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MSI in Review: Cloud9 Recover to Advance

Mike Plant

The Play-In Stage of MSI 2021 did not lack for drama. First, we saw Cloud9 claw their way back from an early deficit; MAD Lions top their group after an inspired performance, and a history-making win from OCE’s Pentanet.GG. We look at the top news and storylines from MSI 2021.

MSI Blaber

Blaber and Cloud9 rebounded from a 1-2 hole to advance to the Rumble Stage at MSI 2021. (Photo courtesy Riot Games)


There is no sugarcoating it—Cloud9 got off to a terrible start at MSI. DWG KIA beat C9 in game one as expected, though it was disheartening to see how badly Kim “Khan” Dong-ha beat up on Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami. But the real problems started in game two. Robert “Blaber” Huang absolutely punted the early game by dying to secure a Rift Scuttler at 3:30. Luka “Perkz” Perković joined him in having a terrible game, whiffing multiple Orianna ults to finish the game 0/3/1. C9 lost to the LJL’s DetonatioN FocusMe 15 kills to 8, and it wasn’t even that close. A closer-than-expected win over Infinity Esports didn’t inspire much hope for the second round-robin.

Other participants at MSI echoed that sentiment. PSG Talon’s GM ranked Cloud9 seventh among MSI teams prior to the tournament. After C9’s 1-2 start, PSG’s top laner Hanabi said: “I think any team besides Cloud9 has a chance to reach the Rumble Stage.” Players on İstanbul Wildcats and Unicorns of Love were also skeptical of C9’s chances of advancing. It seems Cloud9 was struggling in scrims just as hard as they were on stage.


Fortunately for Cloud9, scrim results can be misleading. They started their second round robin runoff with a bang, beating DK 24 kills to 18. It was a bounce-back performance for most of their members. Blaber exercised some of his early game demons to get off to a faster start than Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu. The bigger surprise, though, was Fudge’s Lee Sin. He overcame a rough early laning phase to solo kill Khan’s Jayce and dominate the mid-to-late game. Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme was good all tournament, but his Alistar engages were also crucial to pulling off the upset.

However, that still wasn’t the most important game of the day for C9. With DFM’s win over INF, C9 still needed to beat DFM to advance from the group. C9 did that with ease, controlling the game from start-to-finish in a 15 kill to 6 win. Perkz was in great form in this contest. He got the ball rolling with a good roam top early before punctuating his lead with a solo kill on Shunsuke “Evi” Murase’s Sett. With this win, and DFM’s subsequent loss to DK, C9 guaranteed a spot in the Rumble Stage.

C9 finished the day off with another win, albeit a meaningless one over Infinity Esports. After starting the week 1-2, C9 stormed back with a 3-0 day to—at least temporarily—silence some of their haters. They didn’t play perfectly in their wins, so they still have plenty to prove. DK led in gold most of the game despite C9 being far ahead in kills, while Blaber still looked shaky early against DFM and INF. Regardless, C9 will get more time to work on their weaknesses and prove they belong in the top-four at MSI.


MAD Lions looked like they definitely belong in the top four as the other major Western team in the tournament. They aced the first round robin by going 3-0, leaving themselves little work to do in the second half of groups. They lost their first game against İstanbul Wildcats but pulled themselves together to beat paiN Gaming and PSG Talon. Their 5-1 record was tops in Group B.

Making it through the Play-In Stage has to be at least somewhat of a relief for MAD Lions. They certainly proved they can win a big series by their play in the LEC playoffs. Still, it’s hard to forget their performance at 2020 Worlds. Coming in as heavy favorites, MAD Lions were a disaster in the Play-Ins. They went 1-3 in the Group Stage to barely advance to the Knockout Stage, where SuperMassive Esports promptly knocked them out. Unicorns of Love then swept SuperMassive in the next round.

MAD Lions eliminated almost all doubt of a repeat with a stellar first round-robin, but an upset loss to start round two could have derailed their momentum. MAD showed that this year’s team is different by winning their next two games, finishing on a strong note. Not only are MAD Lions more talented in 2021, but their mental fortitude has also improved.


ADC Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság;s improved play also has been a big boost to MAD. The last time we saw them, Rogue’s Steven “Hans sama” Liv and Adrian “Trymbi” Trybus were crushing Carzzy and Norman “Kaiser” Kaiser in the 2v2. So far at MSI, MAD’s bot lane has been a position of strength. Carzzy’s 8.67 KDA is third among ADCs at MSI, while his 35% kill share is second. He also had one of the plays of the tournament so far.

