The 2019 Mid Season Invitational is well underway, with the Play-In stage over halfway done. This stage was divided into two groups with four emerging regions each. Group A was considered the group of death, and they finished their group stage on Friday.
The representatives from Vietnam, Phong Vu Buffalo ("PVB"), proved victorious. Now, their next challenge is to take on the North American LCS representatives, Team Liquid ("TL"), in a best-of-five series. Both teams are powerhouses in their regions with fantastic players. Though TL is favored by many, PVB certainly has a chance to knock down their opponents.
TL dominated the LCS Spring Split and pulled off a spectacular reverse sweep against TSM in the Finals. They are a super team of sorts in the region, and a major threat in MSI. Though they had a disappointing run at Worlds last year, they made significant improvements to their roster and are looking to validate themselves internationally. Jensen and CoreJJ are steps up from their old counterparts and have a lot to prove in this tournament. Furthermore, all the TL members have a great deal of international experience, with two World Champions in Impact and CoreJJ.
The core of this team lies in their bottom lane duo. Doublelift and CoreJJ are exceptionally strong players that flourish at all points in the game. They can smash their opponents in lane and outperform them in team fights. The rest of the team plays to enable them too, and devote many of their resources to get them ahead. Impact, long known as a tank player, has recently taken up more carry champions, and is a force in his own right. Xmithie and Jensen have very versatile playstyles that give TL many options in game.
Their drafts are pretty standard, and conform to their main strategy. Despite this, they are adaptable to new strategies, such as the Sona-Taric bottom lane. They aren't scared to debut unconventional picks like Heimerdinger or Zyra in specific situations either. Though Impact plays more carries now, Xmithie doesn't invest as many resources into him as other teams would for their carry tops. The crux of the team lies on the bottom lane, which can be both a strength and weakness for the TL squad. TL prefers to play the early game slow and turn on mid game to out-macro and out-team fight their opponents.
Phong Vu Buffalo
PVB are quite different than their upcoming adversaries. The Vietnamese representatives participated in the 2017 and 2018 World Championships. They made quite a splash in 2018, knocking the Flash Wolves out of the tournament with them. During this split, PVB lost only one game and defeated EVOS Esports 3-1 in the Finals. Their roster is the same from last year, and are looking to propel Vietnam farther than ever before. Where TL is a controlled team, PVB is the opposite. They rely on early game leads that snowball to mid game victories to win their games.
Another stark difference in where the power lies on PVB. Their team is much more solo lane and jungle focused, leaving their bottom lane duo to play safe most of the time. Zeros is a fantastic carry player and is known to destroy his counterpart in lane. Meliodas enables this playstyle and consistently plays around him and Naul in the mid lane. Flex picks are important to this strategy, allowing them to early pick champions like Jayce and Irelia and secure them winning match-ups by mixing up their draft later on.
Crucially, BigKoro and Palette have shown weaknesses in the Play-Ins group stage. They tend to get left behind in the fast, bloody play of the rest of the map. But they aren't that much of a liability that they're doomed, and if they do fall behind their solo lanes are more than capable of picking up the slack. Their action-packed early game is truly threatening and can throw even the best teams in the world off guard. Though they're the underdogs, PVB, and teams like them, have pulled off major upsets in past international events. They have the potential to do the same here.
TL, as the representatives from on of the five major regions, are the clear favorites for this series. Role-for-role, their players have achieved more international success than those from PVB. Because the teams have contrasting styles, it will be an interesting match-up to watch, but TL favored nonetheless. It's more reasonable to expect TL to exploit PVB's bottom lane than it is for PVB to abuse TL's solo lanes.
PVB's best hope to take some games off of TL is to generate significant early leads. TL has displayed they can weather this style adequately, but going face-to-face with TL in the mid and late game is a terrifying prospect. In the end, TL will almost certainly emerge victorious 3-1. Throughout the five games, PVB might be able to take one or maybe two, but TL will prove a difficult foe to break further than that. Make sure to tune in on Monday, May 6 to catch the action live!
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Featured image via Riot Games.