The kickoff match put the home side, North America’s Team SoloMid, on the back foot as Europe’s Fnatic pulled the rug from under them with a surprise Cassiopeia pick on top lane. But it was the Korean scene’s SK Telecom T1 who asserted steady dominance as the day wore on – it’s their event to lose at this point.
Midway through the day’s schedule I sat down with shoutcaster Rivington “RivingtonThe3rd” Bisland III to get his take on the lay of the meta-land and what the teams had brought to the Rift so far.
First, a brief explanation of the current League of Legends metagame in case you’ve not been watching of late:
“The current meta is definitely focused on tanks, whether that’s in the top lane or coming out of the jungle,” explains Riv. It’s a skirmish kind of meta although obviously there’s still scope for mid-lane assassins to run rampant, killing and creating pressure. “These big tanks are lasting a long time in the fights and you either need to get somebody who can whittle them down – an AD carry that can take them out in the late game – or you need to be able to disengage long enough that you can fight those tanks.
“There are enough [tank champions] in the game that both teams can get pretty tanky in the composition that they bring to the table. We’ve been seeing a little bit longer games on average this year because of that. The meta shifts also provide teams sometimes with an advantage or a disadvantage. EDG [China’s Edward Gaming] was crushing all year long. When [patch] 5.5 hit and it became a big tank meta that did not fit their style. It seems to be favouring a lot of teams though. It’s great for the Mid-Season Invitational tournament.”
A lot of changes were also made to the jungle in League of Legends prior to the 2015 Spring Splits. “When it happened we didn’t exactly see everybody taking to it,” says Riv. “Santorin [from TSM] went back to his Nidalee. Then when it did just become Gragas and Sejuani, Gragas and Sejuani, a few regions started to keep Rek’Sai in their champion pool. Those junglers understand that early junglers still have a place in this tank meta, but you put yourself on a timer. Hopefully you don’t go too late in the game or those tanky junglers are just going to take over.
“You’ve still got options in this meta which I really like, and the top laners are finally loving it. They can get some damage dealers out like Hecarim or still pull out Rumble. So they’re having a fun time up there if they’re geared for their team towards being aggressive.”
This seems like a good point to bring up that first game between Fnatic and Team SoloMid. All six bans were directed at stymying the top laners, then TSM spent their first two picks nabbing Gnar and Rek’Sai but Fnatic’s Huni simply pulled out a Cassiopeia. Aided and abetted by Reignover’s Gragas, Fnatic went on to trounce TSM.
“Where does this guy come up with these picks?” grins Riv as we talk about Huni. “He brings out Lee Sin in the playoffs when he gets all three bans against him, and he goes to Vladimir and that was a rollercoaster up and down just like the Lee Sin and now at the Mid Season Invitational he pulls out Cassiopeia in the top lane. You’re like, ‘Wait a minute, it’s Huni, he can actually probably make this work!’ It’s kinda crazy that he can do that with so many picks; feel confident and still have a huge impact on his lane with just a little bit of help from Reignover in the jungle.”
But was he surprised by the result?
“Coming into the first match, lane to lane, I definitely thought Team SoloMid was stronger. Though we saw at IEM San Jose as soon as Unicorns of Love did something out of the box – they picked [Twisted Fate] jungle, ganked level 2 in the mid lane – TSM could not get themselves back together and reassess what was going on.
“Seeing that, coming into these games shows you that TSM can really adapt in a best-of-5 series when they have another chance but if they fall behind in a single game series it’s going to be very hard for them to come back because they don’t adjust immediately, they adjust from game to game.”
That said, Fnatic aren’t without their own issues. They seem to have real problems closing off games, getting right up to TSM’s base then taking forever to pulverise the waiting nexus.
“True,” says Riv. “With Fnatic, once they get their lead, they’re definitely a measured team. It’s something they’re almost taking too far. With a 20k gold lead it still took them another 20-30 minutes to take down Unicorns of Love which isn’t really what you want to have happen.
