Getting to know the heavy hitters at the Mid-Season Invitational

Getting to know the heavy hitters at the Mid-Season Invitational

by Xander Torres

The dust has settled and the major-region competitors at the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) are set. North America’s Cloud9, Europe’s MAD Lions, South Korea’s DWG KIA and China’s Royal Never Give Up will compete for the MSI crown next month in Reykjavik, Iceland, alongside 11 minor-region representatives. Teams like PSG Talon and Unicorns of Love can make things interesting at international events, but these four teams are the heavy hitters taking aim at an international title. Here’s a breakdown of each of the four teams.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Cloud9

North America (LCS)

After MSI’s unfortunate cancellation last year, Cloud9 are looking to right the wrongs of the past at their first-ever MSI appearance. Although Cloud9’s performances in 2021 don’t match the domination of the 2020 squad, the team’s grit and determination were on full display after staving off Team Liquid in a five-game grand finals at the Mid-Season Showdown. As the best team in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), there are a lot of points to make about Cloud9’s stellar form, but everything comes back to jungler, Robert “Blaber” Huang.

Read more: Why Cloud9’s victory at the Greek Theatre was a breath of fresh air

Blaber has arguably been the backbone of Cloud9 since he joined the team mid-2018 to help qualify for that year’s League of Legends World Championship. As much as Cloud9 have ridden his highs, they’ve also ridden his lows, and that’s what makes this year so special -- Blaber’s aggressive playstyle hasn’t changed, but he’s adapted to think more about his play and made Cloud9 that much stronger. In Cloud9’s victory press conference Blaber emphatically said that he will “never stop playing aggressively,” and that’s the energy that a hungry Cloud9 needs to bring into MSI this year to be successful.

Photo credit: Riot Games

DWG Kia

South Korea (LCK)

Formerly known as Damwon Gaming, DWG Kia roll into MSI as the reigning world champions with a shiny new sponsorship to boot. After claiming South Korea’s first world title since 2017, DWG continued the dominance back home with a 16-2 regular-season record and a perfect playoff run to capture the 2021 League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) Spring title. DWG’s play wasn’t always perfect, but it might as well have been because it rarely felt like the opposing team ever had a chance.

DWG are overwhelming favorites to win their first-ever MSI title, and it’s likely to come off the back of their immaculate teamfighting. DWG jungler Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu might be the best jungler in the world as he consistently orchestrates suffocating early games, but it’s always the squad’s teamwork and tenacity that truly breaks teams and games in half. No matter the gold lead or map state, DWG have all the talent and synergy in the world to turn games around and maintain their reign at the top of the League of Legends world.

Photo credit: Riot Games

MAD Lions

Europe (LEC)

It isn’t G2 Esports or Fnatic representing Europe! After eight long years of near-complete domination of the European circuit, Fnatic and G2 Esports won’t be the ones standing on stage at MSI -- that honor goes to the spunky upstart MAD Lions who hoisted their first League of Legends European Championship (LEC) title this spring. As the first European team to be eliminated during the Play-In stage at Worlds last year, MAD Lions were hardly on anyone’s radar, but they clawed their way to the top of the region and took out Europe’s old guard doing it.

Redemption was far from the name of the game for MAD Lions after losing top laner Andrei “Orome” Popa and jungler Zhiqiang “Shad0w” Zhao, but Turkish top laner İrfan “Armut” Berk Tükek and jungler Javier “Elyoya” Prades Batalla proved to be more than suitable replacements. Armut, in particular, led the team as a key force in the top lane during much of the team’s LEC run, his first appearance at an international tournament is highly anticipated. MAD Lions already surprised European fans by not only staying relevant, but clearing the way for a new future in the LEC. Now, the international stage awaits at MSI as they continue to write their story.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Royal Never Give Up

China (LPL)

It has been almost three years since Royal Never Give Up (RNG) last appeared at MSI, and with any luck, it will end the same as last time -- a decisive win in the finals. This time, though, Royal Never Give Up managed to take the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) Spring title without their key franchise player, AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zi-hao, who retired last year. In fact, Royal Never Give Up were even able to upset a heavily favored FunPlus Phoenix in the finals with a role-swapped Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao in the top lane and a cobbling of newer, younger Chinese talent. Royal Never Give Up have a strong legacy at MSI and in international play in general, but any success this time around will be built upon their new team identity.

Xiaohu experienced his fair share of ups and downs as RNG’s mid laner over the years, but he adjusted to the top lane with veteran poise and played a significant role as both a reliable tank and carry player. With his experience in the top lane, RNG constantly flexed strong side lane control and coherent map movements. This arguably made the greatest difference in their finals win against FunPlus Phoenix. Xiaohu and support Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming have provided a base for jungler Yan “Wei” Yang-Wei, mid laner Yuan “Cryin” Cheng-Wei and AD carry Chen “GALA” Wei to fully flex their strengths while being able to rely on the support of their seniors. Royal Never Give Up are an exciting mix of veteran knowhow and young talent, bringing new flavor from the always exciting LPL.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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