While 2020 did not feature a Mid-Season Invitational as usual due to the CoViD-19 pandemic, League of Legends fans still got their fair share of international mid-year competition. While the Western leagues could not collect experience in competitive tournaments, the Eastern LPL (China) and LCK (Korea) clashed in a four-day tournament. The top four teams from both regions were split into two groups. The tournament was interesting to follow and held quite a few surprises for anyone watching, but more importantly, it gave away a lot of information on potential Summer Split performances – and with that, maybe even a few ideas about who might become the ultimate champion of 2020 League of Legends at Worlds in China.
Recap: The Mid-Season Cup Results
If you missed the event, here’s a quick summary of each group and the playoffs. Full results can be found here.
The Mid-Season Cup opened with Korean champions SK Telecom T1 facing off against the World Champions FunPlus Phoenix. While FPX played a respectable early game and were able to stop Canna’s Jayce from taking over completely, T1’s mid and bot lane really showed their potential. Faker’s and Teddy’s hardcarry playstyle on Corki and Kalista, while being backed up by a fantastic Gragas performance from Effort, gave them a decisive victory. Their Korean rivals Damwon Gaming were less lucky. In their first match against the Chinese runner-ups Top Esports, they held up fairly well and showed that even fourth place in LCK still means something, but TES crushed the late-game and did justice to their roles as heavy favourites. These roles don’t always tell the whole story though, as T1 had to painfully learn in Game 3. Damwon Gaming managed to beat their heavily favoured compatriots and set both teams at a score of 1-1, and FPX completed the mess by beating TES in the next game. At that point, all teams had won and lost one game each, and the winners of the next two games would be advancing to the semifinals. FPX convincingly took down Damwon and secured their spot, but T1 vs TES was a heavier one. After 35 minutes of close, high-level League of Legends, the three time World Champions and winners of Spring Split 2020 were eliminated from the tournament by Top Esports.
When Gen.G opened Day 2 by beating the LPL champions, JD Gaming, the situation in Group B was instantly much more open than many fans expected. The Korean teams did not ease up either, and DragonX beat 2018 World Champions Invictus Gaming after a disappointing performance from their top laner TheShy. When DRX and Gen.G faced each other, they impressively presented how close the second- and third-place Korean teams are. DRX’s jungler Pyosik held a lesson on how to play Graves and ended up carrying the 40-minute game for his team, who were now leading the group with a 2-0 score. Additionally, JDG ran over their Chinese rivals, which gave Gen.G the opportunity to eliminate them completely in the next game. Although IG did not look as lost as in their first two games, they were still not able to reclaim their spot as an internationally competitive team and went down to the Korean runner-ups. With IG already eliminated and both Korean teams at two victories already, DRX were looking to eliminate JDG in the final game and move on to semifinals with a 3-0 record. They lead in gold for the whole 37 minutes and were close to picking up the game-winning ocean dragon soul, but lose the decisive teamfight. With JDG instantly winning the game off of that one large mistake, all teams were tied at a 2-1 score. Two tiebreakers were needed to determine which squad would not be returning the next day. DRX had to face Gen.G first, who dominantly secured their spot in semifinals. Finally, it was between DRX and JDG, and the LPL champions are still the LPL champions. The game was nearly the same as their first one: Despite an early lead in gold and dragons, DRX were not able to close it out and were ultimately eliminated despite going 2-0 in their first matches.
The playoffs were a TES success story. After FPX beat JDG with a confident 3-1, lead by an angry Doinb, it was on Gen.G to prevent an all-Chinese final. Needless to say, they were not very successful. The scoreline of 3-0 does not fully tell how bored TES looked in their first international best of five, and coming into finals, they had already become the favourites. The final matches of the 2020 Mid-Season Cup were a pleasure to watch and featured extremely high-level play. Highlights of the series were Knight carrying Game 1 as Syndra, Khan being two levels ahead of everyone on Kayle in Game 2 and JackeyLove refusing to die as Ezreal and Kalista in the remaining two games. TES ended up winning the tournament with a 3-1 victory and made a statement for themselves on the international stage.
Made in China
Once again, the Mid-Season Cup confirmed something everyone already knew. The LPL is the best region in the world. In all stages of the new tournament, the Chinese teams showed their dominance. The fact that Top Esports, who only placed fourth during the LPL Spring 2020, went on to win the tournament, is also proof for the competitiveness of China’s best teams. Invictus Gaming, who had the best result from the regular season, were bodied by their rivals and even the Korean teams in Group B, but they seemed to be fighting against themselves more than against their opponents anyway. The other two top teams (JDG and FPX) performed incredibly well and were visibly stronger than the Koreans.
A few dominating teams are nothing new for the League scene. The depth of the LPL’s talent pool, however, and the sheer amount of teams with international potential is impressive. Even the fifth- to eighth-place teams from regular season would be strong contenders for a good performance at Worlds. Especially e-Star played a fantastic Spring Split and will get a chance to prove themselves and earn a Worlds spot in summer. Until here, we haven’t even mentioned organisations like EDward Gaming or Royal Never Give Up, who are looking to combine the experience of some of their older stars with uprising talent. Competition in China’s League scene is more intense than ever and will most certainly produce an incredibly scary lineup for Worlds 2020. Keep in mind that the seed allocation has changed as well – the LPL will be attending Worlds with no less than four of their top teams.
Beyond the results
Oh, poor Koreans. Another international tournament, another unsatisfying result. They already had to face the insult that were the changes to seed allocation for Worlds, which left LCK on the same level as LCS and one step behind LEC and LPL. The Korean league was in desperate need of international success to regain its status, but could not deliver during MSC. Is the former home of competitive League of Legends becoming irrelevant? The results might say so. Three teams eliminated in groups, and the only one to make it out got swept in semifinals. This goes well with the results from the last two years at Worlds, where Korean teams did not produce impressive results either.
What the numbers and stats don’t tell us, however, is how these results happened. Group A was incredibly competitive and could have gone in a completely different direction when changing the outcome of just a single Bo1. The Korean top team T1 also managed to convincingly win against FPX, who arguably were the second best team of the tournament. T1 vs TES was an extremely close match and, despite going in favour of Top, proved how close to international success Faker and his team still are. While Damwon Gaming is certainly not on that level and has a lot to learn, they did manage to beat T1, although that ironically caused both Korean teams to be eliminated from Group A.
But the real surprise of the tournamant was DRX’ performance in Group B. As third seed from Korea, they showed how they can beat essentially anyone on a good day. In absolutely none of their five games total they looked outclassed, and caused some heavy trouble even for JDG both times they faced them. Although they did ultimately get eliminated, they made a huge statement and collected valuable international experience. Depending on how Summer Split 2020 goes, it doesn’t seem too far fetched that DRX will be coming into Worlds as a contender for the top spots. Gen.G on the other hand is already an international top team, but they keep standing in their own way with weak drafts and unclear gameplay plans. Only time will tell if they can fix these issues, but nonetheless the LCK is still home to multiple world-class lineups.
The Mid-Season Cup left no questions open: Top Esports are, at least at the moment, the favourites for Worlds 2020. Their Chinese rivals, FunPlus Phoenix and JD Gaming, are close behind. The strength of the renowned organisations like Invictus Gaming and SK Telecom T1, on the other hand, is still unclear. It is even harder to tell how the younger and less experienced Korean teams will perform on the largest stage esports has to offer. And finally, there’s the Western teams as well. Worlds 2020 is still a few months away and the situation might drastically change until then, but one thing is for sure – the 10th anniversary of League’s greatest tournament will be one of the most exciting esports events of all time.