“If you put your hard hats on, the turtle shell’s there and you’re going to stay safe, I guess slow and steady does win the face eventually but other teams are going to be able to attack that here. You’re not going to get all day to check your watch and say you have a few more minutes to farm. Teams like SKT and EDG are always knocking on your front door and are going to be able to cut down on that strategy.
“Huni can still go aggressive… Maybe they just need to be on board with him. A full team going in on a bad decision is kind of better than a team going in on a good decision where everybody’s like, ‘Do we really do this?’ because you’re not all on board.”
(As we finish the interview I catch the very end of Fnatic’s last game of the day – it seems to have been a comprehensive defeat at the hands of AHQ)
The second of the day’s matchups had the International Wildcard winners Beşiktaş taking on SKT. As introductions to the world stage go, it was always going to be a tough one and it felt like that bit towards the start of a teen dance movie when the sparky kid from the wrong side of the tracks gets a few cool moves off but is then roundly beaten in a contest by the well-oiled machine that is the existing champ.
“Coming out of a region where the solo queue isn’t as advanced, it makes the laning phase hard already,” points out Riv. “Having to stay safe in the laning phase almost hurts them. It’s something they’ve tried to act on: they went and killed Faker right away, then you saw Energy in the mid lane trying to kill Faker there…”
The four man gank on Faker gave BJK first blood but they couldn’t really capitalise on it. The exchange with Energy later in the game was the more exciting moment for me and almost saw Faker go down but Energy couldn’t quite make it work and Faker got the kill. “So close! So close,” says Riv.
“After that they still gave it a few more tries but there’s a point in the game where you know you’re just going to hurt yourself a little bit more as the dominoes fall against you. I have a lot of hope for them, coming into the future knowing they’ll put themselves on the line and try new things against a team like SKT. I think they have very long to go if they stay together as a team.”
I ask what Riv thinks the benefit of the MSI will be for Beşiktaş, even after smashing into the international force that is SKT and then losing to TSM and, later, AHQ.
“It becomes a daunting task for the wildcard team to come in and win. They’re already the underdogs coming out of those regions – and you get to play against the top regions in the world. Those are still developing regions – Turkey, Brazil, Latin America, etc – but they can still put up a fight. We saw KaBuM do that last year [at Worlds] – that’s actually what they took out of it. They weren’t going to get first place but they knew they could learn a lot and give that back to their region.
“Beşiktaş shows strong in a few lanes but on the international stage they can’t get it to come together as one cohesive unit. when they go back home though, nobody’s going to touch them and that’s going to bring up the competition there. It only grows every region for those international wildcard teams to get a chance at the international stage.”
With the fifth game of the day underway, I asked how Riv thought the MSI semifinals and finals were shaping up:
“I can definitely see SKT going to the final. Fnatic’s win was very surprising in a way and I don’t know if they’re going to be able to pull out those compositions against other teams. We talked a little about their hesitation – not hesitation but safety – in closing a game which could really hurt them [but] I definitely see Fnatic still moving on.
“TSM’s falter could really hurt them at tally. They have three games today. It’s going to be a little difficult to pull back for them. They already took a game off BJK but weren’t ecstatic about it. They would have wanted to win that first game as well. After that first game we saw them head backstage to talk about it immediately.
“Beşiktaş is going to put up a hell of a fight against these teams. I don’t know if they’re going to get very far but this is good practice on the international stage for them. EDG and AHQ are still a toss up. Pawn’s been a little sick – there’s a sub they can use – and AHQ kind of faltered their first game. SKT is right now confirmed themselves as definitely going to the finals. Everyone else is going to claw their way there.”
We finish up chatting about one particular thing which has struck Riv as exciting about the group stage thus far: the traditional reservation of first days and single matches seems diminished.
“One thing that stuck out to me today is everybody’s actually going outside the box at one point or another. Usually you’ll see a pretty reserved first day. In a best-of-5 you have that chance to check out the first few pitches that come at you and calibrate. Maybe you throw out something crazy in game one and if it doesn’t work go back to normal. Seeing teams go pretty hard in this single game day is pretty cool. I like it.”
The second day of the MSI group stages begins with Fnatic taking on Edward Gaming at 4.30pm ET/9.30pm BST.