North America’s salty sweet history at the Mid-Season Invitational

North America’s salty sweet history at the Mid-Season Invitational

by Xander Torres

North America gets memed the moment any international event comes up, and the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) is no different. This year, DWG KIA from South Korea’s League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) stands out as a heavy favorite, while North America’s Cloud9 ranks as more of an underdog. Even so, MSI is far more kind to NA than the League of Legends World Championship, and the region even has two finals appearances to show for it.

It wouldn’t be NA without the disappointment, though, and there are often pinches of salt laid everywhere, no matter how sweet the moments. Ahead of the start of MSI 2021 on Thursday, here’s a look back at North America’s history at the second-biggest League of Legends tournament of the year.

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

Photo credit: Riot Games

2015 -- Tallahassee, Florida

Riot Games’ first official MSI was held in Tallahassee, Florida, where Team SoloMid represented North America as the champion of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) 2015 spring season. Despite having the opportunity to play on home turf, Team SoloMid’s performance at the event was lackluster following a dynamic LCS playoff run. During the single round-robin group stage, TSM were eliminated from the competition after producing a 1-5 record, with that single win coming against Turkish champions, Beşiktaş Esports, who many fans and analysts considered to be the weakest team at the tournament.

TSM were the strongest team in NA at the time and were expected to continue riding the highs of their 2014 Worlds performance -- a top-eight finish with a single game win against eventual champions, Samsung Galaxy White. With the team’s only roster change being the addition of jungler Lucas “Santorin” Larsen, it’s fair to say that the team’s primary identity of supporting star mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg largely remained intact. Even so, Team SoloMid largely fell behind due to individual miscues from more veteran players like Marcus “Dyrus” Hill who struggled to match other top laners at the tournament.

Photo credit: Riot Games

2016 -- Shanghai, China

TSM might have struggled to put together a strong performance at MSI in 2015, but North America found its first true savior in another storied team -- Counter Logic Gaming. CLG notably represented NA as its No. 1 seed at the 2015 World Championship and carried that momentum into a 2016 LCS Spring Finals win despite the loss of longtime AD carry, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. At MSI, it was much the same as CLG put together a 7-3 record in the group stage and became the first ever North American team to take a game off Korean team SK Telecom T1.

That 7-3 group stage performance led to a dominant 3-1 series win over Taiwan’s Flash Wolves in the semifinals, making Counter Logic Gaming not only the first ever NA team to reach the MSI finals, but also the final of an international tournament in general.

LCS caster Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler, at the time, couldn’t even contain his excitement on broadcast as CLG picked up wins against the best teams in the world en route to a final match against SK Telecom T1. Unfortunately for Counter Logic Gaming and North American fans, the story ended there with a 3-0 loss, but after years of struggling at Worlds as well as the first MSI, it was a huge step forward for the region and its pride.

Read more: Getting to know the heavy hitters at the Mid-Season Invitational

Photo credit: Riot Games

2017 -- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Team SoloMid rolled into MSI as two-time split champion, looking to right the wrongs of their letdown Worlds performance the previous year in San Francisco, California. TSM were touted as the best North American team of all time thanks to their domestic dominance following the acquisition of Doublelift, but the international results didn’t follow. Unfortunately for Team SoloMid and the NA faithful, MSI proved to be a rollercoaster of a time where TSM once again fell short.

At MSI 2017, Riot Games instituted the new Play-In stage where teams from minor regions have a chance to face off against weaker major region teams for a chance at the group stage. Given North America’s international performances, Team SoloMid were one of those weaker teams and set for a best-of-five with Vietnamese representative, GIGABYTE Marines. It’s fair to say that there was a decent amount of hype around the Marines and their jungler Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh, but no one could have expected the series to follow -- Team SoloMid being pushed to five games and barely inching out the series win after near calamity.

That wasn’t the last TSM would hear from the GIGABYTE Marines, though, with both teams eventually qualifying for the group stage. TSM failed to make much of an impact in the group stage with a 4-6 record, eventually faltering in a tiebreaker match against Taiwan’s Flash Wolves, another team from a notoriously weaker region. After a year where Counter Logic Gaming lifted the spirits of NA fans everywhere, Team SoloMid’s performance sent the region backward as they awaited the World Championship and next MSI for a chance at redemption.

