Signalling the end of the Spring split is the annual Mid-Season Invitational (MSI), a tournament that crowns the game’s strongest team at the halfway mark in the season
Signalling the end of the Spring split is the annual Mid-Season Invitational (MSI), a tournament that crowns the game’s strongest team at the halfway mark in the season. Having seen last year’s iteration cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams were hungrier than ever to be crowned as the first champions since 2019.
One of the game’s most notable organisations, China’s RNG are long past the days of legendary Uzi’s dominance and have been well off the pace since his retirement last year. A surprise winner of the 2021 LPL Spring split, RNG entered MSI on the back of an unexpectedly dominant run, and as a result travelled to Iceland as a tournament favourite.
They began the Group stage in the only three-team group, one that saw them accompanied by Oceania’s Pentanet.GG and the CIS’ Unicorns of Love. Joining the smallest group meant that a quadruple round-robin put RNG up against each side a whopping 4 times, and the LPL holders showed no signs of taking their feet off of the gas as they progressed with 8 wins and 0 losses.
Qualifying from the groups moved them on to the Rumble stage where a double round-robin with the remaining 6 sides would see 4 of them progress to the semi-finals. Despite going 2-0 against fellow tournament favourites DWG KIA, RNG unexpectedly dropped games to Cloud9, MAD Lions and PSG to finished in 2nd placed but still booked their place in the Knockouts against the PCS champions.
PSG Talon had already done well to deny North America’s Cloud9 a top-four spot and go some way to show that the PCS may be a level above the LCS at this stage. However, a chance of winning a best-of-five against LPL champions RNG would prove to be a step too far.
Despite RNG taking game 1 with impressive performances by the likes of Crying and GALA, PSG fought back in game 2 with Maple and Doggo leading the charge to level the series in a quick 23-minute win.
Having witnessed the fight from the PCS representatives, RNG seemed to make a statement with the rest of the series, with GALA in particular earning the most kills for both of the final two matches as Royal Never Give Up booked their place in the grand final.
With a chance to win MSI for the first time since 2018, and what would be only the organisation’s second-ever international trophy, RNG came out all guns blazing in game 1 against DWG KIA to grab the early series lead.
Game 2 saw the fightback from DWG with Khan stepping up to set up plays with Lee Sin as Ghost secured the kills, before another solid performance from RNG in game 3 saw them take control once again.
Almost playing out as a tale of two ADCs, Korean bot laner Ghost once again took control in the fourth match to level the series at a 2-2 match-point, all to set up RNG’s Gala to flex his muscles in game 5 as an explosive Kai’Sa showing clinched the final match and ultimately the title for China’s Royal Never Give Up.
Kicking off the grand final, game 1 saw RNG seize the initial advantage as bot lane fights gained them an early edge. RNG lengthened their advantage heading into the mid-game, securing an infernal dragon soul in only 24 minutes.
As DWG’s ShowMaker did his best to drag his team into the game, shown best by his Akali solo kill onto Xiaohu, his side looked to be pulling things back as they won a decisive teamfight at 27 minutes.
Eventually, the game was stalled enough to see the elder dragon spawn, and although RNG managed to secure it they were still not able to close out the game. It wasn’t until a further baron at 32 minutes and second elder at 37 finally saw RNG take the match and open the series at 1-0.
RNG once again came out swinging in game 2, this time GALA picking up early kills in the bottom lane before a rift herald fight earned a 3k gold lead within 11 minutes.
DWG KIA responded with picks of their own and RNG’s hopes at another early dragon soul were quashed by ShowMaker’s infernal drake steal with Xerath. 5 minutes later and a second infernal dragon for DWG was followed up by baron and Ghost Tristana quadra kill.
With Khan making pick after pick on his top lane Lee Sin and Ghost collecting kill after kill, the game was only heading in one direction and it was eventually in the 30th minute that DWG finally barrelled into the RNG base, took down the opposing players and destroyed the nexus to draw level in the series.
Unlike in the previous matches, game 3 started more or less even with less than 1k between the teams at the 10-minute mark. It was at 18 minutes when the first teamfight occurred in the dragon pit; a drawn out back and forth that was eventually edged out by RNG to earn a small lead. This lead was then extended to around 4k after back to back teamfights and objective secures, including a baron nashor and second mountain drake.
It was ultimately GALA’s fed Kai’Sa that had the biggest contribution, bravely ulting into the middle of DWG to kickstart a bottom lane push that eventually wiped the Korean members, exposed the base structures and allowed RNG to take the series to match point.
Game 4 was another slow starter as Khan’s Aatrox first blood was not picked up until the 7th minute, however this almost seemed to flip a switch as a teamfight immediately after saw RNG quickly grab 2 kills of their own.
A bottom lane dive from RNG was turned on its head by DWG and the latter were able to pick up some kills of their own, crucially getting gold onto Ghost’s Tristana to take a reasonable lead in the opening 15 minutes.
5 minutes later and DWG found themselves securely in the driving seat; 5k gold ahead and one dragon away from an ocean soul. Even when RNG managed a pick onto Khan on the 25th minute, their deficit meant that they could not go head-on into the remaining 4 DWG member and eventually the top laner was able to respawn, teleport back into the action and help Ghost to earn a huge pentakill (his third already this season and third career Tristana pentakill).
Unsurprisingly, DWG KIA went on to secure game 4, setting up a Silver Scrapes-led game 5 to decide who would take home the trophy.
What resulted next was not only the shortest game in the series, but also the most bloody. The opening 10 minutes saw RNG’s Wei dictate the play on Udyr, contributing with 3 kills and 1 assist to earn his side a 2.5k gold lead.
Fight after fight saw Cryin’s Nocturne diving onto DWG’s key carries as he halted any impact from them, all while Xiaohu continued to show his top lane Gragas proficiency to follow up engages with perfect Everfrost/Explosive Cask combos.
Finally, while 11k ahead, RNG made the final push through the bottom side where another Nocturne ultimate kicked off the game-deciding fight, one that saw RNG lose no members as they took down the nexus and brought the MSI trophy back to China.
With the likes of ShowMaker and Perkz appearing in this season’s MSI, the tournament MVP award was always sure to be fiercely competed. Ultimately it was RNG’s GALA that made all the difference and his performances, in particular during the grand final series, earned him the well-earned title.
The Chinese bot laner picked up a ridiculous 30 kills during his side’s three wins in the grand final, as well as grabbing the most kills during the tournament as a whole with 167 (well ahead of 2nd place Ghost’s 112).
His vital impact was especially seen during the final, where performances from each teams’ ADC looked to sway the tie. As both showed their capability to step up when needed, it was GALA who did so with more impact and greatly helped his side to secure the series and do China proud in providing their region’s third MSI title.
PSG Talon to reach the semi-finals
Despite the side impressing in the 2020 World Championship, the PCS’ PSG Talon still entered MSI being given little chance of a deep run as most still considered the region to be behind that of both Europe and North America.
Despite the consensus being against them, as well as being forced to play with a substitute due to their bot laner’s health issues, PSG blew away expectations to qualify from the Rumble stage in 3rd place, ahead of both MAD and C9, and book their spot in the semi-finals.
Although they went on to lose their Knockout series against eventual champions RNG, their fight to take a game from the LPL winners was as good a way as any to show that the team do mean business on the international stage and are not to be underestimated again in the future.