What's a Mid-Season Invitational and why should I care?
MSI is one of only three international events to be held by Riot Games for League of Legends throughout the year. The others are the World Championship and the All-Star event which now takes place during the off-season. While the World Championship is obviously the big one, MSI has the edge over All-Stars in terms of competitive League because it's actually a serious competition, significantly expanded in scope and importance this year - All-Stars is more of a fun showcase.
How do teams earn their place at this tournament and what can they win?
The springtime winners from five regional leagues across the world are invited to take part at MSI alongside one team qualifying through the International Wildcard Invitational tournament. The six teams will be competing for glory, the respect of their peers and Worlds' seeding for their region. Also: money. While Riot clearly have no intention of trying to match the huge individual prize pot sums to be found in competitive Dota 2, there's $400,000 on offer in prize money for MSI. The winners will be taking home a tasty $250,000 chunk of it - that's almost enough cash to move abroad to somewhere where it doesn't snow in the middle of spring!
Tell me about this Group Stage, then...
All teams are in the same group which we'll refer to as Group B, just to be contrary. Each team will play each other twice non-consecutively over a four day period, with the top four teams seeded by their eventual position in the group. Those four teams will progress to the knockout stage, while the bottom two teams will return home empty-handed.
Without further ado, let's take a whistle-stop tour through the participants.
Counter Logic Gaming (NA LCS)
Hailing from North-America CLG have won the last two consecutive splits in that region. CLG clearly felt as though they were undervalued and underestimated heading into their regional play-offs, with much of the hype surrounding the dominant Immortals and the resurgent TSM. CLG put their eventual success down to an excellent team dynamic and trusting in each other, which is either a heart-warming sentiment, or a stinging barb aimed at former AD carry Yiliang 'Doublelift' Peng who defected to arch-rivals TSM during the off-season.
Key Player: Zaqueri 'Aphromoo' Black – their support is a calm and collected leader and probably the finest player in his position ever to hail from the North American region.
G2 eSports (EU LCS) – If you're a casual or passing LoL fan, you might be thinking – who? G2 eSports are an organisation founded by former pro player Carlos 'Ocelote' Rodriguez Santiago, known for his collection of knitwear, his reportedly infinite ego and the incredible passion he displayed as pro. G2 took the EU LCS by storm this spring in their first season, with a roster of incredibly talented newcomers. While the team has little to no experience on the international stage, they'll be hungry and desperate to prove they belong at MSI.
Key Player: Luka 'Perkz' Perkovic – While G2 jungler Trick won the Spring Split MVP, mid-laner Perkz stood out as well. Unflappable, with perhaps a hint of arrogance, he could be the next in a long line of EU mid-lane maestros.
Flash Wolves (LMS) – The Flash Wolves hail from the LMS region, which includes teams from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau (they are from the former). The region is consistently underestimated on the international scene, despite both of their representatives managing to reach the quarter-finals at last year's World Championships. Sadly the Flash Wolves have since lost the wonderful hair of top-laner Chou 'Steak' Lu-Hsi from their lineup now he's transitioned into an analyst role BUT the Flash Wolves did completely dismantle their regional rivals ahq e-sports club in the LMS Spring Play-off finals. They will face tougher tests at MSI though.
Key Player: Huang 'Maple' Yi-Tang – Another mid-laner, Maple boasted a K/D/A ratio of 26 in the LMS play-offs. Statistics aren’t always the best measure of a player, but when they’re as impressive as that it’s worth showcasing.
SK Telecom T1 (LCK) – The reigning world champions are here to represent Korea at MSI, after an extremely shaky start to 2016. SKT seem to have shaken off the curse that plagues World Champions – no team to win Worlds has ever managed to qualify the following year. SKT just about scraped into the LCK play-offs at which point they remembered that they're actually the best LoL team in the world, convincingly taking down a very strong ROX Tigers team in the final. The clear favourites to win MSI.
Key Player: Bae 'Bang' Jun-Sik – Sure, sure Faker is the best LoL player of all time. But while everyone focuses on the ‘Unkillable Demon King’ of the mid-lane, AD carry Bang's perfect positioning is what wins SKT games.
Royal Never Give Up (LPL) – The home side, Royal are representing China in Shanghai and it will be interesting to see whether that added pressure spurs them onto new heights or results in total collapse, as seems to now be traditional for Chinese teams at international LoL tournaments [Edward Gaming called - they'd like to have a word about last year's MSI... ;) - Ed.]. Royal have a very talented roster of players including Looper and Mata – Korean veterans from the World Championship winning Samsung White roster of 2014. They're potentially capable of surprising everyone and winning it all.
Key Player: Cho 'Mata' Se-hyeong – The support player is a previous winner of LCK and LPL splits as well as a World Champion. Mata is the glue that binds this talented team together.
SuperMassive eSports (IWC) – SuperMassive are the predominantly Turkish side who earned their spot at MSI by emerging victorious at the recent International Wildcard Invitational that offered teams from smaller regions the chance to play at MSI. SuperMassive will hope to live up to the legacy of teams such as Brazil's Pain Gaming and KaBuM eSports who have shown us before that Wildcard teams are perfectly capable of causing upsets on the big stage.
Key Player: Look out for support player Mustafa 'Dumbledoge' Gökseloğlu, who is mostly known for having his an adorable in-game name – I don't know much about them alright!
So what happens after the group stage?
When Group B is done and dusted we head into a single elimination knockout bracket. The first seed will play the fourth, while second and third seeds will face off - all matches from this point onwards will be best-of-five format. The final will then be held on Sunday May 15th at 6:30am BST. Pip will be at the final and you can expect match reports and interviews straight from Shanghai.
When can I watch this tournament and will I need to watch 16 hours of LoL over a single weekend to keep up?
That would be waaaay too simple, this year MSI is being held in Shanghai and is being split into two phases. The group stage will be 4-8th May, while the knockout stages will be 13-15th May. Shanghai is currently living around 7 hours in the future, so on most days the action will be starting at around 7:30am for those of us on BST or CET. All matches will be rebroadcast by Riot at the more sociable hour of 7pm (except the final day of the group stage - the 8th May games will start at 5pm). It's worth steering clear of social media and community sites if you want to avoid being spoiled in advance. You'll be able to watch all of the matches through the usual portals, handily collected over at lolesports.
In the mean-time, Riot have released the first two segments of a three-part promotional documentary called Eyes on MSI which looks at North America’s CLG and their road to Shanghai.