Who can beat SKT at the League of Legends 2016 Mid-Season Invitational?

Taylor Cocke

With the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational just around the corner, the six teams headed to Shanghai are buffing up their strengths, fixing their weaknesses, and getting their heads straight to face off against stiff international competition.

Amid meta shifts and regional differences, it’s near impossible to predict exactly how MSI is going to go. Well, except for one thing: SK Telecom T1 is probably going to win. But for the 2nd through 5th place slots, anything can happen. Here’s what we think about the teams at MSI.

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Counter Logic Gaming: Keep on keepin’ on

Last time we saw CLG on the international stage at IEM Katowice, they were a team with a singular goal: get Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha going in the top lane and allow him to split push the other side to death. Their 4-1 split strategy worked incredibly well in the North American LCS, but flopped as soon as they stepped out of their home region. It seems that they had tunneled so heavily onto one successful (domestically, at least) strategy, they neglected to prepare a few others for the more complex international scene.

Since their early departure from the tournament, the depth of their strategic repertoire has increased immensely. They’re now capable of playing around both top and bottom lane, opening up the ability to look for split pushing or teamfighting late game options. AD carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes has stepped up big time in recent months, becoming a very solid teamfighter, while Jake “Xmithie” Puchero has only continued to improve on his solid early season performances. They’ve simply gotten better as a team, and that showed in the NA LCS finals against TSM, where they out-rotated, out-teamfought, and managed to overcome their streaking opponent.

If the North American representative wants to succeed at MSI, they’ll have to continue to improve on their team play. While they can teamfight better than the majority of North America, the teams at MSI are going to be an entirely different beast. Whether it’s RNG, SKT, or the Flash Wolves, they’re going to be facing off against some of the most coordinated teamfighting teams in the world. Expect them to either avoid fights altogether with a 4-1 or 1-3-1 split or play some “Protect the Stixxay” to find victories in Shanghai.

Chances: Low, but hey, Stixxay might just show up.

G2 Esports: Play with the PerkZ you’ve been given

The latest in a long line of talented EU mid laners, G2’s Luka “PerkZ” Perković is the EU LCS’s greatest asset at MSI. He’s confident, mechanically skilled, and has a deep enough champion pool to counterpick with the best EU has to offer.

The question is, just how good is he? At MSI, he’s got RNG’s Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao and Flash Wolves’ Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang to contend with. Oh, and a little someone named Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. Yeah, he’ll need help.

That’s where Kim “Trick” Gang-yun comes in. G2’s jungler didn’t have much success when he played in Korea, but he’s found a home for himself on European soil, becoming one of the premier carry junglers in the region. In order to stem the bleeding that could come out of the mid lane, he’ll have to camp out there, ganking early and often. Getting an early lead against any of the international mid laners is going to be vital for PerkZ’s success, and as an extension, the rest of G2 Esports.

Chances: Medium low. But EU has proven us wrong before.

(Photo: Lolesports/Riot Games)

Flash Wolves: Carry on

If you’ve been watching the LMS in 2016, you may have expected ahq e-Sports Club to take the whole thing. Last year’s LMS representative at MSI boasted a nearly 90% map win rate during the regular season, stomping their way to an 11-3 match record for the split. They looked unstoppable…until they ran headfirst into the hot streak of the Flash Wolves.

Technically, that’s not quite accurate. The Wolves as a team won all six of their games in the LMS playoffs, but it was really the NL and Karsa show for much of their matches. Jungler Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan was seemingly everywhere at once on his signature carry junglers, enabling every lane simultaneously with his pressure and carry potential. Meanwhile, AD carry Hsiung “NL” Wen-An teamfought expertly after maintaining enough pressure in the laning phase to gain big CS leads over his ahq counterpart.

Their combined pressure gave support shotcaller Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie a relatively easy job, freeing him up to make aggressive calls and go deep into ahq’s jungle to get more information. Oh, and Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang held up his end of the bargain, regularly winning lane and stepping up when needed in late game brawls.