At the same time, MAD Lions didn’t exactly blow away the competition in their games. They played better against PSG Talon (4-2) than their two weaker opponents. Hopefully, they will continue to play up to the level of competition. Their opponents only get stronger from here.


First things first—Royal Never Give Up had one of the easiest groups of all-time. VCS champion GAM Esports were unable to attend MSI, so RNG had a three-team group. Of those two opponents, İstanbul Wildcats came from Pool 3 and Pentanet.GG from Pool 4. Those are the two lowest-rated groups. RNG only needed to out-place one of those two non-major region teams to advance to the Rumble Stage.

That said, RNG put on one of the most dominant displays in a Group Stage of any tournament in League of Legends history. Yes, they were overwhelming favorites to win each of their games. But how often do you see a team not drop a game in a Group Stage? Even then, teams are usually only playing six games at most. RNG played eight games in Group A and won every single one of them.

The games themselves were not close, either. The closest kill score was 23 to 15. The smallest gold lead to end a game was 8.6k. RNG averaged a kill score of 23 to 8.38. Their average game time was 25 minutes. They averaged a 6.5k gold lead at 15 minutes and took the first turret in every single one of their games.

They even played their substitute top laner Yang “Xiaobai” Zhong-He in their final match against PGG. Xiaobai went 2/0/8 on Gnar. Meanwhile, Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao swapped back to mid lane and went 13/0/3 with a game-high 15.7k damage dealt.

DWG KIA are still the reigning World Champions. But the top team in the LPL is making a case to be the favorites heading into the Rumble Stage.


DWG KIA’s Group Stage run was more in line with what we expect of top teams in a Group Stage. They had some close calls and even dropped a game, but they still were in total control at the top of their group throughout. After splitting 1-1 with Cloud9, we should get a better feel for their overall strength in the Rumble Stage.

The aura of invincibility, if there ever was one, is not there for this lineup, though. Detonation FocusMe were ahead in gold in both games against DK. Cloud9 not only beat DK, but they did it with Fudge running around and solo killing Khan. DK weren’t just making sloppy mistakes for teams to punish. In some ways, it looks like they are having to overcome problems with their own drafts to win. No matter how talented your team is, losing the draft phase makes it harder to win games.

It’s also clear that this isn’t the same roster from 2020. Khan is still a great carry in his own right, but nobody does what Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon does in top lane. However, that doesn’t make top the only position that has weakened since last year. Support Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee has had a very uncharacteristically subpar performance so far at MSI. DK will need him to step it up in the Rumble Stage.


Oceania’s Pentanet.GG were the surprise darlings of the Play-In Stage, advancing out of the three-team Group A. The LCL’s Unicorns of Love were the assumed beneficiaries of GAM’s unavailability, but PGG took full advantage of their opportunity. After splitting the first four games versus UoL, PGG won the tiebreaker to become Oceania’s first ever team to make it out of groups in an international tournament.

Perhaps the best part is that they did it their own way. Mid laner Jesse “Chazz” Mahoney was not afraid to mix up the meta. Sensing that AD mid laners were underrated, Chazz played Lee Sin three times, including in the tiebreaker. He also blind picked Zed into UoL in a must-win match to force the tiebreaker. Chazz went 6/1/10 on that Zed game.

While Pentanet.GG obviously benefitted from their group, it was still an incredible result for the team and the region. The OPL was disbanded following the 2020 Split 2. OCE players then became NA-eligible, leading many of the region’s best to move over to NA. Fudge, though he left OCE in 2019, is an example of one of OCE’s top talents thriving in a major region.

Still, Pentanet.GG were able to field a team to dispatch Unicorns of Love, a team who advanced to the Main Event at 2020 Worlds. PGG will go down in history for their performance at MSI, regardless of how the Rumble Stage turns out.


Following the Group Stage at MSI is the Rumble Stage. The remaining six teams will play each other in double round-robin, best-of-one matches. Finally, the top four teams will advance to the Knockout Stage.

The Rumble Stage will take place over five days and begins on Friday, May 14. The opening match is a banger, as the two tournament favorites DWG KIA and Royal Never Give Up meet. That game will begin at 6 a.m. PST. The day closes with an all-West matchup between Cloud9 and MAD Lions at 11 a.m. PST.