Photo credit: Riot Games

2018 -- Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France

After a few years of high highs and low lows for North America at MSI, 2018 was set to be a different tone for the region. Team Liquid won their first ever LCS title, becoming the first NA team not named Cloud9, Team SoloMid or Counter Logic Gaming to raise an LCS trophy. Once again, Doublelift made his move to an all-star level team and the domestic results came quickly. Team Liquid were easily the best team in NA and were ready to represent North America in a new light at the MSI 2018.

Well, it didn’t go that smoothly for the new North American champions as they lost four straight games to open the group stage -- a loss to every single team in the group -- and practically dropped themselves into six straight elimination matches. Team Liquid’s read on the meta was too slow and they were punished accordingly for their lack of decisiveness, but when the going got rough, Team Liquid really did get going.

Once Team Liquid’s support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung sat out a game for a mental reset, everything changed. First, they toppled Royal Never Give Up to avoid a straight group sweep, and despite taking a second loss to MSI favorites, Kingzone DragonX, they easily bounced back in the face of EVOS Esports, Flash Wolves and Fnatic to push an 0-4 record to 4-5.

Team Liquid’s performance wasn’t pretty, but they battled their way back in a way that no NA fan could have expected. Unfortunately, Team Liquid lost their rematch to Royal Never Give Up -- a match that would have guaranteed their entry into the MSI playoffs -- and dropped a tiebreaker match against Fnatic to miss the cut at 4-6.

Even so, Team Liquid showed heart that teams like TSM hadn’t been able to match once the tournament gets rough, and even if the group stage was a “failure,” it was a sign of better things to come. With a comeback like that, it felt good to have faith again.

Photo credit: Riot Games

2019 -- Hanoi, Vietnam, and Taipei, Taiwan

Since there was no MSI 2020, the MSI 2019 feels like an eternity ago despite being another beacon in North America’s murky international history. Team Liquid broke down dynasties to represent NA the prior year, but this year, it was just starting to build its own as three-time LCS champions. For most teams at this MSI, one thing was clear -- you might be good, but Invictus Gaming will always be better one way or another.

China’s Invictus Gaming became the first ever League of Legends Pro League (LPL) team to win Worlds, and they did so with brute mechanical strength on the backs of a star-studded roster featuring top laner Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok and mid laner Song “Rookie” Eui-jin. Team Liquid were strong domestically and certainly showed their mettle at the last MSI, but it felt like they were worlds apart. After Invictus Gaming’s 9-1 group stage record and Team Liquid barely squeaking into the knockout stage with a 4-6 record, the difference was clear as day.

When Invictus Gaming and Team Liquid were matched up in the semifinals, practically every fan and analyst in the world predicted a triumphant win for the reigning world champions. There were no “ifs,” only “hows” when it came to IG winning, but that all changed in an instant.

As the meek NA team, TL constantly absorbed any pressure that Invictus Gaming tried to put on them and struck back twice as hard. In a series that was supposed to be overwhelming in IG’s favor, TL made it look easy as they won 3-1. Not only was Team Liquid heading to the MSI finals, but they had slain the unstoppable beast that was Invictus Gaming and commanded the respect of fans everywhere.

Team Liquid may have slain the dragon, but there was one final challenge for North America’s lone knight, G2 Esports’ samurai. And the duel did not end well for North America in the finals. Like Counter Logic Gaming when they made an international final before them, Team Liquid dropped the series 3-0 to G2, forever occupying the other side of Europe’s first international tournament win since the 2011 World Championship. To defeat a world champion and get so close, only to lose, stung, but TL’s performance at the tournament ultimately felt like NA’s biggest win.

Photo credit: Riot Games

2021 -- Rejkjavík, Iceland

Cloud9 take the reins for North America after losing their opportunity to represent the region last year due to the global pandemic. After a dominant 17-1 spring season, they would have been NA’s representative at MSI 2020. It’s not only Cloud9’s first appearance at MSI, but it’s a chance to right the wrongs of the past and display the level of talent and coordination they used to dominate the league last year.

The field is filled with behemoths like DWG KIA and Royal Never Give Up, but there’s no telling what can happen with a brand new team representing NA at MSI. Plus, this NA team has a player on their roster who was on that 2019 G2 team that beat Team Liquid -- Luka “Perkz” Perković. Cloud9 are in Group C along with Japan’s DetonatioN FocusMe, South Korea’s DWG KIA and Latin America’s Infinity Esports. They’ll begin their quest to take North America to new heights internationally when they take the stage Thursday at 9 a.m. ET against DWG KIA.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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