact that Perkz was just not a difference maker in this tournament. Perkz had some of the worst laning stats in the Rumble Stage. His experience difference (-247) and CS difference (-5.8) at 10 minutes were both worst among mid laners. Unfortunately, his teamfighting wasn’t any better. Opponents caught Perkz attempting flanks in multiple situations in the tournament.
On paper, Perkz and Blaber were C9’s strength. Instead, it ended up being in the other three roles. Fudge, Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme, and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen all looked good, so it wasn’t a case of everyone looking bad in losing efforts. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in roster construction. In fact, C9 used that formula in 2020. However, C9 didn’t bring Perkz in for this type of performance. Time will tell if this tournament was a blip, or the first sign of his decline as a World-class talent.
PENTANET.GG MAKE THEIR MARK
Cloud9’s loss to Pentanet.GG was the low point for their tournament, but how great was it for Oceania? First, Riot pulls their support from the region, disbanding the OPL. Then, the LCS removes import restrictions on OCE players. While some of the top OCE players were already moving abroad, this further depleted their native talent. Now, it almost forced top OCE players to go abroad to advance their careers.
So, let’s think about this from the perspective of the remaining players. The LCS teams scouted and recruited what they thought were the best of your region, and they did not pick you up. Not only that, but none of the other regions even complained when the LCS removed import restrictions from your region. Other regions did not care that the LCS got access to the best of your players—who, again, the LCS concluded you were not one of. That is just layers of disrespect.
PGG channeled that energy into playing the game of their lives against Cloud9. In their 10 Rumble Stage games, PGG averaged a 5.3k gold deficit at 15 minutes. In their second game against Cloud9? They led by 1.6k gold. It was also the only game of the 10 that PGG took the first turret. They saved their best performance for what should be their biggest rival, leading from start-to-finish.
Who wants to guess how many OCE teams Perkz’ contract and buyout could subsidize? Is it the whole league? Considering all five Pentanet.GG have NA residency, does that make them the more North American team? PGG’s momentous win left us with plenty of questions. One thing is clear—you can take the league and the top players, but you can’t take the fight out of Oceania.
DWG KIA, ROYAL NEVER GIVE UP REMAIN FAVORITES
We’ve played another week, and it remains clear that DWG KIA (8-2) and Royal Never Give Up (7-3) are the favorites to meet in the Finals. However, it’s becoming less and less clear which of those two is the favorite to win. Royal Never Give Up went undefeated in the Group, but lost three times in the Rumble Stage to finish second. That said, RNG beat DWG KIA in both of their matchups.
The easiest way to interpret that is to say RNG are the more volatile team with the higher-highs and lower-lows. While that could be true, that’s probably still reading too much into the results of two best-of-ones. DK controlled the majority of the game in the first matchup before taking a bad fight and getting outscaled. These are also two teams that were never really ever in danger of missing out on qualification.
Both teams have shown some individual weaknesses that the other can look to exploit. RNG’s Yuan “Cryin” Cheng-Wei is not as strong as the remaining mid laners. He had a negative gold difference (-62) and CS difference (-2.2) at 10 minutes in the Rumble Stage despite playing on one of the top-two teams. Cryin’s 464 damage per minute was also fourth of six mid laners, surpassing only the eliminated Chazz and Perkz.
On DWG KIA’s side, support Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee has had a surprisingly bad tournament. Whether it was getting caught out at the wrong time or flubbing an engage, he has looked uncharacteristically out-of-sync with the rest of his team. That’s a recipe for disaster against Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming.
We’ll see if we actually get the expected matchup in the Finals. Everything has pointed to it so far, but we’ve already seen plenty of surprises at MSI.
DWG KIA PICK MAD LIONS
One surprise for LEC fans came after the end of the Rumble Stage. After finishing first, DWG KIA got their choice of opponent for the semifinals. DK chose to play against MAD Lions (5-5) instead of PSG Talon (6-4). Royal Never Give Up face PSG in the other semifinal.
It’s easy to make an argument for DK to pick either opponent. MAD Lions bested PSG Talon in the Group Stage and are 3-1 against PSG so far. PSG are also playing with a substitute ADC. On the other hand, PSG Talon played better in the Rumble Stage. They finished a game ahead of MAD Lions and almost beat RNG twice.
DK won both of their matchups against both teams, so neither seemed to threaten them. There is the idea that PSG played RNG tougher than MAD, perhaps leading DK to believe PSG have a better chance to upset RNG. However, both MAD and PSG went 1-1 against RNG.
It seems far-fetched that DK would take on a tougher opponent just because they think it would also give RNG a tougher matchup. The reality is that—at best—DK view MAD as equal to PSG. Their matchup selection tells us as much.
Realistically, it was a mediocre Rumble Stage from MAD Lions. They showed they could beat a top team like RNG, but they also showed they could lose to a wildcard team like Cloud9. Even Pentanet.GG beat Cloud9. All of the aforementioned points about Cloud9 finishing behind PSG Talon also apply to MAD, though they at least qualified through to the next stage.
For PSG Talon, the Rumble Stage was a redemption of sorts. After getting mocked for his pre-tournament power rankings in the Group Stage, PSG Talon’s general manager looks like a prophet—for now.
LOOKING AHEAD: MSI SEMIFINALS
After 11 days of best-of-ones, we’re finally getting to the best-of-fives. In an unusual twist, Royal Never Give Up have drawn the first semifinal match. The top seed usually gets the first match, as it is an advantage for Finals preparation if they win. RNG will take on PSG Talon on Friday, May 21. DWG KIA will have to wait until the following day. They will face off against their chosen opponent MAD Lions. The Finals between the two semifinal winners will take place on Sunday, May 23.