If the Flash Wolves want to take the MSI crown home, they will likely be looking towards the bot lane. The middle lane is filled to the brim with talent and the top lane tank meta doesn’t allow for much carrying, so it’s really the only option for the Taiwanese side. But if they can get going there, they just might have a shot.

Chances: Medium if NL shows up. Or, you know, anyone else.

(Photo: Lolesports/Riot Games)

SuperMassive eSports: Good luck

The squad formerly known as Beşiktaş e-Sports Club, SuperMassive’s roster is making their return to the MSI stage, featuring the Faker slayer himself, Mustafa “Dumbledoge” Kemal.

The Turkish squad brawled through the International Wildcard circuit to punch their ticket to MSI, but their challenges are far from over. The decided underdogs in Shanghai, they’re going to have to do something nuts to have a chance of making it through the group stages, much less go all the way.

Fortunately, they play in a region far away from the standard meta, and it shows from time to time. Dumbledoge in particular has embraced the Wildcard mentality, pulling out support picks that aren’t seeing play anywhere else. He often goes with Poppy, a support pick that has fallen off elsewhere. He was also one of the first pro supports to really dig deep into Bard’s pool. But the biggest surprise for him was a 2013 special: Elise support. He’s proven that he can pull out weird stuff to surprise his opponents, and that might just be the key to his team’s success here.

Now, if they could just get a bit more creative in the other lanes, they’d be a force.

Chances: There could be surprises, but not likely.

Royal Never Give Up: Visionaries

As always, it’s a bit tough to pin down exactly how good the Chinese representative at an international tournament really is. RNG seems like a team that should do well internationally, with a strong teamfighting roster that revels in causing chaos and ensuring late game superiority through aggressive skirmishes in the mid game.

Central to that strategy is the aggressive vision control of support (and 2014 World Champion) Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong. He’s renowned for being one of the smartest players on the Rift, making sure that his team has all the information they need before going for the big plays.

And for RNG, it works. They love to skirmish, and finding the right fights is made that much easier by way of thorough and smart warding. If they always know where the opposing side is, they can always make sure they’ve got the man advantage in brawls. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they love to play pick and skirmish comps, with a heavy preference for getting either top laner Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok or Liu “MLXG” Shi-yu on the much-contested Ekko pick.

Their problems come when they’re forced into playing for the late game. Their communication can break down as games go late, causing them to lose sure wins. They’ll need to shore up that weakness before they can truly be considered the favorites to win at MSI.

Chances: Decent. Never count out Mata and Looper.

SK Telecom T1: The reign isn’t over

Earlier in the spring split, the world thought that SKT may have been in a bit of a slump. They weren’t anywhere near as dominant in Korea has they had been in 2015, showing signs of burning out after their world championship run. Then they hit the playoffs and became the SKT that the world fears.

What makes SKT terrifying is that they seem able to do anything. They can teamfight, they can play pick comps, they can go for the early win or sit back and scale up for the late game. And it all centers around one player: Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.

The undisputed best player in the world since his debut in 2013, Faker has shown time and time again that he is not someone who can be held down. Forever the innovator, he played seven champions in SKT’s eleven playoff games, including off-meta picks like Vel’Koz and Cassiopeia. He can always be counted on to do well in his lane, freeing up his jungler and side laners to do whatever they want. It’s a unique scenario, where one immensely skilled player can allow for an entire team to play whatever strategy they need to win.

That’s not to say that the rest of SKT isn’t up to his level. Down in the bottom lane, Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan have become one of the best AD carry/support duos in the world, especially when it comes to late game teamfights. With Wolf’s peeling prowess (his Alistar is among the best in the world), and Bang’s aggressive playmaking (just watch his Ezreal), they can outright win games that were otherwise out of reach. Even if Faker falls, you can expect Bang and Wolf to catch him.

And remember: MSI is the place that SKT lost their first ever grand finals - to a Chinese squad, no less. They’ll be in Shanghai looking for blood.

Chances: Well, they are SKT, so, very high.

Taylor Cocke is not-so-secretly hoping for some bizarre upsets at MSI this year, but he also doubts Faker will allow it. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.

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